Tipped ear of the pictured cat indicates that the animal has been sterilized in Singapore. Photo: Nile Bowie

I recall my first meeting with Geeta Seshamani very clearly, even though it was many years ago. Being an ardent animal lover is what brought me to her in the first place – not for a rescue, but for an interview. What caught my attention was her energy: perhaps working ardently for a cause does that to an individual.

Born into an army family, Seshamani has been running Friendicoes-SECA (Society for the Eradication of Cruelty to Animals) for almost 40 years. The Delhi-based organization serves not only as a helpline for animals by running much-needed clinics and administering timely and professional medical care, but also serves as an advocate for the rights of those who can’t speak for themselves.

Asked what initiated this journey for her, Seshamani reminisced: “My dad’s present on my fifth birthday was an orphaned pup; I had to ensure I fed it before I could have any of my meals … it was a very simple lesson in caring for something that was helpless; I, in turn, could always bank on his support when my mother would scold me for feeding squirrels and birds instead of studying, or bringing home kittens and cats … or birds!

“I was fortunate to receive a great education, but never dreamt in my wildest dreams of running animal hospitals and shelters. Meanwhile, I got married and assumed I would live happily ever after, but that was not to be, and I was soon back at my mother’s house, [after] which I started teaching at Gargi College, which became my second home.”

And that was the beginning of things to come. Seshamani recalls a “life-changing incident” on her way to a prayer meeting, where she saw a dog in pain, after having met with an accident that would subsequently prove to  be fatal. The accident had happened right in front of her eyes; the human responsible had not bothered to glance back even once. So overcome was she with emotion that she leaped out of the car, picked the animal up, and took it to the side of the road, where she remained by its side until the hapless creature passed away.

Her thoughts were immediately drawn to the fact that there existed not a single place in that area where animals could be administered proper medical care or die with dignity, if so destined. This incident was soon to be followed by another one: of a young dog that had been tortured and abandoned by its owner. It was at that point that someone gave her the number of a group of young schoolchildren, headed by Anuradha Modi, who had started a “kindness club” (which was soon to be registered, in the April of 1979, as Friendicoes-SECA).

“So I started assisting at Friendicoes in March 1980. The then-prime minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi, allotted us the first two shops under the Defense Colony Flyover [in New Delhi], which was where the city shelter began its journey from. We have now been there for 41 years. It is small, it is overcrowded, but for the animals, our central location is a boon; over the years, with the help of donations from the public, we have added many facilities to the hospital.

“Friendicoes has tried never to say ‘no’ to any animal, though after 40 years, the journey is proving to be tougher and tougher. We have over 3,000 animals in our care, and have impacted society by motivating individuals to share and care for those who can’t speak for themselves. I do believe Friendicoes is a kind of place that teaches you humility, service, love and forgiveness.”

As in any journey, the challenges have been galore: generation of awareness among communities that animals do have rights, and that protection of the environment, and all that it entails, is closely linked to human well-being too. Another challenge that Seshamani cites is the constant shroud of suspicion of corruption that non-governmental organizations face, which she says is not fair, as it is not applicable to each and every NGO. Other challenges pertain to funds and space.

“Did I choose Friendicoes to be my mission in life, or was I extremely fortunate that Friendicoes gave me back the will to live and make me the person I am today? I am convinced it was the latter. Today, when I look back, and I am asked what I would have done differently, I say: lots of things, but then one learns along the way, and the learning is easy, when one is driven by relentless passion.

“From dogs and cats, we have now extended our care to equines, a step much needed. There is no resting when there is so much pain and fear still in the animal world.”

Friendicoes always welcomes newcomers. So, if you need food for the soul, you may want to explore Friendicoes. “Be true to what you feel … the world is always ready to judge, but if you never let go of your values, in whatever you chose as your mission, you can’t lose!” concluded the gritty lady.

Sarah Berry

Sarah Berry is head of communications, Centre for The Digital Future, based in Haryana, India. She is also outreach adviser for the organization.

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