“Consciousness is when we feel the suffering of every creature within our hearts”, a beautiful quote from the ancient Indian scriptures of Bhagavad Gita, conveys much more of a profound message for the times we are in. On a similar note, Pooja Sakpal, Priya Hebber, Akarsh Hebber and Meenal Rajda – Founders of Youth Organization In Defense of Animals, embarked on an empathetic and, most notably, humane journey to care for the stray animals that cannot have a say for themselves. Pooja Sakpal, Co-Founder of YODA, has grown to receive the recognition of becoming one of the “25 Iconic Businesswomen Need to Follow in 2022”.
On being asked about this recent accomplishment, she felt humbled and inspired. It is the calling for standing up for the damned and deprived, especially the animals who do not have the subsequent voice to articulate their feelings and expression. As a fully physically abled human being with a mind to think, we often debate our role in society to look after mother nature and the wilds. Hence, the organization helped create a community of like-minded, kind people who will come forward and preach the message of co-existence.
As they often say, what one learns as a child shapes their future! Pooja’s home and family contributed to much of Pooja’s ethics and sense of morality. Her parents were always quick to instill values of justice for all; inequality in society; and always made her self-aware of the privileges that were granted to her, which others had to fight for.
To describe Pooja Sakpal in her words, she is ‘self-driven’.
She has repeatedly noticed and often stressed on the palpable animal-human conflict in cities and neighboring areas where urbanization is rapidly sweeping over. With this in view, the purpose of YODA is to facilitate modes of animal welfare within public reach. Their call is for the people who wish to change the society and also put a system in place, which in the long run will make build a compassionate world if nothing else.
The services offered by YODA start and end with helping animals without discrimination. They conduct workshops in schools and colleges to spread awareness on the plight of animals.
A training program is in place to teach volunteers basic first aid skills for treating an injured animal. YODA also has a framework for setting up adoptions for abandoned animals. 24/7 hospital facility, emergency services, on-road mobile treatment facility are a few other services offered, so that all animals live coming out of fatality.
When talking about the challenges, she emphasized on the general outlook of people. It veers between outright lack of awareness of social issues and continuing to being ignorant of them. Sensitizing of the masses was critical. The next hurdle was fundraising, which meant presenting her work and conveying YODA’s message so that others could also visualize the impact of this dream.
With Mumbai having over 3 million stray animal population, YODA’s mission has always been to strengthen the medical care facilities across the city, especially for injured animals. Their next goal would be to do the groundwork for spreading rapid awareness.
Soon, the plan is to expand their emergency service facilities to the city-outskirts of Mumbai. In addition, they have also envisioned to grow out to other cities of the country, starting with two facilities with the capacity of a minimum of 50 animal services combined.
Last, the endgame would be to have a pan-India reach for YODA- Youth Organization In Defense of Animals. The immediate effect would be to allow medical facilities for animals. But, in the long run, it will create a general awareness leading up to a public perception to act sensitively.
Change is subjective, which can be brought by making others understand and empathize with a situation and see the different perspectives. Therefore, the most significant challenge has been for the YODA- Youth Organization In Defense of Animals is to teach people the importance and necessity of co-existence.
Every person is essential to the change. Every person contributes and makes the dream bigger. Hence, it is important to include everyone. To make people aware of the issues concerning stray animals in the vicinity, and how they contribute and affect our surroundings.
Every step has been a learning lesson for Pooja in establishing YODA. When the shelter became small for the number of animals, YODA had to optimize medical aid to all by segregating and treating the animals. The decision was tough, to choose between who needs medical care the most and recourses made available to the ones on the street. Their goal was never to deny treatment to an animal that needs it. This only meant moving from one experience to the other, growing strong in the knowledge and correcting courses constantly, so that it does not hamper the recovery of animals.
Starting from 150 sq.ft. space in Mumbai to establishing a 12-acre shelter for animals is a tremendous achievement for YODA. The dedication of the entire team and the increasing number of volunteers who work alongside government officials to bring about change is a step towards the success of the dream YODA wants to materialize.
As the co-founder and trustee of YODA, Pooja Sakpal is invested in setting up the best management practices for the team and shelter. It is a multifaceted work that she does and manages 26 people ranging from vets, medical staff, housekeeping staff, communication executives, divers, and catchers, all working under their banner.
In the next 5 years, YODA hopes to set up a 24/7 staffed medical facility with in-house equipment for pre-, post- and operation care for strays pan India.
The fundamental value has been unchanged: “Rescue, Rehab, Release or Rehome”.
The lockdown completely seized the opportunity for stray animals to scavenge for food as they depended upon the city. Therefore, during the unfortunate circumstances of 2020, YODA raised funds to provide food worth 75000 kgs, feeding over 16000 stray animals across Mumbai.
YODA is working hard to keep the facilities up and running 24/7. While simultaneously gaining funds to support their cause, they plan to focus on remote areas as well. Another plan includes 12-acre plots for shelter in Haryana and Lonavala. They also plan to issue a license for good breeding practices in the future.
For anyone starting out on the field, she had just one thing to say ‘persevere’.