Walking back home after midnight on the streets of Khirki Extension, Shashaank Bhansali, a Delhi-based lawyer, saw a little lump shaking on a dark staircase. When he went to inspect the object he was surprised to find a baby Labrador shivering in the cold.
“The dog was scared, cold and so tiny,” says Shashaank. “He was not more than a month old and when I took him to the vet the next day I was told he had a fever.” In a world where people don’t think twice before abandoning a human baby, a puppy seems to be not that big a deal. But the rate at which these abandoned pets are being discovered around the country is alarming.
Nina Joshi runs a pet supplies store in Matunga, but the better part of her day is often spent rescuing and finding homes for dogs abandoned on the streets of Mumbai. Her cell phone constantly vibrates with calls from neighbouring residents about pups dumped in dustbins, dogs left tied outside in the pouring rain, and those lying on roadsides, after having been hit by a passing car. “There are so many that get abandoned every single day,” Joshi says. “People buy a dog, realise it requires more care and expenses than they can handle, and promptly get rid of it.”
Until two years ago, animal rights NGOs rescued around 2-3 dogs abandoned on the streets each week. The numbers of orphaned dogs have multiplied since.
“We frequently find as many as 8 to ten abandoned dogs now,” says Kanishka Sharma, a volunteer with People for Animals (PFA). This includes foreign breeds like German Shepherds, Pomeranians, and even Huskies and Saint Bernards — that cities like Mumbai and Delhi have recently taken a great fancy to. From those as young as a month-and-a-half old to the elderly canines, they are open prey for infections and illegal breeders.
With greater disposable income and easy availability of dogs-especially foreign breeds — the number of dogs being bought has grown considerably in the past few years. The numbers of those abandoned have kept pace too. Dogs are bought or adopted on a whim, and the owners soon realize that the pet requires much more care than they had previously assumed. “It has never been easier to get a dog,” says Kanishka. “There are so many kennels, and if you want to buy one, you get them at places like Crawford Market for a few thousand rupees. They are caged and live in terrible conditions but the buyers don’t care.” Lab puppies, for instance, sell for as little as Rs 1,000. “Toy breeds” like Lhasa Apsos are Rs 10-12,000, while prices for Saint Bernards and Siberian Huskies hover between Rs 40,000- 80,000. These dogs can be ordered and taken home in less than a week.
Because Labradors and Pomeranians are the cheapest, they are the most frequently bought and consequently, most often abandoned. At the Welfare of Stray Dogs kennels, it’s customary to find at least two rescued Pomeranians at any given time, says CEO Abodh Aras. But as expenses for “prestige” dogs like German Shepherds, Huskies and Saint Bernards mount, owners don’t always hesitate before getting rid of them either, says Rinky Karmarkar from Save our Strays NGO.
“Siberian Huskies, for instance, are supposed to live in snowy regions,” she says. “An air-conditioned room isn’t a substitute.” Dogs frequently fall sick and develop rashes during summers. “Some breeds shed a lot of hair, need a lot of room. As a pup grows up, it requires more care and that’s when owners realize they have taken on too much responsibility,” says Joshi. Moving into a new home after marriage where pets aren’t welcome, relocating abroad, finding that a pet has grown old and isn’t as “sprightly” as she used to be are other reasons. “I had a person who said the German Shepherd they adopted didn’t act like the dog in a Bollywood from they had seen,” Joshi recalls. “People abandon their pets for the stupidest of reasons.”
Activists have been urging people to adopt instead of buying a pet, and also, ensuring they do their research beforehand. “It’s a slow process though. People don’t realize that they’re taking responsibility for a living creature,” says Kanishka. “It’s a member of your family, not some vegetable you buy in the market.”