Two weeks after his amazing photo story from the streets of Calcutta, James Knox contributes again to The Crowded Planet, with an incredibly inspiring tale about volunteering in an animal shelter in Rajasthan.

As we bumped along the broken road in a stupendously noisy and uncomfortable rickshaw I was not sure what to expect of the final destination, an animal shelter in a small village six kilometres from Udaipur called Animal Aid.

I had first heard of Animal Aid from a fellow traveller in a guesthouse in Udaipur. The traveller mentioned an American couple had set up an animal shelter and had been living and working in the area for over a decade, and were always keen to accept volunteers. This piqued my interest so I decided to check it out.

Upon arriving at Animal Aid, I felt a huge sigh of relief as a lot of what I had seen of India thus far had been difficult to digest and a run-down animal shelter may have pushed me over the edge. But this was not to be, as Animal Aid is a substantial operation, run by an amazing family.

wounded calf animal aid

As I walked down the driveway, I could hear the yapping of puppies and barking of older dogs, immediately I felt a sense of calm – how could anyone not, puppies are cool, right? Yet the closer I got the harsher the reality became. At the entrance to the main building was the puppy enclosure, and these poor devils were in horrible shape – missing limbs and eyes, dying of disease, malnutrition and abuse.

As I found out they put the ‘rookies’ with the puppies on their first days of volunteering, as this is the least confronting area and I had no veterinary training. Animal Aid prefers veterinarians or veterinary students to volunteer as they are able to provide a more in-depth assistance but anyone is welcome.

cute white puppy animal aid

The first day I spent with the little rascals was melancholy to say the least. There was one puppy that broke my heart, a blind German Shepherd, she was covered in ticks, literally head to toe. She managed to hop up onto my lap and make herself comfortable, and I got to work. We spend the next couple of days together, she would hop on my lap when I called to her and I would begin pulling the ticks out, I cannot say it was an enjoyable experience being covered in blood and ticks but one that was definitely rewarding.

german shepherd puppy animal aid

Over the course of the rest of my days I helped feed and brush the livestock, wash and feed the dogs, work in the field and generally try to help where I could. As I was only there for a week and arrived without prior notice I did not have a set schedule, which would have entailed further duties. Ideally they prefer to be contacted well in advance to plan how to best utilise volunteers.

Every night I would go back to my guesthouse, sit by myself and become lost in thoughts about these animals and their situation. Maybe it was the fact this was my first ‘proper’ journey away from my comfortable life, or maybe it was my inability to handle seeing suffering this close. Yet, these animals are the lucky ones as they have trained vets, nurses and a voluntary support staff helping them recover in a safe and compassionate environment.

looking after puppy animal aid

For anyone that has spent some time in India, the first thing that comes to mind is the severe inequality between humans, which overshadows the even harsher reality for animals there. To even comprehend a charity focused on saving animals lives in a country where people still die of polio, starvation and dysentery boggles the mind. Yet Animal Aid is doing such a great job, proving that no matter how difficult the circumstances are a positive outcome is always possible.

Animal Aid is more than just an animal shelter; they promote humane education in local schools and campaign for greater community awareness to animal protection and laws. They are also supporting the local communities by providing employment to the locals and employ professional veterinarians from all over India – they have a staff of over 30. They also have a fully-fledged animal hospital and animal ambulances, which respond to emergency calls. So far they have helped over 44,000 animals, which is an incredible feat.

woman patting dog animal aid

After leaving Animal Aid I found an incredible respect for the people that put this operation together, they have gone completely against the odds to create a charity completely focused on the ethical treatment of animals in a country that has such deep social problems, that even the most basic human rights are often ignored.

Sometimes foreign volunteers can do more harm than good, as western guilt and a healthy bank account are not adequate solutions to many eastern problems, yet at Animal Aid I felt like they are doing significant work and recommend anyone travelling to Udaipur to check them out.

waldorf the donkey animal aid

Check out Animal Aid here:

James Knox is a freelance photographer and Editor in Chief of FLINT Magazine.

three dogs animal aid

sleeping dog face

skinny cow

puppy three legs

puppy no legs animal aid

dog outside animal aid


38 Responses

  1. Hannah

    Wow what an incredible experience. I’m heart broken when I see stray and homeless animals while traveling, especially if they are unwell. This sounds like an amazing opportunity to help out on a really meaningful level. Thanks for sharing.

    • Margherita

      It is indeed Hannah. I’m glad you liked the post, and I hope it will do something to raise awareness.

  2. Dave Cole

    This seems like a rewarding experience in a part of the world I don’t usually associate with animal care. And donating time and effort likely makes more of a difference than simply giving money. It’s very comforting to see this organization’s community outreach efforts, as well.

    • Margherita

      So true Dave. I’ve always had a problem with giving money to organisations, as you may not know where it ends up. Volunteering is definitely a better option.

    • Margherita

      Hey Cat! Will head over to your site to read about it. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Alli

    Break my heart why don’t ya! 🙂 My heart just melted reading this post – those photos! So heart wrenching.

    • Margherita

      Sorry about that Alli. It’s a great project though, hopefully the post will raise awareness.

  4. Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy

    Wow, you always know these conditions exist but seeing them and hearing about them hurts. I’ve always had an abnormal amount of compassion for animals and will definitely remember this place so i can check it out whenever I make my way there. I already have plans of volunteering at a few animal shelters (for lack of better term) in SEA later this year! Wonderful photos also 🙂

    • Margherita

      Thanks for your comment Ashley. I’m glad you made the choice of volunteering, and I’m looking forward to reading about it.

  5. Chris Boothman

    This is tough to just look at the pictures without getting emotional but at the same time appreciating what an amazing job this organization is doing. I know that many folks are not affected by dog shelters or animal societies in general but I think it is a moving story to read about how an organization like Animal Aid has gone into a country and developed this excellent program despite the obvious issues that humans are also suffering from.

    The whole topic of equality is highly debated and I am not going to comment on that because I appreciate everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but what I will say is this organization should be proud of what they are doing and to give them some exposure like this is a credit to you! Great post and long may this organization continue their great work.

    • Margherita

      Thanks Chris. They are doing an amazing job, and deserve as much exposure as possible.

  6. Angela Travels

    OMG. Such a great opportunity to help out when you travel. I have thought about volunteering, but it usually is a time commitment. I like that you just heard of the place and stopped in. So sad that there are places that neglect animals.

    • Margherita

      hey Angela! Volunteering is best on long trips, when you don’t have things planned back to back, and dropping by and staying somewhere is a welcome change. Glad you liked the article.

  7. Franca

    They are doing an amazing job, I’d love to see places like this to grow more and more and everywhere in the world. I’m so glad there are kind and lovely people that look after animals especially the ones that need care the most. We did some volunteering too at tow dog shelters in Thailand and to date they were the best experiences and more rewarding ones we did. If one day we make it to Udaipur we’ll definitely get in touch with Animal Aid to help out 🙂

    • Margherita

      Thanks Franca for your kind comment. It means a lot, coming from you. I have only had one volunteering experience personally, and I regret not having more. I’ll make up for it on our next trip.

  8. Nick

    Great pictures. I dread to think what happened to the cow with the broken legs.

    • Margherita

      Thanks for your comment Nick, glad you liked the article. I will have to ask James about that dog.

    • Margherita

      Thanks for your comment Sophie, glad you liked the article!

  9. Giselle and Cody

    Great post. We had a similar experience in Thailand living at Elephant Nature Park for 6 months. We cared for over 350 dogs on the grounds, administering medication, cleaning wounds, cleaning runs, helping with enrichment, and more. Our time there was bitter sweet. We fell in love with so many dogs. We lost a few to various illnesses, and even took a 15 hour drive to a facility that confiscated over 2000 from the dog meat trade. It was an extremely difficult day.

    The next time we are in India we will most definitely look up Animal Aid. We’re happy to see that they are doing a good job caring for these beings that deserve peace as much as we do.

    • Margherita

      Thanks guys for your comment. It must have been heartbreaking. I would love to read about your experience, have you got any posts about it?

  10. Amy

    Oh wow, that’s so sad. I’m such an animal lover and I hate seeing animals in those conditions. I’m glad there are people there taking care of them. It has to be such a hard thing to do day in and day out.

    • Margherita

      Those people are amazing. James told me about his experience, and it’s incredible how those people have decided to do so much for animals. I would like to raise awareness of their fight – Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Sabina @GirlvsGlobe

    I loved this article and the angle. I love animals, but struggle with the thought that there are children dying on the streets and that I’m not helping them instead. But as you so eloquently say, this is one charity where even an inexperienced volunteer can make a real tangible difference. If I’m ever in the area, I’d definitely love to help out so thanks for bringing this to my attention!

  12. Shara

    Sweet story. I’ve worked (volunteered) in animal rescue sanctuaries before and it can be simultaneously heartbreaking and joyous … to see the sad condition of animals taken in and happy to know they’ve been rescued and given another chance. 🙂 I think it’s hard to find a reason not to volunteer at a place like this. Well done.

    • Margherita

      Thank for your kind comment Shara. I didn’t visit this place myself, it was a guest post from my friend James, but if I ever went to India again, I’d definitely spend a few weeks volunteering.

  13. Karianne

    It breaks my heart to see how badly animals are treated all over the world. But I love seeing that there are organisations such as this that dedicate their lives to helping these innocent creatures.

    We spent time in a number of animal sanctuaries while we were in Asia, as as hard as it sometimes was, we loved our time at them.

    Thank you for raising awareness of the great work being done at Animal Aid. If we ever go to Udaipur, we will most definitely be contacting them and offering some of our time.

    • Margherita

      Thanks Karianne. I would most definitely do the same.

  14. Johnny

    This is was so touching to read. I think it is great that you were able to help out so much. It is impossible for us to do it all but, we can do a lot. Thank you for sharing.

    • Margherita

      Thank you Johnny. It was great to share this post, a reminder that there’s no limit to what we can do for animals.

  15. bryan flake

    My daughter is eleven and wants to become an animal care person when she gets older. She has a school assignment to interview a person in her desired career field. Would a vet be willing to let her volunteer for a day, to see what an animal hospital is like?

    • Margherita

      Dear Bryan
      I am not affiliate with Animal Aid, so I am not quite sure. Also, they are in India. Perhaps you’d be better off looking at some of your local vet clinics? I’m sure some will be happy to help out. I could help with contacts, but I live in Italy! Sorry 🙁

  16. Abélia

    It was a delight to learn about your experiences volunteering in an animal shelter abroad! I’ve wanted to do this for a while now but was unsure of how the whole process worked. It’s true that it would be heart breaking to see so many animals that were hurt, abused, or malnourished. I can see that you really made a difference. I can’t wait to have similar rewarding experiences. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Andrew

    I have gone to several countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and India and I saw the same view on how they treat animals there. When I read a story like Animal Aid, it is great to see in a place likes Udaipur, where clean water is a luxury, there is still a group of people, flocking together, to take care and give a better place for animals. I will definitely check this place when I go there.

    • Margherita

      Thanks for your comment Andrew! You’re right, the work they do is amazing.