If the dogs of Whitefield could talk, they would have quite a story to tell. Every night, over a hundred dogs in the area lie in wait to be served dinner. Rice, chicken bones, mutton fat and turmeric, sometimes vegetables - all cooked together to make a delectable meal. Perhaps with the addition of a few spices, dinner could actually pass off as biryani, ready to be served to humans too. And it doesn't stop at food alone. An injured dog can expect to be nursed back to health. Unspayed ones are neutered and set back on the streets. What’s more, from merely being strays on the road, the dogs are elevated to the status of community dogs.
The dogs of Whitefield have two good Samaritans to thank for their source of nutrition, health and love - Bismi Anil and her husband, Anil Prasad. Originally from Kerala, this couple moved to Bengaluru in 2001 to pursue their respective careers in the IT sector. It all started in early 2012, when Bismi started feeding a stray pup with the leftovers that her dog Buddy, a fussy eater, refused to eat. Shortly after that, Anil found an injured dog that needed medical attention. To win the dog’s trust, they began to feed her. Since then, there has been no looking back for the couple. Today, the duo feeds and cares for over 150 dogs in Whitefield, every day!
The dogs lapping up the nutritious food. Pic: Bismi Anil
In an email interview with Citizen Matters, Bismi shares more about their work, and why and how they go about it.
How would you describe your work with strays?
In one sentence, we work with stray dogs to make them community dogs. Feeding them, vaccinating and sterilising them, treating medical issues and some sort of disciplining/training are the activities which help us achieve that.
In addition, we attend to rescue cases outside of our feeding gang and work on rehoming abandoned dogs. We also conduct awareness sessions within communities to help people understand how to handle street dogs, and coexist with them.
Do you have dogs of your own currently?
Yes, we have three dogs, all Labradors. Two of them are rescues. We had an indie too, but he passed away last year.
How did it all start?
My first pet, Buddy, was a fussy eater. He used to waste a lot of food, which I would feed to a stray pup on my way to work. Slowly we noticed how the pup would wait for the food everyday, and also started noticing other stray dogs. One day, when Anil was coming back from office, he noticed a lame dog with a dislocated hip. She was all skin and bones, and we knew she wouldn't survive for long. Wanting to rescue her, we wanted to make friends with her and hence started feeding her. Slowly the rest of her gang joined. One was blind, one had worms, another was abandoned, the fourth one was super-scared of everything, a fifth has some skin infection…
We started feeding them and treated their ailments. We then moved out of our lane to look for weak dogs around our home and started feeding them as well. Now, we stand at around 150 dogs, who we feed daily.
How did you start cooking for the dogs?
A feast awaits. Pic: Bismi Anil
Initially, we would feed them leftover dog or human food. But as the numbers increased, we felt that they need at least one proper meal a day. So we started cooking at home. We give them rice, chicken bones and mutton fat with turmeric, all cooked together. Veggies are not regular, but are added whenever possible.
How much does it cost to feed the dogs? And how do you meet the expenses?
The per meal cost comes up to around Rs 15. We need about 17 kg of rice and 7 kg of chicken+mutton fat daily. We buy at bulk to get them at discounted rates.
We mostly meet the expenses from our own pockets. We registered a trust (Duma's Animal Welfare Trust) last year, so there are some donations coming in. As and when people come to know about our work, we also get donations in kind - rice, dog food, etc.
What are the dogs like when you go out to meet them?
Bismi with one of the dogs. Pic: Bismi Anil
We treat the dogs the same way we do our pets. Dogs want something to look forward to… mainly love. And if that is provided, everything else falls in place. There are many dogs who have alternate sources for food, but they still wait for us, just to get their daily dose of love. That said, the dogs are super happy to see us, with or without food.
About 90% of our dogs have names, some even respond to it. Some of them can perform tricks like ‘shake hand’ and catch like normal pet dogs.
We did have issues of fighting earlier, but we have trained them. Now they mainly fight to get petted by us.
You mentioned that you also take care of their medical needs. What does this entail?
We regularly deworm them. Any health issues, we take them to the vet, and give medicines. Indies are typically very sturdy, they don’t display any signs till the last moment. Not eating food properly is a sign of them falling sick, and we observe them for that. Parle-G biscuits are our test food. If a dog is not eating the biscuit even, we immediately take them to a vet.
We also catch them for sterilisation, so that the population can be controlled. Feeding them helps in gaining their trust and helps us catch them easily. Pups are fully vaccinated and put for adoption as well.
How has the community in Whitefield responded to what you do? Has anyone volunteered to pitch in?
We have had great support from the Whitefield community. We are part of Whitefield Rising and have tremendous support from them. Last year, around 35 of our streeties were passively adopted by members of the community. Whenever the need arises, the community always pitches in - with manpower, money, taking them to the vet, temporary homes for the dogs.
We have also got a lot of support and encouragement from Bengaluru’s dog lovers.They even accompany/help with feeding many times.
Is there a contingency plan for when you go out of town?
For this pack of pups, Bismi and Anil are their lifeline. Pic: Bismi Anil
We have gotten the dogs used to dry food. So in case of some emergency or when we are not able to cook, they are fed dry dog food. Every area has a couple of volunteers who help during emergency situations. Friends also step in at that time.
We feed the dogs for only six days a week, as we don't want them to be completely dependent on us. We don’t want them to forget their original food source, even though it may be garbage, sadly. This practice also helps them survive on their own, in case of emergency.
How do you plan to sustain your work?
We are working on some plans to make the trust generate money, rather than the initiative being dependent on our income. We will soon be launching a set of services, which would aid to achieve that... You can watch out for updates on the same on our Facebook page.
If you would like to contribute to Bismi and Anil’s work with the strays of Whitefield, you can reach out to them on their Facebook page: Duma's Animal Welfare Trust. If you happen to pass through the stretch from Thubarahalli till Forum Value Mall or around Sheelavantara kere, don’t forget to watch out for the duo and their pack of 150 strays!