Our Background and History
We are located in southern India in a town called Tiruvannamalai. "Tiru" 'is a municipality of almost 150,000 people and one of the most sacred pilgrimage places in all of India.
Mount Arunachala is believed to be the very Heart of Shiva, and has been worshipped for thousands of years. One of the twentieth century's greatest saints, Baghavan Ramana Maharshi, made his way here at age of sixteen - shortly after attaining enlightenment. And never left. Giving wise counsel to spiritual seekers from around the world who came here to see him. He was a tuning fork of sanity and a door to freedom, .His powerful, quiet energy can still be experienced in his ashram - aspirants of all levels can descend into themselves in the journey to merge with their own Hearts.
How strange and paradoxical, that in this sacred place of Shiva (the Protector of animals) and the home of Ramana Maharshi (who is known to have adored them) it took almost sixty years after Ramana's death for circumstances to come together so as to finally protect the animals he loved so very much.
The population was essentially uncontrolled except for periodic culling by killing - often brutally done. Many had horror stories from the past — bounties paid, clubbing, strangling, piles of bodies in trucks — some still alive.
In February of 2006 Leslie Robinson, the founder of the shelter, was visiting Tiru ready to leave for the Himalayas. He heard that they were going to begin killing the dogs, street by street.
He made phone call after phone call trying to mobilize animal activists around the country. He finally reached Maneka Gandhi in Delhi (of the Gandhi family) perhaps the most effective activist in the country fighting to lift suffering from the animal realm. It was together with one of her main associates in Chennai - a lady whom he came to call "Prema the Tigress" of People for Animals - that they were able to stop the killing. But with the caveat that an effective birth control program had to be put in place. Leslie scrapped his plans to go to the Himalayas.
Then it was an incredible struggle - for over four months - just to try to find a place to rent. Requirements were high because what was needed was a place that was semi-remote. At least one that didn't have next door neighbors. A place that was not too far outside of town, with some surrounding land. And electricity and water, of course.
The search was exhausting and deeply discouraging. At the same time it was necessary to raise money to fund whatever we did undertake. Yes, there were times when we were simply overwhelmed.
Even with the main institutions helping - The Municipality, Ramana Ashram, Ragammal Hospital and even though we had people out looking, offering a finders fee to anyone who found a place, we simply could not find a place.
But finally in late June, 2006 - a major breakthrough. Leslie had been in close contact with the Municipality. The commissioner, with whom he'd been dealing, grew to respect him. Distrust was replaced by affection.
Having confidence that Leslie would see this thing through and would be able to put it together, the Municipality offered the use of a beautiful piece of land, initially for five years - 12,000 square feet at the foot of the sacred mountain, Arunachala. Close to town. No immediate neighbors. It was simply perfect.
And so money was raised. It came magically. Derek O'Neill, a major disciple of Satya Sai Baba, and a spiritual teacher in his own right, heard of our work. He summoned Leslie to Puttaparthi to pick up a check. Leslie and Derek immediately liked one another. The check was substantial. It was the beginning of a long relationship. Derek paid for sixty percent of the construction, and sixty percent of the operating expenses after opening. The Shelter could not have become what it is, without his encouragement and support. He trusted us, and exhorted us to do our very best as we saw fit.
We opened January 10, 2007. At that time there were over 4,000 homeless dogs. There was no small animal vet within 75 kilometers. There was no facility to keep and treat animals. The population was out of control. The animals were heavily abused. And so there was great suffering. There were between 250 and 350 suffering and dying dogs and puppies on the streets.
And now, six years later: The streets are clear of suffering animals. The population is steadily and naturally decreasing since natural deaths outnumber births. It is rabies-free, probably below 3,500 and with continued maintenance will continue decreasing until it establishes itself at a much lower level. 7,000 fewer puppies are born each year, most of whom would have suffered and died on the streets. And unexpectedly, but most importantly, the relationship between homeless dogs and humans has been transformed. The lives of the homeless creatures has been truly uplifted.
At our fourth Anniversary Puja January 2011 a longtime resident poignantly observed:
"Public memory is short. Few can recall the rampant stray dogs everywhere, young and aged, starving and diseased, scavenging in the garbage heaps, fighting amongst themselves, ignored and abused by the human population, while remaining a menace to all including themselves. In four short years, the roads are more peaceful, with few strays to be seen, and the naturally loving relationship between humans and animals restored to its true state."