They say the dog is man’s best friend – and if you’re Pratima Devi, from New Delhi, you’d probably agree. After all, she feeds and looks after 400 of them – and has 120 living with her, earning her the unsurprising nickname ‘The dog lady of New Delhi’.
Despite the fact that her three adult children want Pratima to return to their home village, the 65-year-old couldn’t bear to abandon the dogs that need her.
‘These dogs are like my own children,’ she explains. ‘I bring them home and take care of them. Some of them have been abandoned by owners or have been in road accidents. They are alive with me.’
Pratima’s dog family was born when she was running her tea stall, where she would feed biscuits to strays. She then began looking after two of the strays who began to breed. Then Pratima’s tea stall was destroyed and she didn’t have any means of looking after herself, let alone the dogs.
‘For four days I ate nothing and didn’t give anything to them also.’ But she wouldn’t let them starve, even scavenging for meat scraps in the garbage to feed them.
Now her tea stall is up and running again, Pratima is able to afford the 10 litres of milk for the dogs’ breakfast and 12kg of rice and 5kg of meat for their lunch.
She also has a helper in Vevik, a young man from a neighbouring village, who shares her love of canines. But still Pratima fears for her four-legged friends’ welfare when she is no longer around to look after them. ‘If I am not with the dogs at night, they won’t sleep without me. They won’t eat anything without me. Taking care of dogs is my religion.’
Does she not pine for a human relationship though? ‘I feel happy to live with them. When I was with my husband, I wasn’t happy. I used to work all day and run the house.’
Sounds like a dog’s life!