Twenty-seven-year-old Sheetal has had Bruno since she was 18. The Rottweiler is her brother, friend, and support system all in one, especially on the days when she’s plagued by anxiety attacks. But on Tuesday, her worried parents told her that she may have to “go away for sometime” to her grandparents’ house in Meerut. The District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum in Gurugram ordered the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram to ban pet dogs of 11 breeds starting 15 November.
The corporation identified the so-called ‘bully breeds’ who have acquired a bad reputation over the years. Rottweilers were on the list, which also included American Pit Bull Terriers, Dogo Argentino, Neapolitan Mastiff, Boerboel, Presa Canario, Wolfdog, Bandog, American Bulldog, Fila Brasileiro and Cane Corso.
The order came after a domestic worker was attacked and critically injured in Delhi’s Civil Lines area by a Dogo Argentino in August. The forum has also ordered the MCG to give interim compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the woman. It also said that if the MCG wants, the compensation amount could be recovered from the dog owner.
The diktat has exposed the divisions among Gurugram’s well-heeled. On the one hand, pet owners who’ve spent lakhs on these breeds are worried about how this will play out and what it means for their pets. And on the other, there are families who see these dogs as a safety risk and are demanding that Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) and societies start enforcing the rule without delay. But it’s not so cut and dry. Many senior lawyers have expressed surprise over the consumer forum passing a directive that it technically does not even have the power to do. And even animal rights activists, who have always argued against the sale of foreign breeds in India, say that this has not been well thought out.
“This is absolutely heartbreaking. Bruno is so gentle, and even if you irritate him, he will probably roll over the floor. All the people around us love him, including our newspaper guy,” says Sheetal, who works at a multinational company in Gurugram.
Rohan Sharma, a resident of Sector 54 Gurugram, saved up for years to buy a Boerboel in 2019. This large, muscular South African mastiff is known for its strength and agility. “Other people want cars and bikes. I always wanted a Boerboel and saved up to buy Shrek,” he says. But Shrek is now on the banned list.
Sharma’s society has already started issuing directions about such dogs, and while he is currently staying at his parents’ home in Himachal Pradesh, the recent developments have worried him. “I cannot leave him with my parents. How can the authorities arbitrarily decide something like this?” he asks.
Animal activists are worried that people may abandon their dogs. Those who find the hassle too much might actually lock up their breeds, possibly aggravating the issue by making their pets more aggressive, they say.
Lucknow to NCR
The ban in Gurugram is just another in a series of recent orders that have been passed across NCR after a July incident in which a Lucknow Pitbull, named Brownie, bit its owner’s mother who subsequently died later due to the injuries.
The Noida Authority recently passed an order that fines dog owners Rs 10,000 plus treatment charges in case their pets bite someone. Ghaziabad, too, banned three breeds — Pitbull, Dogo Argentino, and Rottweiler.
Owners who have paid a premium for these breeds, a status symbol for many, without any knowledge about the care and training they need, often abandon them. Such instances shot up after the Lucknow incident.
“There have been knee-jerk reactions after the Lucknow incident, and now families are either not confident about handling even very friendly Pitbulls or family members now face opposition. Now, Pitbulls are not even being adopted anymore,” says Tandrali Tuli, head of adoption department at Friendicoes, an animal welfare organisation in Delhi.
Tuli points out that breeders and irresponsible owners are equally to blame in such cases. Breeders, driven by profit, often continue breeding dogs without conducting proper checks on their genetic history or bloodline. As a result, they are more likely to breed puppies that may develop health problems later.
And as for owners, buying a dog without proper knowledge about its breed or temperament can prove disastrous, as recent incidents have shown. But a blanket ban is definitely not the solution, according to Tuli. “It is impractical. It is not like people can no longer get new dogs, but that they can’t have them anymore. This will mean families will be forced to either give up dogs or the city,” she says.
One family, one dog policy
The Gurugram forum also issued directions on the ownership of dogs such as a mandatory metal chains and tokens for all canines and one family being allowed to have only one dog.
Pet parents of multiple dogs are now worried.
“I have two Labradors, and with this direction, I do not understand what am I supposed to do. I cannot give one of them up. We might have to shift out if this comes through,” says Rati Tandon, who lives in DLF Phase 3 Gurugram.
People with multiple properties do not really face problems under this new directive. They can register different dogs under different properties.
Nikunj Sharma, CEO of Mercy for Animals, points out that while the forum decided to put an end to dog attacks by presumably ‘ferocious’ breeds, it has bred another form of cruelty. “Asking dogs to be muzzled for longer durations is extremely cruel. Dogs cool down by breathing through their mouth, and longer durations of muzzling may result in heat strokes,” he says.
Tandon is not the only one affected by the sweeping instructions of the order. Mihika Soni regularly feeds the three strays in her society who she found on a cold December night in 2020.
“They were shivering, and I rescued them, covered them in blankets and have been feeding them since then. I do not understand how such a direction can be passed. It means that Joey, Rambo and Sushi will be taken away. This is inhuman,” she adds.
People regularly feed stray dogs in the area, and feeders also often fall at the receiving end of RWAs’ aggression for feeding them. The fear of being attacked by dogs has been on the rise. However, not every RWA shares the same opinion. “Dogs are like family members for pet owners. This arbitrary decision makes no sense, legally or otherwise. We have also written to the MCG commissioner for further directives but have received no response,” says Dhruv Bansal, administrator and spokesperson for the RWA of DLF Phase 1 to 5 and DLF Qerwa.
Problem goes deeper
While existing laws require breeders to have proper certification, many do not possess the requisite attestation. High rates of abuse are also often recorded in many breeding facilities. The highly unregulated trade and corruption in the sales of fancy dogs means the problem is not just on the surface.
Dog breeders are not happy with the decision either. “Humare pait pe laat mar diya hai (It’s a real jolt to us),” says Devendra Tanwar, a dog breeder from Gurugram. His breeding service deals with Pitbulls and has provided many families with healthy dogs, he claims. “Our dogs have never received any complaint. We take utmost care to check out genetic origins and temperament before handing over any puppy.”
It is a steep investment to breed many of the banned varieties of the dogs and can cost upwards of 1 lakh if done properly. Depending on the breeder and the parentage, a good-quality Pitbull can cost nearly Rs 90, 000 while a Dogo Argentino can cost Rs 2 lakh.
The legal standpoint and ‘realistic’ solutions
The forum has treated all MCG taxpayers as consumers in order to pass the judgment. That in itself is a flawed reading of ‘consumer’, according to senior advocate Saurabh Kirpal.
“The person who has passed the order does not even have the authority to do so. The order can easily be overturned if someone files a petition. But it is a sheer waste of time and resources,” he adds.
Animal rights organisations like PETA underscore the need for authorities to protect breeds that are often used for dogfights but also pointed out that some of the recommendations are “unhelpful”.
“While we agree with some of the recommendations of the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission to protect vulnerable dogs and responsible guardianship like picking up after one’s dog, some of the directions demonise them, which is unhelpful,” says a spokesperson from PETA.
Meanwhile, animal shelters are worried about the influx of dogs that they will see if the ban is enforced. “Shelters do not have either the staff or capacity to take on so many dogs, strays or abandoned. There is also the risk of quick spread of infection,” says Mansi Rautela of Wagging Tails Foundation. It appears that the forum has tried to make a point without actually consulting animal activists, lawyers, or even being aware of the ground reality of animal shelters in NCR.
While everyone awaits the actual implementation of the order, some have offered viable solutions. “People who want such breeds can actually work with trainers to understand and provide for their pets,” says Parvathity Rajendran who takes care of strays at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The issue is highly complicated, and there are no straightforward solutions. The consumer forum’s directive has added more layers to the problem and increased the possibility of people abandoning dogs. While the matter awaits further action, pet owners like Rati, Sheetal, and Rohan will continue to spend sleepless nights over the fear of losing their furry babies.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)