No human can love the way animals can, declares S.V. Geetha Rani who single-handedly looks after 176 abandoned, injured and ailing dogs. Esther Elias listens in as she recounts how they make her life worthwhile

The road off Periamaddhampalayam bus stop twists past quiet homes and busy trees to end beside an open field, deserted but for a rundown shed and a few scattered and locked houses. A few steps in and the barks begin. They peep one by one, from behind shrubs and broken walls — black, brown, white, grey, skinny and plump, tall and short. Through a rented single room, a small-built woman emerges with a cute white puppy in her arms. The dogs around run to her, each stretching for a pat, a scratch, a sweet nothing. It’s their rescuer, healer, friend and mother — S.V. Geetha Rani, owner of Snekalaya for Animals — home to 176 stray, sick and abandoned dogs from in and around Coimbatore.

The first puppy Geetha ever held was her pet dachshund named Blackie. Over the years, as friends came and went, and familial love waxed and waned, Blackie loved unconditionally. One evening 13-year-old Geetha was belted by her father and as always, Blackie jumped between them.

The blows rained down but Blackie bore them while Geetha wept. The next day he died from the wounds in her arms. “That’s when I realised, no man can love the way animals can,” she says.

Through Geetha’s growing years, she surrounded herself with animals. As a teenager, the 15 Alsatians and German Shepherds her grandfather kept, barked her family down but played with her. She spent her school and college days smuggling wounded animals under her dupatta to hideouts where she’d nurse them back to health.

After Blackie though, her father never allowed her pets. Years later, her husband didn’t approve either. But by then, Geetha was feeding 45 cats and 15 stray dogs around her Thudiyalur home.

“Every evening, I’d make rice and milk and go to frequented spots on nearby roads. The sick ones, I’d carry to the Government Veterinary Polyclinic or give them first aid myself,” she says.

After her children’s weddings and her husband’s demise, Geetha opened a small shed in Rakkipalayam for 35 stray dogs. However, the area was a residential one and collectively, the dogs were often loud. Moreover, there was little room for expansion.

In 2006, an animal lover offered to rent her a disused school building in Periamaddhampalayam for Rs. 1,000 each month. Thus was born the Snekalaya for Animals. “For five years I slept in one room, used another as a kitchen and the remaining three for the dogs. If any of them cried at night, I could tend to them immediately. It was the happiest time,” she says.

News soon spread about the lady with the dogs. Strangers would abandon their aged pets by her door at night, college students dropped off wounded dogs from road accidents, friends tipped her off of culling operations and before long, Geetha was looking after over a 100 dogs single-handedly.

One such tip-off came from a college professor whose institution had roped in an expert dog catcher to rid their compound of strays before the visit of a senior government official. Geetha offered to bring the dogs home instead and the dog catcher helped her transport them to Snekalaya. Today, he assists her often.

Well-cared

Snekalaya, has since expanded to include a one-roomed rented outhouse where Geetha lives and an extended shed where she nurses 32 wounded, aged and terminally-ill dogs.

A short veterinary course has taught her the basics and city vets have generously helped. By her doorstep lie a grey-white dog with cataract, another with a leg in a cast, a third with a once maggot-infested ear and several others recovering from skin diseases. “All the calls for adoption I receive are for breed dogs. We don’t realise the worth of native dogs that are stronger and just as loyal,” she says.

Tough routine

Snekalaya’s school building hosts another 144 healthy dogs. All 176 have names, individual sleeping blankets and food bowls. By day Geetha boils batches of 15-20 kg rice, sweeps the sheds, soaks blankets and washes plates. After 5 p.m., she works at a beauty parlour with her daughter.

The day’s earnings are split between them and she buys provisions with that money. JM and Sons English Bakery often donates bread and restaurant Yummy Hut gifts meat. An hour-long journey later, she’s home by 11 to spread out blankets for her dogs and catch a few winks herself.

“It’s not easy but by the grace of God, we’ve never gone hungry,” she says.

Snekalaya’s premises are filling up but Geetha says she still can’t reject an abandoned or ill dog. Someday, she hopes for land and sheds of her own so that she can take in more dogs. “I didn’t bring anything when I came to this world and I can’t take anything back. So, all I want to do is look after dogs till the day I die.”

All I want to do is look after dogs till the day I die