For your pooches, a home away from home
When Manish Peter, a 36-year-old working with a private company, planned to go on a short vacation to Shimla and Manali with his family in January, booking tickets was not the first task he undertook. Finding a place for Mario, his four-year-old fawn-coloured Labrador, was his top priority.
Like Peter, for many pet owners in the city, vacation plans call for frantic searches for places to board their pooches while they are away. Dog kennels, farm houses, crèche and hotels have so far been popular options, but for a growing number of pet parents, finding homestays is the new trend.
“My dog has absolute freedom to roam around the house. When I leave my dog behind, I want him to stay in an environment that is similar to that of my house. In a kennel, he is subjected to small space and an unknown environment,” said Misha Trehan, a fashion designer and owner of two dogs, Rocky (11) and Shambu (4). A loyal patron of homestays, she said, the personal touch of homestays is what makes them her favourite option.
A homestay for a dog is similar to any homestay you may book for yourself on a vacation. Your dog stays at another individual’s house, where (s)he is cared for and looked after just like another pet of the household. Home-based boardings accept a stipulated number of dogs at a time — with a human to accompany them at all times. Unlike kennels and crèches, the pets can roam leash-free inside the house.
It is this idea of replicating a home environment has found many takers among pet owners. It is in concurrence with the steady growth of the pet care industry in India. According to India Pet Care Market report listed on Research and Markets, the Indian pet care industry has advanced with a compound annual growth rate of 23% between 2012 and 2017.
Parvin Kora, a former MNC employee and founder of Tail Magic, a dog homestay in the city, said, “I cook, walk and play with the dogs. I am running the show for them and I do not depend on helpers.” A certified canine consultant, his boarding in Sector 57 sees over 350 clients a year.
At his duplex residency, the afternoon silence does not hint at the nine dogs napping inside. When they are let out of his bedroom and the comfort of the air conditioner, they come thundering down the stairs, tails on super wag mode. His home has no designated room or area for the dogs — every corner of his home is open to the pooches. His 11-year-old vociferous German Shepherd, Pixie, is the alpha dog who stops other boarders from getting a tad too mischievous.
But a homestay is not meant for all dogs.
Several dogs get rejected at the boardings due to lack of social skills, bad temperament, shyness, aggression, vaccinations not up to date or when in heat. “It is important to have the right number and type of dogs. There are always possibilities of fights breaking out,” warned Kora. Soon after he said it, Junior, a tiny four-month-old golden Cocker Spaniel yelped in pain because Fifi, a full grown Golden Retriever, had accidentally stepped on her paws. But this incident is soon forgotten as she ducks away to play in a corner.
The process to get through a homestay is nothing short of a board examination.
A brief interview is held over the phone when the pet parents call to enquire about details of the homestay. Questions pertaining to breed, age, neutering, temperament, food habits, social skills and others are asked. Some even hold bias against hosting Desi dogs. “A lot of time parents lie about their dog just to get them into the boarding but we always get to know everything about the dog within few minutes of interaction,” said Monika Sharma, an animal activist and co-founder of Pawsome Paradise.
After the Q&A, a home visit with their parents is the next step. At this stage, the dog’s mannerism is tested, she added. Her homestay this year has been booked to its capacity during summers. “There is a process of getting the dog accustomed to the homestay. You can’t just dump them here and take off on your vacation,” said Kora. At his homestay, the acclimatisation happens over a week before the actual stay. It first starts with a visit with the parent to the homestay for a few hours, then without the parent and then a night stay.
Home visits are a must for pet parents as well. During this time, they check out the boarding’s cleanliness, food arrangement, number of walks provided for a day, access to play area and others.
“One of the most important thing that I look for is the chemistry between the homestay owner and my dog. There is always a question of whether or not they will hit my dog,” said Sharda Vinod, a doctor. A single parent, she decided to put her two Desi dogs — Coco and Cookie — at a homestay as she wants to focus on her studies as he examinations are just days away.
Swapna Bhattacharjee, a teacher who keeps her five-year-old black brindle bull mastiff Rex at homestays when she leaves for work every day. “I drop him on my way to school and collect him on the way back. I love the personal care and attention he receives there,” added Bhattacharjee who has been sending Rex to a host since February.
Pet owners are not just using homestays but also getting innovative with the business model.
Roy K Cherian, an IIM Ahmedabad graduate and owner of Hobbs, a chocolate-coloured cocker spaniel, came across the concept of homestays when he was forced to look for a boarding option for his dog. While he liked the idea, he took it a step further and launched Zamba Dogs. The venture, launched last September, finds hosts for pet parents to board their dog when they are away. It is not a group boarding but an individual stay with a family who may or may not have a pet but are dog lovers. The website has currently listed 150 verified host families, of the 400 requests they have received so far.
“The idea is to create a home away from home for the dog,” said Cherian. He added that his website only connects families looking for boarding with those ready to host. The monetary part is discussed between the host and the client including establishing an understanding in cases of sickness.
Though mostly safe, homestays are also not free from horror stories similar to those of kennels. There is no certain way to ascertain the exact number of homestays in the city due to lack of business registration and regulations. Pet parents are wary of abuse, no exercise, possibilities of running away and others.
Once, Trehan returned from her vacation to find small scars across her pet Rocky’s body. When they reached home, she noticed a change in his behaviour as he chose to hide under the bed instead of greeting her. “I don’t know what they did to him but it took him almost a week to return to his normal self,” she said. She even alleged that at some places, they drug the pets to keep them quiet and in control. Liabilities of what happens when a pet escapes due to ignorance are also sketchy.
Peter complained that when Mario too had a bad experience once. When he returned from his homestay, he was left with a sore throat possibly an after-effect of staying outdoors for too long. As a result, Mario stopped barking for almost a week. “Some of them treat it purely like a business. They take in too many, tie them up with little or no exercise,” he added.
But some of these homestays even go beyond the call of business. When Jimmy, a one-and-a-half-year-old sprightly golden cocker spaniel got abandoned by his owners at Sharma’s homestay, he was left homeless. After several calls to his owners, Sharma was informed by one of them that they were undergoing a divorce and will not be able to look after him. Sharma then began the arduous task of finding him a home.
“There have been a few applications for his adoption but the home visits are yet to be done,” said Sharma as Jimmy chewed away on a blue rubber toy.
At Tail Magic, boarders who have been adopted are often entertained to discounted prices. “It is my tiny contribution towards ensuring more dogs get adopted,” said Kora.
Sharma surrounded by her boarders on her diwan iterates that to successfully run a homestay you need more than just a business strategy. “You have to treat the dogs with love. At the end of the day, the real feedback comes from the wags parents receive from their pooches when they come to take them home,” she said.