I am in Argentina for a few days to attend a Child Labour Conference. Buenos Aires has wide roads, green trees which are almost the same as what we have in India. It is Jacaranda season and purple blossoms cover the pavements. The scent of magnolia flowers wafts through the city. Fresh air, fresh air, fresh air!!! I can breathe again after choking in Delhi.
On the way to the 8.30 am meetings, I see a new thing: Young people with at least 15 dogs each walking in the parks, crossing the road, or on the wide pavements. The dogs are of all sizes and they walk docilely cheek by jowl with each other. I see at least 14 groups of dogs being walked on just one stretch of road.
The driver informs me that this is a common occurrence in the city. Young people join dog walking companies. They are trained on how to handle dogs, how to hold them, talk to them and to pick up their faeces with a scooper as they walk. These companies even give diplomas on dog walking. The walkers are taught rudimentary first aid in case there is a traffic accident.
The company gives you an App. With that you can see the start and stop times of the walk, a map of where your dog was taken, along with pee, poo and water breaks. You get pictures and, sometimes, a note talking about what your dog needs.
Apart from dog walking, companies offer services, like pet taxis, which will take the dog to the vet on specified days or as an emergency service. Pet vet visits are also arranged for the home. Dog day care can be arranged daily, either at the company’s site, or the person will come home for a specific number of hours and look after and play with the dog while you are at office or away for the weekend. There are drop in visits where the person will come for only ten minutes to check on the dog twice a day.
The companies are registered, fully insured and police checked. Each member of the staff is trained – even if it is a young person doing it for their summer holidays – and registered with the police. The company has both, pet sitters and dog walkers, and both know pet nutrition as well.
There are different rates for half an hour onwards for walking. There is another rate, which is less, for something known as a toilet visit. At a specific time, the person will come to your flat, take the dogs out, wait till they relieve themselves, and then return them to your flat. No walking. Pet vet visits, pet taxies and dog day care are given in a rate card.
Sometimes, when you are at work, you cannot go home for lunch but your dog walker can come in at that time to give your dog a thirty minute walk. Most companies vary the times according to what you need and some offer the dog walker as many as three times a day on whatever days you need them. You can cancel and exchange days according to your convenience. You even have play dates when the company will arrange for your dog to meet a friend at their house, or bring him/her to yours. People who want to recruit these services are encouraged to meet the dog walker first and see them in action.
Whether a stroll around the block with an older dog, or a fast-paced walk with a fit youngster – the companies tailor their services. If you have an older dog who can’t walk far, then it’s just a short easy walk and lots of petting. If it’s a puppy that needs toilet training, then company people pop in, feed the pup and then take him out to toilet train. Some companies offer varied things: a city walk may mean just walking for a specified time and length on a leash. But they also have group adventure walks where dogs run around without their leashes and are trained to return when called. Some offer dog days in which group dogs are collected between 10 am and 2 pm and will be away from home for up to 3 hours, with at least 40 minutes walking time.
What is the downside in Beunos Aires? There are dog thieves here who steal dogs and sell them to breeders. They follow the group dog walkers and, if they see that he is not too alert, they come in cars and snatch the dogs. But, according to people I interviewed, most of the time, the thieves are caught by the police. And the company is insured, so even if it is small consolation, the owner who loses the dog gets compensation immediately.
Someone needs to start this in India. I am fed up with people calling my hospital and saying they want to give their dog away because they work. Or older people calling and saying that this is my children’s dog and, now they have gone away, we are too old to look after it so please take it away. These are the people who need a service like this. Service companies who will let you enjoy the dog without having to look after his needs. Exercise is essential for the dog, keeping him mentally and physically alert, building his muscles and preventing obesity and behavioral issues that arise from boredom.
A flexible service that exercise the dogs when it suits you, or even gives them their meals, or just takes them out for a bathroom visit and cleans up behind them so that neighbours are not irritated. India’s cities need companies like this. I was taken aback by the gentleness of the walkers and the fact that all the dogs got on with each other. Taking fifteen dogs out together, all of different sizes, from the very small to the very large, is a frightening prospect, but all these on the road got on together, behaved harmoniously and were very disciplined. The walkers explained that they tested the dogs first, made an effort to socialize them. If they were exceptionally timid, or difficult to control, then they have walked alone at different rates.
Anyone who started a company, could eventually do it in many cities. The companies here have dog walker-sitters across the country and list the places where they have them.
So many new things are starting in India. In Noida, a company called Posh, which does physiotherapy for disabled, paralyzed, arthritic dogs, has started. It has a swimming pool and massage specialists. I have contracted with the owner to take three dogs free from my shelter, Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre, every month and see if we can relieve their pain.
If someone wants to start this company, I have at least 20 young people who volunteer every week to get dogs adopted at Select City Centre in Delhi, who would be happy to be trained properly and become staffers.
*About the author: Maneka Gandhi is a minister in the Union Cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She is also a leader of animal welfare movement in India. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org