Puneri Paltan head coach BC Ramesh comes off as a tough customer. Little sneaks past him and discipline is key. There is a method to the madness in training, strategizing, and figuring out the game plan ahead of every fixture. However, the seasoned kabaddi coach has a soft side reserved exclusively for dogs.
This love came to the forefront when Ramesh, along with members from the six knockout contenders, participated in an adoption drive organised by Youth Organization in Defence of Animals (YODA) Rehabilitation Centre For Animals in Mumbai, and pet care brand Heads Up For Tails.
When shadowing Puneri Paltan’s training sessions during its home leg in Pune, staff at the training facility would share stories of how Ramesh made it a point to feed the strays around where the team stayed, even if the only time he could find was late in the night.
“Back when the camp was set up for the Paltan before the season, along with some help from the staff, we used to get about a kilo of chicken or some meat and feed the strays in the 4-5 kilometer radius around the base,” Ramesh tells Sportstar.
Several animal rescue shelters and individuals have popped up in cities across India in response to high rates of injury and abandonment among canines, felines, and bovine animals. While his players sit down with videos of raids or tackles to avoid or emulate, Ramesh also takes the time to watch videos of such organisations helping animals on social media.
“I see how they pick up hurt animals, their hospitalisation, and how they treat these animals. You can learn so much and understand that as individuals, we can also do a lot of these things,” he says.
For Ramesh, the love for canines starts from home. He has two mudhol hounds, Bob and Rocky, whom he calls his sons.
“They eat off my hand and sleep with me. They need to stick to me to get a good night’s sleep. They don’t let my wife stay by my side. And they are always on the lookout for when I’ll change into my outdoor clothes and leave the house,” he says.
In the middle of a hectic season that has seen Puneri Paltan storm its way to the semifinal, phone calls back home begin with a check-in with the canine kids first.
“I don’t think I’ve bothered about my son as much as I do about these two. That extends to the dogs in the community too. We all generally try and feed the animals around our houses,” Ramesh says.
“Feeding is the most basic thing one can do. I am a non-vegetarian. Whenever we go out to hotels, I usually pack up the food that’s left over, or bones and other eatable things for dogs, and share it with the dogs on the streets. It would be a total waste to put this stuff in the trash,” he adds.
The Puneri Paltan support staff have also made friends with a streetie called Smokey who lives at their academy in Thane. Smokey had health issues which Ramesh and his team helped out with. They also made arrangements with the staff on ground to care for the little one.
“After we win our semifinal on the 15th, we plan to go visit Smokey,” Ramesh says.
At the Pune facility too, one could see a small beagle called Jemi walking around the premises. Sporting a bright orange harness (sticking with brand colours, coincidentally), Jemi would earn belly rubs and long play time from players like Akash Shinde. While animals continue to find a larger place in social settings, Ramesh believes in expanding one’s definition of humanity.
“It’s important that our humanity extends to these voiceless animals too. It’s not just compassion towards one on the street. Help out animals in need. If you see hurt dogs, don’t drive away. There are so many rescue organisations, just help them find those who can take care of them. God will take care of you if you take care of the nature around you. We love fawning over foreign breeds, keep some of that love for our indies too,” he adds.
Kabaddi players and coaches often veer towards opening their own academies and training facilities. Ramesh too has about 12 acres of land in his home state, Karnataka, but his thoughts of utilising that land have drifted quite often towards opening a shelter for animals on the street.
“The logistics are hard. We have to think about how to feed them, how to provide for them and care for them, medicals etc. I don’t have it worked out but it’s something I keep thinking about,” he adds.
Under Ramesh and new captain Fazel Atrachali, Pune has enjoyed one of its best seasons, finishing second in the league standings. The team is two steps away from laying hands on its maiden title and Ramesh is eager to celebrate with his kids back home.
“I plan to take Rocky and Bob to my friend’s farmhouse where we also know and play with some of the neighbourhood strays around. We’ll spend time with them too,” Ramesh concludes.