The growing breed of pet parents
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Kolkata: Chartered accountant Punita Ruparel, 31, had planned to go on a vacation abroad last year when she realized she had a new challenge—what to do with her pet dog Ronnie, an Indian Spitz. She couldn’t take him along and she wasn’t willing to leave him with a kennel service.
When she was doing an online search to find a family that would keep her dog for two weeks, she came across Waggle.in, an online community that connects dog owners with dog sitters.
So impressed was she with Waggle’s service, that Mumbai-based Ruparel decided to give up her stable job in a chartered accountancy firm in order to make hosting dogs a full-time profession.
Ruparel and others like her are among a growing number of “pet parents”—providing assurance, comfort and some level of exclusivity—for people who want to leave their pets with families or sitters instead of in kennels while they are away.
Consequently, a lot of pet lovers in cities such as Bengaluru, Mumbai, New Delhi and Pune have also found an alternative or additional source of income. Some of them have not just left seemingly lucrative careers to do this, but have been successful enough to form their own little businesses and are hiring people to help them do the job.
While Ruparel’s monthly income has gone up marginally from what she previously earned to around Rs1 lakh per month now, she is happy to do something she really loves and is passionate about.
“I learnt about Waggle when I was looking for a pet sitter. I initially registered as a client but now I’m a host myself,” she says, adding that she gets a lot of queries through Waggle as well as other referrals.
Ruparel charges Rs1,000-1,500 per day, depending on the breed (whether the pet is small or large in size). While maximum queries are for pet care during vacations, weekends and festival months, she is booked for nearly 15-20 days in a month. Since she lives with her parents, she runs her business on her own with support from her family members.
While Ruparel’s love for animals has encouraged her to take up hosting pets professionally, for Bengaluru-based Bhavna Batra, 38, hosting is not for professional reasons but to add a lot more fun and happiness to her family.
Batra, a customized Feng Shui painter, has a pet dog of her own—a German Shepherd called Duke. She registered as a client with Waggle last October when she was looking for a family to keep her pet for a few days.
Meanwhile, her husband and son were keen on getting another pet and that is when she decided to host pets at her house. “Having another pet is not an option as I have other engagements. Hosting dogs solves this problem,” Batra points out. “It makes my family happy and gives me a lot of positive energy, which I can put into my work.”
Batra hosts around two pets in a month for a fixed charge of Rs900 per day. In a month, she is booked normally for 20 days. The charges usually include food, walking the dog, consultation with a veterinarian in case of an emergency and other requirements made by pet owners.
Various studies and research have pointed towards the benefits of having a pet, including companionship and positive energy, something Batra also speaks of, besides therapeutic advantages. The world may be divided into dog people or cat people, but animal lovers are equally affectionate to others’ pets as well.
Like Ajit Swain, an animal lover and a pet owner himself, who converted his huge but empty house in Pune into a pet boarding.
Swain, 24, and his sister grew up among cats and dogs. When he moved to Gujarat from Odisha with his family, and later to Pune, he missed being surrounded by his three pets—two German Shepherds Jigar and Love, and Johnie, a mix of Labrador and Golden Retriever—who are now with his parents in Surat. With his family away, he was left wondering how he could fill the space he had.
Currently a product and operations manager with Pune-based online pet care service provider Woofbnb.com, Swain decided to register his house with the portal, which offers various pet services such as grooming, walking, an online store for products as well as coordination between pet owners and sitters.
Now a pet boarding venue, Swain’s house hosts seven-eight dogs in a week, sometimes even 12, under the care of two sitters, employed by him. His charges are not too steep, fixed at Rs350 per day. His two employees work only as sitters—he needs them because he cannot do the hosting by himself.
Swain left a job as a quality analyst with a London-based firm to join Woofbnb last year. The job in the UK was too demanding and did not leave him time to do anything else. Also, the prospect of working for pets was exciting.
Registering his house with the portal has opened up another source of income for Swain and jobs for the sitters. “I brought them from Odisha and Gujarat where they were looking for jobs,” he says, adding that he pays each sitter Rs8,000 per month.
Though the online pet care platform is still growing slowly, around 17 firms have come up in the last three years, according to Tracxn Technologies Pvt. Ltd, a start-up service information provider.
Waggle, which works as a facilitator between owners and hosts, gets a 10% commission fee from sitters registered on its platform. Set up in 2013, around 250 hosts across Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune and Delhi are registered with it at present.
Arjun Mathai, co-founder of Waggle, says a lot of people are not willing to leave their dogs with kennels when they go for vacation. This is where platforms like Waggle operate and help to link pet owners with pet hosts—like an Airbnb for dogs.
Woofbnb, on the other hand, is a complete pet care provider which charges according to the services provided. Though its grooming and walking services and online stores are limited to Pune, the pet sitting services are available across the country. The website charges a 10% commission from the hosts. Started in September last year, it has around 2,000-3,000 customers across verticals.
According to Anshul Goenka, founder of Woofbnb, a lot of hosts registering with his portal are pure pet lovers, working professionals who can keep pets on weekends and even students interested in working temporarily.
Kiran Salve was working as an insurance apprentice in Pune before he came across Woofbnb on Facebook. To better support his wife and child, he decided to give it a shot and started working as a part-time dog walker with the portal for six months, before he was permanently hired by Woofbnb.
While there wasn’t much change in his income, which is around Rs16,000 per month, 29-year-old Salve says his life is far more comfortable now than before. “In the insurance sector, there was no fixed timing, whereas here it is a scheduled time for dog-walking and I get weekly days off,” he explains, and adds that a promotion as an area coordinator is also on the cards.
While most of these online facilities have come up in northern, western and southern parts of India, Kolkata-based dog behavioural expert Abhishek Verma is working independently and providing livelihoods to many people from economically vulnerable families.
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Though it started as a hobby, Verma, a software engineer, not just trains and grooms aggressive dogs but also trains those who want to make a living out of this. “Pet owners come to me when they are on the verge of giving up on their dogs. I train the dogs and send them back to their owners,” he says. The job’s no walk in the park—he has been bitten “178 times” by aggressive dogs till date.
According to Verma, currently he has 16 people undergoing training—it’s merely a learning experience, like an unpaid internship. They are taught how to walk and groom dogs, and post-training, can offer independent services to customers. Verma prices his services depending on customers’ profiles.
Swain of Woofbnb, too, receives queries to host dogs on a part-time basis. “I have a host, who is a student, working part-time for Rs200 per day,” he says.
Given the demand, Ruparel and Swain are thinking of adding one more house to make it into a pet boarding home. Verma, too, is exploring a similar option.
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Like everything in life, there are exceptions—not everyone is ready to leave their pets with unknown hosts. Partha Pratim Pal, a businessman and a client of behavioural expert Verma, says he cannot leave his dogs with kennels or host families.
Pal has six dogs under Verma’s “treatment” and spends Rs40,000-45,000 per month on them, excluding food. “Two years ago, all of them became aggressive and that is when Abhishek offered immense help,” he says, adding that he is not comfortable with the idea of leaving his pets overnight, even with Verma.
“I have this mental block,” say Pal, adding that all his family members do not take vacations together. So if, for example, he is on a vacation with his wife and younger daughter, his elder daughter and mother stay back to take care of the dogs.
This is the third of a four-part series on how micro-entrepreneurs are using their skills to become independent and provide employment to others.