"We humans are capable of loving all the living creatures on this earth and the responsibility of taking care of animals lies on us. Just like humans, animals too, have emotions and experience pain. If we do not show compassion, who else will?"
This is what 48-year-old Rajeev Krishnan, a native of Kannur district in Kerala says, as he begins to speak about the 40-odd stray dogs that he now takes care of.
Rajeev's ancestral home on 68 cents of land in the corporation limits, that bears visible signs of having housed many generations, has now become home to 40 stray dogs.
While Rajeev rescued most of them from the road over the past ten years, some others just strayed into his compound and never left.
But now, the 48-year-old who is into real estate, is waging a battle against people in his own neighbourhood to keep the stray dogs.
On Wednesday, residents of the neighbourhood staged a sit-in protest outside his residence, demanding that Rajeev close the doors of his house for stray dogs. The locality has been facing a threat from stray dogs ever since Rajeev started taking them in, the neighbours alleged.
Calling it an illegal structure, the residents reportedly complained that the constant barks of stray dogs were causing a nuisance to them, especially at night. This was not the first time the neighbours demanded that the stray dogs be relocated, Rajeev tells The News Minute.
He says that although most of the residents did not object to him taking care of so many dogs at his house, it was only recently that they began to protest against it.
From never having a pet to housing strays
"I have always loved dogs, but never had a pet per se. In the late 1990s, I came across an injured stray dog near my house and brought it home. I nursed it for days. Later, the dog never left my side. It would accompany me wherever I went. A few weeks later, someone told me about new born puppies that were abandoned on the road, wrapped in a gunny bag. Without a second thought, I brought them home. Then, I thought that I will give them up for adoption once they grow up, but then I didn't have the heart to let them go," Rajeev explains.
Likewise, Rajeev has numerous stories to share, about how every stray dog found its way to his old house.
In the 2000s, Rajeev used to work in a finance company and had not more than six dogs to care for. A few years ago, an animal lovers group called PAW (People for Animal Welfare) approached him and though inexperienced, he joined them to rescue animals in danger.
"I live alone in such a big house, with no one but my dogs to take care of. I lost my parents at a very young age and with no one in the family around, I have all the time in the world to take care of animals. So, when an organization Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) approached me asking whether I could house more dogs, I agreed," Rajeev says.
Pressure from local residents
When protests by local residents first surfaced a couple of years ago, Rajeev fenced his compound. Wounded dogs were then kept in kennels so that they do not wander off.
However, the protests only grew louder, especially in the wake of recent attacks by stray dogs on residents. On Saturday, an 85-year-old was mauled to death by a pack of stray dogs in Thiruvananthapuram.
"There is nothing illegal in what I do. When I applied for a licence, the health inspector denied it without stating appropriate reasons. But they didn't proceed to take the dogs away. After all, who wants to take care of them? Nobody," Rajeev rues.
Rajeev also suspects that certain people who want him to sell off his property are behind the new-formed movement to force him to relocate.
"I will not budge, no matter what. We all have the responsibility of taking care of animals in need and no one can prevent me from doing that. The people here appear to be very sceptical about stray dogs. The first thing they do is to pick up a stone on seeing a stray dog. Such is the attitude of the people now. Nobody is willing to listen," Rajeev says.
Over the years, the residents' disagreement increased so much so that, not even autorickshaw drivers are willing to take the dogs to the hospital, Rajeev says. Eventually, he had to get a minivan to take them to the hospital, whenever required.
Is it illegal for Rajeev to keep so many stray dogs at his house?
TK Sajeev, President of SPCA (Ernakulam) says that the Municipal Act states that any person who keeps more than 2 dogs at his/her house is required to get a license.
But Rajeev's is not a black and white case, Sajeev, who is also the honourary officer of AWBI says.
"The same municipality is supposed to have the infrastructure to keep stray and injured animals. It is because of the lack of such facilities, that the onus of taking care of stray animals falls on people like Rajeev. In the absence of this, the district administration cannot ask Rajeev to close down," Sajeev argues.
"People's hypocrisy has no bounds," he rues. "The same people who complain of stray dog attacks cry foul when someone comes forward to take care of stray animals," Sajeev notes.
Back home in Kannur, Rajeev is back to what he loves doing- looking after the animals.
(All photographs by SK Mohan)