Picture eight 3-month-old St Bernard pups squirming in the sun — all crammed in a 42-inch TV box. To some humans, this might be just a matter of temporary convenience. But not for Karan Gupta, who saw the litter at a breeder’s. As a pet trader who runs the portal petclubindia.com, Gupta has seen such cruel treatment meted out by breeders and shops owners around the country over the last seven years. “Ninety per cent of breeders keep their dogs in poor condition… at some shops dogs are kept like sabji — in small, small cages,” he says.
Gupta’s dislike is mild compared to the shrillness of some activists. Poorva Joshipura, chief functionary, PETA India, would go as far as to say, “Pet shops and breeders should be shut down as long as wonderful pets are sitting homeless in shelters around India for lack of love and attention.”
Such treatment of dogs may have to change by the end of the year, thanks to a new set of rules piloted by environment minister Jairam Ramesh. The draft Dog Breeding, Marketing and Sales Rules 2010 aim to regulate the sale and wellbeing of dogs at shops and at breeders’ and lay down the power of inspecting these places. This draft, along with one for Pet Shop Rules 2010, will be open for public discussion in September. People close to the matter hope to get both sets of rules notified by December.
The rules (see box) propose, among other things, that breeders will have to obtain an annual licence from the local civic authority and the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI). And that AWBI inspectors will be able to inspect the premises without notice. More worrying for owners, no more tail docking, ear cropping or mutilation of puppies.
Is there a need to clamp down on offenders? Yes. But do some of the new rules take things to an extreme? We asked some dog lovers and experts.
Who’ll bell the inspectors?
Ashok Kaushik, a breeder, qualified vet and owner of eight dogs, sees the good and the bad of the proposal: “Some of the regulations should be in place so that dogs aren’t mistreated.” But this dog lover, who was a batch junior to Maneka Gandhi at Lawrence School, Sanawar, adds: “Some of the regulations, however, are absolutely unnecessary and ridiculous.”
The good, says Kaushik, is limiting the frequency of breeding, ensuring under-age dogs are not bred, and selling only vaccinated puppies more than 8 weeks old. The bad bit is giving inspectors appointed by AWBI — an organisation he says is “stacked with goons” — the power to confiscate animals that they think are being treated cruelty.
How will such rules affect the likes of Sanam Khanna, professor at Gargi College who owns “5-6 Lhasa Apsos at any time” and who breeds “as a hobby… once in 5-6 years”? One of the proposed rules says owners keeping dogs for breeding must obtain a licence too. Khanna is wary that such a rule may be used to harass dog lovers. “Even the Kennel Club of India (KCI) has proposed a model Breeder Act, but it fails.” Why? Because it will depend on those tasked with enforcing the rules.
More than rules for breeders, Khanna wants awareness among buyers. She says many first-time owners get pets as “status symbols or because they look cute”. Most “don’t even want to look at the mother”, denying themselves crucial knowledge of their future pet’s possible temperament, bone density and skin conditions. So they often have no idea what to do “when the cute puppy grows into a 100-kg heavyweight or a snarling monster”.
Out with fangs
But for every passionate point made by owner-breeders, there can be an equally passionate counter-argument. Geeta Seshamani, co-founder and vice-president, Friendicoes SECA (Society for the Eradication of Cruelty to Animals), says, “If other commercial activities require you to have a licence, then why not for breeders who sell their pups?”
Gupta of the pet portal says it’s not that there aren’t breeders who genuinely care about their pets. “It’s the small-time breeders for whom it’s the only source of income. There you see the over-bred, emaciated females who look like they’re about to collapse.”
Dr Kunal Dev Sharma, a third-generation vet who works at MaxVets Dogs and Cats Hospital, is in favour of any rule that keeps the welfare of animals in mind. He, though, is alarmed with the proposed rule that restricts people from keeping a dog on the basis of his or her living space and income. Anjali Sharma, lawyer for AWBI, assures that this particular rule — proposed in the new Pet Shop Rules — has already been amended.
No dog lover is saying that the rules are bad, just that some of them can grow fangs when kept under our notorious bureaucracy.