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Eight Below – and Counting

Celebrity chef Kunal Kapur’s pack of eight

If you haven’t ever watched (late) Paul Walker’s “Eight Below,” you my friend, have been living in a cave. Every time we (at BuddyLife) watch it, it warms our hearts. If you are a genuine pet lover and haven’t yet watched Eight Below, put this up right at the top of your bucket list.

Meanwhile, not far from home, we chat up celebrity chef Kunal Kapur (a.k.a. KK) who too is a fervent dog lover and has eight dogs! Read on.

BL: We believe that you have as many as eight dogs as pets, which is rather unusual and incredulous. It must be taking some serious time, space and attention portioning skills. How do you manage it?

KK: Having pets is like having kids.

So it’s like having eight kids in your family. But even if there were just one kid, you know, there is no single parent that could take adequate care of the kiddo all by themselves. The entire family has to chip in.

Sometimes you know, you got to talk to your friends, your communities, to kind of come together, to help raise awareness, as well as bring them up in the right manner.

So if I were to say, it’s a one-man job, I’d be lying.

The help should come from within your family or household. Together, make sure the nutrition and health and the emotional well being of your pet is taken care of.

So it’s it’s not something that I do alone. It is something that the entire family comes together for, and takes responsibility of each and every kid that we have (after all they are our fur babies).

BL: You make it sound so easy. Surely it isn’t a mean feat. How do you really deal with eight pets with each of them having a bladder that has a mind of its own? Are there any tricks to managing their bio breaks or, they keep going out and coming in, one after another?

KK: You know, this is kind of interesting.

My first adoption was a stray, and ever since I got him, it was like magic because he was already like a three or a four year old dog. Every time his bladder got full and he had to go out, he would paw the door and I was like, huh, maybe he needs to go out. He’d relieve himself and come back.

Then came the 2nd, and the 3rd adoption at different ages and then others followed on, the youngest of whom being a wee four month old puppy (who obviously you wouldn’t expect to have any bladder control), to our surprise, all of them when they grew to about 9 to 10 months old, they just followed the older one.

They will hold on to their bladder, but they’ll never ever do anything inside the house, even when it’s raining 24/7. Isn’t it magical?

I’ve never had any toilet training problems; really, they go by themselves, they come by themselves. You don’t need to accompany. It’s not as if they’re doing their business somewhere in the middle of the road, they have designated places for it.

If the kiddo is small, obviously there has to be somebody to accompany him. We eventually figured out that rather than everybody go at different times, a pre defined schedule for the whole pack would work better. Morning this time around , everybody wakes up, including all eight of our fur brats.

So we take them out four or five times and make sure that they don’t litter outside of the designated spaces. We pick up every little litter, keeping the outside hygienic, and don’t give anyone a reason to complain about. It has almost become like this system and I did not have to put in a lot of effort training them because they just followed the older dog and they all do the same. I’m telling you, it’s magical!

BL: Wow, it definitely sounds so. How about their other activities? Are all the activities a single group activity or there are multiple groups within, depending on their activity level or age?

KK: I think you correctly put it. Every one of them is an individual and everything isn’t necessarily hunky-dory amongst all of them. It’s like kids quarreling amongst themselves.

Incidentally, one of our dogs is blind from both the eyes and she’s very old. It takes a lot of effort on her part to just walk and she’s somebody who needs care a 100%.

When you take her out, she has to be taken alone, because she just cannot see, but her sense of smell is very heightened. Her sense of hearing too is very heightened. So she knows where to go.

At the same time, there are these two very aggressive younger puppies, so we need to take them separately because they just become this Jai and Veeru (of Sholay) together and then they just go beserk on seeing every other dog! Holding them back becomes an issue sometimes.

I think a lot of times your pets are a reflection of who you are. They imprint.
If you are somebody who is very aggressive, or somebody who’s very dominant, they kind of latch on to your personality a bit as well. I think if you are calm with them, they kind of figure it out that they have to follow a certain line. They have to follow a certain pattern.
Are there days when they do just the reverse and do what they want?

Yes, but does that happen all the time? No.

BL: How about their movement in the house?Do you have a single rule book that applies to all of them, or do you have some rules for, you know, the lapdog kind of smaller dogs, but you don’t allow the bigger dogs on beds or sofas or all of them move about freely and share all the space?

KK: So one of the things that we have done earlier on is that we’ve never chained the dogs. We’ve never confined them to a room. If a guest or somebody is coming to visit us, we say that it is their (our dogs’) house that you’re coming to. So I encourage people that when you come, let them sniff you, let them feel that you are not a threat.

Let them be OK around you.They may just put the their two paws on you and try and be friendly, but let them do that for 5 minutes. Once satisfied, they go their ways.

That’s generally what happens.

And in terms of places, there is this one fellow who is super spoilt and is allowed to go wherever he wants, climb the bed, sofa, etc. But all the others have specific mats which they go back to. Wherever we place the mat, is where the dog will sit.So let’s say if it’s winter, during the daytime, wherever the sunlight is, we’ll place the mat there for them to bask. And because there are different ages, some would play, some would just chill, Occasionally they growl at each other.But you know the good part is rarely, do they bark. It’s only when somebody is at the door or on the sound of the doorbell. They bark basically alerting you. Otherwise they don’t bark at all – and they’re very talkative. They have their own language and they communicate all the time, so that’s something that I enjoy.

BL: Do they ever create a ruckus or pandemonium and when they seem to be out of control?

KK: Yes, definitely.It’s a happy ecosystem, They create chaos every once in a while.The two dominant males try to outdo each other at times, especially if one of the females is in heat.

At such times, you tell them that this is something that is not acceptable, whether it’s by raising your voice, by sending them out of that room, or whether, it’s by sometimes restraining them or yanking their chain just to show them that they have done a bad thing; a tap on the nose with a very stern voice and a stern face too works.They all gather and understand. So yes, there is always a tussle.

BL: We are curious. How do the group dynamics work? Is there an hierarchy amongst the dogs? Is there a pecking order, for example, when one dog is around, the other dogs simply cower away or something like that? Also, do you have a chief troublemaker dog?

KK: There are no enemies. The interesting part is that they feign hostility and growl at each other to assert themselves when the food is being served. But the moment there is a movement outside the house or the doorbell sounds, one dog will dash and all the others follow and then the pack is strong again.

So they may have their differences, but when it comes to guarding the house, they all are together as one. Which kind of defines what brotherhood is. You may be having certain quarrels and you don’t like to see each other. But if there is a problem you stand together as one family. So I kind of admire that.

We haven’t had a case where one is super dominant and one is super submissive. They all have their different zones and things to do and I’m fine with it.You know, you don’t need to get along with everybody all the time, it doesn’t matter so long as you stay in harmony with the others. It’s my house, my rules. That’s what you have to abide by – and they understand that. Chief troublemaker dog you ask? I actually have two of them!

BL: Any interesting anecdote or experience that you might want to share with our readers?

KK: Yes, indeed. Unfortunately a lot of people think of pets as a social status symbol. It’s something that they like to boast about – that I have a certain breed of dog, and it becomes almost like how you flash your new car or a new house or any vacation that you went to – the poor pet becomes a thing to showcase.

You might be putting in a lot of effort in keeping your pet physically fit, but one must remember that there is also an emotional need of the pet. More the time that I spend with them, the better I get connected with them. Sometimes when I have to travel, I can sense a distance growing between us.

You just come back from a seven day tour and they don’t even acknowledge your presence in the same room. So it’s very important that you keep connecting with your dog all the time and it’s very important for their emotional well being.One should make an effort to spend as much time as possible with their pet – not because it’s something to flash, but because it brings you joy. If it’s for flaunting, then I am sorry, you have a pet for a very different reason than what I believe in.

BL: We also have come to know that you feed as many as over 100 strays. How do you manage this?

KK: Yeah. I think this started as something which I used to do where I used to feed dogs just outside my house which was quite straight forward. But when Covid hit, I then had all the time in the world. And that’s when I realized that because there was no movement outside, and mostly stray dogs would eat whatever we would throw as garbage, there was not much of garbage coming. Whatever garbage was coming, may not be very healthy for the strays, and that’s where I started feeding.

Umm, you know, dogs in and around my area where I stay in Delhi, and it so happened that it kind of grew to a number of 50, then to 80, and then to about 100 dogs. I wasn’t counting.

What do you do?

You can’t leave them on the road, Delhi winters especially, can be very harsh. Oh, and then there is this traffic and other elements compounding the challenges, so you help them get adopted. Several accidents routinely occur, where dogs have been run over and nobody takes care.
So, you know, I have made contacts in the right hospitals where you could send them for treatments, or whether it be for their immunization, or whether getting them spayed or neutered. It’s very important that you also take care of the dogs or whichever animals, whether it’s dogs, cats, cows, donkeys or whatever stray animals that you find outside, they all have the right to, you know, dignity and food.

As a kid, I remember when my grandmother used to make any food, especially anything which was Methi or Palak. The stems were never discarded. She used to say, “bachaa kar rakho, kal subah jub gaaey aaegi, toh unhe khilaangey” (Tr: Save the stems, we shall feed it to the feral cows, should they come by tomorrow morning). So I think my entire upbringing has always been to feed animals – just making sure that they are fed.Your waste could be a treasure to somebody else. So I think it just grew from there and today I’m able to do that.

There are multiple organizations that I’m in touch with, who help me or ask for my help.

BL: Would you like to share your experience on how you keep your pets healthy and hygienic and safe?

KK: Yes, another important aspect with keeping pets at home is hygiene. How do you make sure that your floors are clean and hygienically sanitized for yourself, for your kids and for your pets as well? Cleaning the floors happens in my house at least three to four times in a day, minimum three. And when we have time, we’ll do the fourth time as well and that’s because of the sheer magnitude of movement.
I’ve been using ITC Nimyle, which delivers 100% natural actions.
A lot of floor cleaners leave some chemical residue. Not mine. Nimyle does not leave any such chemical residue. As a habit dogs like to lick whatever and wherever they are.

Sometimes their paws, or sometimes there’s food on the floor. They’ll lick it. So it’s safe for them. At the same time, Nimyle is eco-friendly and has the goodness of Neem and it is biodegradable as well. So make sure you are using a product that is safe for your pets as well as for you and your children. Pets at home often climb on your bed, sofa, chairs, literally everywhere. So you’re floor needs to be super duper clean.
Not just be limited to superficial cleaning, be sure to use a proper product that helps you get rid of the germs and the bacteria.

Full disclosure: Kunal Kapur is brand ambassador for ITC Nimyle.