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Puppy love in the time of lockdown

The company of pets can be uplifting during this period—but is this the right time to get one?

Ariana and Aryan with their adopted puppy, Kiko.
Ariana and Aryan with their adopted puppy, Kiko. (Photo: Nikarika Devaya Cursetji)

Our social media timelines are flooded with baking updates, workout videos and sari challenges. Once in a while, a heartwarming post about pets cuts through the clutter. The inevitable question then: “Should I get a pet?"

“Are you mentally and financially prepared?" asks Moresha Benjamin, a canine trainer and behaviourist who runs Moe’s Canine Training in Mumbai. A new pet is not a good idea at a time that is triggering struggles with mental health.

Although the company of a cat or dog to beat isolation can be tempting, Benjamin suggests first considering, “What does the animal want?" As a new family member, it will need undivided attention and there will be food and cleaning duties, in addition to the responsibilities of organizing a trainer and a vet. “You might be working from home now but after the lockdown is lifted you will go back to office. Who will take care of your pet then? What if your pet has separation anxiety? If your area becomes a containment zone, how will your dog go for walks? These are a few questions to note," says Benjamin. She lists a few behavioural issues prevalent among pets during the lockdown, ranging from touch aversion due to overhandling to a spike in animal anxiety.

But if getting a pet has been top of the mind, this is the best time for research. It should involve consultations with a good canine behaviourist before becoming a pet parent, says Benjamin. She adds that one can begin with fostering for a few days, even a few months. This is facilitated by shelters or individuals who work with animals. The cost, including food and vet support, is either borne by the shelter, divided between both parties or completely taken care of by the foster family.

The Anubis-Tiger Foundation, a Mumbai-based non-profit for the rehabilitation of abandoned dogs, has a group of families that take care of its rescued animals. Deepa Talib, chairperson and founder, conducts home visits to ensure the readiness of the potential foster home and bears the complete cost of care. During the lockdown, those keen on undertaking foster care can send her a video of their home as part of the screening process.

Pet abandonment, she says, has increased exponentially. A few days ago, Talib rescued a Great Dane. It was sent to foster care and within 24 hours, had been adopted.

Parul Soni is a strategic brand and marketing consultant who took this route to adopt a cat named Goose. Last year, she fostered a kitten for three days but wasn’t able to adopt it for personal reasons. This year, she tried again, and as luck would have it, an injured kitten, with a mild limp, came her way a day before the lockdown. Soni lives in a rented apartment in Mumbai and confesses to feeling uncertain about the timing. The family that was giving up the kitten for adoption had got it vaccinated and shared some cat food and litter with Soni to tide over two weeks. Serendipitously, the new cat mom found a good vet and a community cat feeder in her neighbourhood. “It has been a challenge, I will not lie. But it feels surreal to become a cat parent under such circumstances," she says.

About 15 days ago, Kiko, a two-month-old puppy, walked into the lives of the Cursetji family of four—Niharika, Murad and their children, Aryan and Ariana. The couple run a restaurant, Zamu’s Place, in Pune. Just before the lockdown, they decided to pay a short visit to their farmhouse in Kamshet, a few hours from Pune.

Niharika grew up with dogs and when she met Murad, he had seven dogs, all adopted. Over time, the dogs died. While they were at the farmhouse, a friend posted about puppies for adoption on a social media platform. And that’s how Kiko found a new home. Niharika has arranged for a caretaker-cum-dog walker when social distancing measures are relaxed.

Her two-year-old daughter and five-year-old son are absolutely besotted by Kiko. “For them, he is already a brother," she says.

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