And then there was the puppy area: there were eight young puppies at KAW when I arrived, and two more were
admitted during my time there. There is no joy comparable to sitting in the puppy play area and having puppies
climb into my lap, inspect my bag, chew on my watchband, and dispense puppy kisses liberally.
I spent a total of six days at KAW (with a couple of additional days in the middle of my visit for sightseeing in
Delhi). During those days, I observed the daily routine at KAW -- the dogs get breakfast (egg and roti,
an Indian bread), lunch (dry dog food), and dinner (chicken and rice). The feeding process is controlled
chaos, with each of the 70-plus dogs patiently awaiting their own bowl of food, and KAW staff patrolling the
group to make sure the bolder dogs did not steal from the shy ones.
The dogs got regular baths, and were checked for ticks frequently. (I joined in the fun and became skilled
at instant tick removal with my bare hands). They also received medical treatment if needed. For
advanced vet care, KAW brings its dogs to a veterinary clinic in Delhi, but several KAW staff perform assorted
procedures on site -- blood draws, wound cleaning, post-surgical care, mange treatment, and more. There
is no veterinary technician certification in India, so the KAW staff are self-taught in these skills -- a remarkable
And on the topic of the KAW staff -- I cannot say enough good things about them. Twelve of the thirteen full-time
staff live on-site, in very rudimentary conditions. They sleep in the rooms with the dogs so that they
can monitor them 24/7. They cook for the dogs, clean up after them, and manage dog behavior, often stopping
squabbling dogs with a well-timed command. It is hot, dirty, under-appreciated work -- and yet when the
daily tasks were done, I often found them petting and playing with the dogs. The dogs' adoration for
the staff was easy to observe.
I tried to be helpful while I was there, though I fear I was in the way more than helpful. The KAW staff, most
of whom do not speak English, were cautious and quiet around me, but I hope I won them over in the end by the
fact that I kept showing up day after day and hanging out in the dusty courtyard with the dogs.
My time at KAW was joyful, because of the wonderful dogs and people -- and sad as well, to see so many dogs in need,
and so many more on the streets who could not be helped by KAW.
World Spay Day Activities
While I was there, I accompanied the staff in one of KAW's two battered Jeeps to pick up dogs as part of the
OPH-supported World Spay Day activities. We picked up a total of eight dogs to be spayed during my time at KAW
(and many more sterilizations have been completed since my time there ended). KAW had asked community caretakers
to sign up their dogs to be spayed. This helped KAW identify and catch dogs in need of sterilization, and also
ensured that there would be support and care for the dogs after the surgery.
Most dogs we picked up were cautiously friendly, though glum about being herded into the back of a Jeep and driven
away from their home territory. A few were wary and tried to stay clear of us -- but the KAW staff are
have unparalleled skills at dog-catching!
Once the dogs were brought to the center, KAW staff took blood samples and dropped them off at a vet clinic for testing,
to be sure the dogs were fit for surgery. While this added time and expense to the process, it increased
the likelihood of successful anesthesia and surgery.
On my third day at KAW, we brought the dogs to a local vet who did all eight sterilizations in rapid succession.
We then brought the dogs back to KAW, where the staff cared for the dogs for a few days until they were
recovered sufficiently to be returned to their home territories.
This process sounds simple and straightforward as I write it -- but this conceals the challenges and hassles of doing
this work in reality. New Delhi is a sprawling, hot traffic-clogged city -- full of energy and life, but also
a challenging place to get things done. Each spaying case could require four lengthy drives: to pick up
dogs, to drop off bloodwork at the vets, to drop off dogs at the vet, and to return dogs to their communities.
With the distances involved and Delhi traffic, each of these drives could be 1 to 2 hours each, meaning that
one spay case could require 6 to 8 hours of staff time -- and a lot of aggravation.
And while many local residents are supportive of KAW's work, even in my short stay, I experienced a case of a
community member yelling at me for taking pictures of street puppies, claiming I was exploiting India's poverty
for personal gain. Nothing could have been farther from the truth - but this is one example of how hard it can
be to do animal welfare work in India.