KOCHI: At 3.30 am, CV Antony gets up at his house on Friends Lane in Vennala. He goes to the kitchen and boils several pieces of chicken, even as he adds some turmeric powder. On another burner, he puts the rice to boil in a steel vessel. By 4 am, he places both inside several small plastic packets along with glucose biscuit packets. Then Antony has his shave and bath. At 4.45 am he sets out from his house. As he reaches the Vennala-Janatha road, stray dogs step out at different places from outside houses, or empty grassy plots.
He gives them food. “For the dessert, I give the biscuits,” he says. “They like that a lot.” Many look at him gratefully and wag their tails. At 5.30 am, Antony reaches Alinchuvadu. He takes a bus and goes to the St. Anthony’s Shrine at Kaloor. After attending mass, he goes to the Kaloor market and gets a fresh stock of chicken pieces from meat seller Ravi.
He returns to Alinchuvadu and there is another set of dogs who are waiting to be fed. Finally, at 8 am, he returns home, under a large mango tree, a satisfied smile on his face. Antony has been doing this for the past seven years. And it all began rather accidentally. One morning, he was standing at the bus stop on the Kochi bypass (National Highway 66) at Palarivattom, waiting to take a bus to Chalakudy. He saw a dog lying at the bus stop. “The dog looked very weak,” says Antony.
When Antony returned at 5 pm, he got a shock. The dog was still there at the bus stop. So he bought a plate of omelette from a nearby roadside stall, cooled it and gave it to the dog. “The way he ate the omelette I realised he was very hungry,” says Antony. “And the look of gratefulness he gave me, I will never forget it.”
After a few days, he decided to take the dog home. But he had two dogs, a Labrador and a stray dog as his pets. Both attacked the newcomer so ferociously that it ran away. “My pets did not want to share their master with another dog,” says Antony. “After one month, I saw it again at the Palarivattom bypass bus stop. But the locals gave me the good news that another man was feeding him. So I felt very happy.”
But there have been sad moments. Once one of the dogs was hit by a vehicle at Alinchuvadu. Antony immediately took it to a vet, got it treated — body was cleaned, bandages were put, and an injection was given. He looked after it for two weeks but it died. “It was a grave injury,” he says in a sombre voice.
Apart from accidents, the biggest problem faced by strays is the lack of food. “Most are starving,” he says. “In olden times, the wasted food would be placed outside the gate and the dogs would come and eat it. Now we put the excess food inside a packet, make a knot at the top and throw it away. As a result, the dogs are unable to access it.”
Vennala Municipal Councillor MB Muraleedharan says, “Antony is doing a very good job. I appreciate it. But I would also like to say that stray dogs can be a danger. Recently, a dog bit a child in our area and the wound became quite serious.” When Antony hears this, he says, “In my experience, dogs bite people only when they are hungry. At the Kaloor market, where dogs get scraps of food to eat, nobody has complained of dog bites.”