Her family of strays are all over the city
CHENNAI: Give her the name of a street and she will tell you how many stray dogs live there and to what name each one responds to. K Yagnna Prabha, daughter of veteran actor Sowcar Janaki, may not have the passion for all things films like her illustrious mother but her love for dogs has been like sustenance for about two decades. From a 16-year-old bride in 1965 to a social welfare activist and owner of the animal shelter, Sri Sathya Sai Prani Seva Shelters today, this is her story.
“After marriage, I was in Gujarat for a while till 1987. During those years, I learnt to cook like my mother. After my children were born, I had some Montessori training in Mumbai during a vacation, taught kids, dabbled in real estate and was a beautician too. It was all going well and then I came back to Chennai,” narrates Yagnna, reliving her days over old photographs and food.
When she got back to Chennai, her daughter got a break in the film industry. She never joined her for shoots but would always cook meals and take care of her health. In 1994-95, depression set in — literally. “It was hard to use the word depression those days, but I was going through it. I approached K S Dinakaran, senior counsellor for advice. One day he took me for a drive while talking to me about different ways and methods to get out of depression. That’s when I saw a small dog.”
Yagnna had never handled dogs before but she asked Dinakaran to stop the car, stepped onto the busy Bazullah Street and patted the pup. “It was so small! I bought some milk from a tea shop nearby, found a discarded coconut shell for a bowl. I called her Kutty ma. The next day I came back and he was waiting for me. The third day, I couldn’t find him. New road was being laid and people around told me it had died. I wasn’t ready to believe it. I walked around calling out his name and suddenly I heard him. He was stuck in one and a half inches of tar,” recalls Yagnna.
Kutty ma was taken to the vet, brought home and laid on a banana leaf soaked in coconut oil. Since then, Yagnna has been on a mission to help the stray dogs. Next came Bairavi and more. Soon there were about 14 pups in the apartment. Thanks to her work in real estate, she came across two grounds on ECR where she envisioned a dog shelter. “I bought the land and after a letter to then Union Minister Maneka Gandhi, I received the grant to build the shelter and an Omni ambulance of my own. In 1999, the dog shelter with 40 rooms, each 10x10, was built. My dogs are never chained. They brought me so much happiness that I forgot my illness and escaped depression. Now my only worry is the dogs themselves,” she frowns.
Yagnna discussed her thoughts on stray cattle on OMR that are left to fend for themselves and the menace of street dogs which seem to multiply each day. “I started out with four dogs in Thoraipakkam, now there are 114. All the dogs need to be neutered. It is the right thing to do. It prevents a lot of diseases too. The female dogs take a lot of time to recover after surgery but the males are back in action within three days,” she explains.
She’s ready to take care of their needs post-surgery but she cannot do it alone. “I need people to get together and work on this issue. The only way to control the population of street dogs is to get them neutered,” she adds.
Yagnna drives around 70 km a day to feed community dogs including those found on stretches from T Nagar to Adyar and Perungudi to Thoraipakkam. She wakes up every morning to cook rice and is an inspiration to the locals who have started recognising her as lover of stray dogs. Showing us the food packets that were stocked in her car as she gets ready for her usual night rounds, she chuckles, “Sometimes when I stand in the middle of the road, late at night calling out to dogs, people look at me like I’m some mad woman. But who cares, right? It’s been 21 years and I’m a proud dog lover.”
Giving them a decent burial
Till date, she has taken 535 dogs under her care. When a dog dies in her shelter, she gives them a proper burial at the small land next door where there are a lot of plants grown. All her dogs live at least for 16 years
A name that fits the bill
If you are at Jaya Store, T Nagar, call out to Koil Mani (a black and white dog). Further down, call out to Jimmy and near Manorama Studio, look for Vellah. She named some dogs after ministers (cheeky) and some based on their appearance, Annji boy (because he jumps a lot) and Kutta Vaalu for small tail
Fresh home food
Yagnna serves stray dogs with fresh home cooked food. She doesn’t prefer Pedigree because it is dry. She feeds them with a lot of vegetables, dal, rice and milk. Every morning, she cooks 20 kg of rice and packs 350 packets of food. She goes on rounds every night while the food for T Nagar batch is distributed by her auto driver in the afternoon
She is Grateful to Many
Yagnna is grateful to Maneka Gandhi for granting her the money; Jai Prakash and Aravind Kumar, the vets, Blue Cross for their inspiration, Rajasthan Youth Association for their 100 kg of rice each month and Vikram Moorthy, Dinakaran and family for their continuous support