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Chitra Besbroda's Mission to Save the Junkyard Dogs of Harlem
Among the filth and squalor of Harlem, a young woman crouches in the passageway of an abandoned building. Taking a single pellet of kibble she pushes it through the tiny keyhole of the door, then another and another. She's rewarded with a high pitched whine and frantic scratching on the other side of the door. For hours she sits there repeating the simple act of generosity.
That was over 20 years ago, yet in those quiet moments Chitra Besbroda shaped her life's destiny as a crusader against the pain and abuse suffered by hundreds of junkyard dogs and stray cats in the slums of Harlem.
"The start of it was purely accidental," says Besbroda, as she remembers those early days. "I just witnessed so much suffering and so much pain that I couldn't turn my back. So I started in 1972 with my first rescue of a purebred shepherd named Teddy." Teddy was the dog on the other side of the door who learned to place his tongue under the keyhole to capture Besbroda's pellets of food. It took the Sri Lanka born social worker months to rescue Teddy, but she eventually did, nursing him back to health and finding him a home with a man who worked at the United Nations. The two of them later moved to Spain.
In the over twenty year crusade, Besbroda estimates over 1500 junkyard dogs (update: as of 2001, approximately, 3,500 have been rescued) have been rescued from living in filth at the end of chains so short they could not even get away from their own waste, often starved and physically abused. Their owners claim the animals are guard dogs but Besbroda disagrees. "They're really not guarding because you don't tie a dog on a two-foot leash if he's supposed to guard," says Besbroda. "These animals are just living burglar alarms, except even a burglar alarm gets a battery and a check-up once in a while but not these animals," points out Besbroda. "And every cat in this area is no more than a mousetrap. They are never loved or cared for as individual little creatures that are beautiful. They are just objects." Life hasn't been easy for Besbroda either as she fights to make a difference under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. She's been seriously attacked on three different occasions and verbally abused countless times by the owners. "It's always there," says Besbroda. "There's always a threat and the possibility that I'll not return after going into Harlem to rescue the dogs or feed them."
Meanwhile, Besbroda continues to take her fight for animal rights beyond the streets of Harlem, expressing the need for a three pronged effort to finally correct the problem. She points to the need for an increase in public awareness and education, the introduction of laws to safeguard animals in general as well as the banning of the use of junkyard dogs and a comprehensive spaying and neutering policy.
In 1991 Besbroda founded Sentient Creatures, Inc., "Harlem's first organized, nonprofit, tax-exempt animal charity to help pets and people live harmoniously together." An animal rescued by Sentient Creatures will receive veterinary care, grooming and boarding until a suitable permanent home can be found. This task may take several months since with each case, a thorough screening, reference check, and home visitation is performed.
Among all the struggle, Besbroda maintains her vision to one day have her own shelter where she can house "her" animals temporarily until new homes can be found. "I am dreaming of how they will have the play area, what they will eat, what music they will listen to, how I'll get services from dog trainers to train the ones who are biters.
Excerpts from an article by the 'Life on Purpose Institute'.
Be an animal lover, NOT an animal collector!!