Tommy, one of the 500 dogs Sulakshmi feeds every day. For the past 30 years, she has been feeding stray dogs every day in the streets of Delhi. What drives her maybe difficult for many to comprehend.One afternoon we caught up with her and her husband Pinaki, to understand how it all started.
You have been feeding stray dogs for the last 30yrs,
Sulakshmi explained, “We’ve always had 5-6 dogs in our home. Feeding the strays came naturally.’
“She’s a true animal lover”, quips in Pinaki.
Wherever she went she would carry dog food stuffed in her pockets. Initially it was around the neighborhood, slowly the radius expanded. The number of dogs she fed daily increased to almost 100 in a short time. Soon, it was not just food, but visits to the vet, medicine and any other care the strays needed.After doing this for some time Sulakshmi, decided to feed the homeless canines in an industrial area in Delhi (Okhla) where there was a large concentration of stray dogs(around 400) but no residence in the vicinity.
Streets of Delhi are filled with malnourished children, Why not help them?
“Children have parents, siblings, friends and they can even beg for food. These mute hapless beings have none to turn to. Even a mother dog is not capable of feeding her pups after 4 months..”
Sulakshmi believes that dogs deserve a healthy meal and not just rotten garbage scraps,she is trying to give them at least one nutritious meal a day.
Every day 90kgs of rice and 50kgs of chicken and vegetables is cooked in her kitchen. She has 6 helpers to prepare the food and help her in her rounds through the city, feeding over 500 dogs daily.
There are designated spots where her four legged friends wait patiently. It’s not just the food they look forward to, it is also the cuddles and strokes, “some don’t eat unless I pick them up in my arms”, laughs Sulakshmi.
Special food is prepared for dogs on medication, at times they need to be hand fed. Isn’t she scared of being bitten, ‘Oh! They don’t bite me’, says the lady, almost blushing.
Other daily activities include medical aid, neuteration, X-rays, operation, post-operative care, homecare for accident victims, anti-rabies and anti-distemper vaccination.
This 30 year journey has had its fair share of problems.
“We’ve mainly faced financial problems. The monthly expense is around INR 2,50,000 ($3900). Till now we have managed to meet the costs. But now, it is getting difficult with each passing day.
We have curbed all personal luxuries. No outings, shopping or splurges. I haven’t met my son who lives in the U.S.A, in almost 5 years. Unfortunately, even then we may not be able to continue for more than a few months and the very thought of not being able to feed my dogs one day makes me shudder.”
Age is catching up on Sulakshmi. Health problems are many; slip disc, blood pressure and heart ailments.
She can’t hand over the responsibility of feeding the dogs to anybody as nobody can treat them the way she does. The personal bond can’t be outsourced.
The public at times have been hostile, threatened her with sticks, while others have accused her of spending her unaccounted wealth. In today’s world gestures of selfless service are frowned upon, Pinaki has taught Sulakshmi to counter such rebukes.
In her desperation she is at times angry at the government and civic bodies for their apathy and lack of support for the homeless canines.
But she continues to feed the hungry strays every day of the year.
Pinaki has been a constant support through all the hardships.
“Well, most people don’t know but my husband is also an animal lover.He loves dogs as much as I do. He has never asked me to abandon this project. He manages the finances so that I can concentrate on the dogs. At night while I’m working, he’s there, chatting to keep me awake. 30 years wouldn’t have been possible without him.”
Sulakshmi rather fondly narrates; “Last year it was raining heavily one night and I had to go to feed a few sick dogs and give medications. My husband accompanied me and while I fed the dogs, he held an umbrella over my head. ”
The couple have taken extreme steps to overcome the financial difficulties ; Sulakshmi sold a plot of land she was gifted by her mother, almost all her jewelry has been disposed except for a talisman which adorns her frail neck and a few trinkets.
She had tried her hand at opening a food stall ( Pinaki jokes, “I am still married to her because she’s an amazing cook!”), but had to shut it down as it was getting too much to manage over and above the dog feeding project.
In these years they have approached various government organizations. People didn’t understand the scale of their operation, the help has been inconsequential, ‘but although it’s not enough, we accept whatever we can get’.
There is need for proper infrastructure, medical help, post -operative care, food and space for the stray dogs. With funds & support Sulakshmi is confident she can do it all.
As we are about to leave, we try and reason with Sulakshmi; 2 hours of sleep is not enough at her age, she needs to keep herself fit to carry on the work.
We see she is a bit restless; she has just had a call, a puppy is in need of help. She needs to go and check, ‘you see, it’s a puppy in pain, I have to go’.
How true is the old adage, “Love in its truest form has no language or words, it just has a thousand and one actions.”
Sulakshmi and Pinaki have applied for Crowd funding via Desired Wings. As of 8th February, 2016 the funding initiative has been launched.
We all can help by contributing and thus keep the initiative of feeding and caring for the strays going!
Written byAnirudh Choudhury
Anirudh is an analytic and assertive guy with unconventional ideas and a wry sense of humor A dancer and a quizzer, he is extremely sporty and loves outdoor activities. He is logical in his arguments and is unequivocal by nature.