New Delhi: The economy is by no means going to the dogs but the dogs are heading home.
Spurred by growing disposable incomes, middle-class and rich families are opening their hearts, homes and wallets for rare breeds of dogs, often imported.
As a result, pricey pedigrees have moved outside of dog shows and breeding farms, and into homes: dog owners in the country’s exclusive neighbourhoods can be seen walking English bulldogs, shih-tzus and bull mastiffs, which can cost a lakh of rupees or more, depending on the pedigree and the country from which it came.
Consider A.D. Sharma. During a business trip to the US a few months ago, Sharma made a special stop at a New Jersey breeder to pick up a gift for his daughter. He brought home Flevin, a golden retriever pup, which joined Phoenix, a two-year-old boxer from Phoenix, Arizona; British-born Gospel, an eight-year-old beagle, and Zidane, a two-year-old German shepherd.
“People are doing well and they devote more time to think about other things,” says Sharma, an information technology consultant. They are “becoming more discerning about their pets”.
What is clear, pet-shop owners and breeders say, is that breeds that are rare in India are gaining in popularity. “Nowadays people want chihuahuas”, said Khemchand Shrivastava, who owns Studio Pet Shop here. “They have a very big house, but they want a small dog.”
The price of a dog depends on its parentage. A pet quality German shepherd pup costs about Rs 5,000, while an adult champion from overseas can cost Rs50,000, said Dr T. Subhash Babu, founder and president of the Hyderabad Canine Club. That’s 66% more than the per capita income in India, which is less than Rs30,000.
A host of importers and local agents have sprung up to meet the needs of people who can’t find the dogs they’re looking for in India. Customers place orders with local pet stores or veterinarians who work with agents who, in turn, contact the importers.
Many puppies are flown in from Thailand, pet store owners and breeders say.
The dogs that come from the former Soviet Union are less expensive but they often arrive with illnesses because they are not used to the climate, pet store owners say. At Indian airports, importers often tell customs agents that the dogs are their own pets because India permits travellers to bring two pets without paying duty.
But the importers sometimes smuggle in as many as five puppies in duty-free bags, Maneka Gandhi, an MP and animal rights advocate, says. “There is a huge trade conducted out of Uzbekistan,” she says. They bring in 50 dogs a day. Typically, these are women who are looking for a holiday.
Hema Priya, director of the Central Board of Excise and Customs, says no dog has been seized at Indian airports. But she said people who follow the rules and bring dogs in as pets shouldn’t face any problems. Dog importers say they generally tell customs agents that they’re carrying pets.
Ratty Javeri, secretary of Indian National Kennel Club, said people who buy dogs from overseas don’t always know what they’re getting. “Dealers have cropped up; they import dogs from all sorts of countries or get pet-quality dogs without papers,” Javeri said. “Some of them are manufacturing papers from clubs from abroad.”
While accurate statistics are hard to get hold of, breeders have also popped up everywhere.“It’s a very big business,” says Bangalore veterinarian Michel Morton. “A lot of breeders in Bangalore make something like Rs 4- 5 lakh a month.”
In July, a two-month-old bullmastiff imported from Brazil fetched Rs 2.16 lakh at a local dog auction in Jaipur.