When kids are young, they dream of things like being an astronaut. Teenagers dream of various kinds of fame and acclaim. But once they get a little older, most people tend to dream of things a bit more realistic, like retiring early.
The idea of never having to work again, spending your days in easy pursuit of whatever interests you like while you’ve still got your youth has its obvious appeal. For most of us, it’ll never be a reality but, for a lucky few, dreams do come true. But more often than not, dreams don’t happen just as we imagine them…
Mary and Steve were a couple from Middlesex, England that had spent their lives together. After a career as a professional singer for Mary and running a manufacturing business for Steve, they’d put a good amount away in the bank.
As they were getting on in years, they began to consider when they were going to retire and what they would do once they left their careers behind. “We weren’t well off but we were comfortable so we decided to retire while we were young enough,” Steve said…
Retiring just a couple of years before they hit their 50s, they didn’t have a clear plan of how they wanted to spend the rest of their lives. “We didn’t have any set plans other than seeing a bit of Europe,” Steve said.
But before they began making excursions to the Continent, they decided to go to a couple more exotic locales. The first place they went was to Gran Canaria, the largest of the Canary Islands which, a Spanish archipelago that’s off of the northwestern coast of Africa. After that, they wanted to head farther east…
Mary and Steve booked a 2 week package holiday to Kovalam in Kerala, south India. Kovalam is a vacation spot known for its endless beaches and coconut trees. One thing not included in the vacation advertising is the large number of stray dogs that live in the area.
“We came here for a 2 week holiday and fell in love with 2 rescue pups,” Steve said. After spending day after day with the dogs, they found themselves not wanting to fly back to England when the day arrived…
With no pressing obligations back home, they decided to stay on in Kovalam for a while and help take care of dogs. That 2 week vacation turned into 2 more weeks, then a month, then 2 more months.
Out Of Control
“The whole thing just snowballed. Two dogs became 6, then became 12 and on and on,” Steve said. It wasn’t long before Mary and Steve Muscroft were out walking the streets of the resort town looking for and feeding its various street dogs…
Street Dog Watch
The feeding operation got so big that they eventually hired a rickshaw to carry all the food for the 9 mile trip. As time went on, Mary and Steve became more and more organized in their efforts, eventually forming the Street Dog Watch.
Not What I Expected
“In no way did I envisage this would be my life,” said Mary, who used to volunteer for the RSPCA. “But we were never going to just sit and read and eat and drink. I don’t think anyone would ever have planned this though,” she added. “That would be crazy.”…
But as crazy as it was, they were still there in Kovalam 10 years later, breathing in the tropical air and caring for the town’s stray dogs. The man who once drove the rickshaw they used to feed the dogs was now the Street Dog Watch’s clinic manager.
Over that time, the community began to embrace the couple. As locals found new puppies, they started to leave them at the Dog Watch’s gates, sometimes in large numbers. “We found six puppies left in a plastic bag once…
So they started staying up through the night, nursing the young pups and caring for the sick ones when necessary. For those dogs that are healthy enough, they are housed in 4 large shelters, each holding as many as 25 dogs at a time.
As you might imagine, that many dogs can make quite a mess. Each day began for the adventurous couple with lots of cleaning. “We get through a lot of pooper scoopers,” Mary said. Next up is getting the dogs fed and watered, then checking up on them all to make sure they’re healthy…
Lazy Dog Days
In the midday hours, the temperatures can often climb above 100 degrees. That generally means that between 11 am to 3 pm, the dogs nap in whatever spot in the shade they can find. Then at 4pm, the feeding routine starts over again.
Taking care of that many dogs costs a lot of money, of course. Over the years in Kovalam, Mary and Steve spent over £300,000 ($400,000) of their own money into the Street Dog Watch Association. That money didn’t just go to food and shelter for the dogs but for sterilising them too…
When they first started doing the work, they took count of all the stray dogs around the beaches of Kovalam and nearby Samudra, there were 633. When they counted in 2017, there were only 89. “It’s not all down to sterilisation, but it’s played its part,” Mary said.
They sterilize healthy strays and the idea is to put them back out on the street, rather than looking after them in their shelters. “We still see them, and check if they are healthy. There’s no shortage of food and water for them, and they are free. It might be different if it was in a city,” Mary said…
To help with all the costs, the couple regularly holds fundraisers and have also been helped out by family, friends, as well as tourists who’ve donated to the Dog Watch. They are also in the process of working with the local government to try and have an official license granted for the work they do.“I want Street Dog Watch to become self-sufficient and get the local authority to help with the bill. It’s so the money people give us can go on treats for the dogs, rather than on basic care,” Steve says.
Still, it’s been difficult. Rather than a comfortable retirement, Mary and Steve have been living on a shoestring budget but they have no regrets. “I miss family and friends and a good old English breakfast. I miss going to the pub and Match of the Day,” Steve said. “But there’s compensation in other ways. There’s no ice on my windscreen and no central heating bill. I’m as happy as a nearly 60-year-old can be.”