Through a red gate at the end of a Baridhara alley, there are approximately 50 dogs. It is not an animal shelter, but the grounds of a residential building under construction.
A series of barks and howls, usually, sets off whenever human feet approach the gate. Inside, some dogs look healthy and are free to roam about the premises or out the gate. And stepping more inward on the construction site, the canine sound grows more intense, much more intense.
Many dogs are seen on leashes tied to a designated space. These dogs are either recovering from maggot infestations, injuries or surgeries, or suffering from extreme cases of cancer or rendered handicapped by something awful that happened to them.
Train, Noika, Comilla are three of those dogs. All the names attest to their backstory and have been bestowed upon them by their caretaker, Tia Chowdhury, the director of Animal Rescuers Bangladesh (ARB) - an animal rescue service - who lives on the second floor of the building.
Comilla is a dog named after the city she was rescued from. She arrived at the Baridhara home on 22 August in the back of a pick-up after a three-hour journey under the sun.
Three days later, she remained almost motionless. Her back is still broken, her open flesh wounds still red and white (bones), she could barely move her head. She was not on a leash.
But how did Comilla make it to Baridhara?
Sabiha Haque Efel, a North South University graduate based in Dhaka received a message from her sister on 13 August. It was about the dog's state and location in her hometown, Comilla. In turn, Efel picked up the phone and started calling people in an attempt to rescue the dog.
The rescue attempt took 10 days and involved crowdfunding to pay for the transport (which ultimately cost Tk7,000), convincing a delivery company to transport a mangled dog, multiple calls to coordinate between a couple of animal sympathisers in Comilla, a delivery company and Tia Chowdhury in Baridhara.
"I was advised repeatedly by many who are involved in animal welfare and even some of my friends, to put the dog down instead of bringing her to Baridhara," Efel explained, "but I don't know what came over me, I felt determined to bring her no matter what it takes," she said, "to, at the very least, give her a last good few days."
On 13 August, Comilla was rescued from a drain and placed in a dry place. The following day, she was taken to a woman's house for temporary refuge. "At first, I did not know what happened. After some days I learned that she [the dog] was severely beaten up by some people and disposed of in the drain," Efel added.
People who physically abuse or torture dogs, break limbs or spine and seem to take pleasure from it, in most cases, display this level of violence as an expression of their own inner agony, according to Kazi Mustafizur Rahman, Chief Operating Officer, Psychological Health & Wellness Clinic Ltd.
"There is also a gender bias," Rahman added. If we are to look at the incidents, most cases of animal torture are perpetrated by men or even young boys. This stems from the behavioural traits attested to the male gender by the society, such as men are "powerful," Rahman further explained. Of course, this is just one of the explanations behind the human psyche that causes animal harm.
The polar opposite example of those men is someone named Prince. Currently, he is one of the two active volunteer animal rescuers who is working with Tia Chowdhury.
Prince is a university student who took a gap year in his studies. He left his Lalmonirhat hometown and family for his higher education and came to Dhaka city. His association with ARB is two years old now, and recently, he started to dedicate all his time to the animal rescue service.
One of his proudest animal rescue highlights is saving "97 dogs in nine days," he said. This is not sustainable, he added.
"We don't get any kind of respect for doing what we do from anyone," he lamented. Even finding a CNG to transport the dog to the Baridhara home is a hassle. And invariably the fare doubles, he explained.
The volunteer rescuer does spot treatment when required, picks up dogs from around the city (and in some cases, outside Dhaka too) and brings them to Baridhara home.
Inside the red gate, depending on the condition of the rescued dog, Chowdhury treats the dog herself or calls in a vet. The cost of the treatment, in most cases, is crowdfunded. All the dog rescues are thoroughly detailed and a digital record is maintained, with before and after pictures.
The organisation has 200 animal rescuers in total, but most are inactive. "There are even people who rescue only one dog in a year," she said.
In 2021 alone, 388 dogs were rescued and brought to the Baridhara home by ARB volunteer rescuers or by netizens like Efel facilitating the transport of the injured or sick dog to the red gate.
"80% of the dogs usually survive and recover, and 20% do not make it," according to Chowdhury's estimates.
This is a temporary refuge, once recovered, the dog is set free usually at where it was rescued. "I have to make space for more dogs who need help," Chowdhury added, "I have a limited space as you can see, and this is also why I use leashes."
Stray dogs, sometimes, are aggressive. There had been incidents in the past when bigger dogs attacked and severely injured smaller ones on the premises. Leashes can prevent that.
Tia Chowdhury uses the ARB social media platforms to post every new thing she learns about animal treatment to spread awareness. It is on the same Facebook platforms that netizens post and connect to save canine lives. However, it's not always a successful endeavour.
There is no trigger warning and the public Facebook group page is not for the faint hearted. "I post the graphic content in order to get the maximum effect from the viewers, in terms of empathy and help," she said.
Chowdhury also makes adoption posts for the dogs. "It's seldom successful, sometimes I even offer to spay/neuter and vaccinate the dog at my own expense, just to encourage adoptions," she said, "in general, people are reluctant to adopt 'deshi,' stray dogs."
"I can't tell you the number of times I had to bring back dogs here after someone agreed to take and adopt the dog," Prince exclaimed. "They say all sorts of things like 'the dog is too much of a responsibility, my family is about to throw it out on the streets', or 'it defecates, what am I to do?'" he further added.
ARB is an unregistered animal rescue service organisation at the moment, intended to secure registration soon.
Limitations in the business of saving animals
Over time, many organisations and pages have propped up. But so have scammers and frauds.
Additionally, there is no love lost between small scale animal welfare organisations and the established, registered animal welfare organisations in the country - which can be deduced as miscommunication at best, or blatant hostility at worst.
Cause for sterilisation
For the love of the dogs, Chowdhury also has neutered/spayed 30 dogs, so far, in her area at her own expense. The vegan, animal rescuer strongly supports sterilisation as a solution for stray dog population control in the city.
Similarly, Tariqul Islam Tanim, another fellow animal rights advocate, shares the same sentiment about sterilisation.
In fact, with the help of donations and through his Animals Rights Koalition Bangladesh (ARK) Facebook page, he launched a sterilisation programme earlier in August this year and sterilised 155 stray dogs, so far.
The cost of this project, as of this writing, is more than Tk3 lac.
In collaboration with Obhoyaronno, Tanim managed access to a van, staff and vet, and a place for the dogs to rest before they are released back into the streets.
Sterilisation is the only way forward and awareness to change people's perception is key in terms of saving canine lives. "And we can succeed if it's undertaken area-wise," he added.
This can also help improve human-stray dog relationships too. "I needed to make people understand that I am not working for the dogs, but for people actually," he added.
In terms of moving forward, "I think creating an alliance between people and stray dogs, that man and dogs can be friends, that dogs can serve as protectors of their owners --- this can help immensely in moving forward," Rahman, a psychological counsellor, added.
Meanwhile, on 28 August, Comilla the dog became more immobile inside the red Baridhara home gate. Her caretaker continued to feed her with a syringe and give her water to drink.
Comilla had ample space to rest with a roof over her head, surrounded by her canine fellows in her very last days.
She passed away in early September.