Published: 10th September 2019
Meet Sally Varma, every Kerala stray's fairy dog-mother!
Over the years, Sally Varma has rescued hundreds of animals. She talks about the rescue work she'd done in Nilambur during recent Kerala Floods
Before we tell you who Sally Varma is and what she does, let us tell you how difficult it was to talk to her. One of the very few dog rescuers in Kerala, we tried getting in touch with her initially a few days after this year's flood waters started receding. When the rest of the state breathed a sigh of relief, Sally couldn't. She was in Nilambur, feeding the animals there who were affected by the floods.
A week later, she was back home, after rescuing a number of stranded cows, dogs, cats and hens. She had also adopted an orphaned kitten named Kingini, who lost her family to the rains. We were all set to talk. But then, she had to rush to the veterinary hospital with a dog that she had rescued that day. A day later, a relatively free Sally gave us a call. "The dog needs an operation, but he is fine," says Sally, who works as an outreach coordinator with a non-profit called Humane Society International.
These cases are quite common in an animal rescuer's life, and for her, this was never a hurdle. "I'm doing what I love to do," she says. The same passion is what brought her to Malappuram during the floods of 2018 and 2019. So, how did it all begin? She says, "I started with HSI as their outreach coordinator. A major part of my life is letting people know what these are and talking to them about the situation in which animals live," she says. That was around the same time that there was a rising street dog issue in Kerala and there were a number of campaigns to kill the dogs. "I was terrified of this. So, HSI got into a contract with the Malappuram District administration to vaccinate and sterilise these dogs. I concentrated on making people aware of the strays and talking to them about how affection can change even the most ferocious dogs. After sterilisation, these dogs were released back to the street," she says.
But then, the floods of 2018 occurred. People fled the fearing the waters, but many animals were left behind. "Thankfully, we had the district administration's permission to start rescuing these animals. We rescued so many animals back then that we ran out of space," she recalls. "After the floodwaters receded, we concentrated on mass feeding. We would go to villages with animal feed and feed the animals every day," she says.
Many of you would have read the story about Sunitha, a woman in Thrissur who refused to leave her house because no rescuers were ready to take her 21 dogs. Finally, it was Sally who came to their help. "Sunitha has 42 dogs now. She is homeless and lives in a hut. But after last year, we were able to raise some money and build kennels for her dogs," she says.
While last year Sally had a team to help her, during the 2019 floods, she was all alone feeding the animals in Nilambur, which was the worst hit. "We started a fundraiser. Also, a lot of people helped us out. There was an NGO from Coimbatore which helped me with the cattle feed. But thankfully, people were really helpful," she says.