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Please call later, I am feeding strays"—it was the standard response of most animal lovers contacted for this story. With restaurants, meat shops and fresh food vendors shut since the lockdown that started on 25 March, stray animals lost their regular food haunts.

In a statement on 23 March, Maneka Gandhi, Bharatiya Janata Party leader and founder of People for Animals, requested all animal welfare workers to feed animals during the lockdown. “I will be doing the same," Gandhi wrote.

Yet no one was prepared for what followed—food shortages, a significant dip in the number of people feeding stray animals, and abandoned pets. Concerns rose over stray dogs moving across territories in search of food, leading to vicious pack fights.

During week 1, feeders queued up outside police stations for passes that would enable movement. Individual or NGO-led fund-raisers cropped up on crowd-funding platforms like Ketto, Milaap and Impact Guru. Last week, Mumbai-based marketing consultant Pri Shewakramani and blogger Scherezade Shroff launched Quarancharity on Instagram, introducing paid virtual knowledge sessions on the social media platform with fitness, food and fashion experts like Yasmin Karachiwala, Pooja Dhingra and Anaita Shroff Adajania. The proceeds go to three NGOs on Ketto. One of them is Animal Adoption and Care; it has so far received over 5 lakh. Apart from crowdsourcing, brands like the fashion label Bhaane pledged to donate all earnings during the lockdown from their e-shop to the Delhi-based animal welfare NGO Friendicoes. Offline, there are university campuses, like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, mobilizing funds and food for stray animals.

JNU’s campus has hundreds of stray dogs and cats as well as wildlife like deer, fox and porcupine. There’s a thriving culture of animal care furthered by two active WhatsApp groups, Animal Saviours and Animal Lovers, with students, faculty, staff, alumni and veterinarians as members.

When the lockdown began, the majority of students left the campus and canteens and neighbouring dhabas closed. A few managed to get feeding passes and some carry print-outs of Gandhi’s statement. Economics professor Sujoy Chakravarty says there are five-seven feeders for JNU’s 250-300 stray dogs right now. “Monetary contributions are not very helpful. We can’t necessarily step out and grocery shops are running out of ration. Food is the real shortage and you can help by donating food," he adds.

He is joined by alumnus like Asher Jesudoss. Jesudoss raised about 45,000 via Facebook and says JNU’s administration pitches in by providing bread and milk. “It’s getting to a point where they are not famished any more but resources are limited and more food or funds are required to sustain this effort for the next few weeks," he says.

Neha Panchamiya, founder of Pune-based animal welfare NGO RESQ, is an active member of the district’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). She is issuing feeding passes digitally. “There are more feeders than the passes we have been able to give," she says. RESQ offers shelter to about 200 domestic and wild animals. During the lockdown period, they have rescued an orphaned monkey, a leopard and a dog.

There are many helping hands but the primary need is food. Panchamiya is raising funds on Ketto to meet the need for 15 tonnes of dog food, costing 25-30 lakh, in their district alone.

Feeders also look out for injured and abandoned animals for veterinary and foster care. In addition, they are supposed to keep in mind the fact that stray animals should not become habituated to organized feeding since it will weaken their natural instinct to scavenge. So, feeding is restricted to once a day.

Mumbai-based animal activist Anand Siva, who is helping feeders and NGOs in need of funds and food, drives an SUV that proclaims “This car stops to help animals" and travels hundreds of kilometres to drop off food. He converted a friend’s shop into a godown for about 800kg of dog food. He uses Facebook to post about shops stocking pet food in Mumbai.

He outlines three ways to help stray animals during the lockdown—donate directly to NGOs that need special food for ageing and wild animals, distribute large quantities of animal food across your city to animal caretakers, and, if possible, feed strays.

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