Here is why urban India is bringing pets home faster than ever before
A dog has no use for fancy cars, big homes or designer clothes…. Give him your heart and he’ll give you his…” says John Grogan (played by Owen Wilson) in Marley and Me (2008), a film about Marley, a Labrador retriever, adopted by Grogan’s family.
It’s a sentiment urban India’s growing tribe of pet owners will identify with. The pet population in India has grown from 7 million in 2006 to 10 million in 2014; on an average 6,00,000 pets are adopted every year (source: India International Pet Trade Fair). Yet, they’re not adopting Grogan’s simple outlook towards pets.
Pet owners with disposable incomes aren’t just spending on dinners and spa services for themselves, but for their pets as well. The pet-care sector in India — already pegged at over Rs 81 billion — is expected to grow at over 35 per cent every year (source: figures by DogSpot.in as reported by Business Standard). And when Ratan Tata jumps into the fray — earlier this week, it was announced that he’s financially backing DogSpot.in, a portal for all things pets — there’s plenty for your pet dog, or cat, to cheer about.
A family affair
“An affluent middle class has led to more people with pets. The rise of pets in ad campaigns and films helps too. Remember how the sale of pugs went up during the Hutch campaign?” Rajvi Mariwala, canine trainer, says. The biggest shift, though, she feels has been in how pets today are considered family members. Note the change in language: people no longer refer to themselves as pet owners, but as ‘proud pet parents’.
And speaking of parenthood, many, in fact, see pets as the first extension of their family, before having children. “Getting a pet is like having a child, with lesser responsibility,” says Sanyukta Dharmadhikari, a writer and ‘parent’ to a nine-year-old Labrador, Sandy. “It offers companionship, especially to people who live alone,” she adds.
Spoilt for choice
The year 2015 saw a major boom in e-commerce, with more websites and mobile phone apps being launched. The pet-care industry, too, saw its share of apps. Bark N Bond, a city-based dog-training consultancy, launched an iOS app that enables you to locate pet grooming, accessory stores and veterinaries in your vicinity. It’ll even help you find home-spa services for your pet. Again, errand-running service Timesaverz lets busy individuals outsource their pet’s grooming services.
The industry, it seems, is fuelled not just by business sense, but by passionate individuals. Pranita Balar, an erstwhile media planner, and an ardent dog lover, started Bark N Bond in 2012. “Caring for a pet is like any other hobby, like travelling or photography. Others, like me, are quitting corporate jobs to venture into the pet care sector,” she says.
Pet enthusiast Shruti Arolkar (25) also left her advertising job to co-found Petriot, an online store that makes fashionable jackets, colourful frocks and shirts for cats, ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 2,400. Petriot also offers a made-to-measure service, and has now expanded to making designer clothes for dogs. “The fabrics (only cotton-based, Arolkar insists), textures, stitching and fits are designed to offer ultimate comfort to the pet,” she says. Petriot’s target audience, Arolkar says, are those in the age bracket of 23 to 45, and she claims 30 to 50 monthly purchases for pet garments.
Out and about
The growing social acceptance of pets has also led to public spaces becoming more pet-friendly. Advertising agency The Glitch, in Andheri, has a pet Lhasa named Trippy, and digital agency Jack in the Box Worldwide, Matunga, has a mixed breed dog, Arya. Rio, a year-and-a-half-old Golden Retriever can be found lounging around PW PR, a public relations firm in Bandra. “He’s never tied up,” says founder Parikshaat Wadhwani. “I brought Rio to office one day, and everyone loved him. Since then, he’s been with us. He chills with us during brainstorming sessions or smoke breaks.” He admits that he does not hire people who do not like dogs.
While Gostana in Bandra and The Bagel Shop’s outlets in the city have led the way, the latest eatery in the city to welcome pets is Zoo Bar, Vile Parle. You can take your pet to the open area of the bar between 2 to 7pm. Since most eateries only allow pets in the outdoor seating areas, special permissions aren’t needed, and hygiene isn’t an issue. Restaurant owners who welcome pets usually have pets themselves.
Sisters Trupti Zaveri and Bhakti Bhukanwala, co-founders of Mutt Hutt, a pop-up up pet café, have led the way. They have organised birthday bashes, theme parties and Christmas celebrations for pets. Add to that, there’s dog food in the form of a three-course meal with soups, risotto, lasagne, pizza, ice creams and pies. Bark N Bond even organises overnight getaways with your pets (every three months). Their last retreat to Khopoli, in July 2015, saw 20 to 25 families come with their pets.
Have a heart
But pet care goes beyond services. And a major concern is the manner in which pets are purchased. “Breeders sell puppies that are barely 25 days old. They get a high value for them as, at that age, the pups look cute. But a pup should be with its mother for a minimum of eight weeks before separation,” says Balar. The second edition of BPSCA’s (Bombay Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Woofs and Hoofs carnival is urging more people to adopt. In keeping with its #DontShopAdopt mantra, an adoption camp will be set up.
However, you can only take home a pet after an interview and a house check. Reason for wanting a dog, number of kids in the family, and financials in case of exotic breeds like Huskies and St Bernards, are looked into. “There are so many abandoned dogs and cats in the city. Why not give them a new life?” asks Maya Bhogilal Goyel, BSPCA committee member.
Evidently, it all boils down to generosity of heart. As Grogan puts it: “Animal lovers are a special breed of humans, generous of spirit, full of empathy…”
Take Your Pick
petriot.in: Retails beds, ties, bows and apparel for your four-legged friend.
dogspot.in: Takes care of everything to do with pets, right from leashes to toys to pet food.
headsupfortails.com: Sells grooming products, food, toys and personalised beds, collars, and apparel.
petsworld.in: Caters to pet care products for dogs, cats, birds, fish, horses and small pets like rabbits.
What: The Woofs and Hoofs Carnival and Fundraiser will take place on January 10, 4pm to 9pm
Where: Second Enclosure, Royal Western Indian Turf Club, Mahalaxmi Racecourse
Entry: Rs 100 (donated to BSPCA)