This Chennai teen animal activist plans on selling his family's house to build a shelter

Sai Vignesh was seven years old when he first began feeding strays, a habit he made a part of his routine after he lost his pet dog Bairava when he was 5. While Vignesh himself has not adopted another pet since, he has helped several abandoned dogs find new homes after the 2015 floods in Chennai. When Cyclone Vardah wreaked havoc the next year, 16-year-old Sai Vignesh began rescuing and treating injured animals and birds. The same year, he turned vegan.

Now at 18, Sai Vignesh’s independent house in Alapakkam has 15 injured and abandoned dogs, all of whom he personally cares for, in addition to 15 other dogs he regularly visits and tends to in paid boarding facilities.

Since 2017, Sai Vignesh has vaccinated and sterilised hundreds of stray dogs through camps and drives and has helped find homes for over 200 dogs and cats. He also estimates that he has resqued close to 300 animals in distress so far.

The young law aspirant now hopes to open an animal shelter, a safe space where sick animals are cared for and a place that abandoned pets can call home. This was a dream he first had two years ago, in 2017. “But I knew I was inexperienced. So I worked in shelters, understanding how to give animals the care that they need,” he tells TNM. Sai Vignesh has actively been working as an animal rescuer and activist in the city since 2017.

To be called 'Almighty Animal Care Sanctuary,' which will be run by his Almighty Animal Care Trust, Sai Vignesh plans on opening a medical dispensary in addition to the shelter. “I want to be able to care for parvo- and distemper- affected dogs as well. Usually, they are not taken in by hospitals because they are contagious. I would like to be able to take them in and treat them in isolation. I will also take in paralysed dogs and cats, abandoned animals right from dogs to horses,” he explains.

For this, Sai Vignesh has received 8.4 acres of land from a generous donor and an animal enthusiast. “Sivamani sir donated his land in Tiruvallur. Right now we have fenced about 2 acres. With more funds, we will be able to expand,” says Sai Vignesh. The donor is a retired private sector employee who lives with his wife Valarmathy in Thirunindravur. He is also an animal lover and the two met at a rally organised by Sai Vignesh in 2017. “We conducted an awareness rally in Basin Bridge against cruelty meted about by government-run pounds on these stray animals. That is where I first met Sivamani sir and his wife. We’ve been in touch since and when he learnt about my dream to build a sanctuary, he wanted to donate his land,” Sai tells us.

In 2017, a PIL was filed in Madras High Court against Chennai Corporation for cruelty in dog pounds (ABC Centres) on behald of his Almighty Animal Care Trust.

While construction is currently ongoing, Sai Vignesh has started an online campaign to raise Rs 10 lakh to complete the sanctuary. “My grandfather would contribute his pension money, Rs 35,000 every month, as long as he was alive. We also plan on selling our house in Tirunelveli to be used as corpus fund. In that way, even if we don’t get enough donation we will be able to run the shelter with this money,” he adds.

Sai Vignesh goes on to talk about how the existing animal shelters, even though they are functioning to their fullest, are overburdened. “Besant Animal Dispensary, Blue Cross, PFA do a very good job but they can’t take in all cases. An additional shelter like this will be able to help injured, sick and abandoned animals,” he asserts.

You can contribute to Sai Vignesh’s animal sanctuary here.