A city biker's campaign to befriend neighbourhood dogs

It's strange how the animal in us is awakened while confronting a scrawny street dog. We either run in panic or aim an angry stone in its direction.

Sushant Ajnikar asks why a destitute, obviously sick and hungry animal fails to bring out the human in us.

His solution? Drop the stone, pick up a packet of biscuits and make the dog a friend for life.

Ajnikar recently mounted a bike, combining his passion with his love for Indi dogs, and travelled up to Leh with an aim to change the hostility towards the animal.

His frequent biking expeditions have resulted in many changes of heart. "People think dogs are a menace. I wanted to prove that they are wonderful companions and deserve a dignified existence," he said.

The city-based design professional found inspiration in his  wife, Anita, a writer who helped him connect his passion for bikes with his love for dogs.

The idea gradually grew into 'Paws of India', an initiative to protect Indi dogs. The couple led by example, adopting April - the blind dog that was rescued as a puppy - and two others, Zombie and Lulu.

They also rescued Hope, a canine with a burst tumour, and another pup with a broken leg. Saving strays is now a constant activity for them.

The well-enforced canine caste system that dictates adoption of pedigree dogs like Labs and Alsatians has made Ajnikar and Anita more determined to transform people's attitude towards neighbourhood strays, often left to fight for their survival.

"These dogs, equally friendly and companionable, are ignored and mistreated," Ajnikar said.

The change the couple made through many years of rescuing and awareness creation is evident. Watchmen and residents, who used to throw stones at the strays, now feed and play with them, while Ajnikar's biker pals are now the most enthusiastic advocates of Indi dogs.

They have now simplified those long years of work into a '5 minutes and 5 rupees' concept, and it works like magic: feed the dogs a Rs 5 pack of Parle-G and turn the agitated dogs into affable companions.

This idea worked wonders among friends, neighbours and colleagues at workplaces. Ajnikar tells everyone chased by a fierce-looking dog: "feed them biscuits. Lots of them. And they'll be your friends for life".

Supplementing this campaign is a series of workshops where Anita extols the dog's ability to bring out the best in human beings. These talk sessions go way beyond the couple's neighbourhood, spreading the message far and wide.

Their ultimate dream is to create a shelter for destitute and injured dogs. Fittingly enough, they'd like to employ homeless people to care for them.

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