This Amazing Man Takes Care Of 735 Dogs
Rakesh Shukla is a software engineer who’s found his life’s calling in looking after dogs that no-one wants, writes the BBC’s Geeta Pandey in Bangalore.
The car pulled up outside a dusty farmhouse near the capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka and suddenly dogs were everywhere, yelping and barking, jumping with joy.
Within seconds, they were all over Rakesh Shukla, nuzzling him and licking him, and Mr Shukla was as delighted to see them. He spoke to them, patted some, scratched one behind the ears, and lofted another onto his shoulder.
Then he gave me a tour of his three and a half acre farm. At last count, Mr Shukla had 735 dogs.
There are Labradors on the farm, there are Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, Beagles, Dachshunds, Rottweilers, Saint Bernards and even a pug. There are hundreds of mongrels too.
Most of the dogs are strays, the others have been abandoned by their owners. The latest arrivals was a group of 22 pedigreed dogs whose owner, a city businessman, was shot dead recently by criminals.
“I’m the last stop for these dogs. They are no longer cute and cuddly. Many are sick and no longer wanted,” said Mr Shukla, 45.
Affectionately known as the “Dog Father”, he calls the dogs his babies and him their “papa”
Mr Shukla, who founded a software company along with his wife 10 years ago, spends three to four days every week on the farm, taking care of his canines.
“I had worked in Delhi, in the United States and then set up my own company in Bangalore,” he said. “Life was all about buying big cars and expensive watches and living a fancy life. I had travelled and seen the world many times over, but then I was not happy.”
Then Kavya came into his life: a beautiful 45-day-old Golden Retriever that he fell hopelessly in love with. It was in June 2009, and Mr Shukla remembers clearly the day he brought her home.
“When we got home, she went and hid in a corner. I got down to her level on the floor and I was calling out to her. She was looking at me, she was scared, but I could see she wanted to trust me,” he said.
“And that’s when the moment happened – it was a physical feeling, my hair was tingling, I could feel a warm glow. And I’ve never needed to ask myself that question – ‘why am I here?’ – again after that.”
Mr Shukla’s second dog, Lucky, came to him three months later when he rescued her from the streets. “It had been raining for 12-13 days, she was wet and miserable, so I brought her home too,” he said.
Over the coming days and weeks, whenever he met a stray or abandoned dog, he brought it home. Initially he kept them there but when his wife protested, he moved some of them to the office, where the top floor was turned into a home for dogs.
In 2012, as the pack grew, Mr Shukla bought land in Doddballapur town and set up the farm – a haven for dogs that are old, ailing or simply unwanted.
The farm is designed for its canine residents, with lots of open spaces for them to run around and ponds to swim in, and there’s double fencing to keep them safe.
Every time we entered an enclosure, a cacophony of barks greeted us.
The farm employs about 10 people, including trained veterinary assistants, to look after the dogs, cook for them and feed them. The dogs are fed 200kg of chicken and another 200kg of rice daily and many of the sick ones need regular medicines and attention.
The daily cost of running the centre is 45,000 to 50,000 rupees ($663; £532 to $737; £592), according to Mr Shukla, who said he provided 93% of the funds.
In the past year though, he has run into problems with some animal activists, who have demanded that they be allowed onto the farm. He has also faced complaints that he is creating public unrest by keeping so many dogs. There have also been demands that he shut down the farm.
He has refused to concede.
“I’ve made a pact with my dogs,” he said. “We will part only when one of us kicks the bucket.”