Strays get a home and lady finds a mission

UK citizen opens city house to street dogs

By Ramona Sen
  • Published 8.08.16

A UK citizen with roots in Calcutta has opened her Ritchie Road home to stray dogs in need of care.

Millie Bhattacharyya, a Cheshire-based education consultant who grew up in Calcutta and migrated to the UK 37 years ago, no longer has family ties in town. But she makes multiple trips every year just to check on her four-legged friends.

Millie Bhattacharyya cuddles a furry friend while another takes a nap and a third 
awaits its turn at her Ritchie Road residence

It's hard to not trip over tails and paws and snouts at Millie's three-storey home. On any given day, there's Bichhu, Shada, Uncle Sam and Baghi sprawled around the house. Other dogs come and go as they see fit. They flock around to eat their meals and have their wounds dressed.

"I try to not name all of them, because once they're better, I like to let them out again," Millie said.

She employs a help to look after the dogs when she's in the UK. While the help occasionally changes, she is a constant in the lives of the dogs. She extended her trip this summer by weeks to find and train a replacement for a help who had left at short notice.

It was in November 2010 during a trip to organise her younger son's wedding that Millie first opened her house to a stray. Three puppies gambolling outside her house had caught her eye. They seemed happy, except for the fact that one's back had caved in and the other had sores all over.

"I wondered if a chocolate bomb had gone off on one and whether hot water had been poured on the other. One day the puppy with the least wounds got run over and I noticed that the others were beginning to hide themselves away, as they do when they feel they are about to die. That's when I took them in," recounted Millie.

Little did she know that one act of kindness would mark the beginning of a new chapter in her life.

Her golden retriever Leo, who lived in her home in Cheshire, passed away recently and Scamp, the puppy with the hollowed-out back, whose fate took him across the seas to a home he will always be safe in, is still getting over the loss of his friend.

Showing old photographs of Leo and Scamp together, Millie said: "I miss Scamp terribly when I am here, but he and my husband have been getting along very well. In fact, he has a better life there, with the woods to run around in. Here, all the dogs are closeted in apartments and that's unfair."

Millie with Scamp and Leo during a trip to Anglesey in Wales

Is Millie's husband, a paediatrician, annoyed by his wife's frequent absences from home? "He understands. He's seen some of the victims; so he knows how helpless they are. And my boys, in Australia and in the UK, wish that I had more time to visit them but they are animal lovers too."

While she's in Calcutta, not all of Millie's neighbours are happy with the dogs milling on the street. "They think the dogs are here because I feed them and are scared for the safety of their children. So, I have vaccinated a lot of them against rabies, but I can't keep it up without funds. To collect funds, I have to go back to work in the UK but I can't leave them here to starve."

Before returning to the UK this month, she gave all the dogs around Maddox Square the DHPP vaccine that works for Parvo and Distemper. She has built six cubicles on her terrace for the dogs, especially the injured ones. "I would like to request everyone to gather funds in their areas for these vaccinations. It's not impossible if everyone contributes. And it's easy to keep aside a little bit of fish and rice for the dogs or water in bowls outside the gate," Millie said.

Sitting in her drawing room, cradling Bichhu while Baghi nuzzled her ankles, Millie said she often felt homesick. She wants to return home to Scamp, to her husband and work for a few more months before scheduling another visit to India, but too many lives depend on her.

"We pray to stone idols but we won't leave water out for a living thing. There's too little compassion and too much malice. I don't intend this to be a permanent home for dogs; I would love for them to find good homes so I can go home too," she said, albeit certain in the knowledge that every week she will open her gate to a new pair of melting brown eyes while her husband and Scamp await her return.

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