Stroking a dog or cat causes the release of feel-good hormones. This can be traced back to our ancient history with primates where grooming one another was a major part of primate societies, and deep down the vestiges of this need to groom something hairy has remained in the recesses of our minds which is satisfied by stroking a dog or cat. This could be one of the many reasons why having companion animals is alluring for most humans. Parenting a companion animal has various benefits – for the animals in terms of giving them a better standard of living, and for humans like sensitisation towards animals and nature – and dates back centuries with accounts of royalty and nobility in the Middle Ages keeping animals and treating them with utmost care and the choiciest of foods. The growth of consumerism however saw the boom of the pet industry which has posed concerns for animal welfare over the past few years.
Over 30 million dogs and 3 million cats are kept as pets in India. The scale of suffering of companion animals in India is significant and widespread. The lack of proper care of animals leads to neglect and abuse, as many of the caregivers of these animals do not have enough knowledge about the ways to care for them. Poor living conditions (especially excessive confinement), lack of proper nutrition, and inadequate medical attention are all outcomes of this. The scale of companion animals is also exacerbated by the increase in abandonment of these animals due to the cultural belief that abandoning them is acceptable. This leads to animals being left on the streets and suffering from neglect and abuse. The scale of suffering of companion animals is a significant issue that needs attention and action from the government and the public to address and improve the lives of companion animals in India.
Illegal breeding of companion animals in India is a growing issue that contributes to the suffering of these animals. The trend of owning pedigree dogs or cats, or even exotic animals for that matter, has increased trait selection, illegal breeding of animals, and the illegal capturing and trade of wild animals. Despite there being laws in place, many shops all over the country operate illegally which by extension involves the disregard towards the welfare of the animals that are used for breeding. This type of breeding often takes place in inhumane conditions, with animals kept in cramped and unsanitary conditions. The breeders are often motivated by profit and ignore the welfare of the animals leading to widespread suffering. Cruel practices like forcing dogs to mate while restraining the females, enclosing them in tiny cages and unhygienic conditions where they develop diseases and behavioural disorders, and then finally abandoning them when they are deemed useless are all part of the illegal breeding industry. Constant inbreeding contributes to various birth defects or diseases in the animals that are either noticed when they are born which leads to them being killed due to non-profitability, or are noticed by the caregivers much later and lead to abandonment of the animal. Trait selection for the purpose of aesthetics pose a detriment to the health of the animals too, like respiratory issues caused in flat-faced animals. Illegal breeding also contributes to the overpopulation of companion animals in India, as the animals are mostly not sterilised and are often abandoned or sold to pet stores.
Each non-human animal has their own set of needs that becomes the caregiver’s responsibility to fulfil. However, the decision to have a companion animal is based on the simplistic idea that having a companion animal will de-stress the caregiver and bring joy to them. A lack of awareness and understanding into the wellbeing of the animal is a driving factor for abandoning or giving up an animal. According to a recent study by MARS Petcare, 34% of dogs and 32% of cats are abandoned on the streets of India. This can be significantly reduced by generating awareness and enabling pet-parent skills and knowledge. Animal Birth Control (ABC) for companion animals prevents them from contributing to issues of abandonment too. Increasing taxes on the purchase of breed dogs and incentivising adoption of street animals could also aid in reducing the problem.
Suffering by Species
Dogs and cats are the most affected species among companion animals as they are the most commonly kept companion animals in the country. These animals often suffer from malnutrition, disease, injuries, and abuse.
Dogs: Dogs in India face numerous challenges like lack of proper food, care, and medical attention. They are often abandoned and can suffer from mange, distemper, parvovirus, and other health issues. Additionally, they are susceptible to cruelty and abuse, such as being beaten, burned, poisoned, etc. Dogs like the Siberian Husky, German Shepherd, St Bernard, etc suffer from multiple health issues due to continuous breeding and the inability to adjust to the Indian climate.
Cats: Cats face similar challenges as dogs. They can suffer from malnutrition, injuries, and diseases while also being subjected to neglect and abuse. Like dogs, cat species that are bred for sale like Persian cats suffer from various health issues and are prone to being affected by Indian summers.
Other animals: Birds such as the Rose Ringed Parakeet, Alexandrine Parakeet, Red Munia, Jungle Myna are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act while the African Grey Parrot, Blue-Throated Macaw, Yellow-Crested Cockatoo are protected from international commercial trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wilf Fauna and Flora. Certain species of tortoises like the Indian Star Tortoise and turtles like the Read-Eared Slider are illegal to own. It is also illegal to own any native snake species in India. Monkeys, like other wildlife, are illegal to own. The lack of awareness about the legalities around breeding and pet trade combined with the lack of resources for their welfare, can result in neglect, abuse, and poor living conditions for these animals.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Pet Shop) Rules, 2018 mandates every pet shop to be registered with the State Animal Welfare Board, while the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Dog Breeding and Marketing) Rules, 2017 mandates every breeder to be registered with the State Animal Welfare Board. However, there is a need for stronger enforcement and increased public awareness about the dangers of buying from illegal breeders.
Encouraging the adoption of the Indian breed is the need of the hour. The implementation of existing laws against illegal breeding, and capacity building among the public regarding animal welfare and illegal breeding in addition to provision of better resources for companion animal care are major gaps that need to be filled urgently. Funding into these areas would help alleviate the suffering of these animals.
Is breeding legal in India?
Home breeding (backyard breeding) is illegal in India. There are laws and regulations that govern breeding in India where an individual requires legal licensing and certification. However, there are rampant cases of illegal backyard breeders who do not adhere any of these mandates.
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