This story was submitted by Vandana Anchalia.
I was only 19 years old when my entire life was turned around. On what should have been a regular day, I received a call from my family, informing me that my father had been in a Blue Line bus accident in Delhi. He passed away right there.
My father had been a big businessman back in my hometown of Nagaon, Assam. Our family had one of the largest showrooms there, and my father was both well-respected and well-known. Things changed quickly - instead of being relatively well-off and secure with the safety net of my father’s support, my mother, brother, and I were left mostly to fend for ourselves.
Everything was affected. I had dreams that I had wanted to fulfil. I wanted to give the UPSC exams, attend the London School of Economics to study Political Science, and have a government administrative career. When I was younger, that’s how I thought I could serve others best.
I spent a year working in Bangalore to save money to take the UPSC exams. My tauji supported us entirely for that year, and when I saved enough money, I went to Delhi and started preparing for the exams. I took a job in the administration of a school and gave that salary to my mother so she did not need money. To sustain me, I took on another job of giving private tuitions, which I used for my food, stay, books, and anything else I required.
The UPSC exams are difficult to prepare for, and with the mental stress I was constantly under, I was unable to complete them after two attempts. I realized that now I had other responsibilities in my life, I could not provide the focus needed to excel here, so I decided against pursuing that dream further.
I had grown up in an environment where I was pampered and well taken care of. After this life-changing event, I supported my family until my brother’s and my studies were over, and until after my brother was married. After a few years of draining hard work, I was finally in a position to be comfortable enough that I could begin focusing on other aspects of my life.
I no longer just wanted to earn for myself - I wanted to help others. In 2013, outside my mother's home in Ghaziabad, I watched in horror as a neighbor brutally beat a helpless stray dog in broad daylight, aiming to kill the dog with a large stone. When nobody else came forward to protect the animal, I was unable to understand the apathy of the onlookers nearby. The sight of that dog suffering due to human cruelty broke my heart; I knew I needed to take action somehow.
I called the police, but they declined to help and said that only an animal welfare NGO could help the dog. I began researching organizations in the area that worked for animal care and welfare, so I would be able to help this dog and others I came across.
I was brought up in a small town in Assam, and I had little to no knowledge about animals or animal welfare. There was little exposure there on these issues, and it was once I put in the work to learn more that I realized how many people have dedicated their lives to this cause. The year following this incident, I rescued 37 abandoned, injured, and sick stray dogs, admitting them to shelters across Delhi for treatment. Not a single one survived.
It was at this point that I arrived at a critical realization: proper medical care for stray animals hardly existed. Around this time, I left the country to go to Singapore for a job. There I realized how unfulfilled I felt. After being rejected from almost 400 jobs, I was at my mental and emotional lowest.
I started KAW(Kannan Animal Welfare) while in Singapore. For 1.5 years I ran it from there until I returned to Delhi in 2016 after being offered a job with a highly respected law firm. KAW was initially a very small center to keep around 20 dogs with just three members, focused on providing quality healthcare to critically ill and injured stray dogs.
The challenges I faced in the field of animal welfare are hard to describe to those who are not familiar with the work. Beyond everything, I wanted to ensure that quality care remained at the heart of all I did. What helped KAW grow was the urgent need for a space that focuses on critical care work for animals. We grew to an organization with fourteen shelter staff members, six full-time employees, fifteen interns, and over thirty volunteers spanning different fields.
KAW has now helped over 1000 dogs in the most pitiable conditions imaginable and has found forever homes for 150 dogs overseas. In 2018, I knew that if I wanted to make a true difference in animal welfare, I needed to dedicate as much time as possible to it.
For me, the pinnacle of achievement lies in creating a positive change through the work in your life. I believe that my journey of success began with KAW.
When I was younger, I often thought about what my life could be like - what impact I could make in the world. I think it’s important as well to understand that our definitions of success can change depending on our life circumstances. With all this in mind, I decided to leave my secure corporate job and commit to animal welfare full-time.
Recently, I decided to once again step out of my comfort zone by participating in the Mrs. India Inc pageant 2020-21. I wanted to promote the cause closest to my heart- the opportunity to speak on this platform would help bring animal welfare to the mind and eyes of the public.
I believe in taking risks, and I hope those who read about my journey will be encouraged to follow their dreams and take the leap by choosing unconventional careers that they truly believe in. At the pageant, I received the title of Mrs. Beyond People’s Choice- which gives me hope that the public is truly listening, and can see the importance of our cause.
Throughout the years, I realized that my soul is only at peace when I make a change in someone’s life. Today, I care for my rescues like they are my kids, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. For KAW, I feel strongly that our true purpose will not be fulfilled until organizations like ours are no longer needed - that the work we do will eventually not be required because animals are universally well cared for and respected. My team and I know that we have a long way to go, and we are constantly trying to improve ourselves, streamline our efforts, and collaborate with like-minded people to achieve our goals.
My next goal is to open an animal sanctuary - a multi-species, eco-friendly space that allows us to devote quality and individualized care to our beloved animals. We have many aims for our sanctuary - environmental sustainability for our animals and local ecosystem, economic sustainability for our shelter staff and adjacent communities, as well as various means by which we can strengthen and revitalize the links between people, animals, and the planet.
I want to transform the way animal welfare is approached in India so that animal rights are no longer disregarded as a secondary social issue and are instead recognized as essential for our society to truly flourish.