Peripheral Vision: The Dog Walker
Our series, Peripheral Vision, explores the untold stories of people we encounter on a daily basis.
I’m Sanjay; I don’t remember my age, but I know I’m old enough to call myself Starboy’s father. (Starboy is a Labrador.)
I came to Mumbai from Bihar about 10 or 12 years ago. I started off with working in a restaurant, doing everything — cleaning, cooking, serving guests — but eventually got tired of it.
Then I became someone’s house help and whenever I got down to chat with my friends in the building, I noticed that people would come, walk many dogs and leave. I’d think ‘what kind of a job is this?’ and my friends told me that this is a real profession and that these people are known as dog walkers. It was fascinating for me — walk dogs and get paid for it.
Since I had a few dogs in the village and I’d care for and play with them, I wanted to try my hand at this job too. I thought it would be easier compared to being a house help or working at a restaurant.
I started with approaching people in the same building I was employed at, and immediately found a few takers. I got to walk three dogs. The number wasn’t a problem; the timing was. All three had to be taken at the same time and that was an issue because their personalities were very different. One was fierce and playful, the other was extremely slow and the third one was still a pup and learning to do things. Handling them all at once was like I had to manage 10 babies at the same time. One would run, while the other one wouldn’t walk at all and the pup would sometimes be willing to walk, and at times, wouldn’t be. Sometimes, there’d also be other dogs barking at these three and with street dogs around, it would get worse.
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I walked the three of them for a while, but I think I was a little overwhelmed. And then I found Starboy. He’s a one-and-a-half-year-old Labrador and I’ve been with him for five months. But it feels like we’ve known each other since the day he was born. I forget to do my own things, but not his. I live in the same house, I also do a few other chores at home but Starboy is my priority. I’m responsible for everything he needs — food, walks, baths, trimmings, taking him to the vet, giving him medicines. I wake up with him in the morning, take him for a 20-minute walk, make his food. He’s fond of papaya and rice. And he absolutely loves ice-cream. I think I also end up eating a lot more ice-cream than I [normally] would because of Starboy. Fish is another favorite, but chicken not so much. He’s extremely playful and really big for his age. So sometimes, it even gets difficult to control and calm him down. When I take him for walks, and if he’s in the mood to run, I find it difficult to keep up with him.
But it is very difficult to live without him. Since his owners are away for work, and I’m with him for most of the day, the bond we share is nothing less than that of a father and a son. I care for him like I would for my own children. It pains me to see him sick, or in pain. If he doesn’t eat, even I don’t feel like eating. I might have bigger problems running in my head — my own parents have been sick and there have been times that there is no money at home or food to eat — but Starboy’s problems seem to be bigger than my own. I’ve never even called him a dog; he’s my son.
If I go home, back to my village, I constantly think about him, sometimes we video call, and I do see the happiness in him. It also comforts me to see him doing okay without my being there but I can’t wait to get back to him. I’ve even had conversations with him; there have been times I’ve been low, and I’ve confided in Starboy and trust me, he’s responded and I’ve felt better. It’s extremely comforting to have him around, to have him with me all the time — it keeps me from thinking about my problems. I don’t ever want to leave him and I wish I don’t have to. I won’t be able to live without him.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. As told to Anubhuti Matta.