Amidst the muddle of Mumbai roads, you may sometimes find yourself tripping over a furry black or white or brown blob (or two), sunning themselves squarely in the centre of the footpath. These somnolent stray animals, contrary to popular perception, are neither harbingers of some fell disease nor bent on biting a tempting calf. Most co-exist rather peacefully with the surrounding chaos of the streets and a lucky few can even count on the love of their human friends.
Lending a hand
For Ketan Pathak, it all started when he saw a shop owner sitting in her shop and feeding a dog, who sat outside her window, catching biscuits as she threw them. Today, not only does the Girgaum resident feed and look after the stray dogs and cats in his area, but he has also become the de facto guy for any animal health problem. "Now the people in my area come to me for medical help for animals although I am not an expert," he laughs. "The logic is very simple. We eat four-five times a day; so I must help those that do not get any food at all," he adds.
Shenaz Mistry, an elderly resident of Sleater Road, always keeps an eye out for any stray animals she might encounter. Mistry makes sure every dog has its day. She shares, "I go once a week to the Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD) kennels at Mahalakshmi and spend time with the animals, always carrying packets of biscuits." Napean Sea Road resident Dwitiya Sapre volunteers every weekend at WSD. She helps stray dogs that need medical attention. "In my spare time, I feed and keep a watch on a few stray dogs around Priyadarshini Park and Napean Sea Road. Whenever I go for a walk Kalu, Sheru, Whitey, or the new puppy in the park follow me. Strays are desperate for love and in a city like Mumbai, where a stray dog is considered 'unsafe', they lead a very sad life being shooed away, hit or stoned," she laments.
NGOs that care
Several animal organisations have also blossomed, dogged in their aim of a rosier, more inclusive future for our four-legged friends. WSD runs various programmes like sterilisation, immunisation, on-site first aid, education and adoption of abandoned pets and Indian dogs. At WSD, volunteers learn first aid for street dogs; walk the dogs there; help with the adoption programme; and spread awareness about animals, dog-bites and rabies prevention. Tardeo resident Abodh Aras, chief executive officer at WSD, who stresses on inclusivity, says, “WSD’s programmes are proactive. People who live on the street also have our helpline numbers and call us about animals in distress. They also give us real-time information about street dogs that need to be sterilised or vaccinated. It is 100% coverage."
Veena Pinto is a volunteer at People for Animals (PALS), a Colaba-based organisation. Also a Colaba resident, she says, "We run awareness programmes at various schools. However, our most important work is treating sick and injured strays (cats, dogs, and birds), poor people’s pets, and neutering stray animals. We also participate in a cat sterilisation programme together with Bombay Cat Club (BCC)."
Pinto shares the tragic tale of an injured street dog, who was once deliberately hit by a speeding BEST bus. But for every sad story, there is always a heart-warming one. For instance, says Pathak, “This city is full of unsung heroes of every kind. A young girl, in spite of her fear of animals, comes every day to feed them. There is also a labourer in the area who brings fish and rice for the strays every morning." Sapre concurs. She has her own happy tale to share. "Whitey has taught me what unconditional love is. Whenever he sees my mother, he runs up to her. People around us sometimes scream thinking that he is mauling her, but it is just that he cannot control his affection for her. If he does not see us even for one day, the next time he sees us in the park, he will be by our side every moment, till we leave. To see a dog love anyone like that is a beautiful and heart-warming experience."
How can you help?
If you spot an injured or un-neutered animal, call the helpline of an animal organisation in that area. Spaying and neutering animals are the best and most humane ways to ensure that the stray population dwindles. Welfare of Stray Dogs: 64222838; Plant and Animal Lovers Society: 22832955; The Bombay SPCA: 24137518/5285/5434
Adopting, fostering, and sponsoring an animal from a shelter or volunteering.
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