Where is my dog? This is one question an increasing number of dog owners in Delhi and NCR are asking these days. And they are not getting any definitive answer.
They fear their missing dogs may have been stolen for illegal breeding rampant in what animal activists call the growing number of ‘puppy mills’ in many parts of the city.
One such owner is Venu Rajamony, Press Secretary to the President of India. His pet -- a purebred female Dalmatian—disappeared in April from his residence at Talkatora Road.
The family ran a campaign on social media, put up missing-dog posters and approached the police and the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), but to no avail. “We were preparing to take our pet to the Netherlands when it went missing,” says Rajamony, who is moving to the Netherlands next month as India’s Ambassador. “I see only two possibilities: either someone has found it and kept it innocently not knowing what to do. The second is trafficking; many purebred dogs are used for illegal breeding. We mentioned in the posters that our pet is neutered.”
Rajamony’s fears about his dog’s being trafficked for illegal breeding are not unfounded. In the past six months, there have been many cases of theft and abduction of dogs. Social media platform such as Facebook are full of photographs of missing dogs. Rewards for finding them range from Rs 5000 to Rs 20,000.
In December, Coco, a female Beagle, was allegedly taken from outside her owner’s house at Pusa Road in central Delhi. Many animal activists believe the unidentified man, who was captured on CCTV pushing the dog into a car, belong to gang of thieves that steal pet dogs and sell them to illegal breeders. The cost of a Beagle puppy starts from R20,000. In January, a retired air force wing commander was assaulted while he was walking his dog, and his nine-year-old golden Labrador retriever was snatched from him.
Many animal activists such as Sonya Ghosh believe organised gangs are behind the theft and kidnapping of dogs in Delhi and NCR. They say areas such as Trilokpuri, Nizamuddin, Shadipur, Sangam Vihar and Raangpuri Pahari are home to ‘puppy mills’ with cruel breeding practices. The puppies are kept in cramped cages in dirty, deplorable conditions; there is poor hygiene, no veterinary care and rough handling of pets by untrained workers. Most of these breeding centres are not registered with the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) as mandated by the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001.
“I have seen many expensive pedigree dogs in slums located in Trilokpuri and Rangpuri Parari. Recently, I saw a Neapolitan Mastiff in a Trilokpuri slum that costs about a lakh,” says Ghosh. “These are stolen dogs hidden and kept for breeding in these slums. The breeders use pedigree dogs and abandon them once they are past their breeding life span. We alerted the police many a time but they have done nothing against them.”
Dependra Pathak, Special Commissioner of Police (Operations), refutes the charge that police are not sensitive to dog cases. “We do take such theft cases seriously. A theft is a theft, whether it is of dog or anything else. We go after any violator of the law. But yes, there are low priority and high priority cases,” he says.
Rick Green, an Australian expat in Gurgaon who was lucky to have found his missing pet, Rexy, after a social media campaign, says the Gurgaon Police’s attitude was objectionable. “When I went to the police station to complain about my missing dog, the first question they asked me was if I had the licence to keep a pet. Eventually, I could find the pet because of the support I got from people in my housing society,” says Green, who gave a Rs 2-lakh cash reward to the girl who found his dog. “In Australia, the police are very sensitive to these issues. There is a separate squad to find missing dogs”.
Geeta Seshamani, vice president, Friendicoes, a Delhi organisation that works for animal welfare, says they get 2-3 cases of missing dogs every day. Like Ghosh, she believes the reason behind the disappearance of pedigree dogs is illegal breeding, buying and selling. “Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous breeders who do not care about the breeding cycle or the health of dogs,” she says. “This is the worst crime against animals. The illegal business needs to be stopped immediately.”
Spurring the illegal breeding is the great demand for pedigree dogs. The number of pets in Indian households went from 7 million in 2009 to 12 million in 2014, says a report by Euromonitor, a London-based market researcher. A Saint Bernard goes for anywhere between Rs 35,000 and Rs 40,000; a Husky puppy for Rs 40-60,000 and a Tibetan Mastiff for something between Rs25,000 and Rs35,000.
Seshamani says there should be a microchip-based ID card for every dog and a centralised data registry. “This will be of help in keeping a record of sale and purchase of dogs, stopping thefts and finding missing dogs,” she says.
This may become a reality soon. In January, the union ministry of environment, forest and climate change published draft rules to regulate dog breeders and pet shops. The rules mandate registration of all dog breeders with state animal welfare boards and define requirements to be met by breeders and the establishments used for breeding or housing animals. The rules also mandate that breeders maintain records of both male and female dogs, including breed and description, their micro-chip number, number of litters, sale, purchase and death.
“The rules should be notified soon and implemented strictly to achieve the desired objective of stopping cruelty to animals,” says Seshamani.