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Puppy mills and dodgy pet shops may soon be a thing of the past. Law Commission recommends notification of AWBI rules.

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Posted on 15th Sept, 2015: We shop for groceries, books, clothes, furniture and for pets too. Whereas the former things mentioned are inanimate objects, animals are living beings. In pet shops in first world nations, pets are generally given comfortable clean accommodation where they have enough space for locomotion. Temperature, lighting and ventilation in which the species can be at ease are maintained.  Adequate food is provided in a hygienic way. The animals are vaccinated, de-wormed and groomed. Able vets tend to the animals.

Whereas in a third world country like ours, where animal welfare is considered the poorer cousin of human welfare; it’s a totally different story. Animals are cooped in cages or spaces where they hardly can move about. They are ill fed or given rotten food. The enclosures are dirty and dingy. The animals suffer from a variety of diseases as the shop owners don’t want to spend money on a vet.

Law Commission’s recommendations

In 2010, AWBI had come up with draft rules on regulation of pet shops, dog breeders, and fish breeders aimed at ensuring that animals are treated in humane manner by these establishments. The rules were forwarded to Animal Welfare Division of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF) for scrutiny and notification. The MoEF, however, felt that it was not empowered to notify such rules under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. A notification without an underlying empowering statute would have exposed it to legal challenges in the country’s courts. MoEF then sought the opinion of the Ministry of Law and Justice (MLJ) on the issue which also concurred that the PCA Act is silent with respect to these establishments, and therefore rules cannot be framed. A copy of this request was also forwarded to the law commission for their opinion. Law commission is an advisory body to the MLJ consisting primarily of legal experts with a primary mandate to reform law keeping in pace with changing times and needs. The law commission examines the issue brought to its notice and submits a report giving its opinion to the MLJ which in turn then coordinates with other concerned ministries for follow-up action based on its recommendations. However, it remains the prerogative of the government of India to act on the recommendations or ignore them.

On 28th August, 2015, the law commission submitted its report on AWBI draft rules, after due examination and research, recommending the PCA does empower MoEF to notify these rules and has recommended notification and implementation of these rules at the earliest. In effect, this means that the previously unregulated, but highly profitable business of breeding pedigree dogs and wanton setting up of pet shops would now have legal checks and balances to answer to.

Malpractice

The law commission in its report has highlighted a number of cruel practices which are going unchecked in absence of any regulations (information received through representations as well as news reports):

  • Though the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, debars the sale of specific animals at pet shops, brisk sales of the same goes on unchecked. Star tortoises and protected animal species are sold in full public view. Wild birds like parakeets, mynas and munias are captured from their natural habitat and sold.
  • Two-thirds of the birds die while on the way to the pet store. Baby birds are stolen from their nests, smuggled in miniscule boxes and cartons. Some birds are stuffed into socks while they are transported to cities. Their wings are clipped so that they’re unable to fly. In fact 1200 species of birds are sold in the black market. These exotic birds are sold at high prices. Huge birds are imprisoned in tiny cages. Their beaks are at times removed.
  • Puppies are sedated to prevent them from whimpering. Other barbarous practices are docking tails of canines, putting up puppies which are still dependent on their mum’s milk for sale and removing the claws of kittens.
  • Fish become stressed and sometimes die because of confinement, crowding, contaminated water and unnatural temperatures
  • Many animals can’t bear the torture of being transported in tiny cages, which don’t have sufficient food and water. About 40% of these animals perish in captivity or during transportation.
  • Pet shops suffer from various problems such as poor housing, terrible hygiene, cruel breeding practices, a lack of veterinary care, cruel transport, high rates of morbidity, illness, disease, untrained workers, and rough handling.
  • Animals in pet shops are confined to unnatural and unsuitable conditions and develop severe irreversible psychological problems.
  • The poor conditions in pet shops and a lack of basic veterinary care also place pet shop employees and general public at risk of contracting zoonotic diseases such as salmonellosis and psittacosis.
  • Waste from pet shops are mixed with household rubbish and goes on to pollute the environment including the ground water. Carcasses of animals are disposed with domestic waste which leads to further contamination. No post mortem is conducted to screen for the infectious diseases that animals could transmit to humans.

Given that there are about 3 lakhs pet shops across India the magnitude of this problem simply cannot be underestimated. Besides the pet shops there are also a number of websites where there is rampant unchecked trading of pets. In fact, as per various representations, the pet trading industry has been pegged to a whopping Rs, 80,000 Crore per annum. Some shops also offer “home delivery” or “book in advance” options. With no licensing authority for instance even in a city like Delhi, where the (Delhi) Municipal authority licenses only meat shops, the Animal Husbandry Department licenses only cattle, and the Forest Department does not regard pet shops as being within its mandate - pet shops end up obtaining licenses to operate as medical stores, general merchandise stores, pet supplies stores, etc., but in practice, continue to store and sell live animals. Similarly, dog breeders are specifically required to obtain a registration certificate from AWBI, none of them in fact obtain such certificates, and their practices continue unregulated.

What’s more no pet store in India, provides a bill on the sale of animals. That leads to animals being bargained for. Pet shops don’t pay any service or value added tax. As the industry is worth several hundred crores of rupees, great financial losses are caused to the government in the process.

AWBI Guidelines

Here is a snapshot of rules and regulations that the AWBI has put forward for the welfare of animals, birds and fishes put up for sale:

Pet Shop

  • A pet shop can only operate with a valid license subject to proper inspection and verifications
  • The shop needs to be connected with a veterinary clinic or animal hospital.
  • A pet store is permitted only to be in a permanent building structure and not in a pavement store, shanty, shack or makeshift construction.
  • Animals should have ample space to stretch, walk and make normal postural adjustments without hindrances.
  • Birds should have sufficient space to hop about, spread their wings and perch on branches.
  • Water birds should be provided water trays.
  • The cage floor shouldn’t be of wire mesh, so that animals don’t get injured.
  • The temperature should be favourable and the stores must be well ventilated.
  • Pet shops should be situated away from butcher shops.
  • A fire extinguishing facility should be provided.
  • Ill animals must be quarantined.
  • Cats cannot share space with inimical animals like dogs. Likewise, rabbits, rats, mice and guinea pigs cannot be kept with cats and dogs.
  • Dogs should be allowed to roam about, socialize and play.
  • Sufficient food and water in clean vessels should be provided.
  • Cages should be cleaned and disinfected daily.
  • Aquariums should have adequate oxygen supply.
  • Pregnant and unweaned animals won’t be sold.
  • Only healthy animals can be sold.
  • Animals won’t be left overnight in a shop without an attendant.
  • Only trained employees with a sound mind should be entrusted to take care of animals. The animal, employee ratio should at least be 1:25.
  • Animals on sale can’t be dyed or mutilated.
  • An animal who doesn’t find a buyer in a month, needs to be re-homed or put up for adoption
  • A record of all breeders and customers have to be maintained by the pet shop
  • A record of animal deaths including euthanizations in pet shops must be maintained.

Dog Breeders

  • All animal breeders must have a license (subject to inspection) and must register with AWBI
  • Breeding animals must be identified by micro chipping.
  • Animals in breeding must have comfortable and safe indoor housing facilities.
  • Only healthy and mature female dogs may be bred.
  • No female dog should be tortured to produce puppies in two consecutive breeding sessions.
  • No female dog can have more than five sets of pups in her lifetime.
  • No male dog will be allowed to mate for breeding purposes unless he’s a healthy mature dog.
  • Mating between dogs which are related must be strictly forbidden.
  • Dogs need to be de-wormed and vaccinated before mating.
  • Lactating dogs must be provided extra space.
  • Animals need to be transported with safety and comfort.
  • Elaborate rules regarding housing, care & upkeep, veterinary care have also been laid out

Fish Breeders

  • Fish should be able to swim freely.
  • Artificially coloured fish cannot be sold.
  • Corals can’t be kept in fish tanks.
  • A fish tank cannot be over-populated.
  • Unhealthy fish cannot be sold.
  • Fishes shouldn’t be put in the same tank with fish species which may attack them.
  • Ill fish must be placed in quarantined tanks.
  • The public aren’t permitted to touch fish.
  • Living fish cannot be flushed down the toilet, put in a freezer, suffocated or freezed.
  • The salinity and pH level of the tank must be checked every week.
  • Fish tanks must contain only plant species which are conducive to the specific fish species.

Overall the AWBI highlights that animals in the pet trade feel hunger, thirst, discomfort and pain just like humans do. This is why all measures should be taken to make things as comfortable for them as possible.

When you quiz pet shop owners as to why animals are kept in such horrendous conditions, they often refuse to answer or shrug it off dismissively saying that it’s none of your business. Even if you blatantly point towards the merciless treatment of animals, they may still insist that they are taking proper care of them. Some say that as they can just afford small shops, they cannot give the animals more space. Others point it as a temporary discomfort since as the animals are there only for a short while though the truth is many animals who do not get sold can be seen in the pet shops for months only to vanish suddenly after a point of time!

Next Steps

We at Gingertail, welcome the law commission report and sincerely hope that the government will take cognizance of the commission’s recommendations and notify these rules. Once notified these rules will provide a very potent tool in the hands of animal lovers and activists to keep a check on rogue pet shops and breeders while allowing ethical businesses to thrive – an overall win-win for all! This will take us a step forward in becoming a more pet friendly society.

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