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HindustanTimes Fri,18 Apr 2014

Britisher's heart beats for desi strays

Ramesh Babu, Hindustan Times  Thiruvananthapuram, April 06, 2013
First Published: 23:59 IST(6/4/2013) | Last Updated: 00:01 IST(7/4/2013)

At the gate, on the balcony, across the terrace and the backyard, dogs of all shapes and sizes roam freely. The 100-odd strong 'army' never lowers its guard - the air resounds with barks and howls. Instead of warning signs, tips and slogans greet visitors. Here, animal-lovers are welcome.

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It's not a breeding centre or canine club, but a rescue home for stray dogs, in all forms - diseased, injured, healthy… This walled rescue complex situated on prime land in a remote village in Kerala houses a hospital, education centre, puppy house, cattery, relaxation clinic and modern kennels. It's all run by 70-year-old Avis Lyons, a British national.

So how did Lyons land up in a remote village near Kerala's Kovalam? On a visit to the beach resort 13 years ago she was moved by the plight of street dogs and the mindless killing by authorities. Lyons came back a year later to set up Animal Rescue Kerala (ARK), a voluntary animal rescue home. There has been no looking back.

When she started, Lyons sold off her house in London to raise money. Every month ARK sterilises some 60 dogs and vaccinates them against rabies free of cost. Its ambulances are available around the clock to rescue animals in distress. But it was not all smooth sailing for Lyons - she had to lock horns with authorities and file several suits against the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation for culling street dogs. There were even attempts on her life but she remained undeterred.

"We don't respect animals' rights. Though there are strict laws in India, animal abusers rarely get punished. People have to be educated to be more animal-friendly," she says.

"Killing is not an answer to the stray menace. Dogs are territorial, once a dog is killed, another occupies his space. Effective animal birth control (ABC) and anti-rabies programmes are required," she suggests.

ARK has done over 4000 ABC operations since 2002. "As per official records, between 2005 and 2008 Rs. 1.29 crore was spent for ABC in Thiruvananthapuram city alone. But only 340 dogs were sterilised during this period. A laparoscopic machine costing Rs. 30 lakh was bought but it has been lying unused," she says. The slaughter still continues.

"Since June 2011, more than 6,000 dogs were caught in Thiruvananthapuram and other cities and out of these, 4,000 were killed as they were found to be badly wounded or incurably ill," she quotes a reply received under the Right to Information Act.

Even at midnight Lyons drives the ambulance and rescues the animals, says A Irshad, a veterinary surgeon in the area.

Presently, the centre has 122 dogs, 22 cats, two horses, a rabbit and a guinea pig. It also runs a free adoption programme for street puppies and pedigree dogs. The centre needs Rs. 1.5 lakh every month to take care of the animals' food and employees' expenses.

"I dream of a time when animals will get equal dignity and respect. Nature doesn't comprise of human beings alone," says Lyons who was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and is currently undergoing treatment in London.

Lyons says she's ready to lease out her premises free of cost but is adamant that the existing facilities continue. "Most people are interested in my land not in the animals. I will wait till I get a genuine animal lover," she avers.

"Many resort owners approached her but she refused them. We have much to learn from her selfless service," says Prasad N, a resident.

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