Meet the pawrents or pet parents

India has a new pet obsession. And it is growing. A massive tumour on Great Dane Pluto’s hind leg caused its owner to abandon the sick dog by the roadside in Noida

author_img Noor Anand Chawla Published :  16th January 2022 08:11 PM   |   Published :   |  16th January 2022 08:11 PM
Pawrent

Pet parent

India has a new pet obsession. And it is growing. A massive tumour on Great Dane Pluto’s hind leg caused its owner to abandon the sick dog by the roadside in Noida. Though soon rescued by the local animal welfare organisation, the gigantic beast’s leg was amputated to stall the spreading tumour. Grief-struck at being abandoned and losing a limb, this massive three-year-old dog was quickly losing the will to live.

Lawyer and former member of the Animal Welfare Board of India, Anjali Sharma, agreed to foster him for a month. That time was all it took for the mighty Pluto to embed himself in her household and the hearts of her family. “Pluto was a gentle giant—he was amazing with the senior members of our home, the smaller rescue dogs and even the cats.

He was perceptive and was generous with sharing his love, which was unconditional. People forget that animals aren’t objects, they are exactly like little children; they feel everything,” explains this passionate pet parent or ‘pawrent’, who has rescued and adopted over 15 dogs and a few cats over the last 10 years.

For riding instructor and founder of Gurugram-based Adagio Riding Stables, Rudrika Singh, it is horses. Unable to see the plight of the workhorses in central Delhi, most of which were malnourished, she has rescued a large number over the last 12 years and houses them in her spacious stables. She narrates the story of the pony Hazel, who was hit between its ears. Suspicious of all humans except Singh, it took a while for Hazel to let anyone touch his forehead—usually a favoured spot for horses to be petted. With tremendous patience and loads of TLC, Hazel is now confident and happy, and is everyone’s favourite at Adagio.

Twenty years ago, Hindustani classical singer and writer Vidya Rao’s cat Sufi, a stray kitten, wandered into her car, and adopted Rao as her pawrent. She says, “Just as in real life with people, we should not be judging animals by where they are born or by their pedigree. Pets are not meant to be status symbols, they enrich our lives. Which is the reason why we must adopt an animal and open our homes to it.”
Be it dogs, cats, birds, horses or rabbits, new-age pawrents are passionate about their adopted babies. With the pandemic causing a sea change in the lives of most people, the adoption of pets is higher than ever before in India. And unlike the usual pet owners, today’s pawrents are liberal both with their love and spending, in turn spurring the growth of the pet care industry spanning pet food, products, and scores of wellbeing and healthcare services for pets.

The Big Dogs
According to Petex, an organiser of pet care exhibitions, India is the fastest-growing market for pet care. Across the country, in small towns and cities, new pet shops have sprung up cheek by jowl. A recent survey by Rakuten Insight revealed that 59 percent of respondents owned a pet. The ‘India Pet Care Market Outlook, 2021-26’ report states that this market’s value is expected to rise to Rs 7,500 crore by 2026. Reasons for this phenomenal jump are the increase in pet ownership during the pandemic, a growing number of nuclear families and double-income households, and lifestyle changes like delayed parenthood and rising mental health issues.

A study by Statista shows that the dog segment is the traditional favourite, accounting for more than half the market share followed by cats and birds. Even the rabbit segment is expected to grow by more than 26 percent anticipated CAGR in the upcoming financial period. Sanjeev Kumar, animal welfare activist, founder of nationwide pet spa chain Scoopy Scrub and co-host of DD National’s show Best Friend Forever, shares there has been an increase in the ownership of birds in the last few years—both Indian and exotic varieties. However, Gurmeet Singh, co-founder of pet store Canine Care in Delhi’s plush Neeti Bagh Colony disagrees, “Dogs and cats are most popular. All others pets—birds, rabbits or anything else—are a very small fraction of pets chosen.”

At the heart of a successful pet business is the love of a pet. Rashi Narang’s journey into pet care retail began when her dog Sara entered her life over a decade ago. Narang credits the affection showered on her by the Labrador that made her want to give back to animals. She founded Heads Up For Tails (HUFT) in 2008 in a tiny kiosk at Select Citywalk Mall in Delhi, before tying up with Sandeep Atmaram and Ridhima Coelho, founders of Paws The Pet Store in Bengaluru in 2016. Five years on, the team is 41 stores strong in nine Indian cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad. Apart from retailing over 80 brands through their stores and website, their team of pet experts have created over ‘100 first Indian pet products’ and also run grassroots projects, including sterilisation drives, feeding programmes, adoption drives and other social welfare measures through their HUFT Foundation. In 2021, they bagged the largest funding received by an Indian pet care brand so far—a whopping $37 million.

HUFT, PetSutra and Amazon have become established players in the pet care retail market, but after Covid-19, the projected growth rate attracted many newbies to the game. “The pandemic led to more people adopting pets because the lockdown brought with it isolation and mental health issues for many people. Since most people were working from home, it was easier to take care of a new family member. New pet parents are curious and want more credible information about raising their four-legged friends the right way, which is where we come in,” explains Varun Sadana, co-founder of Bengaluru-based online pet care retail platform supertails.com. Though launched in July 2021, the venture has received a $2.6million investment through a handful of angel investors.

The researchandmarkets.com analysis shows that the pandemic gave a boost to e-tailers over traditional pet stores around the country. The fear of contracting the coronavirus forced Indian pet owners to stay away from large store-based retailers and choose e-retailers, followed by local pet shops. Interestingly, a survey by Businesswire notes that 47 percent of e-shoppers said that they would continue buying their pet food from e-retailers even after the pandemic period. In light of these changes, pets have become pricier.

“My son wanted a pair of guinea pigs for his fifth birthday. Since there was no question of adopting such exotic creatures, we bought a pair from a fancy pet store. When one guinea pig died, we wanted to purchase a new one to keep the other from slipping into depression. We rushed to a roadside local bird and rabbit seller, who happened to have a guinea pig—his last. We were shocked to learn the price; it was four times less than what we had paid previously at the pet store,” exclaims a young mother based in Chennai.

With many pawrents willing to indulge their newfound passion, pet stores are going the extra mile. Last September saw the launch of Bark’ode in Thiruvananthapuram, which at 40,000 sq ft is South India’s largest pet retail concept store. It boasts a specialised tasting counter for pets with treats. Potential pet parents can be connected to trusted breeders and new pet owners can meet certified trainers through the store. Apart from significant expansion plans in the state, Bark’ode is working on opening a play area for pets, and a pet clinic.

Brindha Vijayakumar from Coimbatore realised that pawrents appreciate premium products for their pets. She launched her own brand Filo Milo, based on Ayurvedic principles in 2020. Now, her products are sold across South India and on Amazon. Mumbai-based hospitality professional Sachin Shetty and animal nutritionist Anjali Kalachand joined hands to launch A Petter Life last year—an e-pet store that helps people make guided purchases from a selection of homegrown pet brands, provides nutritional guidance for the animals, and offers holistic remedies for their ailments. The store’s popular services include listing information on the general characteristics of different pet breeds, illnesses each breed is predisposed towards and potential healing processes using holistic remedies. Tailored diets are provided to promote general pet well-being or to combat illness, as are pet foods at a discount for good Samaritans who feed the indies in their neighbourhoods.

Adopt, Don’t Shop
Delhi-based pawrents Nupur Arya and Robin Vijeshwar grew up with pets at home. Their most recent adoption is a pandemic pet—a Golden Retriever called Wally, which they adopted from a friend. They highlight that during the last tough two years, pets helped to combat loneliness and depression in the absence of social interactions. With family far away, pets were sole companions for many people during the festive season. At virtual birthday parties, they were the only friends who could offer them warmth. When people were forced to adopt the work-from-home environment, pets even took on the role of fun colleagues.

Global statistics show that millennials and Gen-Z were responsible for the highest pet adoption rates post-pandemic, with the latter constituting 10 percent of the Indian pet adoption market. Professional dog trainer and founder trustee of the We Exist Foundation, Tejshree Savara, sees a tremendous difference in today’s pet owners. She says, “Pet parents nowadays are different from the ones 5-10 years ago. They are more informed, keen to put in the effort and time in raising their pets the right way and most importantly, open to the idea of adoption.”

The We Exist Foundation was launched by Savara in 2018 as a not-for-profit organisation to help the street dog community through its initiatives. Its sister brand We Exist sells homegrown pet products. An animal lover since childhood, Savara gave up her job as an arts and antiquities lawyer to pursue her true calling which she has done admirably over the last few years. Two of her recent rescues are from a sleepy little town called Pilkhuwa in Uttar Pradesh—street dogs which were beaten mercilessly in unrelated incidents. Dilawar lost an eye and needed reconstructive surgery for his jaw, and Zain’s spine was injured leaving his hind legs paralysed. After major rehabilitation, as part of which Zain got a wheelchair cart, he found a permanent home. Dilawar is well and on the lookout for a good home. Such changes in people’s view towards animal adoption prompted Savara to add a new vertical to We Exist in 2021. She now trains dogs and guides pawrents to understand their dogs better by creating a positive and enriching relationship with them.

However, personalised training, though effective, is out of reach for a number of pawrents, due to financial constraints or lack of access to good trainers in their cities. Supertails addresses this problem by providing online pet training at reasonable hourly rates, where animal behaviour experts engage the pet owner in understanding their pet’s behaviour, thus equipping them to train their dogs themselves. This eliminates one of the biggest challenges of traditional pet training services, where pets get used to following the trainer and not the owner.

The increased involvement of owners in their pets’ lives is evident in other ways, too. The Bakshis were proud pawrents to their dog Coffee. When their first child was born, they were keen to forge a bond between the two from the beginning. They hired the services of Prathima Pingalli, a Mumbai-based photographer who owns Pawparazzi that specialises in pet photography to shoot their newborn baby and Coffee. The love between the gentle dog and the sleeping infant is evident in the photos. She says, “When I started out three years ago, the majority of people I met kept dogs for security or just for show. But as the years passed and my client base grew, I’ve seen people treating dogs as their kids. I’ve done cake smashes, maternity and pet shoots, adventure shoots, and more. But the change I love the most in people is the awareness towards adoption. Fifty percent of my clients have either rescued a pet from cruel situations or chosen a dog from a shelter.”

Dial Woof for Wellness
Mumbai-based Shilpa was an involved pawrent to her dog Milo when he was alive; a large section of her Instagram page is dedicated to pet-related snippets. Last year, she shared her experience of a stay with him in Wag-A-Bond, a pet-first nature retreat. Situated in the foothills of the Bhimashankar Wildlife Reserve in Karjat, Maharashtra, the place suited the stranger-shy but energetic Milo. Where other pet-friendly resorts mainly cater to humans, and the dogs have to be on a leash most of the time, Wag-A-Bond allows them to run free, play, be mischievous and do whatever their heart desires. Kannagi Shanbag, veterinary anaesthesiologist and founder, says, “People love our place because we address many small but meaningful factors with pets.

We strongly believe in the five freedoms of animal welfare—freedom from hunger and thirst; discomfort; pain, injury, and disease; fear, distress; and the freedom to express normal and natural behaviour. These constitute the foundation of Wag-A-Bond.” Shanbag’s venture addressed a need in the market, and its success was driven by her background. Others followed suit with pet-friendly services and products to make pawrenting easier and more enjoyable. Hyderabad-based Atul Kabra makes doodle art under his brand @DoodleKabra for pet cafes and pet parents that showcase their bond. He shares that be it birthday parties, shopping, vacations or creating memory doodles, pet owners are willing to go the distance. Pingalli agrees since she travels across the country for commissioned photo shoots. Ranjani Singh-Naidu runs Heads and Tails in Hyderabad with branches in Bengaluru.

This dedicated pet-merchandise store sells cute jackets, bowties, and sweatshirts that come with padding and water-resistant jackets with velcro fasteners. Business is booming with many pawrents even opting to give these as return gifts for dog and cat birthdays. Nishma Singhal from Surat opened Zoivane that sells pet shampoos and other grooming products along with special products that claim to help with pet aggression. Their unique potty-training spray is a hot favourite.

Not just pictures and clothes, pets are now getting their favourite snacks too. Yashika Arora founded Paw Petisserie in Delhi, driven by her own concerns as a pet parent. Wary of toxic ingredients that caused health and skin issues in animals, she now sells the cakes, cupcakes and treats made with pet-safe ingredients, which she bakes herself. However, the spectrum of pet wellness is not limited just to products. Nisha Jaggi of @ReviveWithBowen is India’s first and only Bowen therapist for animals, having studied it in Australia. Bowen Therapy helps to manage arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other musculoskeletal issues of animals.

“It is a holistic remedial physical technique that works on the soft connective tissue (fascia) of the body. These treatments are very gentle but work fast to relieve pain in the body without the use of forceful manipulation making it exceptionally safe. I treat dogs, cats and horses,” she reveals. Over the years, this Gurugram-based therapist has built a steady clientele indicating the openness of pawrents to try alternate support for their pets along with veterinary care.

Traditional veterinary care in the country is also changing. DCC (Dogs Cats & Companions) Animal Hospital, a multi-speciality pet healthcare facility, unveiled its flagship facility in Gurugram in February 2021. The hospital, promoted by Japan/Singapore-based company A’alda, offers emergency, in-patient and out-patient facilities for all pets. With its ambitious country-wide expansion plan, the hospital seeks to address the problem of the shortage of skilled veterinarians. Ohhun Kwon, COO and Director of the company, says, “One veterinarian in India has to care for about 7,000 pets, whereas in Japan, the ratio is about 1:1,100. While the number of pets is expected to grow at an average rate of more than 11 percent per year, the number of veterinarians is limited by the number of veterinary colleges. Hence, it is difficult to expand the supply to meet the demand.” The company is adopting technology extensively and attracting the best pet healthcare experts to the hospital.

Pet Peeves
However, in spite of the positive changes, all is not well in India’s pet land. The beginning of the pandemic saw a large number of people abandoning their pets due to misinformation and fear of catching the virus. Rising unemployment and financial crunches contributed to this mass abandonment.
The first-ever survey of Pet Homelessness was conducted by Mars Petcare India in 2021. It estimates that 80 million cats and dogs are homeless in the country. The survey gives India an index ranking of 2.4 on a 10-point scale. Though pet ownership slowly increased after the pandemic, most people preferred to buy pedigree dogs and cats instead of adopting them from animal shelters. In fact, shelters that recorded a high rise in adoption rates during the pandemic have seen a return of many of the animals, with nearly 50 percent of surveyed adopters who returned to their pre-Covid lifestyle saying that they are unprepared to take care of their new pets. Some of them callously dumped the animals in crowded marketplaces, parks and on roadsides.

Pia Sharma, the adoption coordinator at Delhi’s Friendicoes SECA, says, “Many adopted kittens or pups from the streets because they were lonely, and when they went back to work they thought it would be best to leave those animals in a shelter. It doesn’t work like that! If you adopt a pet, it’s a long-term commitment you have to be prepared for.” Robin Vijeshwar, who believes that every transition comes with an uncomfortable period of flux, adds, “Many first-time parents do not fully appreciate the amount of responsibility being a pawrent entails, which is perhaps why many of the pets were abandoned. Unfortunately, we come across horror stories of animal abuse, perhaps indicative of the fact that though we are metamorphosing as a nation in pet ownership, the process may take more time.”

Cruelty and inhumane conditions are cause for concern when pet care is approached more as a business and less as a lifestyle change. Mumbai’s Puppy Cuddles Dog Café was recently shut down following allegations that their dogs were being caged, hit, and denied adequate food. Though meant as stand-ins for animal companionship for people who cannot keep pets at home, such places receive a lot of flak for not taking proper care of their boarders.

There is a long way to go before India can be called a ‘pet-friendly’ nation. Shanbag of Wag-A-Bond sums it best, “We have to educate more people about basic animal welfare first. I think being ‘pet friendly’ comes much later. We must learn to co-exist with all animals before we can move ahead.” Give a dog a good name, and hanging out with him should do for a start.

“The pandemic led to more people adopting pets because the lockdown brought with it isolation and mental health issues for a lot of them. New pet parents want more credible information around raising a pet the right way, which is where we come in.”

Varun Sadana, Co-founder, supertails.com
Launched in July 2021, this Bengaluru-based online pet care retail platform has already received a $2.6-million investment

“Pet parents nowadays are different from those of 5-10 years ago, as they are more informed, keen to put in the effort and time in raising their pets correctly, and importantly, open to the idea of adoption.”
Tejshree Savara Professional Dog Trainer and Founder Trustee, The We Exist Foundation

The foundation launched in 2018 works for the upliftment of the street dog community through its initiatives. Its sister brand We Exist sells homegrown pet products. Savara gave up her job as an arts and antiquities lawyer to pursue her true calling.

Her recent rescues: Dilawar and Zain, street dogs, from Pilkhuwa in Uttar Pradesh, who were beaten mercilessly in unrelated incidents

“It is a holistic remedial physical technique that works on the soft connective tissue (fascia) of the body. These treatments are very gentle but work fast to relieve pain in the body without the use of forceful manipulation making it exceptionally safe. I practice on dogs, cats and horses.”

Nisha Jaggi Bowen therapist for animals, Gurugram
Over the years, the Australia-trained therapist has built a steady clientele indicating the openness of pawrents to try alternate support for their pets along with veterinary care. Bowen Therapy helps manage arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other musculoskeletal issues in animals.

Sachin Shett y Hospitality Professional
Anjali Kalachand Animal Nutritionist
Co-founders, A Petter Life, Mumbai

Launched last year, the e-pet store helps people make guided purchases from a selection of homegrown pet brands, provides nutritional guidance, and offers holistic remedies for ailments. Their popular services include information on the general characteristics of pet breeds, the ailments the breed is predisposed towards and holistic remedies.

Nish ma Singhal Founder, Zoivane, Surat
They sell pet shampoos and other grooming products along with special products that claim to help with pet aggression by keeping them calm. Zoivane’s unique potty-training spray is a hot favourite.

Brindha Vijayakumar
Founder, Filo Milo, Coimbatore

Based on the principles of Ayurveda, the brand was launched in 2020. Its products are sold at shops
across South India, and on Amazon.

Yash ika Ar ora Founder, Paw Petisserie, Delhi
Wary of toxic ingredients that caused health and skin issues of pets, she began baking cakes, cupcakes and treats which contained only pet-safe ingredients

Atul Kabra
Pet Doodle Artist, Hyderabad

His brand @DoodleKabra does doodles for pet cafes and pet parents. He says whether it is birthday parties, shopping, vacations or creating memory doodles—pawrents are willing to go the distance.

“When I started out three years ago, the majority of people I met had dogs for security purposes or just for show. But as the years passed and my client base grew, I’ve seen people treating dogs as their kids. I’ve done cake smashes, maternity and pet shoots, adventure shoots, and more.”

Prathima Pingalli Photographer, Mumbai
Her brand Pawparazzi specialises in pet occasion photography

“Pets are not meant to be status symbols, they enrich our lives. Which is the reason why we must adopt an animal and open our homes to it.”
Vidya Rao Hindustani classical singer and writer She found her panacea in her cat Sufi—a beautiful stray kitten who wandered into her car and adopted Rao as her pawrent

The pandemic lifestyle is producing a national pet care boom with Indians choosing animal companions of all shapes, sizes and species, products and services on an unprecedented scale. There is some heartbreak too.

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