It was the sight of injured camels that were being used for joy rides for tourists during International Shivratri Fair at Mandi in 2018 that prompted local youth to come forward and stop the ritual.

They approached the Deputy Commissioner to stop such rides and the district administration assured them that such practices would not continue in the fair.

The youth, who were upset by the condition of the camels, decided to form a group, “We Care For Animals” and lend a helping hand to the injured strays in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh.

The initiative has now reached areas surrounding Mandi with volunteers joining hands to care for stray animals and provide medical care to the injured ones.

“During last Shivratri fair, we noticed an injured camel which was being used for joyrides by tourists with no one noticing how much pain the animal was in. After this, our friends planned to care for other injured animals in the area and this was the beginning of ‘We Care for Animals’ group,” Shilpa Sharma, a member of the group said. The founder of the group, Varnika Sharma, said she, along with other youth, some of whom are students, are now caring for stray animals in the area.

There were lots of stray animals including cows and dogs who were starving in the area so they decided to feed them regularly.

Varnika said though there are 2-3 cow shelters in Mandi, these are in dilapidated condition owing to lack of manpower. And there are no shelter homes to care for other stray animals such as dogs.

“Now each of the group members has been assigned the task of feeding strays in their respective areas and we are garnering support of locals too for the initiative,” she said. Varnika said the group members have also tied up with veterinary doctors for providing medical care to the injured animals.

The group is organising awareness campaign for local residents to sensitise them on stray animals and they are being urged to love and care for the animals as they do for other human beings.

The group has also set up a helpline number so that anyone can inform them about injured stray cattle. The group is meeting some resistance from local authorities as sometimes they refuse to take these animals to shelter homes, saying it had become a habit of locals to leave the animals on roads.

Recently, a stray calf was found by the group members on the roads in Mandi but when they tried to hand it over to the local shelter home they refused to let it in. It was after repeated requests with higher authorities that the calf was taken in by the shelter home, Varnika said. The group is also helping in finding new homes for stray dogs that are left unattended on roads and get injured in road accidents.

A few days back, the group had found a newborn puppy in the campus of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mandi and with their sincere efforts, the pup has been adopted by locals.

The group was also seeking land for setting up shelter homes for stray animals including dogs but the district administration had declined their request, Varnika added.