Sunday, 18 September 2011

'We need better systems for pet relocation'

Relocating pets is a costly affair. That’s why most people abandon their expensive pets when moving to another city. Pet relocation experts tell Anu Prabhakar why we need more awareness and better systems to ensure pets’ well-being.

"Is this a good time?” asked the anxious whisper on the other end of the telephone line. Anupama Vinayak peered through droopy eyelids to look at the clock. 3.00am. “I only have two questions for you,” the voice continued, urgently. “Okay,” said Vinayak with a sigh, settling for what she would know would be a half an hour talk.

Through her three-year-old company Furry Fliers, Mumbai-based pet relocator Vinayak has helped hundreds of pets relocate to or outside India along with their families. Part of the job profile is to play ‘3am’ friend to many (obsessive) clients, who ask amusing questions about their pets just before the move. “Owners ask me, ‘My pet is used to traveling in an air-conditioned car. Would that be a problem?’” she laughs.
From Lack of awareness to abandonment
 Sadly, that every pet has a loving owner is more myth than reality. Delhi-based pet relocator Harsh Sandh of Pet Movers admits that the lack of awareness about pet relocation is so alarming that people often abandon their pets on the streets or pass them over to a relative who knows nothing about pet care. High relocation costs act as a deterrent. “Cargos are very expensive. For some reason, people are a little hesitant to spend too much on relocating their pets.”

Sandeep Sharma of the Delhi-based company India Relocation, agrees. “If you are shifting a Labrador, the dog’s IATA-approved cage alone will cost about Rs15,000 to 17,000.” Depending on the size of the pet, the cost can even go up to Rs25,000. “People are reluctant to invest that kind of money on relocating their pets.”

“I get calls from people asking about the price,” adds Sharma. “After that, they never get back.”
Vinayak was once sent a 3-month-old puppy from Madagascar in a miniscule cage fit for a rat. “The puppy was not given food or water for hours. I gave the owner a piece of my mind. They may not have meant to be cruel, but some want to save money. It’s unfair to the pet. You have to put your 300% when it comes to caring for your pet.”

Death in the clouds

On May 9, 2009, Rajendra Tandon, chairman and managing director of public sector company, boarded a Delhi-bound Jet Airways flight. He took his two pugs with him. But on reaching the IGI airport in Delhi, he noticed the airline’s staff members hovering around his dog’s cages. He immediately sensed something was wrong.

Tandon rushed to Apollo Clinic within the airport and found no doctors there. “There were no doctors to even attend to passengers,” he says. “We went out of the airport and managed to find a vet, who informed us that the pugs died a few minutes after the flight took off from Mumbai, due to a lack of oxygen.”This year, a consumer court in Delhi ordered Jet Airways to pay Tandon Rs1.4 lacs. The pilot hadn’t switched on the AC in the live animals’ compartment and were hence blamed for the pets’ deaths.

According to Tandon, the airline has decided to file an appeal to a higher consumer court. A Jet Airways spokesperson explains that the airline no longer carries snub-nosed dogs and cats as they are more susceptible to temperature and breathing difficulties on account of the structure of their face and nose. “This badly affects the dog or cat to the point that the animal may die,” says the spokesperson.

But Tandon is far from being pacified. “If there is a problem with the system, why don’t we do something, instead of stopping their service?” he asks.

The media and pet associations’ attention that Tandon got after the death of his pugs was expected. But the most unexpected moment came in the form of a call from Indian actor and politican Shatrughan Sinha, who wanted to meet Tandon. Once in Delhi, Sinha met Tandon and gifted him a baby pug. “He still keeps in touch, asking about the pug, who we have named Masakalli,” laughs Tandon.

No country for animals

Sandh calls India one of the least pet-friendly countries in the world. “Some airlines ask for the pets to be at the airport five hours in advance, before they can be placed at the airline’s cargo hold. The cargo section is a horrible place for a pet to be in for five hours: There is hot air, a lot of noise, shouting, chemicals… I feel sorry for the pets. So either my wife or I take the pet to the airport and wait in an air-conditioned car, till its time.”

He also points out that airports in India should be more pet-friendly with a veterinarian on duty. “Lufthansa has a waiting area just for pets in Frankfurt airport that’s a silence zone and 10kms away from the landing strip. They even have special handlers for pets. When can we have this in India?” Sandh wonders aloud.As of now, Air India, SpiceJet and Jet Airways are the only flights operating in India that accept pets on board. Vinayak feels that more airlines should be open to the idea of carrying pets on board. “It’s not economically viable for airlines to have pets,” she explains. “They have to air-condition the live animals’ compartment just for one pet, and there are risks involved.”

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