Thanks to his job, Abodh Aras discovered Mumbai through the eyes of man’s best friends

February 15, 2019 10:10 pm | Updated 10:10 pm IST

Arvind was a pavement dweller outside Eros in Churchgate, back when the theatre only screened English films in the 90s. The man, of modest means with great generosity, always looked after three to four dogs at a time. He’d usually name them after the the latest releases of the time. He had a Pretty (after Pretty Woman ), James (after James Bond) and strangely an S.Raj after the Tamil actor. When Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai released in 2000, he added a Hrithik and Ameesha to his entourage. Arvind is the reason Abodh Aras, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The Welfare Of Stray Dogs (WSD) and other volunteers still begin their first-aid rounds from the cinema every Sunday morning. “At least one of his dogs always had a health problem,” remembers Aras talking about the on-site programme, WSD initiated in 1996. “We said, the first dogs to treat will be Arvind’s and then, we will move on.”

Mumbai meri jaan

Today, the initiative has expanded far and wide, with volunteers getting trained by WSD and applying their knowledge in their own areas. “The on-site first-aid programme has uplifted the image of the street dog’s status in people’s eyes,” says Aras who used to first volunteer at Veermata Jijabai Udyan’s Byculla zoo before he joined WSD. He, along with others, would educate people not to litter and harass the animals. A turning point in his life was when he admitted an injured puppy at Parel. Almost a month later, the animal was dropped off at the Aras household. “The puppy had come back with a bloated stomach and didn’t make through the night,” he recollects. “It must have caught some infection and I thought to myself, if I have a small wound, will I go a hospital? I won’t.” After four months of training with veterinarian Dr. Siloo Bhagwager (alongside his MBA in Marketing), Aras established the first-aid programme. It has saved countless animals over the past two decades. Aras remembers how people would usually stone a dog to death if it had a maggot wound on its head, fearing it was rabid. Today, after seeing volunteers interact with the injured animals, people feel reassured.

Because of his tryst with animals, Aras began a lifelong romance with the city. “I know every gully because of dogs,” he smiles. “I used to do this everyday, so one had to eat and have chai.” His two great loves have come together in a book that took 20 years to realise. A self-proclaimed lazy man — hence, the delay — he turned author penning the children’s book, My City, My Dogs. Commissioned by Senior Editor, Bijal Vachhrajani (frequent contributor to these pages) at the non-profit publishing house, Pratham, the book features illustrations by Sumedha Sah and photographs by Hashim Badani. “Abodh [Aras] already had in mind, the dogs he was going to write about and sadly some of the dogs were no longer there,” says Badani. “There needed to be a balance between the photographs and illustrations.” The trio spent two days along Aras’ trail over the city and Badani spent the next few days trying to incorporate the characteristics and personalities of the dogs into the photographs.

Dog’s day out

“The book stems right from the day I knew Arvind and the stories, names, idiosyncrasies and relationships I’ve had with dogs and people over the years,” says Aras immediately lighting up like a bulb before going into several anecdotes. He became friends with black marketeers (of film tickets) whose dogs he’d treat. “They would offer me free tickets,” he laughs, seguing into the story of Tulsi akka (sister) whose pet indie had a peculiar affinity. The dog would exclusively perch himself on cars of international make, this during a time of Ambassadors and Padminis. Then there’s Chickoo (featured in the book) who lives outside Umame in Churchgate. During the city’s negligible winters, he’s lovingly snuggled into a poncho made out of gunny sacks, courtesy the watchman who looks after him. Aras also talks of Dhoni, one of four indies who along with three cats, stay with a family of five in an 8x8 room close to the WSD kennel in Mahalaxmi. “If the family had to run errands, Dhoni would look after the baby,” smiles Aras adding that if anyone got near the child, Dhoni would growl. “People say that I [have] a three-bedroom house but I can’t adopt a dog, I have no space. I always say that the space should be in the heart not the home.”

A long journey

Aras’s love for animals goes back to a time before he was born. Tales about his mother’s four-legged friend are been legendary in the Aras household. Damiya, a cross-eyed indie — named after the Maharashtrian actor Damuanna Malvankar, who was afflicted with the same problem — would try to follow her and jump into her train. His own earliest memory is of a cat in his childhood house. At one point, the family had up to 15 cats flitting in and out. This affinity was reinforced by a neighbour who fed all four-legged creatures he came across. “That’s how dogs came into my life,” remembers Aras who was barely seven at the time. “I used to accompany him to the vet with his strays.

After 23 years of his association with WSD, Aras is ready to retire, but not before he finds a worthy successor. From limited operations, the present CEO used his professional experience to expand the NGO. Today they have full-time staff and a huge network of volunteers. WSD has not only sterilised, vaccinated and treated a huge population of dogs over the city but they also educate children in schools about compassion towards animals. The journey has been long and far from easy especially because WSD entirely relies on donations. “We set up a new centre in Navy Nagar but we need to grow more,” he concludes. “Over 25 years ago, they were killing dogs [as a form of population control], so we’ve made a lot of progress over the years.”

My City, My Dogs is priced at ₹60; see To donate or volunteer at WSD, see

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