Leisure: You pet!

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Updated: March 8, 2015 12:34:04 AM

From grooming services, exclusive lodges and freshly cooked meals to gift hampers, behaviour therapies and wellness centres, there’s a booming market out there to pamper your four-legged friends.

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” If the father of the nation were to witness the pet care market in the country today, he would have been utterly pleased. With growing affluence and better incomes, people are looking to spend more on their pets.

Just sample this. Planning to go out to a party along with your beloved pooch? Deck it up in designer wear and trendy accessories. Want to treat it to a meal outside? Take it to a dog-only restaurant. Just a snack? Visit a ‘barkery’ for it to relish a ‘pupcake’ or a ‘lollipup’. Its birthday coming up? Fret not, get a special ‘barkday’ cake or a gift hamper delivered right to your doorstep. Want to gift it a vacation? Check into an ‘exclusive’ dog hotel. Want to pamper it further? Take it to an exotic spa or salon. Feel like its personality needs some improvement? Go to a behaviour therapist.

You name it, you get it. Today’s pet owners are spoilt for choice, thanks to the mushrooming of a wide range of products and services, especially catering to your four-legged companions. Although such facilities are not new to the western world, Indian animal lovers have woken up to these only in the past few years. “The market is booming. Honestly, there has never been such a huge jump in pet-related businesses—grooming, meals, pet camps, bakeries, etc—as is happening now… anything that will pamper them,” says Yadika Sharma, owner of The Spoilt Brat, a store specialising in natural, wholesome and oven-baked biscuits, treats and cakes for dogs. The ‘barkery’, as Sharma likes to call it, is located in Nariman Point area of Mumbai and has been offering a variety of gourmet biscuits and treats such as brownies, ‘muttkins’ (doggy muffins), ‘lollipups’ (biscuits with a rawhide chewy stick), ‘pawkins’ and ‘pupcakes’ (doggy cupcakes) to pet owners since its launch in May 2010.

It’s not too difficult to fathom the growing acceptance and demand of such facilities among pet lovers and the opening of newer avenues for pet care companies in the country. As per a research conducted by Research and Consultancy Enterprise of Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad, there are about 2.2 million dogs in Indian households, with the population increasing by 26% every year.

“People have finally started learning the importance of dogs not only as guards, but as great companions too. Nowadays, people are adopting various kinds of pets, ranging from beautiful and smart local dogs and cats to adult and geriatric canines. The mindset of families is also changing slowly for the good,” explains Pooja Advani, owner of Mumbai-based Doggiie Dog World, a full-fledged ‘pet wellness centre’ housed in an independent 2,500-sq-ft air-conditioned bungalow with the latest equipment, products and a swimming pool with UV sterilisation.

“I believe the change is also happening because we now treat our pets like family. They get treated the same way we treat, for example, our kids. Gone are the days when pets would be tied outside the house and fed by the staff. ‘Pet parents’ are now taking keen interest in the well-being of their loved ones,” adds Sharma of The Spoilt Brat.

Bangalore-based Somdatta Sengupta runs a unique online portal called TailsLoveGiftsToo that sells exclusive bespoke gift hampers for pets across India. She got the idea of starting the e-store when she was on a holiday in the Scottish islands early last year. “We were staying with a family that owned Bruno, an adorable English Shepherd. On the day we were leaving, we saw the pooch digging into a cute-looking gift hamper brimming with toys and treats that was delivered especially for him that morning. A gift hamper for a dog? I was stumped and sold,” says the MBA in public relations and communication management, who worked with a few PR agencies before quitting to set up her business.

So what’s exactly trending in the pet care industry? Among product-based pet businesses, personalised and premium products are flourishing, say observers. Personalised costumes, gift hampers and personalised accessories are becoming hugely popular as part of the pet ‘humanisation’ culture. “Other than product-based businesses, there are multiple pet services that are receiving growing popularity. Pet obedience and agility training is gaining traction, as double-income families do not have enough time to train their pets themselves. Similarly, pet grooming and pet daycare or boarding are services that seem to be capturing the market,” adds Sengupta of TailsLoveGiftsToo.

As per Rashee Kuchroo of Gurgaon-based Doggie Dabbas, canine food is also fast picking up. “You are what you eat and it’s the same with dogs,” says the owner of the dabba delivery company that provides healthy, home-cooked and customised meals for ‘man’s best friend’. “For this reason, it is important to put emphasis on what your dog is eating. Read labels, understand ingredients and then make an informed decision. I find that people are very keen on the customisation aspect and want to speak with me before ordering, so that I can tailor the meals specifically to their requirements,” she adds.

Kuchroo has always been passionate about animals. After completing her master’s in marketing communications from Westminster University, London, she returned to Mumbai to find that her Labrador was not as healthy as she had left it. It had put on a lot of weight and had lost its puppy fur. This prompted her to take a keen interest in its diet and, subsequently, she ended up studying dog and cat nutrition. Armed with the right knowledge, she began whipping up customised meal plans for dogs, with dramatic results.

Now, Doggie Dabbas caters to a large number of dogs with a focus on their health requirements such as obesity, skin conditions, arthritis, liver, kidney issues, etc. Some of the delectable treats that Kuchroo offers are natural chicken jerky, chicken liver fudge and mango ice-cream, among others.

In spite of the huge opportunities in the industry, the pet care industry in India has its own set of challenges, feel pet entrepreneurs. “The growing competition forces retailers to offer deep price discounts and seasonal offers, sometimes even at a loss to attract and retain customers. Retailers, who are involved in importing or delivering goods to customers, also face a huge logistical delay at times due to poor road conditions and a weak transportation infrastructure,” says Sengupta of TailsLoveGiftsToo.

As per Advani of Doggiie Dog World, there are still a lot of people who think training is not an essential part of a dog’s life. “It is as important to train your dog, as it is to educate your child. A well-behaved dog means a healthier and stress-free life for the dog, as well as the owner,” she adds. Agrees Sharma of The Spoilt Brat: “Even with all the awareness around us, there are many people who are inhumane to animals. They don’t understand why we ‘humanise’ them. I believe it must start with the children and young adults around us. Teach them to love and respect animals, feed strays and, in turn, teach adults that too.”

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