Profusely bleeding, with her hind limb amputated, Ganga would die any moment.
Her innocent eyes begged for help, but she found none of it at a gaushala in Rajasthan’s Behrod town.
Ganga was lucky to have been rescued from a slaughter house. But the gaushala, where she was dumped, had hosted many others like her – injured, aged and stranded. Hence, no one really cared.
Till Vikram Pehalwan, a voluntary gau sevak, came along one day. Unable to bear Ganga’s sufferings, he brought along veterinary surgeon Dr Tapesh Mathur to see if he could ease Ganga’s pain.
Tapesh, who had by then, become known as the Krishna limb man, helped Ganga to stand again. Fitting her with a prosthetic limb was not easy but Tapesh’s painstaking efforts made it possible for Ganga to walk again.
“Could Not Bear to See Their Pain”
Tapesh, who is perhaps the only doctor fitting prosthetic limbs on animals in India, says,
It is tedious work as taking the right measurements of the injured limb is both important and difficult. Once the measurements are in, making it acceptable to the animal is the next big thing. It is challenging as animals have never experienced anything like this before. But once they get used to it, they can walk and even run.
A vet with Rajasthan government, Tapesh says his interest developed when he was posted at the infamous Hingonia Gaushala in Jaipur in 2013. The gaushala made news last year when at least 8,000 cows died in its muddy slush.
I could not bear to see their pain in gaushalas. These animals could not voice their angst like humans can, but they feel the pain all the same. They waited helplessly for food or for someone to clean them. And I kept thinking, if Jaipur Foot can help humans walk again, why can’t something similar be done for these animals? I began to research.
Tapesh’s lab is housed in a small room at his home in Jaipur’s Mansarovar area. Here, he gave shape to his first prosthetic limb and fitted it on a two-year-old calf called Krishna at Hingonia gaushala. Once Krishna got used to the limb, he became his playful self again. And thus was born the Krishna Limb.
Till date, Tapesh has successfully fitted the limb to 35 cows, two sniffer dogs and other canines.
But he has kept it to a minimum, as coping with more patients becomes difficult, owing to his limited resources.
Tapesh says it is hard for him as raw material for the limb is expensive. Made from polypropylene, suppliers want orders in bulk. "But somehow I sourced my first raw material sheets from Mumbai, arranging about Rs 80,000 from my savings."
One prosthetic limb costs around Rs 5,000-Rs 6,000 but he does it for free.
Tapesh says physiotherapy is important after the limb is fitted. The limb is also to be taken off everyday and fitted back – which makes it cumbersome for some owners.
After fitting the limb, his challenge is to comprehend how comfortable the patient is. Tapesh says:
The animal cannot be advised like humans. You have to go purely by instincts and see its reactions to correct yourself.
The Indefatigable Doctor
His most recent patient was a street dog in Delhi. An animal lover staying on the same street had reached out to him – who, Tapesh says, had even agreed to help him put on and remove the limb everyday.
But it hasn’t exactly been a series of success stories. His recent case where he fitted horse Bijli with a prosthetic limb in Hyderabad has not been fruitful.
His wife, Shipra, who helps him, says:
Bijli was obstinate and refused to adapt to the new limb. He seemed well off without it.
Tapesh, however, has been recognised for his work by the Indian Society for Veterinary Surgery, which awarded him the ‘best field veterinarian award’ in December 2016.
Tapesh is now busy fitting limbs on all orphaned disabled cows in Morena district in Madhya Pradesh. He received a special invite from the Morena Collector to assist.
Despite a few setbacks, Tapesh does not see himself backing out in his endeavour to give dignity to voiceless animals.
(Rakhee Roytalukdar is a freelance journalist, based in Jaipur.)