Last week, California introduced a new rule that requires pet stores to sell pet animals, including cats and dogs, only if they came from animal shelters or not-for-profit rescue groups. California is probably the first region anywhere to take such an initiative. “Big win for our four-legged friends,” said the assemblyman who introduced the bill.
India’s policies on pet trade lag California’s by decades. The country, which had no rules to regulate the business, has just set up standards for animal housing and care, with the union environment ministry notifying the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Pet Shop) rules, 2018. Among other things, the rules regulate the shadowy and often cruel world of pet shops. Pet traders will have to register with the government. Shops are required to keep records of breeders and suppliers — microchipping animals to track them — as well as maintain reports for mortalities among animals.
But state governments have not even started implementing the rules. “The 60-day deadline for all pet shops and breeders to register ended in November. In Maharashtra, not even one dog breeder or pet shop has registered. Maharashtra is in violation of the rules,” said Gauri Naulekhi, director trustee, People for Animals. “On the other hand, there are thousands of online sites advertising pet shops and breeders.”
N G Jayasimha, member, Maharashtra Animal Welfare Board (AWB) said that the board, which will be the agency to register pet shops, will start the work soon. “We had a meeting recently and have now actively started the process,” said Jaysimha. “You cannot expect change overnight. To me, it is because the (pet) market has never been regulated. We did not want a kneejerk reaction.”
Pet trade across the world is a cruel business that animal lovers would like to shut down. According to a report by Humane Society International/India, published by Hindustan Times last year, animals destined to become pets are transported and kept in inhumane conditions. The creatures are denied a veterinarian’s care if they become sick or injured. Females are kept in confinement and forced to breed multiple times, wreaking their health in the process.
Babies are separated from mothers soon after birth, leading to high mortality rates. Animals are transported or kept in small containers with inadequate access to food and water. Animals can be mutilated to make them ‘safe’, with practices like de-beaking, tail-docking, feather plucking, nail clipping and de-clawing, the report said. Once sold, pets that land up with insensitive owners suffer more cruelty. Naulekhi said that she had come across reports of animals kept in cruel conditions by owners.
“Breeds like St Bernard and Huskies (which are native to cold climates) are kept in balconies in Delhi’s summer heat when the owners go to work,” she said.
In light of these cruel practices, animal rights activists said that banning pet trade and breeding will be the right thing to do. “Some people compensate for their lack of self-confidence by buying an exotic breed,” said Naulekhi. “This could be changing; educated people are adopting Indian dogs.”
“The California rule is a great message; India is a probably a couple of decades away. We have been trying to promote adoption of pets over buying,” said Jayasimha, who said that it is easy to buy a pet in India because prices are cheap. The new regulations could make the trade more expensive and convince more Indians to adopt local breeds rescued from the streets, said Jayasimha. “It should be a matter of pride with one less dog on the street.” Naulekhi said that since India has been struggling to regulate the pet trade, the new rules are welcome. “The regulations have come after years of struggle by animal lovers. We should focus on this,” she added.
“The ideal case scenario is what happened in California. We go step by step. To do away with all kinds of pet trade — logically, legally and environmentally — this is the right thing to do.”