Pets, particularly dogs, have found favour with men and women as companions across the world since ancient times. In modern times, however, there has been a phenomenal increase in the number of pets in developed countries. The trend is catching on in India too.
Booming pets and pet business
A 2018 survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates the US has 90 million pet dogs, the largest in the world. Tel Aviv, Israel, on the other hand, has the global distinction of the highest number of dogs per capita. Tel Aviv has four dog-friendly beaches and 70 dog parks or one park per sq. km. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and European countries, possibly without exception, have highly favourable policies in respect of pets. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), maintaining a small dog costs about USD 1,314, a medium dog USD 1,580 and a large dog USD 1,843 in the first year and increases gradually. An increasing number of pet owners in the western world seek insurance policies for their pets and some insurance companies also offer group policies for pets.
The Indian urban population, too, has become equally inclined to own pets. Some estimates put the pet population above 15 million in 2016, expected to grow by about 600,000 each year. A concomitant fallout is the massive increase in demand for pet food, health products, and accessories. According to Euromonitor International, the pet food market rose to Rs 2,110 crore in 2019 compared with Rs 1,346 crore three years ago.
This pet boom has led to the proliferation of pet startups across the country. BarkNBond, an app currently available only in Mumbai, helps find all pet-related essentials – from veterinary clinics to pet-friendly cafes. CollarFolk helps to locate the right grooming and boarding services for dogs including a pet-friendly taxi for the trip. Doggie Dabbas is a one-stop-shop that provides home delivery of home-cooked pet food. Petdom offers end-to-end pet adoption services. Timeforpet.com caters exclusively to pet food, accessories and medical care. Waggle helps travelling pet parents find pet-friendly homes in the places they are visiting. Pack, another company, offers diverse services ranging from hydrotherapy and hostels to pet transportation and training clubs. They also have an exclusive pet resort for a pet to relax in its own room when the pet parent is not in town. Vivaldis Health and Foods manufactures and markets medicines for chronic pet diseases such as obesity, cancer, and arthritis.
Pet regulations – global cities vs urban India
A large number of cities in the developed world have well-enunciated pet policies mandating a set of DO’s and DON’Ts that are applicable to the ownership of pets. For instance, pet owners in Leeds, England, require written permission under the City Council’s Tenancy Agreement. Microchipping of dogs has been mandatory since 2016 and no type of property can have more than two cats or dogs. Similarly, the City of London has a Pet Policy of May 2017, which is reviewed every two years based on data and consultations. Toronto in Canada prescribes a set of regulations for owners of cats and dogs who need to comply with Animals Bylaw. The dogs must be licensed and the maximum number of dogs that can be owned is three. In the US, laws that regulate the ownership of pets are framed at the city level and are considered as lawful exercise of police power. Local regulation by municipalities is universally acknowledged as ideal since they are in a better position than the state to satisfy the specific needs of their citizens.
The absence of such rules and regulations in India has raised a slew of disputes that do not get adequately addressed, especially in cities where most pets have to be mostly kept within the confines of small apartments.
Currently, laws and guidelines are restricted to the Article 51A of the Constitution of India, Chapter 3 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), 1960, and the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI). According to Article 51A, “it shall be the duty of every citizen to have compassion for living creatures”. The Concurrent List of the Constitution enables both the Parliament and state legislatures to make laws for the prevention of cruelty to animals. Chapter 3 of PCA lists the responsibilities of the owner, non-observance of which, could invite fine or even imprisonment. The AWBI guidelines, among other parameters, account for sterilisation and vaccination, nuisance owing to excessive barking and mandate pet owners/handlers to clean up when the pet defecates in public premises. They also mandate the society to prepare timings when pets are allowed in gardens and parks.
However, most of these laws and guidelines remain toothless in the absence of specific city regulation. If each residential society comes up with its own bylaws/rules with regard to pets, it may result in unacceptable levels of variation in the same city. Given the rampant rise in the number of pets in cities, cities in India must frame specific rules and regulations based on the following broad recommendations.
City-level pet policy and regulations
i. Owners of pets should mandatorily register their pets with the society and disclose vital information about the pet, including its current photograph. A copy of the society’s own rules, as devised under the broad city regulations in regard to pets, may be handed over to the resident whenever she adopts a pet.
ii. The species of animals that are permissible in residential societies and the number of pets a society may allow may be stipulated. The objective must be to safeguard the quality of life of residents while not restricting the enjoyment of pet keeping.
iii. Commercialisation in the name of keeping pets and any breeding, selling or keeping them for any commercial use should be prohibited.
iv. In accordance with international norms, pets should be spayed or neutered on the completion of six months of age unless the procedure is deemed medically unsafe.
v. Pets cannot be allowed to roam free, be left unattended or locked out on yards or balconies while the owner is away.
vi. Pets must be leashed while being taken out.
vii The owner should immediately and mandatorily clean up if the pet defecates in an open area and discard the poop in designated areas in a manner prescribed by the society. Pet litter must neither be disposed of in toilets nor dropped down trash chutes.
viii No pet can be allowed to become a nuisance to neighbours. This nuisance could take several forms, some of them irritating and some others more serious.
ix. Residents should be made responsible for the pets of guests who visit their flats and also intimate the society of the same. The guest pets would be covered as per the applicable society rules.
x. In the first instance of violation of the pet regulations, it must be verbally pointed out to the violating member. If the violating member fails to comply, a notice may be served in writing by the social authorities to her/him. Further action may be determined by the society rules which may include fines, recovery or replacement of any damaged object, or other permitted penalties extending to the permanent removal of any pet.
The template cited above primarily focuses on pet dogs. However, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, and fish also find favour with families. The choice of pets of some individuals, however, may even include the bizarre and the exotic. In such matters, the city would have to evolve its regulations to cover new concerns as they arise.
The author is Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. Views are personal.
This article was first published on ORF.