At the clinic of a popular veterinarian in New Delhi, all eyes were on Sunny, a Siberian husky. It was a warm day, but despite his obvious discomfort, Sunny did not mind the attention, human or canine.
“It is rare for a foreign dog to feel comfortable in a large, hot city like Delhi,” said Pradeep Rana, checking Sunny’s hind-quarters. “They are not bred for this heat. But if necessary steps are taken, they can be happy here.”
Once a rare sight in Delhi, Siberian Huskies now routinely show up at veterinary clinics and dog shows in the Indian capital. Owning higher exotic breeds like huskies, St. Bernards, and Alaskan Malamutes is both a status symbol and a trend in the metro, regardless of whether these dogs were originally bred for temperate climes or not.
While caring for any dog is a major responsibility, caring for a foreign breed often includes running air conditioners through summer, purchasing high-quality dog food in large quantities, a constant supply of fresh water, exercise and, in later years, frequent visits to the vet. Owning these breeds is an expensive affair, which often leads to abandonment, once the fancy has passed. This year alone, six St. Bernards arrived at Frendicoes, a shelter for stray animals in New Delhi.
“Incomes in the cities and towns have increased, leading to more spending – people in these financial brackets have begun to see dogs as a status symbol,” said Tandrali Kuli, who is in charge of animal adoptions at Friendicoes. “The way they buy cars or property, they buy foreign breeds of dogs, treating them like objects.”
“No attention is paid to the fact that they are living, breathing animals, and require care, social interaction and emotional upkeep,” Kuli added. “Often, people buy these dogs as puppies and then abandon them when they get older. They don’t expect a puppy to get that big.”
In early October, a young woman named Niniisha Lama found a post on a Facebook group that caused her to take action. A woman named Neha Singh was selling a 10-month-old Siberian Husky on a Facebook group called Upcycle Delhi used by a large number of people for selling and buying furniture.
Lama immediately reported her and posted in another Facebook group run by the Dog Lovers of Delhi.
“Can someone please help with posts like this? This woman is selling puppies illegally online,” her post read.
The wide market for exotic dogs has resulted in illegal mass breeding and heavy imports. St. Bernards are sold at around Rs 25,000 per puppy, while huskies and Malamutes are more expensive – selling at about Rs 40,000 per puppy. The unauthorised sale of foreign breeds in Delhi has been an debated issue for a long time, with the past five years seeing an erratic influx of dogs unsuited to the capital’s environment.
Facebook soon removed the post selling the husky, but the user “Neha Singh” was found to be a fake profile, used by a breeder selling puppies illegally, without a licence.
“Most buyers never even meet the breeder,” said Amritika Phool, an animal rescuer. “If they did. They would know what these dogs go through.”
According to Phool, the conditions in which exotic animals are bred are inadequate, unhygienic, and often brutal.
“Puppies are taken away from their mothers before they are two years old, put on synthetic food and in alien environments,” she said. “As a result, most of them grow up with disorders or severely bad health.”
A few months ago, Sukanya Deepak, a graphic designer in Delhi, lodged a complaint with the police when she spotted a dog in the boot of a car in front of her on a busy highway. When she pulled up next to the car’s driver and asked him about his cargo, he responded “Bhediya hai” (It’s a wolf) and sped off.
Deepak’s post about the incident went viral on Facebook and Twitter, with animal rights groups pitching in to track down the car licence plate and driver. Despite the fact that Deepak made repeated visits to the police station, trying to follow up on her complaint, no action was taken.
“The policemen laughed when they heard what I was there for,” she said.
Phool says there are laws to prevent cruelty to animals, but they are rarely executed. “The fines are petty and small. It is Rs 50 for tying a dog to a tree. Who can take that seriously?”
In September, Chennai-based animal rights activist Shravan Krishnan found a great dane, starved and abandoned on a street. The dog died on the way to the hospital, and Krishnan addressed careless owners in an angry Facebook post: “If you don’t care for your pets, don’t bring them home!”
But even as cruelty against pets and stray animals continues across species, through the country, exceptions exist.
Ayesha Framji, a 25-year-old photographer in Delhi, likes to photograph animals, particularly dogs, a hobby inspired by her pet husky, Cyrus.
“I was in America when I got him, I told my parents I wanted them to meet someone named Cyrus, and they were thrilled,” she said. “I think they thought I had a got myself a Parsi boyfriend in Georgia.”
When Framji moved back to India, she brought Cyrus with her, and admits to being nervous about how he would adjust in his new environment. She wondered about giving the young husky enough space, but also about her emotional relationship with him.
“When I was getting him, other owners of huskies told me something that I now understand,” she said. “Huskies are not like regular dogs. They are more intelligent, and complex. With your husky, you need to invest mental effort into keeping him. And you need to establish who’s the boss.”
Framji makes sure she takes Cyrus to a farm once a week so he can run around. Unlike many huskies, Cyrus adapts well to warmer climates, but he requires plenty of water, and cool temperatures through summer.
“When I got Cyrus, I pledged my life to him forever,” said Framji, as Cyrus sat beside her, listening intently. “He’s a living, beautiful being. Not the latest sweater at H&M.”