Have you done any of the following lately:
Created a Facebook account for your dog, so he can boast about the good life he leads? (a la Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who has one for his dog, Beast).
Tweeted on behalf of your cat, making him the feline star on Twitter? (Just like American Jason Scott – @sockington).
Included your pet in your wedding ceremony? (American Idol singer Carrie Underwood and hockey player Mike Fisher had their rat terrier, Ace, go down the aisle in a Swarovski crystal encrusted tuxedo).
These are just a few of the many ways in which pet parents (don’t ever call them owners!) have taken their love of their pets to new levels. People have always been crazy about their pets, of course, but these days they don’t shy away from expressing their love in public.
Love is all around
One reason for this sudden surge of indulgent pet parents is that the number of animal owners has increased, explains Dr Narendra Gandhi, from Delhi-based Gandhi’s Pet Clinic. “When I started practicing in 1991, I would say five per cent of Indians, especially in the metros, had pets,” says Dr Gandhi, adding, “Now, close to 40 per cent of Indians have them.”
And becoming a pet parent means that Indians are now ‘petting’ their pets more than ever. Delhite Archana Kumari Singh, director, Frazer & Haws, confesses that though she disciplines her children, she can’t bring herself to do the same to her two dogs Amigo and Rufus. “They have to eat everything we eat and they sleep on the bed with us. They cannot talk so why punish them?” reasons Singh.
Some couples have also satisfied all their parental needs via their pets. Vipasha and Viren Saxena, who live in Noida and have been married for 12 years, decided not to have children but have three dogs and two cats for company. “We love them and care for them like children,” says Viren, a statement that would have raised more than a few eyebrows some years ago.
The write way to do it
Pet parents are also taking up their pens to declare their love. In the book How Cheeka Became A Star And Other Dog Stories, one of the contributing writers, Nafisa Ali Sodhi, explains how she cut down on her social commitments to care for Macho, the family dog who was struck by paralysis. And last year, Habib Rehman, a well-known name in the hotel industry, came out with Home For Gori, a book that detailed his poignant relationship with his dog, Gori. Launched on Gori’s fifth death anniversary, the book had a purpose – “It will help me share my joy and sorrow of owning and loving a pet with other animal lovers,” said Rehman.
Though a nascent trend and related to the worldwide success of Marley & Me (a best-selling book by American journalist John Grogan that was turned into a successful film), books on pets appeal to a lot of us, say experts. “Publishers are discovering that there is a market for such stories. It is like when the book What To Expect When You’re Expecting came out, it was a sensation. There was always a demand, but nobody talked about the topic,” explains Anant Padmanabhan, vice president, sales, Penguin India.
Pet parents are also documenting their passion on social networking sites. Information that would have been of no interest to people – the pet’s eating, bathing or (forgive us), defecating habits – are now hot topics, and many pet parents do this for no other reason than ‘pure love’. “My father would think that all this talk of pets on the Internet and books was frivolous, but these are things that occupy our minds and something we indulge in constantly,” says Padmanabhan.
Pets are big business
Another way pet parents are expressing their love is via their wallets. From chewy toys to salon visits to pet birthdays, there are a large number of people out there willing to spend huge sums on their pet children, and a whole industry aiming to cash in on this ‘relationship’. As actress Gul Panag, a committed dog lover, says, “There’s even a pet fair and a website (petvacations.com) that gives information about hotels that allow pets so that you can travel with them.”
One such establishment is the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai, which allows guests to stay with their pets. Once a guest is allotted a room, a sign saying ‘dog inside’ is hung up so that a dog bark so close doesn’t scare other guests. “Our philosophy is ‘Home Away From Home’, and since we have so many guests who constantly travel alone, we allow them to bring their pet for company,” explains Divya Mohan, public relations manager, Four Seasons Mumbai.
On a more sombre note, Pet Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), an NGO that works for animal welfare, inaugurated Delhi’s first crematorium for pets at Chattarpur. The facility has been opened by Dr RT Sharma and Sunil Kalra (his dog died a few years ago and he couldn’t find a decent place to bury him).
Lonely Hearts Club
Perhaps the strongest sign that people are increasingly treating their pets as much-loved children is the fact that their custody is increasingly being negotiated when couples separate or divorce. According to advocate Monika Arora, a practicing lawyer in the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court of India, “Pet parents find that they have too many emotions associated with their pet, and it becomes difficult for them to let go. Pets also provide separated couples companionship and unconditional love.”
Thirty-two year old chartered accountant Chirag Dewan and his wife chalked out a proper custody arrangement for their dog Bosco. Bosco stays with Chirag three days a week, and Chirag’s wife gets custody for the next three days. “Bosco has now gotten used to the routine and he loves seeing both of us,” explains Chirag. “He was like therapy for me. Also, both my ex-wife and I love him equally, so it wasn’t fair to him or us for Bosco to stay with just one of us.”
Many single people are also turning to pets as a substitute for complicated human relationships. “It’s nice to have some semblance of life in the house when you come back,” says 29-year-old journalist Meghna Bhatt, who has two kittens. Similarly, actress Gul Panag got Milo, a beagle, when she was unmarried and living alone in Mumbai. Soon, Milo got adjusted to her life and would not complain even when she would wake up late and take him for a walk, explains Panag. She adds that she would take Milo when she went grocery shopping, and he would wait for her in the car. Milo has also accompanied Panag on her many trips across the country. “Jet Airways allows small dogs in the cabin. So Milo has done 40,000 miles already,” explains Panag.
Pet parents wish for
1 Lots of air-conditioned, spacious, well-kept boarding facilities manned by people who really love animals. There are not many decent places to leave your pets when you are away.
2 Good training institutes that train pets. Don’t you want to sip your coffee in a café with your Badal or Bela for company?
3 But before that, restaurants, malls and other public places must start allowing pets. Yes, yes, we will clean the poop.
4 Blood banks. When pets fall ill, it is nearly impossible to save their lives because there are no blood banks.
5 Pet-friendly offices or crèches, so that we are not constantly worried about them while we are at work. We really do love them like our children, you know!
Pia Trivedi | VJ/Model
Pet: Sky or Skypoo; Breed: Cocker Spaniel
Pia got him with her first pay cheque 10 years ago. She is the
disciplinarian in the house. Though a little fearful of Pia, Sky also throws tantrums, especially when she is packing to travel. Quality time for them? Holidaying together.
Anushka Manchanda | singer
Pets : Achilla (right) and Bella (left); Breed: Cocker Spaniels
Achilla listens to Anushka the most but Bella is more pampered.
Anushka shops for both when abroad and takes them for play dates. Her father sees Bella as his daughter and her mother fusses over both of them like children.
Captain Paorosh Bulsara with Nheza
Nheza, a very ill stray dog, changed several homes, before finding a home – and good health – with Paorosh, who works in the Merchant Navy
Avani Shah with Silkworm
Silkworm was brought to an animal welfare NGO to get treated for an eye infection. Mumbai hairstylist Avani Shah adopted the cat, who now joins her three other cats
Pet Adoptions: think before you leap
NGOs who work with animals regularly put up rescued, abandoned or old pups and cats up for adoption. Here’s how how animal volunteers conduct the adoption process:
1 A short chat helps us know why people are considering a pet.
2 The potential family is shown pictures of animals. They then visit the pup or kitten in its foster home. We then explain details such
as food habits, the animal’s temperament etc.
3 If there are already pets in the prospective house, we guide the family through the process.
4 Parents need to fill a form, give their ID and address proof, and are given info about vaccines, etc.
5 Volunteers go on home visits to check the progress of the pet. If we suspect something out of the ordinary – if the animal is tied for long hours, aggressive
behaviour or even if the animal doesn’t seem adjusted, it is brought back and is put for adoption..
Courtesy: Shruti Shetty, architect, and in-charge of cat adoptions, World For All (WFA), Mumbai
From HT Brunch, March 11
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