Married Life

A man’s (and woman’s) best friend

Looking after their own dogs and those on the street has strengthened their bond, say Sushant Ajnikar and Anita Rane of the Paws of India initiative.
bestfriend

Sushant and I met in 2005 as complete strangers. All of 21, and with only a landline family phone, Sushant called me at a friend’s insistence and we got talking. A few dates and phone conversations later, we knew we were in it for the long run. “There was something about Anita which made me realise, this is it,” Sushant tells our curious friends. What started as a usual love story turned into a life of greater understanding, respect and compassion when we found a purpose in life. That of giving their love back to ‘man’s best friends’.

We married in 2010 and moved to Bangalore. Returning home one evening, we saw a malnourished puppy below our apartment building and started to feed and pet him. One day, the pup decided to follow us up the stairs and as soon as we unlocked our door, he ran straight in and parked himself on the mattress and went to sleep. Zombie, as we named him, adopted us. Now we have three dogs.

I wasn’t an animal lover but would pet a dog/cat if it came to me. Sushant, on the other hand, would spend a lot of his pocket money as a child buying food for street dogs. Neither of us had pets as kids.

Both Sushant and I feel that the three dogs have brought discipline to our lives in a lot of ways, and caring for a special need dog, our third, has also drawn us closer. Ours is not a 9 to 5 job; there are days we’re required to work very late. Our ‘children’ brought structure to our lives.

sushant biker and dog owner at jigani in bengaluru on saturday / Rabishankar Debnath

We want to create a community of riders who can join us in feeding street dogs as we head out on an expedition, as a group that’s adventure serious, tied to a social cause. Thus, together we started Paws of India, to spread awareness about feeding street dogs, one bike ride at a time. Through this initiative, we get a chance to speak to people about the need to coexist with animals and also to showcase a rider’s responsibility. Sushant has undertaken two bike rides, the first of 9000 km solo and the other from Bangalore to Leh, 11,000 km. What surprises me is when people ask me how I ‘allow’ Sushant to take these trips and how I manage the home and dogs without him. Yes, it was difficult initially, but I don’t want him to have any regrets in life. Marriage is a celebration; we have to allow each other to grow.

Zombie, Lulu and April have brought more meaning into our lives as a couple and I cannot reiterate this enough. Support from friends and family has been an important factor, but what keeps us going is each other’s undying love and support. The dogs have brought out the best and worst in us, truly.

We work in the same organisation and the responsibilities of taking care of three dogs, specially after moving to a new apartment, further away from the city, got to us at times. There is a long commute everyday to work and that is the price we pay if we want a larger space for our kids, which is possible only slightly outside the city. There were times we wanted to kill each other, but the dogs got us closer. We consider them our children.

Sushant did not appreciate me eating the fries he had ordered for himself, the first time we met. Today we share our lives, our responsibilities and our passion for a cause, as partners.

Often people ask me how we manage to be so committed to the cause and to each other. To which we smile and reply, “If you put your mind and heart to something, you can do it.”

We haven’t had a proper getaway since we got married, no time out alone on our own since we adopted the three dogs, as every decision we take centres around them. We choose our dogs over a vacation. Everyone likes luxury, but we are in a very happy place in our lives right now, with the thought that we were of help to someone or did a little something which will stay with us as an investment in a good deed.

To make a shelter for abandoned people and animals, living in harmony with each other is one of our goals, and Paws of India is the first step.

(As told to Mariya Salim)

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Published in Married Life

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