Little Beagle Hanu, 8-months-old, and big Rottweiler Tyson, 5-years-old, love to feel the wind in their thick coat while riding in an auto rickshaw to the veterinarian or to the dog park. But these furry babies do not get this treat often, as most auto and taxi drivers in Mumbai and its metropolitan region, even those affiliated with cab aggregator services deny them entry in their vehicles.
Some fear the dogs; others think the pet will scratch their seats and dirty their cabs or autos and some are just too scared of their bosses who own the vehicle and are reluctant to do anything unconventional, says Shayamax Presswala, who runs a pet boarding and international pet transportation service in Colaba.
Taking pets around the city is a big challenge for most pet parents, especially for those who do not own a car or a bike. “It is always a challenge to find a willing auto or taxi driver to ferry Tyson,” says Anil Jha, the Rottweiler’s human parent. “It becomes a big issue when I do not have access to a private car and carry my sick dog to the doctor.”
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But thankfully, there are a few good-hearted drivers in the city willing to ride with their furry clients, and according to Presswalla and Jha, they must be applauded and celebrated for their service.
Rao Saheb Shinde, 50, from Panvel has been the go-to auto driver for several pet owners in and around his neighbourhood for almost three years now, since he relocated to the outskirts of the city from Chembur. “Thanks to the dogs and cats, I have managed to get a loyal, regular clientele. Pet parents call me every time they have to take their pets some place. That’s convenient for me as I don’t have to roam the streets, looking for people,” says Shinde. It translates to extra earnings of Rs.4,000 to Rs.5,000 every month over and above what he makes from plying humans. “I always go by the meter, not asking more money for pets from my clients. But most of them end up giving me Rs.50 to Rs.100 more if it is a longer ride,” he adds.
Shinde is not scared of dogs, big or small, nor is he worried about cleaning after them. “Just because they can’t talk, doesn’t mean I deny them a ride, especially when they are sick,” he says. Also, most pet parents are very responsible and carry bed sheets with them to cover auto rickshaw’s seat and make their pets seat on it, while others make their dogs stand and don’t let them get on to the seat. They also dust off the dog or cat fur after the ride. “Even if they don’t, I don’t mind cleaning after them,” adds Shinde.
Even auto driver Pradip Pawar, 33, from Nerul is happy ferrying pets, more so because his two-year-old son loves dogs. “Denying pets a ride would feel like denying a ride to my son’s friends,” says Pawar, has been driving an auto rickshaw part time for three years to supplement his income as a full-time security guard.
The building he earlier worked in had a friendly Golden Retriever who would play with Pawar almost every day. “I don’t know his name, but thanks to him, I learnt that dogs are not aggressive or ferocious as they are made out to be on many Youtube channels. They are loving, friendly animals and highly dependent on humans. It is basic humanity to not deny them a ride,” he adds.
For Napean Sea Road’s taxi driver Ibrahim Sheikh, 34, the decision to transport pets in his cab was purely financial. “Our business was badly hit during the Covid-19 lockdown,” says Sheikh. When a pet owner with four dogs, living in a nearby building asked Sheikh if he would allow dogs in his cab, he willingly agreed. “I never had issues with dogs, but had never thought of pet transport as a side business. When I got an opportunity, I lapped it up.”
After a couple of pet rides, Sheikh’s first pet client recommended him to Presswalla. And for two years now, Sheikh has been picking and dropping pets from their homes, as far as Mira Road to Colaba and servicing other direct clients as well. “Business from the pet boarding and their clients is regular, helping me make Rs.5000 to Rs.6000 extra every month while I continue driving humans around,” he adds. Moreover, many clients with pets usually pay him Rs.100 to Rs.200 above the actual fare, helping him make up for the losses caused during the pandemic.
Like most drivers featured in the story, Sheikh’s experience driving pets has also been pleasant thus far, except for once when street dogs kept barking at a puppy in his taxi’s passenger seat, terrifying the little one. “I shooed the street dogs away, stopped the cab at a safe, vacant place, took the pup for a small walk and calmed him down before restarting our drive again,” he says. “I find most dogs very loving and cute and think that as a driver it is my duty to ferry them with as much love and respect as human passengers,” he adds.
South from Napean Sea Road, in Thane, a married couple in their 30s started an air-conditioned pet taxi service even as early as 2018. Priti Shekhar, a commerce graduate who now handles the pet taxi business, and biomedical engineer Anil Dariyani, were moved to do this after a harrowing experience they had, when trying to take their very sick Indie, the late Puggy, to a dog hospital in Parel.
“Puggy was a senior dog then and would fall ill frequently. One day, he started vomiting frequently and we had to rush him to the hospital, but had a very hard time convincing cab drivers to let him in their vehicle,” remembers Shekhar.
After several refusals, the couple met a taxi driver, who not just let the sick Puggy in, but also stayed with the couple throughout the treatment at the hospital and brought them back home to Thane. “We couldn’t thank that driver enough, also realising a dire need for a pet taxi service.”
So, for four years now, Dariyani has been doubling up as a pet taxi driver, ferrying pets to the airport, vets’ clinics during mornings and late evenings while managing his full-time business of lab equipment supply. The couple charges Rs.35 per kilometer for the service, counting the fare from the starting point of the trip, their home in Thane.
It’s thanks to these considerate humans that Mumbai's pets have a chance to move around the city a little.
Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based writer, a Kathak student and a first-time pet parent