They are abandoned in countless ways. Some are stealthily dumped on a secluded street in the dark of the night.
Some are jettisoned at the gates of non-profits, others outside activists’ homes or hospitals. An emaciated one even showed up on a second-hand goods website recently where its owner had listed it for sale.
Hordes of Saint Bernards, Rottweilers, Huskies, Great Danes, Mastiffs and other pedigreed dogs are turning up on the streets of Bengaluru, cast off by owners who no longer care to keep them.
“It is very, very tragic,” says Suparna Ganguly, co-founder and honorary secretary of the Bengaluru-headquartered animal welfare non-profit, CUPA. “Upper middle class and upper class Indians buy fancy dogs because they think they make a cute trophy, then discover what is involved and use any excuse to forsake them.” Ganguly says the problem is so rampant that at least one exotic dog is abandoned at CUPA’s shelters every other day. Dumping of pedigreed dogs is prevalent in every big Indian city and is a social commentary on a new India, she says.
Upper middle class Indians with disposable incomes think nothing of spending Rs 50,000 to a few lakhs to buy a pup of a fancy breed, says Ridhima Coelho, who co-owns a pet supplies store, PAWS. “They think Saint Bernards, Maltese and Rottweilers make for good status symbols but find out soon enough that the animals needs lots of food, big spaces, regular exercise and stimulation. That’s when they toss them out on the street,” says Coelho.
Dog ownership has to be as considered a decision as having a baby, Coelho says. Apartment dwellers buy Saint Bernard or Great Dane pups and are shocked at how fast and how big they grow. Working couples keep the dogs locked at home all day and panic when the dogs turn aggressive. Buying an expensive pup does not necessarily lead to well-looked after pets, says Coelho whose dog-owning family ensures that somebody is always in the city to tend to the pet.
Some owners are as quick to get rid of the dog as they are to acquire one. “The dogs are abandoned in a very sophisticated fashion,” says Ganguly, whose CUPA receives endless emails daily from dog-owners who beseech her to take the dog off their hands. “They’ll say, my wife’s just had a baby or I have very old parents or I’m relocating because of my job.”
The bottomline, she says, is that people buy dogs because they think they are “cute” or “fashionable”, then desert them because they quickly get over the novelty value.
Sanjana Madappa set up CUPA’s Second Chance adoption centre in the Madiwala area two years ago when it became clear that dog owners were increasingly dumping their pets on the streets. “For some, these dogs are just a commodity to own and then discard,” says Madappa. The centre keeps the pets whose street survival chances are nil, then vaccinates and sterilises them before offering them for adoption. So far, the nearly 300 dogs that have gone through the centre illustrate only the tip of the iceberg, she says.
Many of the pure-bred dogs are brought badly abused. One adult Great Dane which usually grows to 50 kgs was recently brought in at 22 kgs. A fully grown Saint Bernard recently advertised for sale on OLX looked completely emaciated and sick. “Some people will think nothing of just letting their dog loose in the streets far away from their homes,” says Madappa. Then, three or four times a week, a pure-bred is found tied to the gates at the centre in the night. Second Chance is cautious and vets prospective adopters for several weeks before allowing them to take home the ‘free’ pedigreed dogs.
Shashi Uttamchandani, head of ecommerce at Bangalore-based ethnic wear brand Soch, chanced upon an Irish Setter — flea and tick-ridden, gaunt and sick — abandoned at the gates of a large pet clinic in the upscale Indiranagar area. The vets at the clinic nursed the animal for weeks before allowing Uttamchandani to adopt him some months ago. “The joy of owning a day is one thing but people don’t realise that it is like bringing home a child that never grows up.” The Irish Setter was diagnosed with pancreatitis and his new family spends hours exercising him and a packet feeding him — the food prescribed for the dog costs Rs 4,000 for a 7-kg bag.
Ganguly of CUPA says the craze for exotic pedigrees is such a trend that buyers do not even do basic research, such as noting that huskies require massive amounts of exercise, cocker spaniels have hearing problems, pugs are prone to skin diseases or that beagles are hyper. “A dog breeding-marketing mafia operates in every big Indian city,” she says.
Coelho of PAWS has noticed that the dumping of pedigreed dogs spikes after long spells of school holidays. Parents or relatives buy the pups to amuse or indulge their children during the vacations, the trend being gifts of designer breeds like Goldendoodles (cross between a poodle and a golden retriever), Cockapoos (cocker spaniel and poodle) and the tiny Bichon Frise. When the children return to school, the dogs are no longer wanted.