By Sunitha Srinivasan
“Sunitha your dogs are waiting at the gate for you”, is kind of the anthem of the Corona lockdown for me. For years, I have always carried some biscuits in my bag, and use them to feed every hungry stray I come across. It was always a random act, without much thought or planning-if I ran out of biscuits, I would buy some from the nearest tea shop!
Then came the lockdown-every time I ventured out, the dogs who used to greet me playfully, with tails wagging were listless and dull, although their tails never stopped their lively dance! This was when I realised, that they were wilting away from hunger. All the nearby eateries and bakeries were closed, and overnight all their sources of food had dried up.
My husband and I began our lockdown dog feeding project by carrying a small amount of food, and lots of biscuits to feed 2 dogs that lived on the street outside our apartment. This carried on for a few days, until we ventured a tad further afield, only to find a whole pack of stray dogs including 5 puppies almost wasting away. This was when we began our feeding rounds in earnest.
In the initial days of the lockdown, food supplies were really hard to come by, and we had taken on the responsibility of feeding more than 10 dogs. Thus, began the process of enlisting the help of friends. We could not venture far, and so relied on people from within the building-dog lovers all, and generous beyond measure.
Ida and Andrew began the chain by giving us bowls of home cooked chicken & rice, every other day. Lorna & Wilfred, dog feeders themselves, started cooking additional quantities of meat for our brood. Shreyas & Shwetha, started chipping in as well. All three families continue to support our dogs unstintingly, with total commitment. The God mother of the entire venture is of course Astrid-this wonderful lady, loves every animal she comes across with a passion, and is ever ready to support anything that benefits them. From the very start, she has been totally a part of the project, contributing food, and accessories and everything that the doggies could possibly want.
As is always the case, the dogs you feed become family. The ones closest to our apartment are Brown girl and Greedy, who wait at the gate if we are even a little bit late! These dogs have totally distinct personalities-Brown girl only eats the Pedigree puppy sachets that Astrid and Rimple have provided, and maybe a biscuit or two for dessert. Greedy will eat anything-little does he know how much he has Ida, Astrid, Lorna & Shwetha to thank for! He has the unfailing belief that the food we carry is unending, and will follow me wherever he can in the hope of more food. That crazy dog has walked into a vegetable shop with me (of course I had to pretend I did not know him!), he runs with me, whenever he can-all along playfully nipping me, and his favourite pastime seems to be wrestling me onto the ground-he firmly believes, that I am just another dog-albeit a bit strange!
Once we are done with these two and their friends, we move on to the next crowd. There is Easter Bunny-the most beautiful stray dog imaginable, and the dignified “temple” dog, who lives on the steps of a tiny roadside shrine, and our beloved Squashed up. Squashed up, was probably born with a genetic defect, that has resulted in her body being shaped like a banana. This has not stopped her from being the queen of the road-she fights with any intruder dog, keeps the puppies in line, and generally holds her own perfectly. She does have her limitations-she can’t eat very fast, and so when we give her biscuits (that she loves!), she carries them away to a corner to eat them in peace. She loves soft food like bread soaked in egg and milk, that is specially made for her every day.
We were able to manage the requirements of the adult dogs with the home cooked food. However, the 5 puppies and an abandoned Labrador that joined the buffet queue were another matter. This was when things began to get really difficult, because no amount of cooked food could suffice. Astrid, understanding our predicament reached out to an absolutely wonderful person-Mrs Tazeen Syeda of Just Dogs, a pet food chain. Even before she could inform us about speaking to the lady, there was a 20kg bag of dry dog food at our apartment, supplied absolutely free of cost. This lady definitely needs to be awarded the title of Guardian angel of puppies! They wolf up about a kilo of the food every day! Closely followed by Just Dogs, Kaarthik-yet another dog rescuer, prevailed on Mr Shashank of Drools Pet food company to give us 125 kgs of dry food. Thanks to him, we will have a happy, well fed brood for at least another 6 months. Bless these two wonderful people-we have so much to thank them for-there is nothing more heart-breaking than leaving a bunch of dogs hungry.
Spending time with the dogs made us realise that our little Easter bunny had not been sterilised, and during a lock down, there was no one from the Government ABC service who would attend to her. We needed to get the job done fast, or have yet another litter of puppies, literally on our doorstep! Back we went to Astrid, who suggested a really great facility called Cartman. Cartman, were more than willing to do the surgery, but we had to get the dog to them. This was a dog who had never travelled in a car before, and at the end of the day, she is not our dog, and we had no clue how she would react. My husband would be driving, and I felt the need for someone with me in case of trouble. As usual, it was Kaarthik, to the rescue. He dropped all his work to come along with us. As it happened, Easter Bunny was a perfect angel-we did not even need a leash. I just picked her up, put her on my lap, and she sat there quite happily for the whole journey. We brought her home the same way, and re-introduced her on the street, with no problems at all. To Cartman’s credit, they had obviously fed her really well when she was there-I had a slightly heavier Bunny on my lap on the way back!
The next in line for sterilisation is our little brown girl (as opposed to Brown girl). Rajneet & Astrid have already provided us with the funds for this, and now it is a matter of time before I gain her confidence, so that I can pick her up without stressing her, and then Markus (my husband), Kaarthik and I will take her over to Cartman. This will take care of the girls in the pack. We are hopeful that the BBMP will come forward and take care of the male dogs.
And so, the dog feeding and pampering goes on day after day-the pampering is such a huge part of the whole thing-most of the dogs will accept their food only after we have spoken to them very nicely and given them a belly rub! There is a lot of competition for our attention-there are only 4 hands among the two of us, and so many bellies to be rubbed! Squashed up fights with anyone who dares to steal her limelight…Temple dog sulks in a corner if he is ignored, and the ever-gracious Brown girl, will delicately lick up her food only if she is hand fed!
We now have a few others who support us in so many different ways. We accept all their contributions gratefully, and hurry off to meet our rascals every day, our hearts filled with absolute joy….