Posted on 12th Mar, 2015: Let me start by telling you a personal experience.
My sister lives in an apartment complex in Dwarka in suburban Delhi. About a year ago, she noticed her neighbours brought a Saint Bernard home. These neighbours lived in the apartment block across the street on the third floor. How did my sister notice their new dog then? Because they would routinely leave the dog outside in the balcony, with nothing but a bowl of water. This large dog, native to the Swiss Alps, was confined to this tiny balcony in the hot sun all day. This went on for a few weeks till my sister could not sit through the dog’s pitiable barking and whining, which she could hear all the way across the street. The dog’s parents, a young couple, would work late into the night and sometimes, not come home at all.
When we finally spoke to them about why they got such a large dog, which requires a certain diet, environment and degree of exercise, their simple answer to us was: We thought he was cute as a puppy and never knew he would grow to become so big. As much as my sister and I hoped that this was just a one-off incident of callous pet parenting, this has grown to become a trend in India.
Clueless, but cashed up
The number of pets in Indian households has gone from 7 million in 2009 to 12 million in 2014, say London-based market researchers, Euromonitor. As the purchasing power of Indians climbs with rising incomes, they seem to be spending not only on exotic, never-before-seen breeds of dogs, cats, brids and small mammals, but also on food and grooming. The dog food industry has touched $120 million in value last year, according to Euromonitor. A Saint Bernard goes for anywhere between Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000; you can buy a Husky puppy for Rs 40-60,000 and a Tibetan Mastiff for something between Rs 25-35,000. “Money is the objective, no one cares about the animal. People want bragging rights over how much money they have spent on acquiring the dog,” said Dr Vinod Sharma of Jeevashram in Delhi.
Crawford Market in Mumbai, Russell Market in Bengaluru and Mulki Bazaar in Hyderabad are overflowing with cages upon cages of guinea pigs, Amazon Eclectus parrots, lorikeets, sulphur crested cockatoos, monkeys and Malaysian turtles. Housed in tight, cramped cages and in unhygienic conditions, these animals suffer through life. Demand has pushed up their price tag to tens of thousands (a pair) and sometimes even lakhs. And mind you some of these species are banned from being imported into India under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Profiteering from suffering
Gingertail recently ran a story on inhuman puppy mills operating in the country to cater to the insatiable demand for pedigree dogs. We’ve also written about BBC’s Documentary, Pedigrees Exposed, which painfully details the genetic disorders that plague pedigree dogs. But India’s obsession with exotic pets is a whole different ballgame. “There is no law regulating/protecting non-native exotic species of birds and animals in India which are not listed in the Wildlife Protection Act or CITES,” Supreme Court advocate, Raj Panjwani, told LiveMint. Keeping animals such as guinea pigs, rabbits and birds in cages is not only cruel, but also expensive. They need special feed to meet their nutritional requirements, kept in hygienic, cool environmental conditions to avoid contracting disease. Very few pet parents who acquire an exotic pet to serve as a status symbol, understand the lifestyle changes required to make an animal a part of your home. Not to mention the suffering and trauma these animals undergo when they are trapped and transported, millions of miles away from home.
Sick and tired
Species native to extremely cold climates, low temperatures, are not meant to live and breed in the tropical climate of India. Siberian Huskies live in the -60 degrees of the Siberian Peninsula, not in the 45 degree heat of the New Delhi summer. Saint Bernard’s are bred for their ability to paw through the snow clad mountainside of the Swiss Alps looking for mountaineers and locals caught in avalanches and snowstorms. Dog breeds unsuitable for Indian conditions, such as the Tibetan Mastiff or Alaskan Malamute suffer, from breathing problems and acute skin conditions. They lose their appetites in the uncharacteristic summer and become stunted and wracked with deficiency diseases. And when these dogs develop health problems, they require a lot of care and medical attention. So more often than not the owners choose to abandon the dog, rather than be bothered about its upkeep. Just like discarding a used mattress or faulty piece of furniture…
My sister and I didn’t know all this when we decided to take that ill-fated Saint Bernard off of his disinterested pet parents’ hands. He walked away from them like they were strangers and all he had in the name of belongings in his own home was a rusty water bowl. “He likes to play with discarded plastic bottles,” his pet parent informed us. We would have to walk him early in the morning, to avoid the heat. Our friends took turn watching him and keeping him company, while we were at work. He attentively listened to instructions and loved to play. He was an intelligent and loving dog who we fostered till we could give him a better home with a kind hearted lawyer in Dehradun who took him in as a companion for his female Saint Bernard. The two seem to be living happily ever after, judging from the photos we are sent regularly. But that is just one story with a happy ending…
It was appalling to know that a spirited and loving animal could be viewed as nothing more than inanimate property, to be flaunted and gawked at.