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The ugly cost of a cute puppy

The rising demand for exotic dogs has fuelled illegal backyard breeding where pups are mass produced in the most torturous of kennels.
Last Updated : 09 May 2021, 02:43 IST

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When I saw her photo on Facebook, I could not resist getting her home,” professed Pari, showing me her 30-day old labrador retriever puppy. It was a dream come true for her, who had watched the movie Marley and Me numerous times and had daydreamed about her very own fawn-coloured Marley. Thanks to the pandemic, she gathered her courage to be a first time dog mom and ‘booked’ her Marley through a Facebook ad. “Isn’t she cute?” she asked. “Of course, she is,” I nodded. But the same can’t be said of how she was brought into this world.

As a teeny-weeny pup, Marley came home as a ‘delivery package’. When she bought Marley, Pari did not meet Marley’s mom or dad, nor the seller who sold her the pup. She just knew that the seller had an assorted ‘stock’ of pups of many breeds and that he was in this business. However, Pari had diligently researched Marley’s needs and set up everything for the puppy — a cozy bed, lots of toys and yummy treats. But she had no idea how horrific the story of dog breeding is.

Breeding is a science

Remember the high school biology lessons on genetics that detailed Gregor Mendel’s experiments on pea plants? His work showed how parents’ traits influenced those of the offspring. Breeding of both plants and animals draws from these experiments in producing the most desirable offspring. A dog breeder needs to keep track of the health of the dogs, their genetic ancestry, and their temperament before breeding them. He should also understand the specifications — height, weight, appearance and character — of the breed and must ensure that the pups correspond to these specifications.

Most ‘ethical’ or ‘responsible’ breeders specialise in breeding only a couple of dog breeds and have generations of dogs descending from a known lineage. (Discussing the ‘ethics’ of dog breeding in a country like India, where thousands of street dogs that can make excellent pets roam about freely, is like opening a Pandora’s box. So, I’ll skip that for now!) They also screen prospective buyers, ensure the pups get the best of homes and put out specific clauses for the buyer. Most importantly, they have a licence for breeding and thus, do so legally. Since they would have spent a fortune on the care and nourishment of the mother and puppies, the asking price for the puppies is also prohibitively high.

Backyard cruelty

In recent years, dog breeds showcased in movies and shows have received unprecedented attention. Examples include Dalmatians in 101 Dalmatians, the pug in the Vodafone ad, Siberian huskies in the Game of Thrones and the labrador in Marley and me. Fascinated by these breeds, people queue up to buy them without understanding the suitability of these breeds to the Indian climate or their requirements of exercise and grooming. This demand has fuelled illegal backyard breeding, where the pups are mass-produced in the ugliest of kennels. The mother dogs are starved, unkempt and impregnated every mating season. There is an ingenious invention called a ‘rape stand’ for this purpose.

Once the pups are born, the breeder is on his toes to get rid of them — posting numerous ads on e-commerce sites and selling them to the first customer who asks — so that he can save on the food and vaccination costs of the pup. The puppies, some only a few days old, are sold for a lower price than what a responsible breeder would quote. Buyers who go weak in their knees looking at the photos of these puppies are often unaware of the cruel practices that brought them into this world or the burden of diseases these heavily inbred puppies carry. When the vet bills skyrocket over time, they are often in despair, and some even choose to abandon their pet.

A few pet parents take anthropomorphising to a different level and believe that their dogs should experience ‘parenthood’ at least once. Dogs don’t think so! Much of their drive to mate is driven by hormones produced during the mating season. Soon, there is a home litter of six or more puppies, which need responsible homes — a hard find. Without spaying or neutering the pet, such parents often risk their dogs being stolen (again, for breeding) and expose their much-loved pet to diseases like pyometra or testicular cancer.

Here’s the bottom line — puppies are indeed cute, and so are kittens. But the horrific practices while breeding them are prevalent everywhere. If you are looking for a ‘purebred’ puppy or kitten, do your research, know your options and think twice before clicking the ‘Buy’ button. Even better, adopt, don’t shop!

Tailspin is your monthly column on everything that’s heartwarming and annoying about pet parenting.

The writer is a science communicator and mom to Pippi, a four-year-old rescued Indie, who is behind her drive to understand dogs better. She tweets @RamanSpoorthy

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Published 08 May 2021, 19:48 IST

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