The last two months of lockdown life has been a trying period for most of us. And I am no different. But if there has been one non-negotiable constant that has kept me sane through these strange times, it has been compassion towards man’s best friend.
I’ve been feeding homeless Indie dogs and cats (I don’t like calling them strays) wherever I’ve lived. Indie is the breed of our very own street dogs native to the Indian subcontinent. They are hardy, intelligent, and extremely loyal.
Now when the government officially announced the beginning of the 21-day lockdown, it was obvious that our Indie dogs were in danger. I wanted to do something about it in an organised way with due permits. Niharika Gandhi, a canine behaviourist, and a wonderful human being gave professional guidance on how to go about it including registering as a feeder with the local police station and coordinating with other feeders to divide areas of responsibility so that no pack was overfed or underfed.
What started with cooking food for five dogs rose to 25 in no time. Managing deliveries of dry supplies was quite challenging in the initial days. So was procuring medicines unique to each dog’s need such as anxiety relievers, muscle relaxants, ORS packs, and more.
Every night, my husband and I loaded the stock in our car and drove to the feeding points over 3 kilometres for an hour’s time slot. Even as I fed the dogs with my mask and gloves on, checked for injury or sickness, and stole a minute with some petting and nuzzling, in the initial days, there were times when they refused to eat, unable to adapt to the new timings and new kind of food, and some were too scared to take food from a person they didn’t recognise. But within a week, they all adjusted to the sudden shift.
Leave aside physical effort, it was an intense emotional rollercoaster ride! There were overwhelming evenings when I panicked due to fear of not being able to reach the dogs that night due to vehicular movement restrictions, and hence they’d have to sleep hungry! But I always did reach, even when it meant carrying 20 kg food on our backs and trekking to the feeding points because we couldn’t take our car out!
Another time on our feeding round, I found one of the pups almost immobile, writhing in pain. She had been attacked by bigger dogs. Something snapped inside me, and I broke down instantly. A combination of hurt and exhaustion. As I sobbed uncontrollably with the pup curled up next to me, her mother, an extremely docile creature, came closer and nudged me with her moist nose, almost saying: “All will be well…” Meanwhile, my husband, thankfully, held fort! He rushed to a medicine store to get baby crocin syrup and muscle relaxants for her. Over five days of dedicated medication, fortified diet, and prayers, the pup recovered beautifully.
I don’t know what kept me going every single day. But I’m so happy to say this, there hasn’t been a single night when the dogs waiting for our car to arrive, slept on an empty belly.
During this taxing time, kindness shone brightly from totally unexpected corners. I found the warmest hearts among people from humble backgrounds. An ever-smiling Shuklaji, a let-me-know-if-there-is-ever-a-problem Yadavji, a philosophical and chatty Pandeyji, and many more security guards of commercial buildings have become a part of my life. While they stringently checked our temperature and sanitised our car every day, they lent support, and most importantly, their humane side. It’s resulted in relationships that cannot be labelled…
And then empathy came from people in uniform. Mumbai police bikes and jeeps patrolling the area never interfered. Seeing the dogs dance in happiness as I laid out their bowls of warm broth, the police watched from a distance and moved on.
Along the way, I also gathered moments of immense hope when I saw other compassionate souls doing their bit. One day I saw someone had placed water bowls at different corners of the streets. Another night I saw a man get off his scooter and pour milk into a dozen bowls outside a shut desolate shopping area. Yet another day I saw a woman put heaps of biryani on the pavement, nicely wrapped in newspapers. And there was a gem of a couple Dhanashree and Ganesh who happily took the responsibility to feed the dogs in and around our building with utmost sincerity. Even if five per cent of the people in a neighbourhood did whatever it took to reach out to beings left helpless overnight, that’s enough for me to go to bed peacefully.
Yes, not everything was hunky-dory. There were instances of rude glares when I fed the dogs, dark souls pressurising empathetic people to hide their empathy, malicious attempts at spreading fake news on how dogs could spread Coronavirus, RWAs actively and illegally discouraging feeding, and one of the residents even going to the extent to say, “Why are you feeding them? This is the best opportunity to let them starve and die.” Well, apart from giving back a mouthful, what I did instantly was a tiny self-talk, “See Anusha. There is both good and bad in the world. You keep doing what you know is good, and don’t let bad ever overwhelm you.”
Of course, it wasn’t easy to not feel low or disturbed. But then, I had the rock-solid support of my husband Shantanu, and ever uplifting soul buddies Manjot and Prashanth who always said, “We are so proud you’re doing this.”
Last week, for the first time, with the help of Gandhi and her committed network of veterinary services, I sent the dogs to get neutered. When the van left for the hospital with them barking inside, anxious to leave the territory they called home, I felt like a lump of butter ready to melt any second! But what do I say, matters of the heart know no logic.
Now the number of dogs I’m responsible for has come down from 25 to six. The people who looked after them pre-lockdown are either back, or it’s now easier to procure food supplies, and movement restrictions are a shade relaxed. They are lovely people who vanished, driven by the sudden change in circumstances beyond their bandwidth.
I’m so grateful that God has bestowed me with the resources and resilience to get on the ground and take action. These dogs don’t know, but they’ve given me more than I’ve given them. While I fed their tummies, they fed my soul.
And recently, my husband and I became proud doggo parents! We’ve adopted two of those 25 Indies we looked after during the lockdown. A mother-daughter pair. They are called Rain and Snow. I never imagined bringing home two dogs at once, but then, I didn’t have the heart to separate the two. They share a wonderful bond. And together, they’ve brought rainbow-like joy to our home. In fact, when people say “Wow! These street dogs are so lucky they have found a safe and loving home,” I say “It’s the other way around. We are so lucky…They nourish our lives in ways they’ll never know.”
I feel all the dogs blessed me and my husband to live a life of companionship with the most selfless and adorable creatures in the world, right in the four walls of our home…
All that Rain and Snow need is love… And really, isn’t that all we need too?
This column was published at Thrive Global India.