Sunday, January 02, 2011

First Aid Sundays with street dogs and humans

For almost close to the past 15 years, The Welfare of Stray Dogs(WSD) volunteers meet outside Eros theatre to group and split up... to treat various cases of street dogs and cats that require basic first-aid as a part of WSD’s on-site first aid programme. I must have been there on eighty percent of the Sundays in the last fifteen years after having initiated this programme.

Though to the non-animal loving world, this seems to be an activity involving street dogs; it is much more than that. It also becomes a long term association with the people who look after the street dogs. These are all kinds of people; the boot-polishwala, the driver, the street-dweller, the traffic policeman, the housewife who feeds dogs, the hawker, the rag picker and thousands of Mumbaikars who live on the Mumbai streets. Whilst treating dogs, we peep into their worlds and become privy to their sadness and joy.

Today as I was about to start on my first case at the Oval Maidan, I felt sad with the phone call I received. The person on the other side asked me if I knew a driver called Karunakaran Pillai. I thought it was a wrong number and as I was going to tell him so when another person came on the line and identified himself as a Police Inspector. A man named Pillai had just died and my number was found in his telephone book. They were calling up people listed on his telephone book to search for his relatives. I then realised that it was the Pillai I knew and I was confused because of the name Karunakaran. He used to be a driver and used to call us for help for strays that he used to look after. Abodh Saar is how he addressed me. He used to liberally hand out our number to others like him who needed help for street dogs in distress or himself report them to us.  He used to live near the Old Customs House and must have called us scores of times. In fact, I had run into him about a month ago in the by-lanes of P M Road. He had a favourite dog called Soorya who passed away some years ago.

There are so many like Pillai who we have been fortunate to know because of the street dogs, many of them who live alone and then the street dog becomes their only faithful companion and someone they can interact with in this busy city. Many like Pillai pass away unknown and unsung, to be recorded as just another death amongst the lakhs in this city.

Coming back to Eros theatre, we started meeting here because of Arvind, a shoe shine man(boot-polishwala) who used to live and work outside on the footpath of the theatre.  He loved street dogs and used to name them after the movies that were playing at that moment at Eros. He had a James (James Bond), a Pretty (Pretty Woman), a Hritik and an Amisha (Kaho Na Pyar Hai). Everyone around Eros knew him well and used to call him Bangali.  He too died some years ago, again with no relatives and after many trips to the J J Hospital. All his dogs had died before him, other than the Pomeranians left in his care by a lady who took them back after he died.

So we continue to meet at Eros theatre every Sunday morning and are greeted by Mini aka Julie, a white and brown dog that needs to go on a diet. She is the friendliest dog I have seen and has a severe attention seeking disorder. She loves being patted all the time and if you stop she will nudge you to carry on. She hangs around the area, is looked after by another shoe shine man and on week days I spot her sitting outside the new French restaurant opened in place of Sundance.

Sallu from Oval Maidan
We split up after areas have been allotted to the various volunteers and I along with other volunteers generally do the V.T.-Fort- Colaba circuit.  The cases attended are follow-ups of cases that we have attended on week days after receiving a call for them on our helpline. My first case Sallu, a brown dog from Oval Maidan who has a gash on the side which was healing. He and five others are looked after by the Oval grounds man Rohidas. Rohidas too loves the dogs and they follow him around the Maidan as he is rolling a roller or water the pitch. We had to duck a few cricket ball strokes as we reached the middle of the maidan to treat him.

Next case was Orange, looked after by the watchmen of the now closed Shellys Hotel diagonally opposite the Radio Club, close to The Gateway Of India and Taj Mahal Hotel. She has a skin problem and when we call out Orange, she will come and stand before us so as to say, “get on with it” and will hang around even after we have finished applying the skin ointment.

And then we came to Kalu, a fat obviously black cat which we never find on Sundays as he would be in hiding. He is looked after by the Kapoor Lamps people at Kala Ghoda and you will find him on week days sprawled across its entrance. He wanders around the lanes between Fab India and Rhythm House and ask the newspaper vendors, food and other hawkers, they would all know about Kalu and tell you that his majesty just passed by.

And then was Rambo who lives in the open compound in the Great Western building. near the Apollo Gate. A toughie in his younger days, he used to give me a tough time treating him. He used to run into the pump room when he had a bad maggot wound and growl away. Today, age has caught up with him and it was easier as I could just catch him and treat his ear and leg which was maggoted but now is a wound that is healing. An old Gujarati lady, who is very fond of him, directs us to where he would be. She is generally always sitting on a charpai in the compound and will talk in Hindi with a predominantly Gujarati accent assuring us that Rambo will not bite, which of course he doesn’t.

Next, were four dogs in the vicinity of the Sterling theatre. The first Rinku looked after by Tulsi Akka who lives on the footpath opposite New Excelsior theatre. She calls me Abodh baba and I know her for the past 15 years having looked after all her dogs (past and present). See Ramesh in this link. Rinku too had maggots in the ear and she starts running at my sight and smell. The others cases in the vicinity are Chowpatty and Byculla named such as they were brought by the kids from Chowpatty and Byculla.  

We then come to treat Rajan’s dog Tiger who we had found after a girl reported finding a pup in a local that had just pulled into CST station. We knew Rajan was looking for a dog as his earlier dog Ronnie who was a Pomeranian had just passed away. Rajan and his wife live in a little hut surrounded by recyclable material. Rajan is a rag-picker. When we have to treat his dogs, we would be sitting amongst sacks of segregated paper cups, glasses, plastic, newspapers, bottles and what not. Rajan too has a sad story; he named his dog Ronnie after his son who died in tragic circumstances when he was just two. He used to always tell us that the Pomeranian Ronnie is now his son. He was very upset when the Pomeranian Ronnie who was around ten years old died after getting Ascitis. His wife too passed away last year (2010) and that really changed him. I seldom see him smile now and you can  see it in his eyes that he misses her and thinks about her all the time. He now lives alone with two dogs, another Ronnie and my good 'friend', the barking Tiger. 

Then was good old’ Brownie who lives outside Lakshmi building on P M Road. He has a maggot wound near the anus and today, I could treat him without having to chase him as he was fast asleep when we approached him. Once, many Sundays ago, to the delight of other WSD volunteers, he had made me chase him all around P M Road right past Bombay Store upto the French Bank building and back. And remember he is fifteen years old.  

As we were treating him, a crowd collected and one of the street dwellers who were busy playing a Sunday card game on the Lakshmi building steps screamed out to the crowd “Yaha pe shooting nahi chal raha hai, Shooting dekhana hai to Horniman Circle garden jao, waha chalu hai” (There is no show on here, if you want to see a show, go to Horiman Circle garden where there is a film shooting going on). The poor old fella patiently allowed us to treat and deworm him.

The last case was a severe skin problem on Gunbow Street. The person who had called was a gentle Gujarati housewife who held the dog while I treated it. She said that her daughter has named the dog, Yellow and I remarked how we had treated an Orange earlier.

I am sure that I will continue meeting and building relationships with many such Arvinds, Pillais, Rohidas and Rajans who never in my past fifteen years of treating street dogs have asked me “ Why are you doing it for the dogs”, Why not us ! They understand why, some others don’t. And those who don’t are never the underprivileged!


csm said...

started the new year with a sizzler of post.
remarkable dogs of remarkable people.

~Covert_Operations'78~ said...

This is such a touching and heartwarming entry, Abodh. When I come to Mumbai, I will come and volunteer with WSD. That is a promise. Your people -- both human and animal people -- are so full of charm and character. You really should write a book.

Balachandran V said...

Abodh, first time visitor to your blog; and I came to know about WSD only an hour back, through the blog of Anil P. Let me congratulate you and your friends for the great work you are doing. I have been thinking of doing something along that line and WSD is a great inspiration. I am based at Trivandrum. I will be visiting WSD website often and formulate my ideas.

Thanks for sharing your noble experience; I am sure some dog is smiling somewhere as I write this.

Shiv said...

Saw this link in Anil's piece of WSD and hopped over to read. Gr8 job you guys are doing. nice stories to read.

Anonymous said...

Very nice post. I found you through Sriram's blog. As a fellow animal lover, I greatly appreciate your compassion. It makes the world go around.

The Olden Family said...

There is a beauty and divine warmth that comes from your posts. From the other side of the world, I feel as though I am with you on your journey to make the world just a little bit better for those whose lives you touch. ; lucky group of animals and a lucky group of people