Kanak Saxena’s day begins at 4.30 am.
She wakes up and heads straight to the kitchen — not to cook for her family, but for 120 dogs. The 90-year-old hasn’t let health problems like osteoporosis, fractures, or major operations come in her way.
She says the happiness and love she receives by feeding these dogs is the secret to her health.
She wasn’t always a dog lover, but when her granddaughter Sana brought their dog Coco home, everything changed.
“I wasn’t attached to dogs earlier. When Sana brought a dog home, I slowly started getting attached to him. My day started revolving around feeding him, playing with him, and just loving him. My attitude towards dogs completely changed. So when Sana started taking care of street dogs, I wanted to help with that. As I can’t physically go and feed them, I feel satisfied by cooking for them,” says Kanak.
Earlier, Sana and her father would go to feed street dogs biscuit and dog food every once in a while.
However, the advent of the pandemic and the death of a dog changed their life.
Sana, a 22-year-old pursuing her final year in fashion design, says, “There was a dog called Bholu near our house. We would feed him occasionally. His death affected me a lot. I felt that had I known a bit about how to recognise a sick dog, I would have been able to help him. At the same time, the first lockdown was imposed. My dad and I wondered how these dogs would eat. Since we knew people couldn’t step out, we decided to help the animals.”
Feeding 120 dogs daily
In March 2020, the family began feeding 10-20 dogs on a street in Vaishali, Ghaziabad. Today, the number has grown to 120 dogs every day, alongside taking care of their vaccinations, medications, and shelter.
While the father-daughter duo started with packaged food, Kanak stepped in and said they must have fresh food.
“It’s so funny how my dadi completely changed from a person who wasn’t attached to dogs to one who can’t sleep without seeing their videos on my phone. She is the one who pampers Coco the most too. We were giving some packaged food to the street dogs but dadi and mom wanted to give them fresh food. So they started cooking at home,” adds Sana.
They use almost 10 kg of rice daily, along with chicken. Kanak loves experimenting with food daily.
“Dadi keeps trying new combinations. We get chatan, which is parts of a chicken, from a meat shop in bulk. She makes chicken biryani with it, and on some days, adds bits of soya chunks, or paneer, or vegetables to make it interesting. She also cooks dishes using milk and rice,” says Sana.
This costs them almost Rs 350 per dog per month, which involves a total cost of Rs 42,000 for 120 dogs. They manage by raising funds.
Sana ensures that the dogs are fed 365 days a year, come what may. If she is away, her mother takes care of the feeding. In fact, when Sana lost her father last year due to COVID, they continued to feed the dogs as that is what he would have wanted.
A day in Kanak’s life
While Kanak wakes up at 4.30 am and starts cooking, Sana and her mother wake up by 5 am. They start making individual packets for all the dogs. They also carry extra food in case they meet more strays on the way.
By 6.30 am, Sana, her mother, and two other friends head out. They distribute this food in three sectors in Vaishali and return home by 8.30 am.
“I feel so much love for these dogs. I feel satisfied and happy when they are able to eat a good meal. We are contributing to some good purpose. Otherwise, who will care for these poor animals? Ideally, I would love to go feed them myself, but I manage now by watching their videos,” says Kanak.
This love for dogs slowly has spread to vaccinations, building temporary shelters, adoptions and rescue operations.
Sana ensures that all dogs in her area are vaccinated.
“We need to vaccinate dogs twice a year. It takes 5-6 days to get every dog vaccinated. I have also learnt to vaccinate them. We built a few temporary shelters for the dogs during the monsoons. We’ve also helped 13 dogs get adopted,” says Sana.
Sana also runs a page called Paws in Puddle on Instagram which she uses to educate people about dogs and encourage adoptions.
The family has learned compassion after they started feeding dogs, Sana feels, adding that if people start feeding even one or two dogs, most of the street dogs would be taken care of.
“I’ve learned so much in the past two years. I learned about medications for dogs and carry a medicine kit with me all the time. If I see a dog in trouble, I always help them. We hope to spread awareness and make people compassionate and sensitive,” says Sana.
This empathy has spread in their house, with Kanak being the one who has changed the most. She waits up every night till Sana comes back, and sees the videos of her feeding the dogs, or hears stories of rescues.
“The best part of my day is sitting with dadi at night and sharing what happened with the dogs. She loves seeing them well-fed and cries when she hears of distressed dogs. She urges me to rescue them,” says Sana.
Edited by Divya Sethu, Images Courtesy Sana Saxena