Suzanne McFadden tells the heart-wrenching story of a family’s love – and expensive battle – for a dog saved from India’s streets.

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See the “Save Rave” fundraiser on Givealittle

Rave was the lucky one. When Samar Jit found him, he was the only puppy of eight in his litter still alive, sluggishly crawling over his mother’s body.

The puppy’s mother, an Indian street dog, had been sheltering her litter near the entranceway to Jit’s apartment building in Thane, a satellite city of Mumbai. 

“She was the apartment watchman’s best friend. But a stray hater poisoned her, and she died,” Jit explains. “The puppies drank her poisoned milk, and they died too. All except for Rave, the plumpest of the litter. When I found him he was listless, but still alive.”

So began the heart-rending tale of a man so devoted to his canine companions that he has spent more than two years – and more than $40,000 – trying to bring them to a new life in New Zealand. And it’s a story far from over.

In a city where as many as 400,000 stray dogs roam the streets, why did a young internet marketer choose this sickly little puppy to take home to his small apartment? Especially when Jit already had a dog – an abandoned puppy named Floyd he had also rescued from the streets.

“It was obvious that we couldn’t leave [Rave] there, because we knew he would die,” Jit says.

“I took the puppy home, but I didn’t name him. I looked after him night and day, but it became obvious there was something wrong. I fed him six times a day, and the food went right through him.” The poison had affected the puppy too, and it would take years of care and ongoing medication for Rave to become a healthy dog.

Named after Jit’s favourite music, Floyd and Rave became almost inseparable. Rave, the youngest, was the alpha male, constantly teasing Floyd. “Rave has grown up into a playful, lovable, intelligent dog, with a zest for life that only one who’s come so close to death can have,” Jit says.

In 2015, Jit decided to move to New Zealand from India with his wife Aparna – to study and work, and be closer to Jit’s father Sri, who’s lived in Auckland for 15 years. There was never any question the dogs would come too.

“My dogs didn’t ask to be adopted. They would probably have survived somehow on the streets of India. But we took responsibility when we picked them up. They’re like our kids now, and we would do that for our kids, right?” he says.

So Jit and his family borrowed money and took out a mortgage on his mother’s house in India – to cover his relocation and university fees, and to pay for Floyd and Rave to join him in New Zealand.

Two years later, only one of the dogs is now in Auckland. Floyd made it through the meticulous quarantine process, and now lives with his “dad” in Mangere.

But Rave’s journey has been much more complicated. For 19 months, he remained in a Singapore boarding kennel, waiting to come to New Zealand. And when he finally arrived, his stay was fleeting.

Now the dog is back in Singapore; his future uncertain.   

If you name him, you’re keeping him

Jit grew up in the South Indian city of Chennai with a menagerie: cats, dogs, squirrels; even a cow in the house. “As a kid, animals were my best friends – to play with, to sit and talk to when my parents were busy,” he recalls. “Animals never get complicated, they remain like innocent little children till the day they die.”

He respected the dogs who ruled the roost at his mother’s family homestead in Kerala. One of the bitches died saving Jit ’s grandfather from an attacking snake.

Jit also befriended street dogs. “The strays would follow us, especially on our way home from school. We’d buy a little biscuit and feed them on the way,” he says.

At home today in south Auckland, 39-year-old Jit and Floyd, now 10, play tug-of-war with an old towel. The copper-coated Floyd, described as a Carolina breed, looks like a young fawn without the spots. 

Floyd is happy here. “He swam for the first time in his life, in the Orakei Basin,” Jit says. “He never got on with dogs in India, but he has made so many dog friends here in New Zealand.”

He was an anxious, fretful dog from the day Jit found the six-month-old puppy at a Mumbai shopping centre, encircled by strays.

“He had a collar on, and he was pretty clean – not dusty and muddy like other stray dogs. He looked lost and scared, like he was searching for his master. We knew that he wouldn’t survive on the streets,” Jit says.

A local vet recognised the puppy and phoned his owner, who quickly hung up on him. “It was obvious then the dog had been abandoned,” says Jit.

He took him home, but didn’t give him a name: “Because once you name him, you’re not going to let him go.” But after weeks of trying to re-home the pup, Jit relented, naming him after Pink Floyd.

A year later, Floyd was joined by Rave, a mongrel with floppy beagle ears and a curly street-dog tail. The poison from his mother’s milk damaged his pancreas, and today he still needs daily medication to digest food. But Rave was far from meek.

“Rave is the naughty one, and Floyd is the goody two-shoes,” Jit explains. If Rave steals food, Floyd howls with concern. “Rave is very confident – he sees me as a parent – where Floyd still has that abandonment anxiety.”

For the short period that Rave was in Auckland – in a quarantine kennel – Floyd madly sniffed Rave’s scent whenever Jit and his family returned from visits.

He wasn’t the only one confused and disappointed when Rave didn’t come home.

Pariah dog rescues

Around 30 million stray dogs roam the streets of India. Their growing number is an ongoing dilemma in a nation where rabies is of epidemic proportions. According to the World Health Organisation, one-third of the world’s human rabies deaths occur in India – most of them children bitten by infected dogs.

It has been illegal to kill dogs in India since 2001, when the government introduced the Animal Birth Control legislation. It’s mostly animal welfare organisations who sterilise and vaccinate street dogs.

But there’s a growing trend of India’s “pariah” dogs being saved by offshore dog-lovers, especially in Canada. “A lot of people who visit India end up rescuing animals from the sad conditions that they are in, and adopting the animals themselves,” says Aditi Nair, chair of the Pet Owners and Animal Lovers Foundation (PAL) in Thane.

“The street dog adapts easily to any environment – they make very good pets. They’re also highly trainable and so loving and loyal. They also don’t fall sick very often, saving a lot on vet bills.”

It’s hard to know if many Indian dogs have come to New Zealand. Cats and dogs aren’t imported here directly from India, because of rabies.

Pets must live in a country approved by New Zealand for at least six months before they can enter. They must have a veterinary certificate proving they are free from organisms considered biosecurity risks – including rabies and heartworm.

Singapore is an approved country, and last year 53 of the 4216 dogs imported into New Zealand came from there, according to Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) figures.

Jit and his wife sought a better life in Auckland, where she could work as a nurse and he could study for a marketing degree. He has since graduated from AUT, and works as a search engine marketing specialist for an Auckland digital agency.

Leaving the dogs in India was never considered. “There was no doubt in my mind: we would borrow, we would mortgage the house, do whatever it takes to take them along,” he says.

After three months of having the dogs microchipped, blood tested and cleared for importation, Jit, Aparna and the two dogs left for Singapore. Floyd and Rave went to a dog boarder, who would follow the strict quarantine guidelines. When Jit left them, he expected to be reunited with both dogs in Auckland six months later.

After seven months, Floyd flew to New Zealand, alone. Rave had tested positive for heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) – a parasite spread to dogs through a mosquito’s bite. The adult worm lives in the heart of the infected dog, releasing larvae into its bloodstream. The worms can damage the heart and lungs, and cause heart failure.

The disease does not exist in New Zealand, but MPI says there are mosquitos here capable of transmitting the heartworm larvae to other dogs.

Rave was most likely bitten by an infected mosquito in Singapore. After six months of treatment, Rave tested positive again. Following another round of medication, Jit had Rave’s blood sent to a lab in India for testing – trying to save money as his bills grew. The dog tested negative, and was finally cleared to travel to New Zealand in May this year – 19 months after entering quarantine.

The story hasn’t ended

When the long-awaited day came, Jit was a nervous wreck when he went with his parents to the Qualified Pet Services quarantine facility in Takanini, south of Auckland. Jit worried that the dog wouldn’t remember him; his fears were unfounded.

Rave howled and cried when he saw his owner – leaping into his arms, placing his paws around Jit’s neck, licking his face. “I’m so sorry,” Jit repeated to the dog, over and over. “Just a few more days.”

But just days into his Auckland quarantine, Rave was re-tested for heartworm; the MPI informing Jit that India was not an approved country for blood-testing. This time, the first test was inconclusive after the blood haemolysed (when blood cells rupture); the next test, though, was clearly positive.

An adult heartworm can live in a dog for five to seven years. “We strongly suspect that Rave has not been clear of heartworm since the first diagnosis in early 2016,” a MPI spokesperson told Newsroom.

Jit found out his dog should have received heartworm prevention medication before he left Singapore. The consequences of this oversight was shattering for Jit’s family.

“We were told the dog would have to be sent back to Singapore, or destroyed,” he recalls. The latter option was immediately spurned. “We are determined that Rave should come home whatever it costs, however much time it takes. He’s not a young dog, but he must live his last years with us.”

Three weeks after he arrived in Auckland, nine-year-old Rave flew back to Singapore. Jit flew with him, to ensure his dog settled into new quarantine lodgings with a family overseeing his treatment. They send Jit photos and videos daily.  

Jit says MPI assured him that Rave can return to New Zealand once he tests negative for heartworm. Last week the dog had his first round of treatment. In about a month’s time, he will be tested again. “I’m just praying that this time, nothing goes wrong,” Jit says.

Until Rave was sent back to Singapore, Jit had spent around $32,000 bringing the dogs to New Zealand. He estimates the next chapter in Rave’s journey – including flights, boarding, tests and treatment – will rack up another $25,000.

“Financially, I’m pretty screwed,” he says. He has borrowed more money, called on business friends for donations, and started a “Save Rave” fundraiser on Givealittle.

There have been emotional costs too. “Everybody in the house has suffered because of it,” Jit says. “I almost decided to drop the whole idea and go back [to India].”

If they can’t be reunited in New Zealand, Jit will find another way. “One of the options I’ve had in mind is to go back and stay in India until Rave dies. He is my baby. The dogs are everything to me.”

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

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