Embracing all creatures great and small

Not even threats to personal safety can thwart him off his chosen path of saving animals. Meet Chennai's 16-year-old animal rescuer who imparts strong lessons in compassion in an increasingly cruel world.

His shy demeanour belies an extraordinary amount of compassion and resilience. Vignesh Mahadevan is all of 16 years old, and one of Chennai’s most passionate voices for the rights of birds and animals.

Vignesh started feeding strays when he was seven years old. His first rescues were puppies that were stranded or separated from their mothers during the floods in Chennai in December 2015.  Slowly he started to rescue dogs as well.

Only about 60% of the rescued dogs survive, often they have infections such as distemper and parvo (which may have prompted the owner to abandon the dog in the first place) , which can be fatal if not treated in time. Many dogs also come with severe injuries (broken legs, broken spine) which are hard to rehabilitate.

Post recovery, these dogs are offered for adoption, but often Vignesh and other animal lovers like him end up adopting these dogs. He now has seven dogs at home!

Not your regular tenth grader!

A chronic breathing problem and the worry of recurring infections forced Vignesh’s parents to pull him out of school when he was around six and switch to homeschooling. His father, a scientist at Anna University’s Urban Energy Centre, and mother, a homemaker, would help him initially with his lessons, but soon Vignesh took charge of his own lessons.

He started using the Internet to learn the necessary portions for each class, and more. As he approached Class 10, Vignesh taught himself web designing and programming as well, and started accepting freelance assignments online in website development.  He continues to earn a significant amount every month through this work, and uses these funds to support his work in animal rescue.

Vignesh is currently registered through the Open School system with a school in Mogappair, for Class 12 exams in 2018. After Class 12, he wants to pursue veterinary science, and subsequently open a charitable hospital for animals. He already runs, with help from his parents, an adoption centre called Almighty Adoption Centre. the website for which he created himself!

In pursuit of a passion

Back to his first love – animal rescue. Every morning Vignesh studies until noon (by which time his phone has already rung several times or received many messages about animals needing rescue). He sets out to attend to these calls, and invariably lands up with the animal at one of the veterinary hospitals.

Knowing him and his work, Heart to Heart Veterinary Hospital at Santhome gives him concessional rates and sometimes donors come forward to take on a part of the expenses. The Vepery Government Veterinary Hospital treats animals for free, but is very crowded so often Vignesh finds himself short of time and therefore the ability to wait for treatment there.

Vignesh recounts with horror and sadness the atrocities that humans inflict on animals. He has seen puppies that have been deliberately run over by motorcyclists, rescued a dog who was thrown into a bin with garbage dumped over him, a labrador abandoned because he was found to have a defective heart, puppies poisoned outside someone’s house because ‘they made too much noise!’ When did we become so heartless, he wonders. Why are we losing the ability to share our living spaces with animals?

Vignesh has also been looking into the abuse and ill treatment of Indian parakeets by ‘fortune tellers’ on Marina Beach. He says the parrots, protected under the Indian Wildlife Act of 1972,  are stolen as chicks from nests, and smuggled into Chennai, often in crates with over a 100 chicks stuffed together. Only 50-60% survive the jouney, and these are sold illegally and clandestinely to be trained for fortune telling.

These parrots have their beaks cut, wings clipped and they are starved and poked with sharp pins as they are trained to pick fortune cards. It is a heart rending story.

Recently, under the guidance of V Balakrishnan (IPS) who was then the DCP of Mylapore, Vignesh participated in an undercover operation to nab the kingpin of the trade. He was caught and handed over to the Forest Department officials, who let him go upon payment of a paltry fine of Rs 25000, while squabbling with their counterparts in the city police, about who should have arrested him in the first place.

The trader, now back in business, routinely calls Vignesh and threatens him with dire consequences, but Vignesh says with great conviction and wisdom, “Íf I am going to let guys like him scare me, I should never have gotten into this work. They can say whatever they like, I am not afraid.”

Brave words from a 16 year old, and I have goosebumps as I say good bye to him.

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