By Andrew Carmichael
The Tagore Memorial Secondary School in Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) is home to a number of stray animals which students would feed when school is in session. Since the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in schools being closed for months, a local animal lover has been feeding the animals.
However, he is now being denied access to the animals by the Head of the School’s Board. He has also reported that some of the animals have died as a result of suspected poisoning.
Gobin Harbhajan is a known advocate for the prevention of cruelty and has taken the responsibility to feed those and other strays. During the course of his events, he has had several encounters with Police officers who would impound animals and not provide water and food for them.
Harbhajan, on many occasions, would end up taking food and water for those animals and has also advocated for their release. However, now most of his attention is turned to stray animals that live at locations with heavy human traffic but are now virtually empty since COVID-19 came about and the Government imposed restrictions.
Among the areas he focuses on now are the Number 63 Beach, the Number 66 Primary and Tagore Memorial Secondary School. The dogs in the area of the Tagore Memorial Secondary would start running to Harbhajan’s car as soon as he enters the community and begins honking.
They are aware of his presence and the promise of food. However, he not only takes food for them but also medication. He would ensure that their wounds are tended to and that they receive the necessary care to remain healthy.
According to Harbhajan, as an animal lover, he has been feeding animals wherever he can.
“Mostly at the police station whenever animals are detained due to disputes. For the past three years, I have been feeding dogs on the beach but the beach is closed due to COVID and then schools are closed,” he said.
Most of those dogs on the beach were left there by owners who no longer wanted them. However, with the beach being closed, the dogs made their way to Tagore Memorial Secondary which is situated at the entrance of the beach.
Seeing the increased number of strays, Harbhajan made the decision to begin taking care of them. He would cook food for them or purchase from a restaurant. When he has extra money, he would also incorporate chow.
Despite taking care of the animals, about three weeks ago, the security guard at the school told Harbhajan that he was instructed to deny him access to the compound. The man would usually feed the animals about 4-5ft in the compound so that dog bowls could be adequately spaced to avoid fights during feeding.
“I asked her (the security guard) why I can’t go inside because all I am going in with are these bowls and the food and once the dogs are finished eating, I pick up my bowls and leave. She told me that the Chairman of the School Board instructed her to stop me from going into the compound,” Harbhajan said.
He said the announcement came as a surprise to him since he thought that the Head of the Board would have been one to encourage such actions.
“Depriving me of being able to feed an animal in a school compound is uncalled for,” he opined.
Noting that the exercise is one that will seek to inculcate caring for animals among the youth population in the Region, the activist said that the activity should be encouraged by more persons.
He said that he is doing nothing wrong by feeding the dogs. Harbhajan said he was able to contact the security firm which the guard is employed with and got approval to once again enter the school compound to continue his dog feeding programme.
However, that was short-lived as the very security guard once again approached him and told him that she was instructed not to allow him into the school compound.
“I believe that when we hold a high position and represent groups of persons and do not have love for animals then we are not worthy of such positions,” he noted.
He referred to the alleged actions of the School Board Head as being unacceptable. He even personally contacted the Head of the School Board who said that he had to discuss the matter and get back to him.
However, after three weeks he was still waiting to hear from the School Board.
Meanwhile, the dogs and cats that have taken up residence at that school continue to be deprived of food which is available for them.
Head of Tagore Memorial School Board Charlie Baul Amar in an invited comment said that the dogs in the school are a nuisance and should not be there. Amar also said that he has never instructed anyone to prevent Harbhajan from entering the compound but added that persons are not allowed to enter the compound other than for school business.
Amar has been heading the Board since 2005.
Harbhajan said he would continue to feed the dogs even if he could only feed those that are out of the compound at the time.
“This is not the first time that I am having hiccups. During 2016 and 2017, a lot of animals used to be tied at the police stations and the police kept them as evidence and they died of starvation,” he said.
He noted that he has been receiving assistance from animal rights organisations – one has even donated a few bags of food to assist him in his cause.
“I feel that is animal cruelty. It is heartbreaking when I am feeding some of them and others are right on the other side of the fence and I have to drive and go away without feeding them.”