Manish Rai: The savior of stray dogs

Anushka Nepal

Anushka Nepal

Manish Rai: The savior of stray dogs

He started feeding stray dogs during the Covid-19 lockdown, and hasn’t stopped since then

Everyday around five in the evening, 50-year-old Manish Rai heads out to feed stray dogs in Kathmandu. The boot of his car is full of raw meat, weighing around 80 kilos. Rai’s first stop is Annamnagar and he then moves towards Maitighar on to Bhadrakali, Shahid Gate, Durbar Marg, Maharajgunj, and finally back to Basundhara, which is where he lives. He started feeding stray dogs during the Covid-19 lockdown, and hasn’t stopped since then.

Born in Hong Kong, Rai came to Kathmandu when he was two years old. Even as a child, he was always fond of dogs. He was kind towards street animals, and the compassion grew as he became older, which is why he began feeding the dogs around his residence more than three decades ago. “All they wanted was some affection and food,” he says. He has adopted three stray dogs and there are seven others in his locality that he takes care of.

It was within the 15 days of the first lockdown that he decided to feed dogs around Kathmandu. “Usually, dogs feed on the leftovers from hotels, restaurants, and butcher shops. But with everything closed, I knew they had nothing to eat,” he says. Obviously, it wasn’t going to be easy. But it was something he wanted to do. Initially, he planned to stop once the lockdown was over, but he couldn’t. “Every evening, all those stray dogs I fed would gather at one place, expecting me to show up. How could I stop?” he says. Three-years later, it has become a part of his daily routine.

Rai is currently unemployed. When asked about how he affords to take care of these dogs, he says he uses the money he has saved. Not just for food, but he also looks after their medical expenses when necessary, especially if they get into an accident or someone hurts them deliberately.

“My plan is to do this work for as long as I can,” he says. Rai has had many people approach him with the idea of forming an organization that would run on donations. “But the sad part was most of them were only thinking about earning money. They weren’t thinking about the animals. I don’t want to be a part of that,” he says.

He believes that social service should never be about making money. Money, he says, is something that comes and goes. “But the moment we start being greedy, we will lack compassion,” he says, adding that is why he isn’t looking for financial support or willing to collaborate with just anyone yet.

One of the happiest feelings for him is when dogs gather around as soon as they hear the sound of his car. “They somehow know that it’s me with their food,” he says. Looking at them wagging their tails at his arrival fills his heart with content. “That just shows what a little bit of compassion can do to an animal,” he says.

But that’s not how everyone sees it. Rai has had to deal with a lot of people trying to stop him from doing what he does. Many times, the locals in places where he feeds these dogs have resisted his efforts. “They say these dogs litter, bark at drivers, and even bite people. And it’s all because I gather them at one place,” he says.

Some people even tell him that they will kill or poison these dogs. A few years back, street dogs were poisoned by one of his neighbors, claiming they are making the streets unsafe. “Of course these dogs will get aggressive if people treat them badly. Even humans would do the same,” he says.

He adds that dogs bark at people because it’s them who have wronged these animals. “They have to endure a lot of harm from people while living on the streets. They are just being defensive out of fear,” he says. If people were to take a minute or slow down their vehicles, he believes, these dogs would do nothing.

Despite trying to explain, Rai says he has failed to convince people on how friendly a dog can be. He has witnessed people throw hot water or even acid on dogs. Some animals are beaten to a point where they become paralyzed. One of the dogs Rai adopted had been physically harmed, and was abandoned by his owner once he grew old. “They had him in chains and parts around his neck had deep wounds. The fur hasn’t grown back in that area,” he says.

Rai also used to help people adopt puppies. “But I stopped doing that because of the life they had to live with their new families,” he says. Seeing them being caged, physically assaulted, and abandoned once the owner didn’t want them was painful. “Their life as pets became worse than on the streets as strays” he says. Sometimes, he says, people are cruel for no reason. “I place jars filled with water for dogs around Kathmandu. But people have either broken or stole those containers,” he says. Despite keeping them tied to poles, he still needs to get new containers quite often.

Rai believes people lack compassion as well as awareness of animal rights. “It all boils down to kindness I guess,” he says. But there have been some changes in peoples’ perception in recent times. “There are others like me who care about animals and they are all doing the best they can. I hope more people join us in creating a better world for strays,” he adds.

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