When ‘Beethoven’ first came out, there wasn’t a ‘90s kid in the country who didn’t yearn for a gargantuan, drooling Saint Bernard of their own. A furry four-legged brute who would play with us by day and protect us by night, it might have been all right if we’d let it be the childhood fantasy that it was however, it wasn’t long before the beautiful animals could be seen dotting the pavements of seafront promenades in Mumbai and dusty Delhi lanes. Somewhere between the huskies and Tibetan mastiffs. It’s not just the typically cold-weather terrain breeds either, Indian homes’ appetites for keeping dogs has increased drastically in recent years (from 7 million in 2009 to 12 million in 2014 according to research firm, Euromonitor) but with that, so has their propensity to abandon those same dogs.
“Last year during Ganpati festival, near my Chembur residence, a scorpio car threw a pomerian dog on the freeway,” Dr. Shrilakshmi Amirtheswaran, a cancer surgeon who is also a dog behaviourist, tells us. “I am sure they were using her for breeding and when she turned old they grew tired of her.” Forming her analogies from her work with Thane SPCA and Save Our Strays NGO, Amirtheswaran is in a good position to make painful predictive statements that suggest shelters will be filled to the brim in the next 20 years, if abandonment continues at this rate. In fact, a report last year by Times of India states that Mumbai saw a double fold increase in pet abandonment. Although in this case the pomeranian (thanks to the doctor and her colleagues) met with a happy ending and a happier home still, she says the current scenario for abandoned pedigreed dogs is bleak.
Don’t get a dog if you don’t know what it entails
“The major causes for abandonment are that people don’t understand a dogs behaviour, which is different for every breed,” Amirtheswaran explains. “A Labrador’s function was essentially retrieving fish, golden retrievers were duck hunters, Doberman dogs were bred by tax collectors for security and when you put such breeds in a two bedroom apartment, their true characteristics are bound to be revealed by the eight month. Some dogs need more mental and physical simulation than others. Some have high energies and some have temperamental issues. Every dog needs an outlet. A lab will chew an entire house if not kept properly.” And then there’s the geography and climate issue.
Shreya Paropkari, Cruelty Response Manager, Humane Society International/India believes that Pedigrees are being treated as status symbols leading to people buying dogs without knowing if the dog will be suitable for their country, climatic conditions, home, grooming and dietary requirements. “As the puppy grows and realization dawns that it is - too big, too expensive, time consuming, the dogs ends up on the street, unable to fend for themselves,” she says sadly. The problem isn’t getting any smaller either, especially for those who work actively in the field of animal welfare and protection.
Dr. Shrilakshmi has seen countless mixed breeds, huskies, labs, poms, lhasa terriers and others being abandoned every week. “We recently found a dog with a lot of hair growth and thought it was an abandoned stray. After cleaning and grooming the dog we found out that it was a beagle,” she said. “People see or hear about a cute or glamorous looking breed and buy it without doing proper homework. Pets are commitments. They are like children who need monitoring and care. Unfortunately, people do not consider these points at all and get one from the pet shop. Without knowledge of the specific breed, they end up neglecting them, consequently leading to its behavioural or health issues. The result is that the pet gets thrown out of the home to save money and effort,” said Tandrali Kuli, Friendicoes (Delhi) in a report by Quint.
Paropkari also brings up another tragic point in this regard. Pets who have only been raised in a human environment do not have the capability to survive in the harsh world of the streets. “In addition to the mental trauma of being abandoned by their family, they are left alone and scared to fend for themselves which they are not used to. They may or may not be welcome into the territory of existing territorial street dogs which leads to conflict resulting in injury and probably starvation due to dominance from other dogs. Pedigree dogs especially cannot cope up with the harsh conditions of India and develop medical complications. In addition they suffer from severe mental and emotional trauma and distress. There have been many cases where even after the dogs have been rescued to a shelter , he/she is seen waiting for some of its family members to return,” she explains.
So what’s being done about these inhumane events and can pet buyers do anything to stop it? Shakuntala Majumdar is an independent activist who also volunteers with Thane SPCA, believes that verification of the seller’s credentials is key. A breeder needs a license from the Animal board, a veterinary doctor on payroll and make sure the dogs are not being over bred but such breeders are very few and far between according to Majumdar. “Owners need to take the onus of their pets too,” she says. “You can’t want a baby lab and then abandon it if it grows too fast. People do that. The dog repeatedly falls sick, is bred badly, eats a lot, requires too many vet visits, etc are some of the reasons people give for abandoning them. NGOs come in to solve the damage and more often than not they have limited finances and contacts,” she said. “I have seen cases where the dogs that are used to roaming in gardens are brought to apartments and kept in the balcony because a family member cant stand them. Day and night that foreign bred dog is kept outside in this heat and their cries pierce through. A rescue team also found an Alsatian tied to a pole on the road along with a gunny bag. There was a dead Labrador inside that was strangled. It was the worst case of abandonment we have seen so far.”
Even though the Government recently banned, the import of dogs and the cost of pedigrees is expected to rise. Puppies are still being sold right here in Crawford Market with impunity. A report by Times Of India found puppies being crammed into small cages and being sold. “The puppies looked barely one month old. It is illegal and cruel to separate such small ones from their mothers. However, the cops kept the pups back at the shop itself after the raid. And the next day, it seemed the shop owner had replaced the puppies with slightly bigger ones,” said Pradeep Pandey, an animal welfare officer, to TOI.
“All animals in a puppy mills suffer however the parent dogs normally called ‘breeding stock’ endure cruelty all their lives. The females are repeatedly impregnated , dogs are forced to mate using instruments such as rape racks and puppies are forcibly separated from their mothers when as young as 15-20 days old. The females suffer from several untreated illness such as distended vaginas, clogged teats which are aggravated by stress from being separated from their progeny. If all this is not horrific enough, the conditions that these animals are kept in are filthy, with no veterinary care provided, access to water is limited and there is barely ever any nutritional diet provided to suit the needs of the pedigrees. The puppies when separated from their mothers at such young age lack the colostrum that only comes from mothers milk. Deprived of colostrum , their immunity system remains underdeveloped and exposes them to a host of diseases. It may be noted that most of these puppies are the product of inbreeding and so are born with deformities. In addition to being genetically predisposed to illnesses as all pedigrees are,” Paropkari states unflinchingly.
“We need pre-test counseling in India. Before an individual adopts a pet, they should know what they are getting into. They should be allowed to have pets only for the right reasons and if they commit to training and understanding their dogs and what breed suits their needs. They should also make sure that their pet can adjust to their environment,” says Dr.Shrilakshmi.
Majumdar agrees that we need to make pet adoption and buying more stringent. She also believes technology could play a role in instilling some fear. “Micro chipping should be made mandatory and the moment a dog is licensed you have to chip it. If you abandon it and I find it, we will scan the chip and the details will flash on a scanner,” she offers in way of suggestion.
Most experts says that before getting a dog, insist on seeing the certificate and license of breeding from the Animal board of India. “Make sure to get a sale receipt of the dog. I hate to call them products on sale but dogs have become that. If they are defective, you can use the sale receipt and file a consumer complaint. There is such a huge black market for pets in India as interactions are done in cash,” says Majumdar. “When you comply with sale and income rules, you curb the black market and help India’s revenue. The only pets we should keep are indigenous pets. We need pedigree dogs but don’t have enough information and research about their genetics. You can feed any dog twice a day, take them for a walk and be done with it. Every pedigree has their own set of needs, she says. Majumdar sees at least four to seven abandoned pedigree dogs on average every week. “It is a huge financial stress on us. We have to think three times before confiscating a pet because we need to know where do we source the money for the hospital and foster care? We have pressurized some people to take care of them and can’t over burden them. We have saturated the Navi Mumbai area and need to look for avenues beyond. We have a good success rate as none of our dogs have come back from their adopted homes,” she said.
Paropkari also advises on never buying from unregistered breeders. “HSI/India opposes the sale of dogs, cats, and other animals through pet stores and other commercial operations. In such situations, the desire for profit undermines proper care, seriously compromising the welfare of the animals. Mass-breeding operations that produce animals for wholesale to the pet industry keep animals in unacceptable conditions such as overcrowding; inadequate shelter, sanitation, food, water, and veterinary care; and lack of social or behavioral enrichment,” she says.
Currently the maximum penalty for animal cruelty is only Rs.50. Poonam Mahajan, Member of Parliament Lok Sabha is fighting to bring stronger penalities and punishment for animal abusers. In her column titled ‘Animal Abusers of today, serial killers of tomorrow’ for Mumbai Mirror, she said that ‘trapping and killing dogs and cats was a favourite for Albert DeSalvo also known as the Boston strangler who killed 13 women. Serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy exhibited similar traits of animal abuse in their youth. Studies have now shown that people who indulge in senseless acts of violence against animals rarely stop there,” she said.
Paropkari agrees with the statement and said that the connection between animal cruelty and human violence is well documented. “Studies show a correlation between animal cruelty and all manner of other crimes, from narcotics and firearms violations to battery and sexual assault. People who inflict cruelty on animals are an equal threat to the society and it is for the betterment of our society that we report animal cruelty cases with alacrity,” she says.
“Never keep quiet about cruelty on animals that you come across or witness, no matter how small or big the crime looks like. Report the case to the nearest police station. If you lack the legal know how, get in touch with a local animal welfare organization and work with them on filing the case and following up with the police to get the animal abusers caught. HSI/India, with support from Animal Welfare Board of India and various local organizations conducts animal law training in various parts of the country every quarter. Every animal welfare advocate or infact anyone who wants to fight against animal cruelty are advised to attend the training. Another important thing is to keep oneself updated with the contact number of or helpline number of a local animal welfare organization in the city. HSI/India also has a tipline to report animal cruelty. We work with our local organizations to take action against any kind of animal cruelty that is reported to us. Our number is +917674922044. Getting the serious attention of law enforcement, prosecutors and the community in cases involving allegations of cruelty to animals is an essential step in protecting the community. Every member of the community plays an important role in curbing violence if they report against animal cruelty. Currently the maximum penalty for animal cruelty is only Rs 50 so the law is not effective. We have launched a campaign called #NoMore50 that is urging MoEFCC to increase the penalties for animal cruelty prescribed in the PCA Act.”
Dr.Shrilakshmi said that the adoption is easier for pedigree dogs than Indian dogs. “People think we are getting them for free so why not adopt. More good-looking the dog is, more attention it will get. I am sure that 9 out of 10 pedigree dogs get adopted but only three out of 10 indian dogs get adopted. Indie dogs are the hardest to rehome as people have this idea that foreign bred dog will be better for their prestige and status. What the masses need to realize is that Indian dogs are low maintenance and better adjusted to our climate. There is discrepancy between the adoption of older and younger dogs as well. There is a puppy craze among people. With older dogs, their behaviour is predictable, they are trained, vaccinated and they are easier than puppies because puppies are a ticking time-bomb. You never know what it will turn out to be,” says Dr.Shrilakshmi who herself adopted two old beagles that are 9 and 11-year-old, Jellybeans and Peaches. “One has arthritis and one does not have teeth. They don’t bark much and don’t need more walks as they don’t have more energy,” she says.
Paropkari said that it is not true that older dogs are never adopted. “Organizations and activists promoting adoption are seeing a spike in the number of animals that are successfully re homed,” she said.
Dr. Shrilakshmi says that people need to stop buying dogs and start adopting them. “Don’t scale everything for money. We need to discourage the sale of pets in shops and promote adoption. Indiscriminate breeding can lead to genetic and hereditary diseases like aggression. Mumbai has many local shelters and is a hotbed for animal activity and adoption. Keep an open mind and see which dog you connect with the most. Go for someone who will love you unconditionally and what purpose do they serve in your life. Ask yourself what quality of life you can give them. Don’t buy dogs because love cannot be bought,” she said.
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