Guardian Of Pets And Strays
A Stray Dog. An Abandoned Cat. A Hurt Bird.
Leela Lathif’s heart went out to the abandoned and injured animals.
She always had a pet at her house when she was a child. Now, a grandmother, Leela is the reason why the People For Animals (PFA) unit was set up in Trivandrum.
“I was watching a programme on the cruelties meted out to animals by Maneka Gandhi called ‘Heads and Tails’. I felt we had to set up something for animals here in Kerala,” says Leela.
She contacted the PFA unit in Chennai. With the help of some like-minded people, like the General Manager of the SBT Narasimham, she established the Trivandrum chapter of PFA in July 1996. She has been the secretary of the unit for all these years.
The unit did not have an office or space to shelter the animals it rescued from various places. All the animals were brought to Leela’s house at Anayara. “At one time we had 25 dogs in the house - both big ones and puppies.”
It was in 2001 some land in Malayinkeezhu was bought for PFA with the help of Maneka Gandhi and the Animal Welfare Board of India. Presently the unit houses 54 dogs, 35 cats, and 15 puppies. “There is also a bull, five or six little eaglets etc.”
Leela became the guardian angel for all the abandoned and sick animals and birds in Trivandrum. She keeps getting phone calls seeking help and advice on what to do with animals found hurt or dead. “Sometimes people don’t allow their kids to bury their pets in their compounds. So when they call me, I ask them to bring them here and bury it in my compound.”
In her house, there are three dogs - Betty, Brownie and Gopi. “I had 11 dogs. Three were taken to the shelter and the others died.”
She has many interesting stories to recount. “Once there were a number of monkeys in Sasthamkotta that would trouble all the passers-by by snatching their food or other belongings. There were about 115 of them. I contacted the Vatavaran team in Delhi and a team came to get the monkeys and take them to the Aryankaavu forest, with the help of the forest department.”
Another time a skua was found in Shanghumugham beach. A rare breed, it was last seen in Kerala in 1935. Leela Lathif named her Winnie and brought her home. “She was not at all scared to be among my dogs and played with them.” Leela built a tank for her to take a dip in but she would not step into it. However, Winnie flew away one day and never came back. “One of my dogs - Mickey - was playing with her. At one point, she just took off into the sky. My son-in-law went after her but could not trace her.”
She also remembers saving a number of deers in a palace, from being sold away to private parties.
Leela tells me the PFA could use more volunteers. “In Chennai, we have more students coming to take the dogs out for walks and look after them. But here, even if youngsters are willing to come, I guess, their parents have a problem with it.”
Leela Lathif has been in the Censor Board (Central Board of Film Certification) from 1995 to 1998, to evaluate movies on the basis of cruelties to animals. “I didn’t know about the appointment until it came on the papers!” she says, laughing.
Starting as a teacher, Leela has always been enthusiastic and active in the field she chose to work in. She has dedicated a good part of her life to the protection and welfare of animals. You don’t need to read newspaper reports or trace her footsteps to understand that. All you need to do is take a look at her, sitting on her living room, keeping herself close to her landline phone connection - to be at the beck and call for any trapped or helpless animal that she could rescue.
Leela Lathif can be contacted on 0471 2742378.
- Cris Seetha
By Cris Seetha