Driving home at 1:30 one morning, Bengaluru residents Sushant Ajnikar (31) and his wife Anita Rane (30) spotted a black dog, almost dead, lying by the median strip. Because this was not their first experience with an injured dog, they knew exactly what to do, and Sushant pulled over.
The dog, probably hit by a vehicle,was bleeding from its nose and had passed motions in sheer fright. As Anita went to a nearby biryani shop and fetched water, Sushant carried the dog to the premises of a nearby company, where the security guards helpfully let the dog sleep inside the gate. Luckily, the dog’s injuries weren’t too serious, and after thanking the guards for their kind gesture, the couple headed home.
The next morning, before going to work, Sushant and Anita went back to check on the dog, but were saddened to see that it wasn’t there. After searching for a while, they found it resting in a dry gutter. Sushant pulled the dog out, while Anita fetched water from the security guards. As the couple was attending to the limping dog, staff members from the company, intrigued, came by to watch the turn of events. The company’s owner, an elderly and helpful man, helped fetch milk and biscuits. They promised to keep an eye on it. Sushant and Anita were much relieved. Sushant says,
“Every time I drive by that area, I still hope for a glimpse of that dog. Once, we were stuck in a jam and I saw the same dog, limping slightly into a small lane. He looked healthy and happy, and although I saw him for just 10 seconds, I knew deep in my heart that he had survived and was well. To know that you saved a life is an overwhelming feeling.”
Sushant and Anita have rescued many dogs till date, including Hope, a dog with a burst tumour, a puppy with a broken leg, and two of their own dogs, Zombie and April. The couple has pledged to help our canine friends in every possible way, and certainly have a plan. Anita says,
“Hopefully, when finances allow it, we can do more, but our larger lookout is trying to influence people to feed street dogs. It takes very little effort, with lasting positive effects. Eventually, our dream is to be able to employ members of the transgender community and differently-abled people, and encourage abandoned senior citizens to give company to our rescued animals. We want to be able to give these people jobs with proper salaries. They will become our manpower who will help us in rescuing dogs and other animals.”
The couple has three dogs at home — Zombie, Lulu, and April. Zombie’s ears were cut as a sign that he had been neutered. Lulu has a stub for a tail, which the couple believes is due to an accident or someone having played a cruel joke on her. April is completely blind in one eye and has about 20 percent vision in the other.
Sushant has been passionate about dogs from a very young age. Growing up in Mumbai suburbs, he would spend his pocket money on biscuits for stray dogs. A designer by profession, Sushant presently works as an assistant design manager at Urban Ladder. He is also a passionate traveller and biker at heart; he took to biking almost a decade ago and there was no looking back.
With such love for man’s canine friends, a passion for biking, and a wife and partner like Anita, Sushant thought of uniting India’s biking community to feed street dogs and increase sensitivity.
Their aha moment came in 2014, when Sushant, decided to make a trip to Leh-Ladakh on his Royal Enfield Classic 500. Anita suggested that the trip could be made more meaningful if associated with the cause they held closest to their hearts.
The couple had adopted two Indian dogs already, and they were keen on advocating adoption of Indian dogs. They decided to create an entity for their initiative and Paws of India was born.
While Sushant goes on road trips and sensitises other bikers and people, Anita is the creative half of the duo. An amateur artist and a writer by profession, she works as the content lead at 22feet Tribal Worldwide.“We used to ride together initially, but she hasn’t accompanied me on long trips as she has a chronic back issue and bike rides only aggravate her back problem. She just learned driving and got her own car, so I am hoping she will join me soon in the future,” Sushant says. Anita is, however, the voice behind their popular Facebook page and active community of bikers and non-bikers who have now joined their cause. When we asked them about their organisational structure, volunteers, etc., Sushant laughed it off, saying,
“Right now, Paws of India is managed by just the two of us. We are not an NGO. Not yet. We don’t know what kind of entity we are at the moment, but we want to call ourselves a movement — a movement that can inspire bikers to feed street dogs when they go riding.”
Since the inception of the idea, Sushant has conducted one big trip — the aforementioned journey to Ladakh, which was more about “self-exploration” than having an agenda. Through his previous biking trips, he had already learned that people are way nicer than are believed to be. During this trip, Sushant’s way with dogs was often greeted with greater hospitality and curiosity. It is these experiences that helped him connect on a deeper level with people, with the dogs, the streets, and perhaps, with himself. Sushant recalls,
“When people got wind of the fact that I was doing this to spread awareness about adopting Indian dogs, the reactions were priceless — many jaws dropped, strangers came forth to hug me, free meals and places to stay were offered, free servicing offers for my bike were extended — people were so nice to me, encouraging me, enthusiastically shaking my hand and wishing me luck.”
Although his trip in September will only be his second one, Sushant and Anita have been actively sensitising bikers and non-bikers alike towards dogs for years. Anita says, “There are over 30 bikers and many more people among our over-3,200 Facebook page followers who connect with our cause. Many of them have been adopting rescued dogs themselves.”
Paws of India aims to send out the message to be empathetic to street dogs. “Rescuing a dog is difficult. But spending five minutes of time and Rs 5 on a pack of biscuits is not,” Anita says. Rescuing requires commitment, money, effort, time, and a strong resolve only people like Sushant and Anita share. But the smaller bits matter equally. “Feeding a dog, although a smaller action, is easier to do, and anyone can do it,” she adds.
The couple believes that empathy towards animals is a must-have human quality. “Animals are far more intelligent than humans and contrary to popular belief, they know how to adapt and coexist, unlike the human race. No animal will harm you unless provoked by you, or by circumstance. If we simply observe the nuances of animals, we will understand how they function, and our fear and antagonistic attitude will transform to intrigue, tolerance, and eventually, acceptance,” Anita says.