On the eve of December 31, 2016, Haris Ali spotted a dog suffering from severe shock and frothing at the mouth. She had come to the tiny store nearby, distressed and in need of help. Instead, the people around her were pouring water on her in an attempt to shoo her away.
“Their behaviour was inhuman,” Haris, who is from Bengaluru, recalls in a conversation with The Better India. “The dog was already suffering so much that she was not even able to get up. She was in terrible pain.”
Jumping in to help, he dialled different NGOs for help, but in vain. With no time to spare and considering that the dog’s life was at risk, Harish took her to a private hospital for treatment.
Two months after he took her in and named her Whity, he lost her to canine distemper. But her presence in his life did something incredible — it paved the way for thousands of other dogs in distress to find a safe home with him.
A feeling of powerlessness
Though an animal lover since childhood, Haris says he never planned to open a shelter home for rescued animals.
“My mother always taught me to show love and sympathy for animals. We often went to feed free-range animals and she told us never to hurt any or hold biases against any specific species. All animals should be treated alike, she said.”
Haris often fed and took care of dogs in his locality. But one time, he saw a mob of people brutally assaulting a puppy to death. “I used to feed those puppies daily, and I was informed that one of them had allegedly jumped on a girl passing by. The locals felt the dog was mentally ill and killed it. I was pained by the incident but felt powerless as I could not do anything to save it. I was only 10 years old then,” he recalls.
The incident left a life-long impression on his mind and heart.
As he entered his teens, Haris started connecting with local NGOs and animal rescue groups. “I frequently came across dogs and animals in need of help through friends and social media and did my best to provide the animals what they needed. But the incident on new year’s eve left me devastated. I could not allow another dog to die under my watch and decided to take matters into my own hands,” he says.
After Whity, Haris started rescuing dogs himself and taking them to the hospital to be treated. “I would receive information on WhatsApp and Facebook and take the dogs to Cessna Hospital. Once they had been treated, I’d bring them home for recovery and look for people who wanted to adopt them. Some dogs underwent amputations or surgeries and found permanent shelter in my house. On other occasions, I returned the dogs to where I had found them,” he explains.
Over the months, Haris became overwhelmed by the rescue operations. “It came to a point where I was rescuing two dogs a day. I approached NGOs and other shelter homes for help, but they were already overcrowded. Many denied even temporary shelter to dogs. I was also spending about Rs 6,000 a day for their treatment,” he says.
The 28-year-old claims to have spent almost Rs 1 crore over a span of 1.5 years. “The expenses in treating an animal at the private hospital were high. Medication and food added to the costs. There came a point where I had too many dogs and there were almost no people with enough shelters to support us, due to shortage of space,” he says.
Haris claims he spent all the money from his own savings, which he had built up through his cybersecurity business, Orcaza CyberSecurity company.
To put an end to his woes, in March 2017, he established Sarvoham Trust to treat animals and provide them shelter. So far, over 2,000 dogs have found refuge here.
The trust is located in JP Nagar and is spread across 12,500 square feet. “We have an ambulance, an X-ray machine, and other equipment to treat dogs. A team of 12, including vets, caretakers, rescuers, para vets and supervisors manage, feed, and take care of the dogs,” Haris notes.
He adds that in 2019, Sudha Murthy’s daughter-in-law Aparna Krishnan also adopted two indie dogs from the shelter. “It was a kind gesture on her part, as the dogs are completely paralysed and need round the clock care. Even the staff at our shelter home would not be enough, given the amount of attention they need. The Infosys Foundation also helped us with the ambulance and X-ray machine,” he says
“At any given time, there are about 200 dogs at the shelter. Most are injured and suffer from various diseases, many of which are contagious. Some dogs are even abandoned by their owners. I use my earnings from the business and trust donations to fund the cause. The monthly expenses come up to Rs 8 lakh, including the staff salaries,” he explains.
Haris says the COVID-19 pandemic put a hard stop on his rescue missions. “I temporarily shut my operations and the earnings from business stopped resulting in heavy dependence on donations. The shelter has a capacity to accommodate around 120-150 dogs, but we have 200, and the place is overstretched with almost no space to walk. Hence, I have stopped rescuing dogs in the past eight months,” he adds.
“I receive about 40 calls a day about animals who need a home. But I have my limitations and cannot attend each call as I have exhausted all my savings,” he adds.
For now, Haris is working to resume his business. “I have identified a 4-acre land to lease and aim to increase donations and CSR funds. The place has the capacity to shelter 600 dogs,” he says.
Haris says he would appreciate and feel grateful if people who help in identifying and rescuing dogs also support with donations. “I cannot charge them for rescuing dogs, otherwise they will feel obliged to pay and stop reporting animals in need. It may also have devastating effects on the compassion they want to show and entirely turn blind eye to animals. I do not wish for that to happen,” he says.
To meet additional expenses, he borrows money from private individuals. “I am working on a model that will make my shelter home self-sustained and reduce its heavy dependence on donations,” Haris adds.
To help Haris for his cause, donate here.
Edited by Divya Sethu