Every morning, the road under the Defence Colony flyover in Delhi becomes a promenade. Among those taking their constitutional is a group of dogs, usually walked by a single person. It’s a motley crew. Some have a bandaged leg, some coats smeared with iodine solution, others sport a rakish eyepatch. Enthusiastic but well behaved, straining only slightly at the leash, they would have wound their way from the Friendicoes animal shelter quartered under the flyover, a bustling place that houses about 300 animals.

These morning strolls may soon end. Desperately short on funds and with debts touching Rs 80 lakh, Friendicoes SECA (Society for the Eradication of Cruelty to Animals) is threatening to shut down after 35 years of caring for Delhi’s lost, homeless, abandoned and sick animals.

The night ambulance was the first casualty of the cash crunch. It was a tough decision, said Geeta Seshamani, co-founder of Friendicoes. “The weakest, most injured animals come out at night to feed, since they can’t compete with the other animals during the day,” she added. That’s when people who spotted them would call Friendicoes. But what with the mounting costs and the heavy infrastructure needed to run the night clinic, Friendicoes just couldn’t afford it any more.

Medicines make up a large chunk of the hefty debt it has to pay. And it doesn’t help that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi has not paid its dues for sterilisations done by Friendicoes. The corporation owes the organisation well over Rs 30 lakh, and the Eastern Zone is the worst offender, according to Seshamani. When contacted by Scroll, the MCD’s veterinary services department declined to comment.

Dog days

Friendicoes started in 1979, with a group of school children led by an enterprising animal lover, Anuradha Mody. They would collect stray and injured animals and reach them to a shelter in Model Town, in north Delhi, run by Crystal Rogers, a British nurse and ambulance driver who had moved to India in 1958. Then in 1980, the government allotted Friendicoes a room under the Defence Colony flyover. It was a tiny place with a curtain for a fourth wall and no electricity or water. Then more volunteers joined.

Today, Friendicoes has about 2,000 animals in its care at any given time, says Geeta Seshamani, who has been involved with the organisation almost since its inception. Apart from the hospice and OPD that operates out of the flyover quarters, it runs two hospitals in Ghazipur and a permanent shelter in Gurgaon, which houses about 1,200 animals. It gets dozens of distress calls every day. “It’s an accepted rule that we have to pick up every animal they call us for,” says Seshamani. “Friendicoes could get 30-40 dogs in one day.”

It does about 1,000 sterilisations a month, its clients including the army cantonment and Jawaharlal Nehru University, apart from various municipal corporations. In 1983, it started a mobile equine clinic, ranging from Bharatpur in Rajasthan to Sohna in Haryana. Volunteers travel to rural areas dispensing blankets, medicine and food for the animals.

Growing costs

As Friendicoes expanded to a web of activities, costs piled up. Every day, 150 kilogrammes of rice are cooked to feed animals across the various centres. It also buys about 60 kg of dalia, 100 litres of milk and a heap of scrap meat for soup daily. For the large animals’ feed, it needs 16 quintals of green fodder daily, along with other grains.

Rs 20 lakh is spent on monthly salaries for the staff, which includes 11 vets, 17 para vets and 115 caretakers. Medical expenses have spiralled over the last four to five years and Friendicoes now spends between Rs 5 lakh and 9 lakh a month on medicines.

So far, it has survived on voluntary donations and money raised from the outpatient facilities. In spite of having grown exponentially since it was first established, it has no separate fund raising arm. Now there is a drive to reach people on social media and beyond, in the hopes of raising the requisite funds. If not, one of the city’s most loved institutions faces the prospect of closure.