My visit to All Creatures Great & Small (ACGS) in Silakhari Village, a half hour drive from Gurgaon, Haryana took place on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
My friend’s son was researching animal cruelty for a school project, and this had been the reason for this somewhat impromptu trip.
Situated past the village in a “farmhouse”, ACGS proved to be a bag full of emotions; some good, others heart-breaking.
I had thought of the animal shelter being a small property, maybe housing a few dogs and cats in addition to the odd “small” animal.
That’s also the impression I got when we first entered ACGS which has the most idyllic location next to fields of wheat and the Aravalli’s in the distance.
However, my misconception started to break down as the caretakers opened one gate after another to show a shelter that not only takes in all sorts of animals – big or small – but is massive in size. Any other person would have by now converted this land it into a luxury resort of some kind.
All Creatures Great and Small is a lot more than just a shelter. It’s a safe place for animals and birds who have been through a lot in their lives. It’s a place where they can get the attention – medical, physical, emotional – they rightfully deserve.
On the emotional front, a sense of disbelief set in from the moment we entered the property. Dogs greeted us with loud barks, but a closer look at them made our hearts melt.
The sanctuary isn’t for the weak hearted. Tears welled up in my eyes as the animals walked, hopped, and in some cased dragged themselves around the area. Excited, curious, and some of them cautious about the new visitors. The only consolation for us, and them, that they were now in a safe place.
The agony they would have suffered due to mistreatment by their owners or in many cases left to fend for themselves after accidents reflected in their eyes.
As I went around, the more curious and loveable of the creatures would come close to me. As soon as I would bend down to take a more levelled photograph, they would approach wanting a pat on the back, maybe a belly rub, for that’s all they wanted, love. It was then that I noticed a glint of hope and belonging in their eyes. Their want for a little affection and nothing more.
In fact, so strong is the desire in them for love that I struck up the most unsuspecting friendship with a cat. You see, cats and I have never been the best of friends. We’ve always kept our distance and managed to survive peacefully till now. Except for that one time when a cat scratched me, but that’s a story for another time. This little feline though followed me, cutting my path at times, rubbing against my leg, purring, and jumped around wherever I went. She was quite nifty too and wouldn’t let me take a photo of her till finally, I managed a few good shots.
The enormity of ACGS sets in slowly. A separate area caters to dogs, close to 300 (not a typo) of them. There’s a place for everyone at the shelter; cats, cows, horses, donkeys, roosters, pigeons, and emus (again, not a typo) walk around freely, mingling, eating, basking in the sun.
The emus were another pleasant surprise. Not just quirky, they make the most unusual booming sound (I had to check Google to find out what the name of the noise), and happily posed for photographs.
ACGS is a labour of love. It takes a particular kind of person to devote this much energy, time, money, and resources towards caring for animals.
However, we all have our causes. There is so much suffering in this world that it’s not possible for everyone to take care of every issue.
For me, the visit was an exceptional experience, one that opened my eyes to a different side of suffering, compassion, love, pain, and joy. It certainly left a stamp on my heart, and I crave to go back and spend some time with everyone there.
I must also confess that with each passing day the memory does faint a little. I’m more aware of the suffering, yes, but I don’t think I’m able to partake in it actively.
I’m glad though that others do and in my little way, I can at least support them. I’m also pleased that places like ACGS exist to give the animals another chance.
As for us, what can you and I do?
Go to ACGS when you have the time, take your kids even, interact with the animals there, shower them with some love, take some rice with you and trust me, you are bound to come out feeling a lot better, concerned and aware, but in the end, with a glimmer of hope as well.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
– Anthony Bourdain
P.O. Dhouj – Tehsil & District Faridadad