The Dog Whisperers
Meet these animal lovers from Pune who have redefined compassion
IT'S 1 A.M. There are beads of perspiration on Dr Ravindra Kasbekar and Padmini Stump's foreheads, as they pick up giant balls of cotton soaked in blood and pus. They are focused on a scrawny street dog lying on the table in front of them. It has taken them a while, but they have managed to remove all the maggots from his wounds. The dog sighs in relief. He doesn't have to look for food or shelter. He finally feels safe.
Kasbekar, a 63-year-old onco-surgeon, and Stump, 58, have been on their feet all day. But the night isn't over. They have 150 dinner companions waiting for them. They pick up dabbas of chicken and dalia (broken wheat), and head out to meet the strays. Then Stump starts cleaning up, turning off the lights at 2:30 a.m., when her phone rings. It's a dog owner; she wants help with her pets. They are barking and not letting her sleep. She wants Stump to come over to her house and pick up the dogs! Stump is unfazed. Given her mission, nothing shocks her anymore.
For the past 10 years, Stump and Kasbekar have been rescuing animals with her home (off Shankar Sheth Road in Pune) as the base. Mission Possible Pet Adoptions was officially registered as a trust in 2015. They have created a safe haven for abused and injured cats and dogs. Now, they are building a bigger shelter in Saswad, outside the city.
Early next morning, two boys appear with a cocker spaniel with severe gastroenteritis. They have been asked to put her down. The boys don't want to, but cannot afford better treatment. Stump promises to do her best and calls Dr Jeya Bharath, a veterinarian and consultant with the shelter. After a quick breakfast, Stump gives a dog owner a piece of her mind. Apparently, he doesn't 'need' his female boxer. She then starts saline drips for the sick dogs with the doctor's help, gives meds to others and does a spot of tick cleaning in between phone calls.
Kasbekar returns at 8 a.m. to walk the dogs, which he does whenever he has time. They check on the street dog from the previous night and are welcomed with a weak wag. In a corner, another skinny dog is recovering from a skin infection and broken leg. The animals are brought in at different times of the day or night. Stump talks of the two beautiful Persian cats 'given' to her because of a fight between two brothers. A child bored with his one-year-old labrador left it tied to Stump's gate. Breeder-discarded female dogs, litters (of pups and kittens) that haven't opened their eyes, dumped at Stump's doorstep …the list is endless.
It all started in July 2006. Stump was coming to terms with the death of her 27-year-old son Steve. 'One night, I was at home in Pune feeling really low and praying to God, asking Him why I should move on, since He had taken Steve from me,' she remembers. She stepped out and saw a puppy looking right at her. She asked her nephew to leave the gates open. It was11 p.m. and Stump did not want the puppy to get hurt. 'I went in and couldn't find my younger son. I panicked and rushed out. There he was with Masti in his arms,' Stump says. 'And I found a reason to go on.'
It opened the floodgates. Smokey, Karishma and Lolo followed soon after. Kasbekar, a long-time family friend, joined Stump in her mission soon after. 'I see so much suffering and pain in the eyes of the animals that come to us,' she says. Like the fluffy and friendly Moti, whose master owed people money. To teach him a lesson, they caught Moti, gouged out his eye and broke his legs. By the time Stump and Kasbekar found him, he was a maggot-riddled mess. It took him a while to heal. If you see him now, you wouldn't be able to guess how much he has suffered.
Stories like Moti's give Stump strength. She remembers every dog she has helped, particularly the ones that didn't make it. Like Jessica, a St. Bernard, abandoned with giant wounds. Kasbekar spent most of the night removing maggots. Jessica recovered, but succumbed soon after. Stump looks at Jessica's picture on her phone. 'I tried everything I could,' she says. She has pictures of every creature she's rescued.
The two friends grieve over animals they could not save, but try to do better for the next one in need. They have lodged police complaints, waded through garbage to pick up puppies and found the courage to fight off an angry mob. There is help sometimes. Amar Sinh Jadhav Rao visited the shelter to adopt a puppy. He was so moved, he donated the land in Saswad. Then, there are the two friends Akshay Shah and Ajay Patel, who often volunteer at the shelter. Stump and Kasbekar spend a lot of time, money (mainly their own funds and small donations) and energy looking after the animals, but they wouldn't have it another way.
'My family is in Dubai and understands that I need to be in Pune for my animals,' says Stump. As for Kasbekar, he juggles his medical practice with Mission Possible. Between the clinic, surgery and his animals, he ends up with no time of his own. But he has no regrets. 'God brings these animals to us. He will give us the strength to look after them,' he says.
'Every living being stands a chance. Even if there is the smallest chance for an animal to survive, I'm determined to make it happen,' says Stump. And while they want homes for their dogs and cats, they are careful, too. They have driven as far as Karnataka and Goa to verify the homes.'We want our dogs and cats to live like kings and queens. Where there is doubt, we bring the pet back.'
People in Pune Who Also Care
Balasaheb Udhgade, or Balu, a 29-year-old animal lover, saved money and took a loan from a friend to buy an ambulance.
He ferries animals to clinics and fosters them for a fee. He's been doing this for over two years.
Rajni D'Araujo, or Rajni Aunty as she is known, is 61 and cooks for about 600 street dogs and cats every day. Her mission is to feed all the strays in Pune.