In distressed Kashmir, growing pet culture turning from therapy to trauma

Amid rising passion for pets, mushrooming of unregistered breeders and sellers has become a concern in Kashmir

Abandoned Persian cats rescued by a local activist in Srinagar | Photo: By special arrangement

When pet calls became frequent at the fag-end of 2019, Abrar Baba saw his business soaring in the lockdown-paralyzed valley where trade had nosedived amid the communication embargo imposed by New Delhi after the abrogation of the semi-autonomous status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019.

As the lockdown distressed the about 80 lakh population in the valley, doctors recommended pet rearing to many lockdown-weary Kashmiris to retain sanity. Pet-seller Abrar suddenly saw his trade taking a quantum jump.

“People were calling me for pets every day as doctors prescribed them to rear pets to overcome their depression symptoms,” he said. The soared demand made Abrar’s Breeders Hub, a pet store in Srinagar’s Habba Kadal, a sunshine enterprise. It only improved its tally when the pandemic lockdown again confined people indoors.

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“After health experts declared that animals aren’t coronavirus transmitters, the demand for pets increased in the valley,” he said.

“But we were not able to get pets from outside Kashmir as states had closed their borders and air cargo denied pet carriage,” he added. This is when he saw an opportunity, in the face of growing demand, to become a breeder from a pet seller.

Traumatic experience

However, with this rising passion, many unregistered outlets driven by the high demand for breeding and dismal healthcare infrastructure made the therapeutic engagement a traumatic experience for pet keepers.

Max is a male Persian cat

For over a month now, Max is slouched against the wall of a room. This is a complete unbecoming of a lively pet known for moving and jumping around. The morbidity is glaring from its pale eyes.

Max is a male Persian cat, bought by Feroz Ahmad, a real estate dealer, during the COVID lockdown in July last year from a local shop ‘Pet Arena’ in Karan Nagar area of Srinagar. Fifteen days after he bought Max, the kitten developed a fungal infection on his skin, leaving bald patches on its head.

“I went to the same shop which also runs a pet clinic,” he recounted. “A doctor treated the fungal disease and assured Max will be fine.” But after Max recovered, his stomach started bloating. Again he went to Pet Arena where he was suggested an USG.

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A veterinarian detected Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) and suggested some medicines and a weekly follow-up. The same week Max stopped eating and turned weak and immobile. FIP is a viral disease caused by a feline coronavirus that affects wild and domestic cats. It’s different from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in humans.

“FIP can spread from one cat to another if they are kept all together,” said Dr Khurshid, who’s treating Max. “Cats with poor immunity can catch the virus very easily. It’s a very serious disease and often proves fatal for cats.”

On his part, Feroz tele-contacted doctors outside Kashmir, but due to COVID he couldn’t move out for immediate treatment. Meanwhile, he was told his cat would barely survive for two months. “Doctors said that Max had become weak and there was no medicine for FIP in Kashmir,” he said.

Before Max, Feroz had bought a German shepherd from a local Kashmiri, who died with cancer after three months. “The dog was seven-month-old when he started vomiting multiple times a day,” said Feroz. He is now marking the calendar and counting the remaining days for Max.

These pet-keeping traumas amid a growing passion have become a new anguish in Kashmir — where high demand has multiplied pet outlets.

Growing business

“The pet business is growing in Kashmir,” said Ali Abbas Wani, who has been running ‘The Animal World’ pet shop in downtown Srinagar, since 2018.

The surge in sales was seen after the 2019 lockdown when people started buying pets to engage themselves during the complete lockdown and communication blockade. “Demand was on top, but there was no supply amid the lockdown,” said Abbas.

To overcome regular supply issues, many breeders started pet breeding in the valley itself. “I have a local breeder here who has his farm in the Nishat area of Srinagar. He supplies different breeds of pets in the local market,” he Abbas. “I don’t need to buy pets from outside now.”

As these pet breeders are making hay while the sun is shining for them in the valley, concern is growing here due to the absence of monitoring and regulatory bodies. “Right now, the animal husbandry department has no rule regarding registration for pet sale. Nobody has so far asked us for any formalities. Everyone here is selling at his own choice and will,” Abbas said.

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But now, keeping the surge in view, the union territory managers might change the rules and regulations for pet sellers and breeders.

In fact, a government order issued in May 2020 made it certain that the Society and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) is in place and the constitution of the Animal Welfare Board is under process.

“In view of the rules and directions of the Government of India,” the order, issued by J&K Principal Secretary Navin Kumar Choudhary to the deputy commissioners and Animal Husbandry Department, read, “I am directed to request you not to allow opening of pet shops and breeder establishments in your district unless they have registered themselves with the Animal Husbandry Department.”

Repeated calls made by The Federal didn’t elucidate any response from Srinagar district commissioner Shahid Choudhary. P.K. Pole, divisional commissioner, Kashmir, said that he has already asked for a report on registration of pet shops from the Director of Animal Husbandry, Kashmir.

“We have not issued registration to any pet selling or breeding outlet as of now,” said Purnima Mital, Director of Animal Husbandry, Kashmir. “As of now, most of these pet stores or breeders operate on their own.”

Dr. Ashraf Mir, Chief Animal Husbandry Officer, presently the nodal officer of SPCA, Srinagar, said five months ago, a complaint was registered with J&K Grievance Cell about sale of pets in the downtown area of Srinagar. “We immediately closed down the shop,” Dr. Ashraf said.

“Right now, I don’t think any shop or people are selling these pets online in Srinagar. But if I receive any complaint, I will take action.”

Online pet sale

Meanwhile, amid these ritualistic official takes, the sellers are freely wooing customers online.

Royal Pets, an Instagram page, handled by a college student is one among those selling pets since 2019.

“It has become a cool trend among the younger generation in Kashmir to keep pets, which increased the demand for pets, both cats or dogs,” the college-goer said. “But this growing demand has turned many of these pet sellers inhuman, as they are now resorting to unethical breeding.”

Before the onset of winter in Kashmir, he was approached by a client who insisted on getting a pet he wanted to give his fiancé on her birthday, within two days.

“Such eleventh-hour pressing demands are now changing the course of pet business in Kashmir,” the college-goer said. “Breeders are exploiting this surging demand and are resorting to a pet mating twice a month.”

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This obsessed mating can produce weak babies and make mother’s womb extremely delicate, warned Dr. Mudasir Qazi, a veterinary doctor working in the Central Veterinary Hospital, Srinagar.

“To stop this profit-driven pet cruelty, we can go for surgeries like spaying in females and neutering in males where the heat cycle is eliminated, making them unable to reproduce,” said Dr. Qazi.

Notably, as per the OPD records of Central Veterinary Hospital, an average 17 pet cases—mostly cats and dogs—are daily treated since 2019.

“But since the Animal Board is not fully functional yet, we only deal with distress calls right now,” Dr. Qazi, who is also a nodal officer of Animal Welfare Board, said. “Also, right now, we are not in a position to issue the registration to breeders and pet shops.”

All these somehow pales Kashmir’s passion for pets despite the increasing recommendation by health experts to the distressed population. “I believe this increasing trend of pet culture has turned profit-making for breeders and sellers in Kashmir,” said Insha, an animal rights activist from Kashmir.

Cocker spaniel
A Cocker Spaniel pet dog of a Srinagar resident

“People mainly buy and keep a pet at home. They must register their pets with the municipal corporation as law demands.” Interestingly, only 10 pet owners have registered their pets with the Srinagar Municipal Corporation.

Even these pet keepers, Insha said, don’t know when they should buy their pet. “Some sellers don’t want to lose their clients and therefore sell barely three-month-olds to them,” she said. “Another thing to keep in mind is to check the shop registration, and whether the pet is in a healthy condition.”

But as people are very much interested in buying kittens and puppies these days in Kashmir, Abrar Baba of Breeders Hub sells a variety of them.

From a normal pet seller, he has now become a pet breeder. Lately, when a client asked him to arrange a mating partner for his female Persian cat, he contacted his another client rearing a male Persian cat. “After I successfully handled that case, I started pet mating and selling pets after three months.”

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