Why Ratan Tata is backing this engineer's idea of keeping Mumbai's strays safe from motorists

Feb 26, 2016, 09:04 IST | Dhara Vora

Mumbai's strays now stand a better chance at dodging motorists at night thanks to an animal-loving engineer's glowing collar that's got the backing of industrialist Ratan Tata

While stories about road accidents make headlines every day, not much is written about animals, especially street dogs, who suffer ill fate. Shantanu Naidu, a 24-year-old engineer from Pune, has been working hard to raise awareness on strays safety by manufacturing a special dog collar.

A volunteer with a stray wearing the reflective collar. Social media helped NGO Motopaws generate interest and raise awareness about the initiative
A volunteer with a stray wearing the reflective collar. Social media helped NGO Motopaws generate interest and raise awareness about the initiative

Naidu, who is a design engineer for Tata Elxsi in Pune and works on automotive parts, has been working on the rescue of strays, rehabilitation of abandoned dogs and other animal welfare services through Touch Heart, that he set up in 2011. “From the information that I got from volunteers over the years, it emerged that 90% of accidents happen due to visibility issues, and 10% if the dogs suddenly appears before the motorist without warning,” says Naidu, who, based on his research, formed project Motopaws, to save dogs from vehicles.

Ratan Tata with volunteers of project Motopaws
Ratan Tata with volunteers of project Motopaws

Next up, Naidu began working on the design of a collar with the help of Mrinmayi Dalvi, a Masters student in Wildlife Conservation and Action at Bharati Vidyapeeth University that would help increase the visibility of the dogs. At first, he used the reflective tape used on the back of vehicles to make collars but they didn’t work as the tapes are meant for flat surfaces. Then Naidu came across Retro Reflective Fabric, an expensive industrial grade fabric used to make security jackets for various workforces and for riding gear for motorcyclists. Naidu needed a base for the fabric to make a comfortable collar.

A batch of reflective collars made from denim and orange mesh fabric
A batch of reflective collars made from denim and orange mesh fabric

“We’ve used the most expensive reflective fabric since we didn’t want to lose a life and then think, what if we had used something better. So, we researched for a material that is easily available and cheap to make the base. It’s when we zeroed in on denim, we started collecting used pairs from people. We set up collection boxes across Pune and people dropped in their old jeans. One pair of jeans makes eight collars. And the material is strong but light,” says Naidu. Once ready with the collar, Naidu realised that they needed something that would increase the visibility of the dogs during the day too. He added a layer of orange mesh fabric to the collar, the type used to create security jackets. This made the collar visible during day and night.

With the help of two Pune-based tailors, 1,200 collars are made every month
With the help of two Pune-based tailors, 1,200 collars are made every month

It took Naidu about a month to finalise the design. Naidu says that technology is not used much in animal welfare and he wants to change this. He has also developed anti-poaching collars for tigers with the help of Varun Natu, a student at national chemical laboratory, Anay Kshirsagar, a student at Symbiosis Institute of Design and Dalvi. The collar is currently waiting for approval from Wildlife Institute of India.

Paws and effect
Naidu tells us that their social media presence helped generate immense interest and people from all over India contacted them for the collars. Till date, the volunteers of Motopaws have collared 2,700 dogs in Goa, Bengaluru, Delhi, Assam, Uttarakhand, Mumbai and Pune. But they don’t give out the collars to anyone who approaches them.

“We didn’t want the collar to be misused or get sabotaged after months of hard work. So, we have co co-ordinators in different cities, who, when contacted will drop by your neighbourhood to provide the collars, and the service for free. We have kept it free as the moment. Negative publicity tends to creep in with people suggesting that forums are doing welfare in the name of money,” Naidu explains. The cost of each collar comes to R50, which includes R22 as stitching cost. Two tailors manufacture 1,200 collars a month.

Money matters
Initially, the Pune volunteers, mostly students, were digging deep into their pockets to make the collars. As word about Naidu’s initiative soread, a mutual contact of Ratan Tata saw his work and asked him to present a file to the industrialist. “We met Mr Tata about eight months ago at Nariman Point in Mumbai. He is an ardent dog lover and loves to support the youth too. He decided to support us with money from his own pocket, not from any of the Tata trusts,” Naidu tells proudly. While the organisation has been receiving offers from many other companies, they have refused the help as Naidu wishes to only associate with a company that shares a link with their cause.

Future plans
At the moment, 70% of the costs are supported by Tata and 30% by the volunteers. Naidu wishes to change that. “Even Mr Tata said that eventually, we would have to become independent, for which we should improve our marketing and other managerial skills,” shares Naidu.

The organisation is also looking for other NGOs to provide them with statistics related to dog deaths and injuries due to accidents, so that they can have better accountability of the results of their efforts. “Our collars don’t work for puppies as they grow fast. We are almost a month away from developing a reflecting gel, which when applied on puppies would stay for two months, post which their road skills get better anyway,” he signs off.

To help Log on to: www.facebook.com/motopaws
Email: motopaws2015@gmail.com

The Mumbai chapter

Kirti Bharadwaj, a 26-year-old psychologist operates between Andheri and Churchgate. So far, they have collared 25 dogs, and are busy collecting denim to make more collars. “Due to less collars, we have a team of about 10 to 15 people at present.

A Mumbai stray wears the a reflective collar
A Mumbai stray wears the a reflective collar

Usually, we work early morning when the dogs are out hunting for food,” Bharadwaj tells us. Shuchita Grover, a 22-year-old type designer, is the second team leader in Mumbai and covers the western suburbs. Her team has managed to collar 24 dogs so far. “It was very interesting to see residents, shopkeepers and enthusiastic policemen come forward to help us. We received a very positive feedback and have collected 50 jeans. People are connecting with us from across the city to help with strays from their localities,” Grover tells us.

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