Natasha Coutinho (MUMBAI MIRROR; July 24, 2017)

Mirror (May 15) had earlier reported that Alia Bhatt celebrated Mother's Day by launching her new initiative, CoExist, which tackles environmental issues and is aimed at animal welfare. After releasing a 90-kilo turtle, Queen, back into the ocean, the 24-year-old actress is now urging citizens to adopt strays rather than buy pedigrees.

It's a cause Alia has been passionate about since she was a child, taking after elder sister Shaheen who is also an avid animal lover. “When I was around four or five, my sister who was always rescuing cats, would bring them home, give them milk and try to make them feel safe. My mother (Soni Razdan) would argue with us about who would take care of the felines, but that never stopped us from looking out for dogs and cats who were in trouble,“ reminisces the actress who would also feed the dogs in their society and get them warm beddings. Soni initially shocked by the number of strays her compassionate daughters were adopting, quickly joined hands with them.

“My mom is a super woman, while we would play with Kalu, the stray pup in our compound, she fed him and took him to the vet for shots or if he fell ill. Soon it became a collaborative effort with the neighbours looking after Kalu too,“ smiles Alia, reasoning that if you don't have place in your home for a pet, you can always take care of a stray hanging around your building.

She has three cats of her own - Pika, Sheeba and Edward. Sheeba is a rescued cat who is in a happy space today, preening in the pictures Alia posts regularly, like her namesake, the Queen of Sheba. Despite her hectic schedule, the actress can't wait to get home to her pets. And when she is away on outdoor shoots, she stays connected with them through whatsapp videos that her sister sends her. “Animals are sensitive. Whenever Shaheen and I leave them and go away, we get a scolding from Sheeba on our return. She will mew loudly as if enquiring where and why we disappeared,“ Alia laughs.

She also has three dogs of her own and the family recently bought a farmhouse in Karjat, on the outskirts of Mumbai, which is their home now. “Two are from an animal organisation called World for All and one we found hanging around the farm and adopted. We don't live there but it's a spacious place with a garden and perfect for them. The caretakers look after them well,“ she says. She'd like to adopt more animals but knows she can't keep all of them. “So while we still bring cats and dogs home, we neuter them and send out mes sages online looking for foster homes,“ says Alia.

Sharing her concern for strays the actress adds, “Living on the streets, the animals have no safe shelter, are sometimes injured or run over by callous drivers and traumatized by the loud bursts of firecrackers and the blare of loudspeakers. They give us love and loyalty so in turn we should take care of them.“

She now wants to use her huge fan following online she has 17 million followers on instagram and 12 million on Twitter - to promote her cause and her initiative. “We started small but we started right and the reactions have been positive. We are hoping to reach out to more animal lovers and also those who don't know much about the current situa tion of animals. Article 51A (g) of the Indian Constitution clearly states that it's the duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment, and that includes forest, lakes, wildlife and compassion towards living creatures. I'm just another strong voice who hopes to inspire future generations to do just this,“ she asserts.