Before the covid-19 lockdown, Tarun DeMonte, 44, would make it a point to visit Zoey and Blackie—two stray, female indies he had rescued from Gurugram, Haryana—at least once a month. Both of them have been staying at the Gracias Dog Spa and Retreat in Manesar for the past one year. But since the pandemic struck, DeMonte has had to make do with regular pictures and videos of the two.
“We are a family of dog lovers. I have three dogs at home and my mother has four. She ends up feeding at least 20 strays daily,” says DeMonte. “It is comforting to see Zoey and Blackie this way and we intend to visit them soon on a weekend,” he adds.
It has become more common since the lockdown to adopt a rescued dog or sponsor a pet. It has, in fact, come as a blessing for those who otherwise could not afford to have a pet at home. “Adopting a pet virtually is a simple thing. When you have an animal at home, it’s a full-time job. Virtually, you have to manage the expenses and sponsor them, but the hands-on responsibilities are with someone else,” adds DeMonte, who works in the airline and logistics space.
Manoj Menon, who founded Gracias four years ago, says adopting and sponsoring a pet virtually is a long-term commitment. “People like to foster pets—a lot of times they can’t keep them at their premises, but they still want to be involved in a pet’s life as much as possible. They tend to make donations…. This lockdown has obviously increased the number of people who want to do that.”
Gracias is spread over a 2-acre farmhouse. As soon as the dogs enter through the gates, they are “off the leash”. At present, Menon and his team are looking after close to 35 rescued dogs, eight of which are being virtually sponsored or fostered. The clients pay Menon a fixed amount of money on a monthly basis. “I take care of everything else for the pets,” he adds. He also sends weekly updates to the clients on their pet’s health and all the fun—recreational activities—they have had that week. “That’s basically how it works,” says Menon. “The idea here is to let the dogs live their lives, but the long-term vision is to find them a loving home. That constant human contact and family feeling is not replaceable,” he adds.
What else does one need to keep in mind before deciding to adopt a pet virtually? DeMonte, who intends to adopt another dog soon, says it is important to do a background check and visit the facility once. You have to be sure that the animals—be it a dog or cat—won’t be mistreated there, he says. “Apart from that, I would say one should take out time to visit them whenever possible.”
Delhi-based design consultant Priyanka Mathur decided to leave her rescued four-year-old indie, Fudge—she fondly calls him Martina sometimes—at Gracias after running into trouble with other residents near her Vasant Kunj residence. “He has been there for over a month now and looks healthy; he has a nice coat,” adds Mathur, 41, who is also a trained telepathic animal communicator. “He has settled there so well. Since Fudge is still growing up, he needs his space. I am constantly in check/touch with Manoj over WhatsApp and we visit him whenever we can,” says Mathur. “I very strongly believe in coexistence; that an animal should never be moved from their space. But yes, there are situations where, for the betterment of the animal, you have to move them away. Fostering a pet virtually is a good option, but even then, one needs to show interest and follow up regularly,” she adds.
During the lockdown, Poorvaja Kumar, founder of the Facebook page Humans of Canines and co-founder of Woof Woof Walkers, a Delhi-based initiative, has been organizing canine art therapy and storytelling workshops for participants—this included a reading workshop for children where they could read their favourite story-books to her dogs, Leo, a golden retriever, and Murphy, a beagle. Kumar, who is also a certified canine trainer and veterinary assistant, says she has noticed that the virtual medium can actually help not only the pets but the humans too. “You virtually interact with the dogs. I pet the dog on their (the participants) behalf. I have seen that it reduces the participants’ stress levels to a large extent. The dogs obviously needs to be physically present to form a bond with the owner. But I noticed that people who are not very comfortable around dogs, have responded really well virtually,” she adds. “They are more confident now.”