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Cuteness or cruelty? The story behind growing demand for pet parenting

Shila flies first-class, enjoys swimming and sauna at the pet spa, along with her brother, Eddie. Shila and Eddie have over 40,000 followers on Instagram. She meets her friend, Jay Jay, who sends her gifts from Netherlands. Shila and Eddie are Pomeranians who get regular hair-cuts and are well groomed pets. Their popularity on Instagram is indicative of the surge in pet parenting among millennials across the globe. 
 
With societies turning increasingly urban and families becoming nuclear along with more and more people living in flats and apartments, they are looking to build relationships that can thrive in limited spaces or smaller environments. With pets becoming a huge part of the family, pet owners have become pet parents. “People prefer smaller breeds because they’re living in apartments. These smaller (sized) dogs do not require much space. Hence, there is a sudden surge in demand for such pets,” says Mridula Krothapalli, a dog-lover who owns two Poodles.
 
Pet humanisation has given a huge fillip to the pet retail industry across the globe, which stands at $63 billion and is growing nearly 22% year-on-year. The current generation of pet owners also believe they are making a style statement by owning certain type of a dog breed. They care about how their dog looks and thus, pet grooming products also are in great demand.  
 
“Unfortunately, more people buy dogs based on ‘cuteness’ today than ever before. For instance: School-going children wanting to adopt puppies at the start of their summer break and abandoning them just after schools re-opens, is a classic example of what is wrong with this trend today. Getting a dog home is like having another human child around. So, it is not just about having a dog but taking care of it and ensuring that it lives well, just like us,” explains, Neha, who is a parent of a Golden Retriever.  
 
This demand for ‘cute’ dogs has given rise to cruel, large-scale, for-profit breeding which is becoming a dangerous trend. “Some breeders do not care about a dog’s life cycle and put it under a lot of stress to deliver puppies multiple times. Currently, the trend among commercial breeders is 20-30 puppies from one mother. This is extremely dangerous for the mother. Unfortunately, after they get the puppies, they abandon the mother,” reveals Mridula. 
 
Moreover, the need for rare or special dog breeds has surged in metros over the last five years which has also pushed the prices up. “In our research, we have found that several kennels which are ‘pure puppy mills’, are breeding dogs under careless, malnourished and cruel circumstances for commercial purposes.  Most of the female dogs are abandoned at very far away places after giving birth to a few litters,” adds Neha, stating that the need for ‘cute dogs’ could actually have a cruel story.
 
While lack of stringent policies and regular policing of commercial breeders could be one way to solve malpractices in dog breeding, the general lack of interest in animal rights in India is one of the main reasons for the growing black market for ‘puppy mills’. “Pet up-bringing is a long-term serious commitment,” says Neha. And, people who want to own pets would adopt any dog, concludes Mridula.

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