Meet, Maharashtra's youngest animal welfare officer

As a kid, the 21-year-old spent his pocket money on rescuing injured strays. Today, he juggles the role with a college education

As a 12-year-old, Meet Ashar sold off his silver bracelet to help a stray dog run over by a vehicle. “It fetched me Rs 2,500 which I used for the dog's treatment, but I told my parents that I’d lost the bracelet in school,” smiles the Thane resident as he recollects the 2006 incident.

Senior animal activists noticed Ashar’s work and recommended him for the post in 2011. He got the approval two years later. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Senior animal activists noticed Ashar’s work and recommended him for the post in 2011. He got the approval two years later. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

Today, 21-year-old, Ashar has participated in over 3,000, animal rescue operations, and is the youngest Animal Welfare Officer (AWO) to be appointed by the Bombay High Court. Ashar is authorised to keep a vigil on instances of violation of Animal Welfare Laws throughout the state and bring them to the notice of authorities.

His work includes keeping a tab on breeders, circuses, dairy animals, wildlife cruelty cases and puppy mills, among others. His first case was in 2011 where he found a Neapolitan Mastiff abandoned near Upvan Lake, Thane. “It was blind in both eyes and had maggot wounds all over. A dhaba owner had abadoned it,” he says.

The dog was sent to a kennel to recoup. “Seeing how often I’d visit them, vets in the area taught me basic first aid because you do not always find doctors or hospitals near the accident spot. I even volunteered with a few NGOs before choosing to work independently,” says Ashar, who is currently pursuing an MCom degree while simultaneously preparing for the civil services entrance exam.

Juggling his calling with his education isn’t easy. “I hardly get time to study. I was preparing for my Chartered Accountancy but left it mid-way because I could not devote time for AWO work. My parents were mighty miffed. I don’t come from a family of ardent animal lovers so they find it hard to understand my passion,” he smiles.

Finances, however, remain an issue because his position is honourary. “Nothing is free. Even state-run animal hospitals charge for treatment, so it gets difficult to treat every injured animal.” Fortunately, financial help has poured in from good Samaritans. Senior animal activists, noticing his work, recommended Ashar for the post of an Animal Welfare Officer and he got the approval two years later in 2013.

The designation makes it mandatory for the police department, municipal authorities, and all other arms of Maharashtra government to take cognisance of the cases Ashar reports. “Sadly, most police officers are reluctant to file FIRs in animal cruelty cases because they are unaware of the law.

Section 428 of the IPC says killing, maiming or rendering an animal useless is a criminal offence. They are clueless about it. Most of our time goes in convincing the officers to file an FIR,” says Ashar, who organises police training-cum-sensitisation programmes across the city.

“But there are officers like Dr Ravinder Kumar Singal, Spl Inspector General - Training and Special forces and V V Laksminarayana, Joint Commissioner of Police, Thane, who have lent support to the cause.” While there are countless incidents of animal cruelty in the city, Ashar still cringes when thinking of an incident from two months ago. He and his colleagues had rescued 14 pedigreed dogs from a Palghar ‘trainer’ who used them for indiscriminate breeding.

“They were just skin and bones, locked in two tiny cages and would eat their own poop. Two of the dogs had even lost sight.” A case was registered against the trainer and the dogs were eventually adopted. It’s the happy ending that sees Ashar through.

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