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A Publication of
Catholic Concern for Animals


Selections From The Ark Number 206 - Summer 2007

Christine's Ark

Christine's Ark: the extraordinary story of Christine Townend and an Indian animal shelter, by John Little.
Sidney: Pan Macmillan, 2006, ISBN 1405037296, A$32.95.

John Little, a Sydney-based author, chose to write about his friend Christine because ‘her story is about one woman’s extraordinary devotion to the world’s suffering creatures. Furthermore, it is also about self-belief, determination, spiritual search, hope, optimism, and love … such an epic tale.’

Christine Woolcott was a wartime baby, born into a household where there was always a variety of animals. As she grew, she ‘was keen to do anything with animals’. She was a ‘shy, dreamy student… living in her own internal world’.

I met Christine in the early 1980s when she came to Adelaide to help with the founding of our local animal liberation group. She had founded the first such group in Sydney in 1976 and had already appeared on radio, TV and in journals as a voice against factory farming. In Adelaide she helped us implement policies for handling politicians, and with our first-ever protest against the live sheep trade, then in its infancy. My impressions were of a compassionate, pragmatic, competent and clear-minded woman. She showed remarkable patience on TV, pleading with scientists and farmers to stop experimentation, factory farming, face branding, mulesing [the surgical removal of strips of wool-bearing skin from around the tail of a sheep to prevent flystrike, expected to be phased out by 2010], and winter shearing. I felt an affinity with the way she sought out a spiritual approach in her arguments for the animals and with her desire to connect with a source of compassion within every animal abuser.

Christine’s gentleness did not always win the approval of other animal libbers who desired a more aggressive approach. Also a meeting with CWA [Country Women’s Association] representatives shocked her into understanding that there are women unable to tune into a capacity for compassion for their farm animals locked away in stalls in sheds.

While Christine presented herself to the public with gentle self-control, privately she was in turmoil. A comfortable marriage to a successful Sydney lawyer, the birth of two healthy sons, the successful publication of a novel, Travels with Myself, had not answered her need for a meaning in life beyond what Australians saw as normal. She could not understand why people were reluctant to share her hurt at the habit of eating nonhuman animals. In 1980 she published her treatise In Defence of Living Things, an examination of the treatment of animals in Australian farms, rodeos, circuses, zoos and experimental laboratories. The simple description of the shame she felt as she bent over a cat being dismembered on a table, her breath intermingling with that of the animal, I shall never forget. It is a strong affirmation of the oneness of life. She also published a well-researched book Pulling the Wool: a new look at the Australian wool industry, (1985, Hale and Ironmonger) exposing the cruelty of our wool industry whereby at least seven million lambs are casually left to die of neglect.

She could have stayed in her comfortable North Sydney home, having helped Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, to unite a collection of animal welfare societies into AFAS, later becoming ANZFAS, the Australia and New Zealand Federation of Animal Societies. But Christine’s inner needs were to be satisfied elsewhere.

It was at an ANZFAS meeting in 1984 that I introduced Christine to the work of Professor Ramaswami who had come to Adelaide to visit a friend of my sister. His special concern was to design an Indian bullock cart to make it easier for the bullocks to pull, but his intense desire was to improve the horrific cattle slaughter sheds in three Indian states. He had pleaded with me to help stop it, but I was immersed at the time in local cruelty issues. Later, when I showed Christine his photographs and told her of his work, she was keen to make contact with him as she was about to visit India.

Following the work of Crystal Rogers
There, she had the courage to view the barbaric slaughtering methods and, in 1989, after several short trips to India, she took over the struggling Help in Suffering sanctuary established in Jaipur in Rajasthan by the Englishwoman [well-known to older Ark readers!] Crystal Rogers, some years earlier. Immediately she sought out officials who could help, and raised money for improved facilities for injured birds and animals – camels, horses, donkeys, kittens, monkeys or dogs – befriended local people, and built good homes for the Shelter staff. She implemented training for them, attracted better vets, provided for a village bore, helped women in childbirth, and Muslims to shelter from extreme Hindus. Over the years, Christine’s dedication and clear direction never failed, even when badly mauled on the face by a guard dog belonging to an acquaintance.

When their sons had moved into their own homes, Jeremy gave up his successful Sydney practice and moved to Jaipur to support Christine. She had by then established a neutering programme to control the population of Jaipur’s semi-wild dogs, which would be victims of the council’s occasional distribution of poisoned meat on the streets. She devised a plan to capture them systematically, neuter and vaccinate them and release them back to where they were captured. This has been so successful that several other cities in India and elsewhere have copied it as a humane way to control feral populations.

In the late 1990s Christine was given a grant of land near Darjeeling for a second shelter. It is the Kalimpong Animal Shelter. Moved by the suffering of ill-fed elephants used to carry tourists in intense heat up to the Amer Fort, Christine worked with local authorities to regulate better conditions for the elephants and their mahouts. The most ill elephants were retired into care and the local government has established a very special elephant sanctuary.

Now in their sixties, Christine and Jeremy have given up control of both sanctuaries to local well-trained, well-respected and well-housed Indian staff. They now live for six months in the Blue Mountains to escape the Indian heat. When I wrote to Christine recently to express my enjoyment of the biography, she replied (by hand) from Jaipur where she returns for the cooler months. She is an example of the power of one individual – courageous, compassionate, dedicated, and patient – and I await the day when Christine Townend is recognised publicly as an exceptional woman by being awarded the Order of Australia. Viva Christine!

Alice Shore

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