Walk into any police station in the city and chances are, you would spot some form of animal life inside, usually dogs lounging quietly around the floor even as people bicker among themselves or cats lying luxuriously on chairs and couches placed outside the passport verification section. While the instinct is to shoo away the strays, the animals, in most cases, are informally adopted by the police station and have taken up residence.
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Take the case of an aging cat and dog that had been lovingly adopted by the then senior inspector of Shivaji Nagar police station in Govandi in 1996. “He was very attached to them. The animals would never go anywhere without him. The senior inspector would feed them from his own lunch box and they never ate food outside. They also guarded his cabin. He was so attached to them that he would also take them in his car while patrolling the area,” said Jayant Hargude, a retired Assistant Commissioner of Police, who was then posted at Shivaji Nagar.
Hargude recalls the pets were heartbroken when the senior inspector was transferred out. “The senior inspector who came next did not like them moving around his cabin. So he asked for them to be moved out,” he said.
While the cat took up residence in the officers’ room and died of old age, more extreme measures were taken to evict the dog, Hargude said. “The senior inspector was so fed up he made us leave the dog away from the police station, but each time, it would return,” he said.
Finally, Hargude said, the senior inspector ordered that the dog be bundled into a gunny sack and let out near Chembur police station. The dog eventually stayed in the large compound of Chembur police station as food was plentiful, but it soon became clear how much it missed its friends at Shivaji Nagar.
“The dog remembered what our police car smelled like, so each time we went to Chembur police station, it would greet us like an old friend. The dog would become very excited as soon as he spotted our car and would jump as soon as we got out. He never forgot us even though he had been driven out of Shivaji Nagar,” Hargude said.
Several serving police personnel have attested to the loyalty of residents pets.
Nagesh Jadhav, who is now ACP, Tardeo division, receives regular fortnightly visits from a dog he rescued two years ago when he was senior inspector of Tardeo police station. “A family had approached us saying their dog was lost. We tracked down the dog like we track down missing people. Even two years later, the dog still walks into my office every 15 days even though I have moved to the other side of the building,” he said.
At Azad Maidan traffic police station, an adopted stray dog guards the premises at night. “He bites strangers who try to enter the police station after dark,” said senior inspector Namrata Lokhande. Fed a regular diet of Britannia Good Day biscuits, Tommy is also known to sink his teeth into motorists who try to rough up his police friends.
For the police, caring for these animals who see police stations as a safe place to shelters is no different than formally adopting a pet, and money they spend to nurture them goes undocumented. In most cases though, it is compassion that sees the police rally together to care for their pets.
Six-month-old pups Kalya and Lalya are second generation residents of the sprawling Versova police station compound, after their parents, who had first taken to living in the shrubbery, passed away of old age. Those at the police station decided to care for the pups. “We feed them every day and give them a bath. We also take them for regular checkups to the doctor. We couldn’t save the parents even after paying to treat them, so now we are caring for their children,” said an officer at Versova police station.
Nagpada police station, however, has a resident feline, who occupies pride of place outside the couch outside the senior inspector cabin.
The female cat, who has not been named, was adopted in 2013 after losing an eye to a fight with a dog. “She walked into the police station bleeding from one eye. We rushed her to the animal hospital in Parel. After surgery, we brought her back to live with us,” says a constable. Most recently, in December last year, the cat was again admitted to hospital, this time with a fever and her treatment was paid for by staff at the hospital. Back home now, the cat gets an affectionate scratch behind the ear by cops going in and out of the cabin.
Fish tanks on the other hand, are meant to sooth frayed nerves. “There is a lot of stress throughout the day, but when you look at the water and fish moving in it, your blood pressure goes down,” said Baburao Mukhedkar, senior inspector, Sahar police station, who has a large tank in his cabin.
Retired ACP Hargde said animals perform an important but often unacknowledged function in a police station. “Animals sense your worries when your human friends don’t. You tend to lose your temper very often in the police station, but once you stroke a dog or a cat for a few minutes, you automatically clam down,” he said.