Saturday, June 19

Turtles, Tortoises and Lizards!

Sea Turtles enjoy the status of one of the world's most highly protected animals.  They are protected under international treaties and by the laws of many nations.  Such high protection comes because seven species of Sea Turtles are critically endangered species.  Despite strict laws, the Sea Turtle continues to be illegally hunted and traded in many parts of the world.  The VSPCA is involved with Sea Turtle protection and conservation off the East Coast of India and works to enforce India's laws which strictly prohibit the sale or trade of Sea Turtles and their eggs.

I did not take the following photo of this beautiful Sea Turtle happily in its natural oceanic habitat, but I found it uncopyrighted on the internet!:
Prior to the VSPCA's inception in 1996, Sea Turtles and their eggs were openly traded on the streets of Visakhapatnam, India, despite strong national and international laws banning such activity.  Pradeep Nath, the founder of VSPCA, used to enforce the laws himself by following such traders down the street, bringing them to police attention, and demanding arrests and prosecutions of the traders.

In addition to seeing their numbers threatened by illegal poaching, the turtles were subjected to terrible cruelty by the traders.  To kill the turtles, the traders would turn them upside down and slice open their bellies, an act that did not kill the animal immediately but rather allowed it to suffer very much alive.  Alternatively, some of these sea creatures were placed over a fire until they could not breathe and had to stick their heads out for air.  The poachers then chopped off the head.  Finally, sometimes they were simply turned upside down and left in the hot sun.  From this position these animals could not escape nor obtain water and it could take 3 days for death to occur.

The VSPCA has assisted in preserving one of the ocean's great species and has virtually eliminated this terrible suffering in local areas.  In Visakhapatnam today, you will not see any trade in Sea Turtles or their eggs.

Obviously the VSPCA is not home to any Sea Turtles because these lovely creatures belong in the ocean.  However, the shelter does provide happy sanctuary to many rescued Star Tortoises like this fellow!
The tortoises have their own dedicated space at the shelter where they roam and play without fear.  Star Tortoises have a lifespan of 40-50 years if left undisturbed.  Like the Sea Turtle, the Star Tortoise is a highly protected endangered species.
Here is a baby crawling over and around the very patient adults:

And wandering on his own:
At first, I was a little cautious, being fairly new to cold-blooded creatures:
But pretty soon we were holding hands:
Star Tortoises are amphibians that live in rocky areas in the hills.  They come down from the hill to access water in a stream and this is often where they risk being captured by poachers.  Because the Star Tortoise can go without food for 10-15 days, it is an easy target for the smugglers to trade out of India on the international black market. 

The Star Tortoise is one of the top 10 most endangered species in Asia.  They are often illegally sold into China for use in medicinal remedies and as food for the dinner table.  They are also sought as pets in several Western nations including the United States, despite international protection, and reach a black market price of $200US per animal.

Star Tortoises are nearing extinction, which is why the preservation of Star Tortoises at VSPCA and elsewhere is critically important.

They are gentle, curious creatures:
He checks me out...
Gets a little closer...
Then decides I'm cool enough.
Last among the cold-blooded friends today is the Monitor Lizard.  VSPCA has rescued several Monitor Lizards in the past but does not have any at the shelter right now.  Therefore, I am using another picture found uncopyrighted on the internet:
These creatures, like the turtles and tortoises, are endangered yet hunted.  It India, they are so strictly protected that it is illegal just to be in possession of one.  But before the VSPCA sought prosecutions for illegal possession and trade of these majestic animals, these laws went unenforced and traders could be seen walking openly down the city streets with these huge creatures slung over their shoulders in a bag.

These animals, when provoked, will fight back.  So the poachers would cruelly break the lizard's legs and also its tail, which would have been a good defensive tool for the lizard.  The Monitor Lizard also has a terrific set of teeth so the poachers would bang out its fangs.

Here is an action shot of Pradeep apprehending a poacher illegally possessing a baby Monitor Lizard.  The baby lizard is hung by its neck from the stick the poacher is holding.  Pradeep is in the striped shirt:
The Monitor Lizard is hunted for meat, and for the oils existing in the animals' skin which is believed to have medicinal qualities.  The greatest work the VSPCA has accomplished for Monitor Lizards is to effectively shut down any market for their trade in the Visakhapatnam area, thus conserving this endangered species and preventing needless animal cruelty.

Thursday, June 17

No Ordinary Cats!

I know you've all been waiting for pictures of the Cats at the VSPCA and the wait is over!  Jump for joy!
The VSPCA is home to many rescued cats and kittens.  They have a beautiful facility built especially for them.  When I was preparing to travel to India, I received many donations from my friends of toys, medicines, leashes and collars and other useful things for all the animals at the shelter.

Among these donations were dozens of colorful, handmade pockets of catnip that my friend Claudine put together for the kitties in India.  Here is Sarada, the shelter manager for all the small animals of the VSPCA, getting ready to give the cats the catnip toys!
A few of the cats weren't quite sure about this...
While most were overjoyed with their new presents!!
Here is the whole group of kitties playing and roaming around with the catnip:
The afternoon before my flight to India, my friend Shelly brought by a special delivery for the cats: two long wands, approximately 3 feet long with fuzzy ends that dangle from a piece of string.  As I stared at these wands and my already packed suitcase, I decided that if I curved them gently, they would fit from one corner of the large suitcase to the other.  I just had to hope nobody would open the suitcase in the airport...the toys would come springing out!

Having never had much interaction with cats, I wasn't quite sure how to play with them.  I discovered that it isn't very hard, even a dog person can figure it out!
At first I thought I was pretty smart and quick...
But this fellow was much quicker, here I am extracting the toy from his grasp!
These two look like they are going for a jump ball in the NBA:
These cats were primarily rescued from the city streets in Visakhapatnam as kittens.  Many of the town's residents don't mind having an adult cat around the house to keep the rat population down.  But if she has a litter of kittens, who meow as kittens will and demand attention, the humans will throw them away.  And I do mean thrown away like garbage.

These lovely cats have been found in horrific places: in garbage cans; in bags thrown into the sewers that run alongside the streets; some even have been carried out to the beach in the city runoff and were rescued just short of drowning in the ocean.  These kittens make their way to the VSPCA shelter only if some kindhearted person overhears their meowing calls for help, someone who knows these sounds shouldn't be coming from these places, and cares enough to call the VSPCA.

Sarada bottle-fed these kittens with specially-donated glass bottles from the US.  These bottles had tiny little nipples so the tiny little kittens, some so small they didn't even have hair yet, could be nourished into life. 

Now these cats have a wonderful life in their beautiful jungle gym home, with toys and lots of love. 
They have several fully-fenced outdoor areas in addition to their inside playroom:
Check out the guy lounging in the sun behind me:
New he's joining in the fun!
Look at how this "dog-lover" was treated after spending a few hours with the cats!
Step One: Contemplating the human.
Step Two: Acceptance.
These cats love to play...
and climb...
And wrangle that furious pink monster!
VSPCA continues to rescue cats and kittens and welcome them into the shelter.  The life they have here is the best and doesn't even compare to life on the street.

High Five to Everybody who gave me supplies for the Indian animals (and from the VSPCA cats and for the photos in this post of cats leaping into the air, special thanks to Claudine and Shelly!)

Monday, June 14

A face to launch hearts?

On Wednesday June 9th, the VSPCA received an emergency SOS report of a dog hit by a car in town. The family who called the shelter reported that the little dog had managed to crawl across the road to their house. They took her to a local veterinarian who told them nothing could be done. This answer was not good enough and the family telephoned VSPCA.

It was only my second day at the shelter but I was invited to ride in the Animal Ambulance to pick up the little dog. I was afraid of going, afraid the animal we were picking up might be in severe distress, afraid I would be upset by what I saw; but I also knew these were selfish fears. And so I went.

Imagine my surprise when we picked up a sweet little puppy, barely 5 weeks old!
She was not bleeding, nor crying in pain. Though her back legs dangled and her spine was obviously injured, she exhibited no other signs of injury at all. She was too small to ride in one of the ambulance crates, so the shelter workers put her on my lap for the car ride. Within moments, our mutual fears subsided and she gave me sweet kisses. She seemed comfortable and very happy to be riding with us!
As I looked at her I wondered, would this be a story of tragedy? Or of joyful recovery? Is this one of those instances where all we can do is reduce suffering, rather than save the life? She showed none of these concerns. In her eyes were hope and trust. The compassion I felt for this little creature was overwhelming.

When we arrived at the VSPCA, she was whisked away to the vet’s office and I was left to wait out front with the ambulance. Here she is being carried to the operating room:
The man who does all the emergency driving for VSPCA is Srinu, pictured here proudly with one of the ambulances:
The vets immediately began a series of treatments. The primary of these is intended to stimulate the damaged nerves in her lower spine. They also began giving her vitamins, especially Vitamin B, as well as nourishing supplements to give her strength.

In the few days that have passed since her rescue, we have given her a name: Maria. She has been eating very well. I spend several hours every day with her. I give her a bath and feed her and play with her. When I come to greet her, she is so excited and wants to be picked up and loved and snuggled. I hold her close to my face and she rubs the top of her head against my hair and chin. She makes sweet little clucking noises when she sees me, the sounds of a happy puppy!

Maria is extremely curious. The vet describes her as "energetic." Here she is contemplating what to do with my orange sunglasses!
Like any normal puppy, she opts to chew on them!
Here she is looking very proud of herself!!
Maria is fascinated by all the sounds of the shelter and she enjoys looking out and seeing all the other dogs. When they come near her, she barks a very cute little bark!
It has been several days now and Maria still cannot use her hind legs. The injury to her spinal column is severe. The vet has told me that in treating approximately 30 dogs with similar injuries, only 2 have recovered (one is Jessie, whose happy story is told in a previous post: “Already in love at the VSPCA.”) Maria walks using only her front legs. She drags her lower body on the floor. One of the problems this creates is that she is bruising her back knees and the tops of her back feet because they are always dragging on the ground.
In the following pictures, Maria is figuring out what to do with a piece of bread. Her knees and feet are already showing the wounds from being dragged behind her:
She is a good eater and especially enjoys the bread broken up into her special and tasty liquid supplement:
 After eating, gentle sleep...
Maria is a “special needs” animal. The VSPCA vets and staff are doing all they can for her but it is unlikely she will ever walk normally. She needs a small set of wheels for her back body and then will need a bigger set of wheels when she grows up.

She is a playful, loving little girl who embodies the work and accomplishments of the VSPCA. Even if she does not fully recover, her life is filled with kindness now. She is having healthy meals and attentive care, which is more than she would get anywhere else. Were it not for the VSPCA rescue program, she would be looking at one outcome: suffering and dying, probably on the side of the road. Now she has a chance at a joyful life. She is such a happy little girl!

Maria does need funding for her specialized care. If anyone is willing to make a donation for her recovery, please go to and make a donation in her name or a general donation to help the VSPCA carry on this wonderful work.

Also, if anyone has been so moved by Maria's story and would think about adopting her, I will do what it takes to bring her home and transport her anywhere within the US or Canada. Maria would love a caring human to adopt her!! Please email me directly at:

Maria thanks you sweetly!