September 13, 2010
Kids With A Cause: Ayna Agarwal
Young advocates channel their love of animals into making a difference
by Arna Cohen
Ayna Agarwal, 17
Helping strays in developing countries
Why We Love Her:
Ayna has never let the word “no” stand in her way. Told she was too young to volunteer at shelters, she collected donations and supplies for them instead. Before long, she was raising money for animals around the world.
As a little girl, Ayna Agarwal was afraid of animals—until her father brought home a white ball of fluff who showed her the light. “I owe everything to my dog,” says Ayna, now 17. “ ... She was the one who changed my mind. It’s that undying love.”
After Muffy’s arrival nine years ago, Ayna started noticing the cute puppies in the pet store at the mall, but her curiosity dissipated when she learned about puppy mills and pet overpopulation. She wanted to volunteer at an animal shelter, but each one she approached told her she was too young.
Disappointed but undaunted, Ayna decided to promote pet adoptions by making posters featuring available animals and hanging them around her hometown of Edison, N.J. Rain ruined the posters, but not Ayna’s spirits. “I felt I was making a difference, and that was the most important thing,” she says.
Ayna next tackled a shelter supply drive, distributing fliers that asked for donations of pet food, toys, beds, and other materials. When she was 14, her advocacy took a profound turn during a trip to India as part of an Indian classical dance troupe. Though she’d visited relatives in New Delhi many times before, this was the first time she understood the suffering she saw in the streets: dogs who were hurt, filthy, and starving. “I realized the situation is [much] worse in India, and I couldn’t stand it. ... That’s not the quality of life they deserve. So I decided to do something.”
Back home, Ayna pondered the problem for weeks. “I came up with the idea of sterilizing the animals. I could fundraise here,” she says. She started making contacts and gathering pledges without saying a word to her parents. By the time she informed her mother of her plans for a return trip, she already had $500 in hand and was aiming for another $500 before leaving. Her mother was astonished, says Ayna, but agreed to accompany her daughter on the journey.
After working with the American embassy in New Delhi to identify reputable organizations, Ayna spent every day at a shelter in town, cleaning, feeding the animals, and meeting with management to draw up a spending plan for the funds she had raised.
Ayna’s Indian summer inspired her to found Stop Pet Overpopulation Together Globally, which has helped provide food to animals in India, expand shelter space in Thailand, and supply toys and medications for spay/neuter surgery patients. She also raised more than $10,000 to sterilize cats and dogs in Thailand, the Philippines, and India. She’s drawn upon her own experiences to create action plans for kids with soup-to-nuts instructions for organizing and executing an idea. And she has run a weeklong animal-oriented summer camp for more than 100 children, made regular presentations at elementary schools, and served on The HSUS’s Youth Advisory Board.
In March, Ayna joined other teens from around the world at the Just Peace Summit in New York City, where she learned how to use media and technology to move her projects forward. She’s now attending Stanford University with the goal of becoming a veterinarian. She sees the new environment as an opportunity to expand SPOT Globally into the college crowd and beyond.
“Persistence has been the one thing that has made me successful and enabled me to help animals the way I have and be happy in the process,” she says. She urges other kids to develop the same tenacity. “No matter the setbacks [or] how many dissenters, continue doing what you believe in.”