'If You Have Taken a Pet, It's a Commitment for the Next 15 Years'
'A lot of people have taken to dogs as their saviours, that also puts a lot of pressure on the dog'
Attreyee Chatterjee, co-owner of Woofs and Wags, a pet care facility based in Kolkata, has a few strict ground rules. She boards no more than 5 dogs at a time, and has a mandatory trial policy, wherein she boards the pet for 24 hours before committing long-term, and also makes it a point to visit the pet’s home, so that pets do not get abandoned under her care.
“I exactly know their place, and the dog will be returned back to them,” this is how Chatterjee ensures that pet parents never abandon their dogs at her facility, which offers multiple services like premium boarding, grooming, veterinary services, as well as a shop selling accessories and food.
Chatterjee says that the pandemic not only led to many pets being abandoned, but to many dogs being bought or adopted by people restricted to their homes, without the adequate know-how to care for a pet. “People have taken dogs during covid, without thinking that in two years time, there will be one day when everything will open up, and they have to go back to normalcy.”
She often gets requests to provide daycare for pets. In these situations, she insists that it is not a feasible option. “If you have taken a pet, it’s a commitment for the next 15 years.”
Speaking of more pets now being taken to boarding facilities, Chatterjee says, “When it comes to the pet, it is very evident that they don’t like a shift of place. It messes them up big time.” As a professional, she encourages pet parents to take their pets along on their travels should they be away from home for a period longer than two to three weeks. She advises pet parents to travel by train and not by air, so that they have the option of carrying the pet - “because then at least the pet won’t be depressed.”
“The pet stops playing, and the pet starts chewing, itching… There are skin breakouts that happen, skin allergies and all, because they can’t express. So the minute they get into depression, you will see rashes on the body sometimes. When pet parents leave, it is very common in certain breeds that patches of hair, like alopecia, will come out.”
“Two weeks in a crêche is fine, but I don’t think any pet parents should leave their pet for more than two weeks,” Chatterjee tells The Citizen. She explains that much like human beings have a schedule and lifestyle, “A pet’s day should also have some exercise, some play time, some food time and some rest time… They need their comfort corners everyday, they cannot shuttle.”
Chatterjee also consults for to-be pet parents regarding breeds and caretaking possibilities, and invites children into her facility to spend time with the dogs, so that they may understand the responsibility of raising a pet. She stresses that adopting or buying a pet is not an impulsive decision to be taken out of boredom, or for the sole need for company and entertainment.
Arundhati Das has been raising Zoe, a white labrador, for nearly four years now. The pandemic hit when Zoe was around 2 or 3 years old, and Das describes seeing in Zoe many of the same symptoms listed by Chatterjee.
“Zoe is a labrador so she needs exercise. She needs at least one or two hours of exercise a day. But because of the pandemic, we had to drastically reduce our exercise time and playing time,” she recalls. Walks that usually lasted up to an hour had to be wrapped up in 10-15 minutes, “Because even I was scared, we have old people in the house so we couldn’t take the risk.”
“Usually she’s a very good dog, she’s very well behaved. But that is when she gets enough stimulation. But when she’s at home and getting bored - she’ll get angry, start running around randomly, stealing the cushions, she won’t get up when we call her, etc.”
According to Das, you can’t just leave a dog at home and not do anything, “you have to constantly entertain them and have fun with them…. There’s no point in getting a dog if you can’t do that for them.”
She says Zoe’s behaviour changed during the lockdown. “She would itch herself, and when we checked there would be no bugs, she’d chase her tail randomly for almost half an hour at a stretch. She put on a little bit of weight as well.”
Besides Zoe’s behaviour, her grooming also suffered as a result of the pandemic lockdown. Das’s family took over bathing Zoe themselves, since they were apprehensive of having the regular helper come into their home to bathe and groom Zoe. “Their anal glands need to be cleaned and their nails need to be clipped during bathing sessions - for which you need a professional. Dogs can get sick if you don’t do that. Thankfully Zoe did not get sick at that time. If she did, we would have had to call in the helper… For a year or so, we didn’t cut her nails.”
“There was a shortage of pet food too, since people were hoarding dry dog food. For five or six months, Zoe had to switch to home food entirely, as opposed to her prior diet of dry dog food alongside our home food.”
Das also mentions that the number of pet parents and dog walkers that she used to see out during her walks with Zoe, dropped drastically during the pandemic.
Vatika is a dog behaviourist at Alfa 11, a pet care facility in Gurgaon. This facility that includes boarding provisions, training and behaviour school, and Vatika has worked here for about 7-8 years.
“The training part is more important than boarding, because the rate of dog bites towards their owners has really gone up,” she reveals. “People are abandoning their dogs, mainly because they don’t know how to handle it.”
Vatika agrees that “due diligence is not done before taking a pet.” She says that families must also consider their own habits before deciding on the breed of a pet dog. If an energetic breed is brought into a home that is primarily inactive, it will not be suitable for the dog.
She also stresses that liking the way a particular breed looks is never enough of a reason to bring it home as a pet.
“Problems like anxiety and depression have been highlighted during the pandemic, a lot of people have taken to dogs as their ‘saviours’, that also puts a lot of pressure on the dog,” she explains.
“It’s true that they give you comfort and all, but expecting this from all dogs is wrong. It’s a wrong expectation.” With the onset of the pandemic, she says the number of pets coming into Alfa 11 with such behavioural issues grew by 20-25 per cent. She has encountered many cases where the dog owners had to undergo plastic surgery after being bitten by their own pet.
“Dogs biting strangers is one thing, but the cases of dogs biting their own owners have really gone up.” Vatika also points out that such behavioural issues in pet dogs caused by neglect are not all due to the pandemic. “Most of these issues have always been there, but it is being highlighted now, because pet owners are spending more time at home with their pets, and seeing these problematic habits.”
“When we bring a dog into our homes, it’s our responsibility to understand what the dog really wants. And to learn how a dog communicates.” Vatika elaborates that for healthy growth, a pet dog needs regular physical exercise, socialising with other dogs and training from an early age. But most importantly, they need a schedule in their lifestyle, much like their humans.
“We see the world through our eyes, but dogs see the world through their noses. It’s very important for them to get different kinds of smells and stimulation, the absence of which will affect proper growth. We don’t say that we are ‘training’ our child, we say that we are ‘raising’ them,” explains Vatika, speaking of the neglect pets face at the hands of ill-informed pet parents.
She stresses that “dog training should not come into the picture only when there is a problem or after there is a problem.” She gets many calls from pet parents complaining that their dogs are misbehaving or biting. She explains that a dog does not start biting out of the blue, it will only be as a result of consistent neglect on the part of the pet parent.
“Ideally these calls should come when the owner has the thought that they are going to get a dog,” says Vatika. “You should not ask a breeder, you should not ask a doctor, you should not ask a vet, what breed is right for me. You should ask a trainer… A person considering getting a pet should have the question in their mind - who are they asking for advice?”