A retired professor who feeds 150 dogs everyday.

On Karthiyasamy’s 63rd birthday, I meet him near his house in Velachery. Taking shelter from the afternoon sun outside a pottikadai, I watch Karthiyasamy park his scooter and sound the horn. A minute later, he’s surrounded by six street dogs. After feeding them milk biscuits and greeting passer-bys, Karthiyasamy introduces me to Tiger, who curls up next to him. “He’s a fussy eater,” Karthiyasamy says, stroking Tiger. The other dogs nap in the shade, while Karthiyasamy tells me that it was a petty burglary that led to his long association with dogs back in 1977.

“We had hung out clothes to dry in our house in Tumkur; my wife was sleeping inside; and somebody just walked away with all the clothes!” Karthiyasamy adopted his first dogs soon after that, when he moved to Chennai. They had pups and their numbers increased. He also took to feeding the leftover food to homeless dogs near his house. And, so, for the past 15 years, he has been feeding between 150 to 200 dogs everyday.

“I feed the dogs biscuits, pori and chicken. I collect leftover chicken from shops, boil and prepare it and take it around in sacks. I leave home at 4 a.m., as there’s no traffic then, and I do my rounds by scooter in and around Velachery,” he says. Although a strict vegetarian, Karthiyasamy says he does not mind feeding the dogs chicken. “I gave up meat to improve my mind,” he smiles, parting Tiger’s fur and removing a tick. “Tiger lives in that house,” he points across the road. “But he knows I love him dearly! All the other dogs I feed recognise me; they know my scooter, they can identify the horn. When I was working, I used to feed the dogs at 11p.m. as I would have to leave for college early in the morning.” Karthiyasamy was the first engineering graduate from his village, Malaipatti, near Usilampatti. A retired engineering professor, he worked at the Anna University, and later, taught in other colleges, until his voluntary retirement in 2003. “Dogs have been instrumental in my job changes. In one of the private colleges where I worked, the officials called in dog catchers. For Rs.25 a dog, they mercilessly killed every dog on the campus. I quit my job that very day,” he recalls. Living off his pension, Karthiyasamy dips into his savings to feed the dogs. He regrets that he’s unable to provide medical attention to many of them, as transport and treatment are expensive. “I can only pray for them, although I wonder why only pedigree dogs are sought after as pets?” he asks, walking to his scooter. And sensing he’s about to leave, the dogs rise and crowd around him, for another round of biscuits…

(A weekly column on men and women who make Chennai what it is)