Acacophony of barks and moos greets the visitor in Sonata Foundation - a green, sprawling sanctuary for distressed stray animals nestled amidst the cloud-kissed highrises of Rajarhat, located on the eastern fringes of Kolkata. This facility will gladden the hearts of animal lovers.
The growth of this organisation makes for an interesting tale. Initially, it worked closely with the Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (HIDCO), which is the implementing body for Rajarhat’s urbanisation and development plans and policies.
Pronay Dutta, Secretary, Sonata Foundation, informed BE, “Our first project involved more than 30,000 students from about 42 schools. At that time, the city was just being built (Rajarhat is a planned city, and its development was initiated in the early 2000s). Roads were being built. We, in association with HIDCO, took a massive drive for roadside plantation and planted a large number of saplings.”
He also informed that his organsiation’s involvement with the development of this planned township was recognized by HIDCO and he was awarded the land on which his project eventually came up. Dutta clarified, “Initially we did not deal with stray animals. We were more focused on plantation. But our role slowly changed as the Bidhannagar Police started housing animals, which had been hit on the Rajarhat roads in our facility and we took care of them, nourishing them back to health and returning them to their owners. The word spread and villagers from nearby villages frequented us, expecting treatment for their animals.”
Slowly the organisation metamorphosed into an organisation exclusively taking care of stray and accident-hit animals.
Dutta’s organisation has treated nearly 342 bovine and more than 100 canine animals till date. His exceptional contribution to this field has earned him recognition from the Union Minister and animal rights activist, Maneka Gandhi.
In 2012, Bidhannagar Police formally became associated with the organisation, presenting it with a Mobile Clinic for animals. The fast roads of this newly built township became a death trap for cattle. The city has been built around the original villages in this region. A large number of cattle are reared by the villagers and the animals often stray into the city in search of fodder and end up being hit. The police are flooded with complaints regarding such accidents and find it difficult to deal with the resultant traffic congestion.
Arup Mukherjee, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Bidhannagar Police Commissionerate, told BE, “Sonata Foundation works closely with us. They are highly efficient and respond immediately when the police control room informs them of any accident-hit animal.”
Dutta and his team comprising of a veterinary doctor and four assistants are available round-the-clock and can reach the distressed animal in minutes. Their customised, state-of-the-art animal rescue van enabled with oxygen, saline, and necessary medicines, is used to rescue even large bovines.
Dutta informed, “Rajarhat is also a preferred corridor of cow smugglers who smuggle cattle to Bangladesh. We have worked closely with the police and have taken part in numerous rescue operations. Nursing those tortured and traumatized animals is an important part of our work.” Presently the Srishti Group of Hotels is backing this project.
In West Bengal, there is hardly any veterinary hospital with indoor facilities. Though Dutta’s facility is not a recognized hospital, it has 28 cows and 22 dogs presently, which are injured or have been abandoned. Additionally, they organize daily patrols, four times a day, to check for injured animals and try to keep them away from the roads.
But how are the local residents living near this facility reacting to it? Dutta informed, “We receive immense support from the locals. They often bring their children to our facility and donate food.”
The project has lent a human face to animal rescue operations. Dutta recollects, “Some years ago, I had gone to rescue an accident-hit cow. Despite my efforts, I could not haul the large animal into my van. I was pleasantly surprised when youngsters hailing from the information technology industry, working in the vicinity, came to my help. That was not all. A frail, old woman came up to me and offered me `35. I did not what to do but eventually received it. Later, I found out she had earned that through begging. I went to return the money. She refused. She said she had not seen anybody rescue a helpless animal before. She had tears in her eyes.”