We’re excited to announce the winner of our third-annual “A Voice for Cats” scholarship contest. This year’s winner is Aarthi Sankaran, a student at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Aarthi will receive $1,000 towards her continuing education and $1,000 donated to a rescue organization of her choosing.
A Voice for Cats – The Voice is Mine
As soon as our eyes met, he froze. I watched with no small level of confusion as his spine curled inwards, shrinking his already small frame. His fingers shook so badly that bits of meat fell off the plate he carried. The cat in front of him happily rushed forth to grab the morsel. The cat was happy, but his human counterpart was anything but.
This was my first time seeing a person feel shame for loving animals. My confusion soon morphed to dread when I realized why; the boy’s mother came flying out of her house and slapped him. She would have kicked the cat if it had not already ran at the sight of her.
Sadly, this is the reality for many cats and cat lovers in India. To a lesser extent, this was my reality as well. My childhood summers spent in India were always fraught with tension; I possessed an innate fascination with animals, a trait that my mother did everything in her power to squash. However, to the consternation and mild horror of my entire family, their attempts to turn me against cats seemed to have backfired.
Today, I am in my second year of veterinary school, after spending a decade volunteering with various rescue organizations, working at a small animal veterinary clinic, and devoting my career to animal welfare. To my Indian relatives, my resume is the stuff of nightmares. I find this ironic, because to this day I close my eyes at night and remember the stones being chucked at pregnant cats, and the dead feline bodies on the side of the road, and I weep.
In India, cats are viewed as bad omens, dirty and sinister. I view cats as delightfully intelligent beings, who form strong bonds with their owners. However, my experiences have also taught me that even in the United States, there are many misconceptions about cat behavior and care.
For example, when I volunteered at the Richmond SPCA, I was astonished to find out that one of my favorite feline friends–a handsome tuxedo named Butler–had been left at the SPCA’s doorstep with a note that said: “He is making a mess of our carpet. Either put him down or find him a miracle home.” A battery of diagnostics confirmed that there was no underlying medical cause for Butler’s habit.
After many hours of research and trial-by-error, I discovered that Butler is simply very sensitive to the type of litter in his box. How could Butler’s owners condemn him to death for one fault? Stories like these are what motivate me to continue fighting for feline welfare.
It is why, even as a veterinary student, I participate in and lead several organizations to educate my fellow future veterinarians on feline behavior and the benefits of volunteering.
After ten years of service, this I promise: I have and will continue to devote my life to feline welfare.
Learn more about the A Voice for Cats scholarship contest.
About the Scholarship Winner:
Aarthi Sankaran has been volunteering with rescue organizations–such as the Richmond SPCA and Animal Adoption and Rescue Foundation–since high school. She graduated with a Bachelors in Animal Science from Cornell University, where she spent her free time rescuing stray kittens. She then worked as a veterinary assistant at a busy feline/canine practice in Virginia, before being accepted to the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Aarthi currently volunteers with Healing Hearts Rescue. She is also President-Elect of the Shelter Medicine Club, board member of the Animal Behavior Club, and a participant of several non-profit student organizations.