This 18-year-old animal activist from Chennai is building one of the biggest animal shelters in the city

After rescuing over 300 animals in the last two years, 18-year-old Sai Vignesh is now on a mission to build a permanent shelter for them
Sai estimates to have rescued about 300 animals, vaccinated and sterilised over 900 dogs
Sai estimates to have rescued about 300 animals, vaccinated and sterilised over 900 dogs

We may all find animals cute but how many of us actually go the extra mile to help stray animals and provide them with a better life? Here's one person who certainly has. Eighteen-year-old Sai Vignesh has been a friend to hundreds of animals growing up and now, he is on a new mission to create a safe haven for them — one of the largest animal shelters in Chennai that abandoned animals can call their home. But where in Chennai can there be this 'largest animal shelter'? Tiruvallur - Sai has received 8.4 acres of land from a generous donor, a private sector employee who lives in Thirunindravur. "Sivamani sir donated his land in Tiruvallur. So far, we have fenced about two acres till now; we started in March 2018. We are building it gradually as the funds are still coming in," explains Sai. Sivamani, who donated the land, is also an animal lover and the two met at an animal safety rally organised by Sai three years ago. 

The 18-year-old, who just graduated from school, has plans to pursue Law to become aware of the major animal laws and policies in our country as he wishes to help animals legally too especially in cases of abuse and abandonment. "At present, I am focusing more on the shelter; apart from that I do freelance some web designing and developing work and, in turn, use this money for the rescued animals. I only get time to study at night but I think that If I pursue Law, I will be able to help animals in better ways," he says. But what motivates an 18-year-old to stay so dedicated to strays? Sai was just two years old when his parents got him a pet dog - one he named Bhairava. Unfortunately, the dog passed away when Sai was only five. While they did not adopt any other pets after that, Sai began feeding stray dogs and gradually, his love for animals grew over time. During the 2015 Chennai floods, he rescued many abandoned animals and even found many of them new homes. When Cyclone Vardah hit the state in 2016, Sai, then just 16 years old, rescued and even got the injured animals and birds treated for their wounds. "Currently, I have 15 rescued dogs and other animals at my house. I have also put up more than 20 rescued animals at a paid boarding centre. It has always been my dream to build a centre and a medical dispensary as I realised that, eventually, the only thing stopping me from helping more animals was the lack of space," explains the 18-year-old.

Shelter for all: The centre will be divided into separate sections for every animal such as for dogs, cats and larger animals like cattle

Since 2015, the animal lover has had hundreds of stray dogs vaccinated and sterilised, through camps and drives, and has helped find homes for over 200 dogs and cats. He also set up an organisation called the Almighty Animal Care Trust (AACT) in 2015 with the help of which he estimates to have rescued close to 300 animals in distress. The AACT conducts several awareness programmes, vaccination drives and sterilisation camps across the city. "I began rescuing animals in 2015 but I want the process to be more organised and efficient. That's why I thought of setting up this organisation," says Sai, adding that the shelter will be built under its name. Sai has also started an online campaign through Milaap to raise the `10 lakh needed to complete the centre. "We are in the process of selling our ancestral house in Tirunelveli to pool more money into this. With that, I am hoping to get the construction finished by the end of this year," he adds. But as easy as Sai makes setting up a shelter sound, the path to realising his dream of building a shelter has not been easy. He says, "I was inexperienced, so I did not know a lot of thing at first; I had to do a lot of research. I also volunteered at already-existing shelters in the city to gain first-hand experience on how to provide animals with the care they need. It's not an easy task to build such a huge centre - once we start, we can't back out."

Being compassionate can never be wrong. Although we are humans, we should not think ourselves to be a superior species. We also have a responsibility to help other lives

Sai Vignesh, animal activist

And what will the shelter have? The centre will be divided into separate sections for every animal such as for dogs, cats and larger animals like cattle (goats, horses, donkeys). In addition to the shelter, Sai is also planning to open a free medical dispensary, which will be the first one of its kind in Tamil Nadu. "Even the government veterinary hospitals charge some amount of money to treat the animals, but we will treat them for free. Our dispensary will have isolation wards for animals with contagious diseases. Currently, animals with such diseases are not usually accepted in veterinary hospital in Chennai. But if they are given proper treatment, they will definitely survive," he says. With a family that's larger than a cricket team, Sai, his family and the rescues were forced to shift houses seven times in the last two years as their neighbours everywhere were opposed to them keeping dogs at home. "Our current neighbours have also attempted atrocious methods like throwing stones at the dogs, placing poisoned tablets inside the house and so on. We have even raised a complaint about this to the police. It was after experiencing all this through the years that I thought of building the shelter. The animals need a safe place to live in," he says. 

Over the years, the animal activist has filed five legal cases against animal abuse, including an FIR against a dog poisoning incident at Cooum and a PIL at the Madras High Court (ongoing) against abuse at a dog pound in the city. Although activism isn't for everyone, people can do their bit to help better the lives of animals, believes Sai, "Helping animals doesn't mean that you have to go and physically rescue them. You can even help them by performing small and kind gestures like feeding them and keeping a water bowl outside for them to drink from. If you see an injured animal take it to the nearby vet or to the concerned authorities. We all have to do something for others; that's how we can co-exist." Going forward, the student activist wants to also start a mobile veterinary service that can go all around the city and help animals.

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