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Jessica Jerusha owns a vacation home for pets in Bangalore, and also many pets of her own. She can easily be termed a female Dr. Dolittle.
Jessica Jerusha can rightly be called an inspiration. Just to begin writing about her passion for fur babies, I need to mention that at present this Bangalorean has 5 dogs and 10 cats as pets. And that is just one tiny part of her inspirational story!
Her passion for animals has made her adorn different hats over the years and the zeal with which she has achieved to live her dream is infectious to say the least.
Jessica Jerusha was to born in Bangalore. As she herself puts it, ‘I was born in a family of animal lovers’, and soon enough she found herself sharing the same emotions as the rest of her family members. All through her growing up years she had pets at home. As a kid, she would even pick up stray dogs and cats, especially the ones which were ailing or had a broken limb, and bring them home for care and treatment. However, during these initial years, Jessica’s love and care for animals remained more at the level of personal pleasure than a driving passion for a social cause.
But things changed when as a 9 year old kid, she was taken to an animal shelter at Hebbal (Bangalore) by her mother. It was during a time when the situation at Jessica’s home were not particularly happy. Her father had abandoned the family, leaving her mother to fend alone for herself and the children. To keep her out of all the negativity and to encourage her love for animals, Jessica’s mother started taking her for visits to the animal shelter on weekends.
These visits were a turning point in Jessica’s life. She recalls, “I would go there and feed the dogs. But what soon struck me was that the dogs I saw one weekend were gone by the next.” She could not fathom what was happening. But this fact kept disturbing her for a while.
It was during one such visit that she found a garbage truck picking up animal carcasses from a garbage dump near the animal shelter she visited. “I realised what was happening. The dogs that were not adopted were being euthanized. That day changed my worldview…the image had a deep impact on my mind as a kid and has remained with me till date,” recalls Jessica.
It was then that she decided that her love for animals cannot stop at just visiting animal shelters, and feeding and playing with them. It had to move beyond that and include a more comprehensive help and care system for animals. That was the beginning of her dreams.
18 years down the line Jessica has achieved more than what her dreams had begun with. Today she runs a foster home for animals which is spread across her home in Bangalore city and at her farm. She has been a mother to scores of four legged children over the years. The animals often come to her as abandoned, malnourished and with broken limbs, mostly through friends and acquaintances who know about her work.
Once brought to her foster home, the animals receive round the clock nourishment, medical treatment and unconditional care. Jessica also tries to find them a new home, putting them up for adoption. She has successfully resettled 42 dogs so far from her foster home. The ones which do not find homes continue to live under her care.
Jessica runs the foster home completely on her own expenditure. She also welcomes and accepts donations but only in the form of animal food. She says, “I do not believe in asking for monetary help or taking others’ money, when I can myself work for it. But if people willingly and lovingly give food for the animals, we accept such donations only.”
To meet her expenditures of running the foster home Jessica started Jeru’s Lovin’ Vacation Home for Pets, 8 years ago. When asked what was the idea behind starting a vacation home for pets, Jessica replies, “In the initial years of the foster home, I was running it completely with my own money. It was becoming financially unviable to maintain the home without any source of financial backing. To care for even one rescued dog we need to spend thousands. One vaccine itself costs around eight hundred rupees! To support my fostering activities I needed to earn the required money.” And thus she started the vacation home.
At Jeru’s Lovin’ Vacation Home, one can leave their pets while leaving for a vacation or just in case of some emergency. The vacation home which is run from Jessica’s four bedroom house at HBR Layout in Bangalore, can house 30 dogs and 18 cats at any given point of time.
But Jessica’s pet vacation home is not limited to just cats and dogs. As she puts it, “Apart from cats and dogs, we take in bunnies, birds, guinea pigs, hamsters, fish and anything else that is legally allowed to be kept as a pet in India!” The money she charges for caring for the pets are used to give them the diet they are used to, medication if needed, and a complimentary medicated bath before they leave for home.
The small profit margin which she earns from the vacation home is used for her foster activities. Jessica emphasises, “We don’t cut corners with the profit we earn. All of it is used up for the care and treatment of my animals at the foster home. We don’t compromise on money when it comes to their care.”
Apart from uncompromised care, Jessica’s fur family enjoys unconditional freedom. So, whether it is her own pets, or the ones at her foster home, or those who come to her vacation home, all animals under Jessica’s care are left free. They are neither chained nor caged. So a visitor at Jessica’s place might be amused by the sight of a bullmastiff posing with his feline friends for a happy group photo; or one might just happen to meet Mr. Bird (a rescued parrot who has been staying at Jessica’s foster home for two years) joyfully hopping and flapping around his canine brothers!
Jessica’s dreams started with wanting to help the four legged friends she met at the animal shelter as a nine year old kid. Today she has been able to provide shelter, care, and create a loving world for scores of fur friends. Having achieved more than what she had once dreamt of, Jessica doesn’t see her work reaching its zenith yet.
“Animal abuse is still rampant. And I don’t see things getting better in near future. So my fight is still on!” Jessica exclaims. Asked what she thinks is the reason behind apathy for animals, Jessica is prompt to point out – ignorance. She elaborates that people are ignorant to a lot of aspects related to animal care.
“Most people buy pets without being aware of the time and expense that they need to spend on maintaining and caring for one. Initially they find the animal cute and there is some initial enthusiasm of having a pet. But then as the animals grow old, and the owners are faced with the actual responsibilities such as medical care of the animals, controlled breeding, hygiene issues and so on, the animals start becoming a burden for the owners.”
Jessica points out that once hit with the reality check most owners either leave their pets with animal shelters, which are filled beyond capacity; or simply abandon them on streets with the hope that “somebody will take them up and help’’.
Most of the abandoned animals which come to her foster home have similar stories. “Every animal which comes to me has a story…a St. Bernard was abandoned by his owner. A neighbour brought him to me. He was skin and bones when he came to our foster home. We fed him, took him to a vet and within days he was back on his feet. He has now found a new home as well!” Jessica’s voice quivers with emotions and joy as she narrates the story to me.
But she is quick to add, “the more we clean up the mess, the more it spreads! People feel if they abandon their pets some one or the other will definitely help, so they can shrug off their responsibilities.”
A major focus of Jessica’s work is therefore on spreading awareness against such kind of animal apathy and cruelty. For her awareness campaigns, she deals mostly with children. “I deal a lot with children. With the rise in cruelty cases and thousands of animals being abandoned by heartless people we definitely need more compassionate souls…who better than little children who are the future?” asks Jessica.
We have schools visiting our foster home. During their visits I not only allow children to play with and feed the animals but also tell them things like how to spot animal cruelty, how to take care of animals, how to help animals they find being abused etc.’’
A common experience that Jessica comes across while dealing with children is the fear instilled in their minds against animals, especially stray animals; “Parents often tell children to keep away from stray animals lest they would be bitten by them. Children learn to fear animals without reason and try to keep away from them.’’
When children come to visit Jessica’s foster home, she tries to break this unreasonable fear from their mind. “My ten year old daughter is one of my biggest helps with maintaining the animals. She bathes the animals, feeds them, gives them medicines…when talking to other kids I often give her example to help them overcome their fears.’’
Jessica also vouches for strong breeding laws and their strict implementation as a possible solution to stop animal abuse. From her experience she has found that, “People breed for money. They engage in illegal breeding to earn quick money. Breeders put up their animals for sale and often do not track where they are going and what happens to the animals in future.”
Jessica points out that though there are some laws regarding animal breeding in our country, most of us are not aware of these laws. Even the police and administration are also unaware of the existence of such laws. “We need awareness about breeding laws and their strict execution to stop rampant practice of illegal breeding.” Awareness among buyers against illegal breeding is also equally important according to Jessica. “Buyers”, she emphasises, “should know the breeding laws and norms that exist. One should buy animals only from a licensed breeder’”.
The situation with animal abuse laws is equally grim according to Jessica. Once again these laws get shrouded under a cloud of ignorance which comes from law enforcers as well as common people. On several occasions when she has tried to take an animal abuser up the legal road, she has faced apathy from the police itself. “When we go to police stations and try to file FIRs, the police do not take us seriously. They do not even know that issues of animal abuse are covered under law…even when we are successful in lodging a complaint; the implementation of the laws is not strict. The violators get away with a small fine and thus, little gets changed,” she sighs.
For Jessica the road to change might come with spreading more awareness among people about the existing laws against animal abuse and an effective implementation regime. What she wants more than anything else, however, is for people to understand that the world we live is not just for ourselves. She pleads, “We share this planet with animals, so let us live and let live.”
Jessica’s journey to build a compassionate world for the four legged companions around us is on. But this journey has not been an easy one. She has heard it all — she has been sneered at for being “over passionate about animals”. Her work has been criticised and demeaned. She has faced questions such as, “Why not do something for human beings instead of animals?” She has heard people saying, “It must be such a comfortable and easy life… you just stay at home and spend time with animals all day!”
But nothing could take Jessica off the track. If like me, you are wondering what kept her going, here is what she has to say, “If you have a dream you should never give it up. It does not come easy. But if you keep at it, the achievement gives you satisfaction which is worth facing all the adversity.”
No matter what people might think or say about her job, Jessica is quick to remind us that, “It is not a fairytale. I work all round the year! It comes with great pain as well. When a rescued dog dies, it is emotionally unnerving. It is not easy to keep the house clean and manage other aspects of my life… Sometimes, my day begins at 5 am and ends at 1 am. What anyone has to say about our way of life doesn’t affect me. This is my path.”
Support from family has been a great boon for Jessica. Her mother and brother has been her biggest support. Her husband and daughter are animal lovers as well and they also chip in to help her. But Jessica’s constant source of inspiration has been her four legged children. “Animals are very generous in expressing gratitude. The happiness that shines in the eyes of a rescued dog – that is what keeps me going. It makes me happy and you should only do what makes you happy in life!’”
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Images credit: Jessica Jerusha.
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