Shantanu Naidu and his 15-member group, Touch Heart, run a campaign called Motopaws, which gives the stray dogs of the populous city of Pune, India, a better chance at survival.
“Pune alone has approximately 44,000 stray dogs who either die in road accidents or live tough lives because there is no one to take care of them,” 23-year-old Shantanu says. “Under Motopaws, we are tying specially designed collar bands to randomly spotted stray dogs. In the campaign’s first run, we collared around 300 dogs in Pune. And in the second run, on Aug. 15, we celebrated Indian Independence Day by targeting around 350 dogs in Pune and 200 in Bangalore. These shiny collars help dogs [to be seen] on roads, especially at night, by vehicle owners and not get run over. Also, people usually assume collared dogs to be private pets and so will possibly not mistreat them.”
The collars feature denim bands covered with the same orange mesh used on the safety jackets of construction workers, and in the center is a strip of reflective silver fabric, which shines at night.
“We have recently upgraded our bands with the silver and orange stuff, as this does not get easily scratched away by dogs or worn out in adverse weather conditions. My technical background helps me in this research,” says Shantanu, who works as an engineer.
Shantanu and his friends run this campaign out of their sheer love for dogs.
“We have always been an animal-loving family,” shares Shantanu’s mother, Mrinalini Naidu. “Shantanu, as a young kid, used to bring home puppies from the street, but unfortunately I could not allow him to keep them all in our small house. He then used to clean and feed them well and give them away to families he was sure would adopt the little ones and take care of them. He did all this voluntarily. He is so passionate about dogs that often he would spend his earnings on animals [rather than] than buying stuff for himself. He’d keep wearing the worn-off denim and ask for nothing much but our support to help his cause.”
Touch Heart’s core team of 15 members consists of mainly students ages 17 to 23 that were hand-picked by Shantanu. He contacted a few of his dog-loving friends and shared his idea for collaring dogs. Once convinced, Shantanu asked them to spread the word in their circles, and he met with all the people who came forward and asked if they had handled dogs before, would give time to the cause, and do it without any expectations.
Kanchan Tailors, the business that makes the collars, says, “It is a great initiative, and we enjoy doing this. When my customers see my father and me making collars, they get excited and want to know the details. It feels good to contribute to a social cause.’’
The costs involved in ordering the silver fabric and other material, getting it tailored, distributing it to teams in Bangalore and Jammu, and traveling all over Pune to spot dogs to collar them, is all self-funded by team members. For the denim material, they ask the public to donate jeans via boxes placed at fixed spots in the city.
One such donation box is placed in the showroom owned by Varad More, a KTM bike dealer in Pune who helped Motopaws with its first drive. Varad says, “On an average, around 10 jeans get collected in one week. I love dogs myself and appreciate this cost-effective and simple way to protect this precious species.’’
The dogs on streets are funny, furry, and sometimes furious, too. And though none of the team members are professional dog handlers, they don’t seem bothered by this. Shanatanu says, “We tend to pick normal-looking dogs first for collaring, give them biscuits, etc., and put anti-bacterial powder on the injured ones. Like humans, dogs can be both furious and funny. We don’t think that much and fortunately have never had any bad experience to date.’’
Another member, Varsha Prakash, agrees with him. “We all have handled dogs earlier and love to make friends with them. We don’t feel scared at all.’’
At first, Motopaws seems like city youths on an enthusiasm rush to do something for society, but they are actually selfless and sincere dog-lovers in action.
“Intentions and awareness about doing something is good, but don’t keep saying that you will do it in the long run. Just attack the idea now, without waiting for sufficient funds or resources,” Shantanu says. “If you do care, you have to get in the field and get your hands dirty. That is when your care is effective. And Motopaws is the proof that if your idea is to help others, it is going to be successful.”
Touch Heart is really touching the hearts of citizens now. People often call the team members to inform them of stray dogs in their areas.
Mrinalini, Shantanu’s proud mother, says, “Though Shantanu uses his salary for his cause, it often falls short of the required amount. We, as parents, then help him, as we are also proud of his noble deeds.”
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About the author: Payal Khare Bhatnagar is a media professional with nine years of experience in writing for electronic and print media and producing TV shows. She’s worked for some renowned Indian media and corporate houses, but had more stories to tell than the corporate cup could take in, so she moved on to being a freelance journalist-writer. Payal has had dogs at almost all life stages and firmly believes that if you have not loved a dog in your life, you have missed something very important. Read more of her work on her blog.