Elevators, parks and gardens are off-limits, and even barking and dogs without leashes are not allowed in many housing societies in Mumbai.
It’s easy to see why pet owners are frustrated and even angry.
“I have tried to reason with my society. But what can I do about people who make a face every time I use the elevator?” said Tushar Mistry, a dog behaviourist and trainer. “The more they make faces at me, the more often I take my dogs in the elevator,” he added.
Housing societies have become battlegrounds for pet owners like Mistry, who are fighting against what they call unreasonable rules laid down by their neighbours and societies.
By law, no building committee or housing society can stop residents from keeping pets (see box).
But these guidelines are often ignored — and pet owners harassed — because the rules are not uniform or clear and there is no supervising body to ensure they are followed, animal welfare activists said.
YOUR PETS HAVE RIGHTS
According to the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), housing societies cannot ban pets or impose rules on where they are allowed.
But with no body to ensure these norms are followed, several building committees have laid down their own set of rules, which often make life difficult for pet owners.
“The conflict arises because nobody knows, or follows, the norms set by AWBI,” said Sunish Subramanian, the secretary of the Plants and Animals Welfare Society (PAWS).
Subramanian said every month, he receives at least two complaints from either societies or pet owners. “In the absence of uniform norms and a lack awareness, every society becomes a decision-maker for what is allowed. Whenever their own laws are not followed, scuffles take place,” Subramanian said.
All this results in arbitrary rules, harassment of pet owners, and pets being abandoned when the owner can fight for it no more.
“Our society doesn’t allow dogs to be walked without a leash. There are also restrictions on the use of the elevator,” said Disha Singh, a resident of a Goregaon society.
Activists said such issues should be resolved amicably, especially in an age where more and more people live in apartment complexes.
But the pet owners HT spoke to said they were often called names, are intimidated, and in one case, even physically abused.
Vasai resident Nanda Mahadik said her differences with her neighbours weren’t limited to jeering and name-calling.
“I have three dogs. I would also feed a few strays in my locality. One day, there was some ruckus about a dog biting a child. The society wanted to beat up this dog, so I intervened,” Mahadik told HT. She said she asked the residents to show her the child that had been bitten, but they ignored her and started beating up strays.
“When I tried to stop them, they beat me up as well. My clothes were torn during the scuffle,” Mahadik claimed. She said she filed a complaint with the local police, but the culprits were let off with warnings.
“I had helped sterilise many dogs in this locality and have always ensured that I feed them without littering the area. Nobody appreciated that, instead, they physically abused me over my love for dogs,” Mahadik said.
People in other societies, however, are finding ways to coexist.
“We are a huge complex, of about 70-80 bungalows, and all of us respect the feelings of pet owners. We have a system to ensure pets don’t become a nuisance. Stray dogs and cats are fed in our society and are taken to the hospital when injured,” said Uday Rawal, a Kandivli resident.
RIGHTS WITH DUTIES
As a pet owner, while you have the right to fight against unreasonable rules against pets, you also have the duty to be considerate and courteous towards your neighbours, animal rights activists said.
Singh from Goregaon said that fights in her society escalate when pet owners act in an insensitive manner with residents who may not feel the same way towards animals.
Subramanian from PAWs said, “Pets cannot be banned from residential complexes, but pet owners also have to understand the meaning of coexistence.”
THE WAY AHEAD
Subramanian said the BMC should make registering pets simpler. “Currently, most people don’t have the mandatory licenses for their pets, which is why, when a fight with the housing society goes to court, the pet owners are at a disadvantage,” he said.
For instance, Sudheer Gadgil, a Colaba resident, said he tried to get a license for his German Shepherd, but decided against it because the civic body’s pet registration process needed him to furnish a no-objection certificate from his society. “I spoke to some society members and they were against issuing an NOC for the process. I dropped the idea of registering my pup and just brought it home,” Gadgil said.
BMC officials said they were working on simplifying the process, and may put it online to encourage more registrations.