By Rashmi Menon
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As a single parent, it was difficult for Saritha Kunder to have a pet and manage a busy schedule. So, as the next best option, she fostered rescued dogs for a brief period of time. Gradually, she discovered she could open up her home to provide a homestay for a pet whose human family was out travelling for short periods.
While remote working enabled this Bengaluru-based HR professional to become a pet host and earn from her passion for animal care, a couple in Gurugram, Anukampa and Abhishek leveraged the fact that they have a spacious five-bedroom home with a garden, to start a pet homestay, called Pups and Pals K9.
These kinds of pet homestays are a popular concept in Europe and the Americas. In India, however, it’s still at a nascent stage and is largely unorganised. The pandemic saw a rise in pet adoptions, but now, as these pet-parents begin to travel again, they are looking for “homely" options to leave their pets in when they are away.
Tapping into this need is Snouters, a Gurugram-based company that began operations late last year – it connects pet parents with current and former pet parents, who are willing to open their home to their pets.
“We are building an Airbnb for pets…where pet parents can earn from this arrangement. It’s like creating a new skillset of pet sitters which is a common profession abroad," says Srikant Krishnan, co founder of Snouters.
Snouters rolled out their services in Gurugram and Bengaluru on pilot basis, last December. They are now also present in Hyderabad and Mumbai. What’s interesting though is that Snouters encouraging pet parents who are either homemakers or are working from home, to become pet hosts with a monetary incentive: ₹15,000 a month.
For Kunder, who'd joined Snouters early on, it’s a win-win situation. She not only gets to pursue her passion of caring for animals, but earns between ₹7,000 to ₹23,000 depending on how many days in a month she’s open to hosting a pet. On a average, the pets stay with her for three to four days.
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“It’s a big responsibility because most dogs have anxiety problems, so you have to be mindful of that," explains Kunder. “Also, I have to plan my errands accordingly as I can’t leave them alone for long."
But Kunder doesn't' mind. “A lot of people want pets but they are afraid of commitment. They think it will constrain their travel. I want to support such people," she says. She hosts only one dog at a time, and has hosted 10 dogs in the last eight months, a few of these being repeat clients.
For Anukampa and Abhishek, their home boarding facility was inspired by a painful experience they had. One of their dogs, a five-year-old German spitz lost one of its eyes when the couple left the dog at a boarding facility while on a vacation in 2016. “Not all dogs are friendly in a kennel or a boarding facility – (such caretakers) have a standardised care for all the dogs. The family touch is just not there," says Abhishek, who works at a multinational company. “We searched a lot but finally, decided to start something on our own."
Over and above their own three dogs aged between three to four years, the couple's facility can accommodate five guest dogs. Since none of the dogs are leashed, they only take friendly, social dogs to ensure their own pets feel comfortable, says Abhishek. Besides the love for dogs, Abhishek says they could rake in about ₹70,000 in a month with three guest dogs.
However, a pet parent’s biggest concern is that their pet is not uncomfortable or being mistreated. Delhi-based Nikhil Hazari recalls his initial apprehensions regarding hosts were around security and trust; mainly, the host’s accountability if something goes wrong.
“The well-being of our pet matters the most. I wanted to be sure that there was enough open space for Proton (his 17-month-old Labrador) to roam around and not be confirmed to a room or an area, and I wanted the person to treat Proton like a family member," says Hazari. Through Snouters, he chose Proton's home stay when there was a work trip on the horizon.
After an initial conversation, Hazari took Proton with him and inspected the space, and where the host would take him for a walk. “Eventually, we selected hosts, who already had dogs, so that they are experienced with them. Also, you can understand a lot by how people keep their pets by the way the pets interact with other pets and people. So, that also becomes a check for us in terms of zeroing in on the hosts," Hazari, who has left Proton with two hosts in the last two months, says.
Though platforms like Snouters focus on the convenience of finding a pet host, some pet parents would still prefer to rely on word of mouth recommendation, or do their own search. “Such platforms are good for new pet parents or those who are new to a city. But existing pet parents will rely on the pet community," says Noida-based pilot Kushal Mediratta. He opted for a homestay facility for his two-and-a-half year old Golden Retriever Roscoe, as he was concerned with the restricted space provided by hostel and boarding facilities.
Moresha Benjamin, founder of Moe's Canine Training, who also boards pets, doesn’t think pet owners should host other people’s pets unless they have a professional training to take care of animals. “I am not saying pet parents can’t be pet boarders. Rather, I would encourage them to learn about it professionally and get certified," says Benjamin, who lives in Mumbai. “Many don’t have training in what to do in case of medical emergency or deal with separation anxiety. Therefore, trusted and qualified professionals for boarding is the way to go."
Abhishek from Pups and Pals Canine also cautions pet hosts to ensure they check with their residential societies before starting to host. The rules and regulations are not clear, so people can raise objection and one could land in trouble, he says.
While many pet parents need to exercise caution and cross check the credentials of the pet hosts, Hazari believes that these kinds of platforms may be the answer to young pet parents who live in the metro cities, and are looking for great stays for their pets when they are travelling.
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- FIRST PUBLISHED04.10.2022 | 01:00 PM IST