For a year and a half, during the Covid-19 lockdown, we counted each day, waiting for our dog to be born, turn three months old (the ideal time to wean a pup away from its mother and into new surroundings), and come home to us in Mumbai. He was to arrive from an ethical breeder in Kochi.
He finally did in month. But in just three days after his arrival, we contemplated giving him up.
Sitting across the hall of our 2-BHK house, my exhausted husband told me, “I haven’t showered properly in three days and have been surviving on barely four hours of sleep. Let’s give him away,” he said, a tear trickling down his left cheek.
That night, my husband and I slept with heavy hearts and empty stomachs while Khal Dogo (inspired from a character’s name in Game of Thrones series), paced the room, tried to jump on the bed, ate plants, barked frequently and urinated everywhere, trying to make sense of the new space and humans.
The next morning, I decided to play a more active role in Khal’s upbringing and not give the little one away. Thankfully, my husband was on board as well and we worked towards making Khal, now 9 months old, a part of our family.
But not everyone is willing to or can put in that much time and effort in their pets. Post lockdown, as people returned to their hectic routines, this resulted in an almost 100% increase in cases of pet abandonment in Mumbai. “We usually get seven abandoned pets every week,” says Priya Hebbar, Co-founder of YODA (Youth Organisation for Defence of Animals), a Mumbai-based NGO that rehabilitates abandoned animals. “But after the lockdown, the number rose to 12 to 14. Unfortunately, it’s a trend seen across Mumbai and other metro cities in India.
Hebbar and her team found dogs, both, pedigree and indie, abandoned in dustbins wrapped in a plastic bag, on streets and outside their shelter in Khar. “Abandoning a dog is like abandoning a human baby, who would be scared, confused, stressed and perishes on unknown, dangerous streets. They are not trained to find food, and are often harmed by territorial street dogs and even humans,” says Hebbar.
Brining a pet home is like planning a child. According to veterinarian Deepa Katyal, you need to consider financial, lifestyle and social aspects before making up your mind.
Breed. Whether you are adopting a dog or buying one, you must know why you want a dog and decide on the breed accordingly. Khal, our large hunting and athletic mastiff needs at least two hours of exercise every day. He has helped us become more outdoorsy and active, something we enjoyed doing before the lockdown. He has a short coat, so doesn't shed too much and is also a sturdy dog.
Time. It’s crucial you spend a lot of time with your pup to bond with him. Getting a walker or hiring a full-time help doesn’t make the cut. Add to that, the time you will invest in preparing his food or taking him to a vet. “If you are getting a dog to just pet him for a couple of minutes in the morning and at night, don’t get one,” says Katyal.
Finances. Make a list of everything you will have to spend on including food, medical expenses, collar, leash, bed, toys, bowls, shampoo, dental sticks, treats, supplements, crate, car seat covers, feeding bowls, pet insurance, etc. Only if you can manage to sustain his needs for the next 12 to 17 years, get him home. We spend Rs. 5,000 on Khal’s food, supplements and medicines every month, barring other expenses.
Family. Raising a pet is a lot of work and you will need your family to help you take him on walks, baby sit him while you are travelling for a work assignment or going for an occasional night out with friends. My husband’s parents baby sits Khal often. But my parents are just too scared of dogs. So, most times, my husband and I take turns visiting them. “I have also come across cases where a husband wants a dog and wife doesn’t and vice-versa,” says Katyal. “The dog then becomes the cause of resentment for the couple,” she adds.
Home and neighbourhood. We live in a housing society that has many pets. Despite that, a few residents objected to Khal playing in one of the smaller gardens in our large society. To silence the haters, we had to circulate the animal welfare mandate in our society’s Whatsapp group, which allows a pet to use all the areas and amenities of the society. But some societies make it very hard for the residents, especially those living on rent. Thankfully for us, we also have a dog park nearby, several trekking spots and a reserved wetland opposite our building. Do you have access to open spaces around your neighbourhood where a pet can freely play and run, even once or twice a week? If not, don’t get a dog that needs regular exercise.
Hygiene and cleaning. A dog will come home with dirty paws, will salivate and will shed, which means you will have to dust your house every day, sometimes, twice a day and broom and sweep that often as well. Are you game for that?
Diet. Many dog owners I know feed their dogs just curd-rice and khichdi. This is a big no-no. You have to consult with your vet or an animal nutritionist about the right food for your dog. “Many vegetarians insist feeding their dogs veg food, even big ones, which need meat,” says Katyal. “Such dogs usually develop health issues and skin diseases," says Katyal.
Training. Most people don’t take training seriously. By training a dog, you can communicate with him, set necessary boundaries, teach him to be friendly with other humans and dogs and learn how to handle it well. “In my 15-year-plus practice, I have seen 80% clients abandon their dog because it develops some behavioural issues,” says dog trainer Srinivas Jakkani. “Even a basic, one month training can avoid these issues and help build a healthy relationship between dogs and their parents.” Of course, it comes at an extra cost, of at least Rs. 25,000 a month, but I couldn’t agree more with Jakkani. In our case, we had to find a trainer experienced in training large-size, high-energy dogs. For two months, every Sunday morning, we travelled about two hours from Kharghar to Gorai in Mumbai for this. But when Khal was back home, he was a calm and confident dog and very easy to manage.
Now, if you ask me if all this work is worth it, my answer is a big, resounding yes — because it will earn you lots of doggy licks and looks that will melt your heart. It will also give you a reason to finish your work on time because someone will always be waiting by the door, wagging his tail at 100 rotations a minute upon seeing you.
Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based writer, a Kathak student and a first-time pet parent.