About a decade ago, Steve and Mary Muscroft visited Kerala. They had taken early retirement and wanted to see the world. A decade later, they are still here, after having spent around 300,000 GBP of their own money, to help dogs in Kerala. This was not the original plan. The two had booked a 2-week package to Kovalam, presumably to lounge in the backwaters there. However, what they saw, made them stay, and it has been an eventful ten years.
Steve says, “We had never imagined this was going to be our life,” who ran a manufacturing business in Bradford before retiring. He tells TBI that they were comfortable with their finances, and decided to retire.
He continues, “We had no concrete plans, except to explore Europe a little,”. Their priority after retiring was to adjust to a life outside the regular 9-5 routine. Steve and Mary then ended up in Gran Canaria, after which they booked a fortnight holiday package at Kovalam, in God’s Own Country.
That trip continues to this day. A decade spent in Kerala that all started because of two dogs that had made their place in the couple’s hearts–Chitty and Legs.
They could not leave, as no one came forward to adopt the two canines. Since no one came forward, the couple decided to stay back. Steve says they could not walk away from the dogs. It only helps that Mary is a former RSPCA volunteer. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or RSPCA is the largest animal welfare charity in the UK.
The two dogs became six, then 12, and so on, where today, they have almost 100 dogs. The couple manages an animal clinic employing three staff and have an NGO called the Street Dog Watch Association- a body that rescues stricken dogs, and takes care of the area’s strays via vaccinations, food and sterilisations.
The couple started their NGO in 2013, but have been rescuing, vaccinating and sterilising dogs from way before. They used to go out and feed the street dogs of Kovalam near the languid palm-tree lined resort during their first fortnight here. The feeding rounds started expanding in the area, so they hired a rickshaw to carry the food necessary for the 15 km trip. Kukku, the rickshaw driver, is today the Clinic Manager of Street Dog Watch, and his family chipped in as well.
“Six puppies were left in a plastic bag,” Steve says, adding that the majority of their time would be spent feeding and taking care of the dogs, and nursing the ill ones back to health.
Days at Street Dog Watch are full of work. The dogs are housed in large shelters, and a typical day starts with waking and cleaning the shelters, feeding the dogs and checking their health status. Activity ceases from 11 a.m to 3 p.m, with the temperatures rising to the mid-30s, when the canines rest, before the feeding routine at 4 p.m.
“Our main aim is birth control, and we have managed to sterilise around 1,500 dogs,” Steve says, adding that around 2,400 animals were vaccinated, and the couple takes care of 94 dogs in their house. The population of dogs is a testament to their hard work. When they first started, 633 dogs were counted around Kovalam’s beaches. Last year, in 2017, there were only 89.
The couple nurse ill dogs, carrying continuous checks to see the improvement, and have no shortage of food and water.
Steve and Mary’s NGO is looking to raise money through crowdfunding, to bolster their animal birth control and anti-rabies efforts. They wish to have a puppy house and a dog retirement home under one roof.
Steve and Mary have been successful. 1,531 sterilisations, 322 adoptions and 2,483 vaccinations have been carried out by their team of five, and some good Samaritan volunteers, one of whom is a doctor.
“I hope Street Dog Watch becomes self-sufficient, and the local authorities can help us with the bills,” says Steve, speaking of the proposal they have put forth before government bodies, for help and cooperation.
Steve does miss his good old English breakfast, and other habits he would follow back home. However, this is now their mission–to care for and love those dogs.
Steve and Mary are true animal lovers and have sold their Queensbury home, to take care of street dogs. They hold fundraisers and have been receiving help from friends, family and tourists, who want to help them with their efforts. If you wish to contribute to their noble cause, you can visit their campaign here.
All images credit: Street Dog Watch Association.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)