In ancient times, dogs may have been used as guards to warn their keepers about potential intruders and as an ally for hunting, but the bond between dogs and their owners has increased manifold since then. Studies show that the most widespread form of inter-species bonding exists between humans and dogs. It may be due to this that the population of dogs increased exponentially after World War II and there are currently around 400 million dogs worldwide.
Canine love is on the rise and may make better human beings out of us all. PHOTOS BY AYESHA MIR AND SARAH MUNIR
Very few can resist the molten eyes, the soft nuzzle, the unconditional love and comfort that dogs bring to a household. The trend seems to be picking up in urban centres in Pakistan as well, with more and more families keeping dogs as pets. Inadvertently, this has also led to an increase in awareness about animal rights. Even though the country is yet to formulate concrete laws to ensure animal protection, individual responsibility towards the right care and treatment of animals seems to be on the rise.
A ‘tail’ of two cities
Twenty seven-year-old Shan Saleem, the man behind the Rude Plannet Kennel in Karachi, is at the forefront of this change. For Saleem, breeding and selling dogs is more than just a hobby. He traces his passion back to when he was 12 years old and saw his eldest uncle raise a bull terrier. Soon enough, he developed an equal amount of fondness for these canine creatures.
A pure-bred Malteser from Rude Plannet Kennel. PHOTOS BY AYESHA MIR AND SARAH MUNIR
Saleem recalls his first purchase being a German shepherd that he bought from Empress Market in Karachi only to find out that he had been tricked into paying additional money for an ordinary stray dog. However, that did little to discourage him and he soon had more dogs than his house could accommodate. It was not until he moved to a bigger place in 2003, that he could really nurture his passion.
A Saint Bernard in Karachi with its caretaker. PHOTOS BY AYESHA MIR AND SARAH MUNIR
But breeding, maintaining, grooming and training animals on a bigger scale required money, says Saleem. “My family wouldn’t support the animals. So I took up a job in a call centre from where I started earning Rs20,000 a month and started taking care of my animals.” By 2009, he joined a construction company as an accountant and it was the same year that he registered his kennel with the Lahore-based Kennel Club of Pakistan and officially entered the breeding market.
Till date, he has bred countless breeds of dogs and reared as many as 10 litters of pups; seven of which are registered with the Kennel Club of Pakistan.
With each new addition to his pack of dogs, space was once again insufficient, forcing Saleem to hand over some of his puppies to a few close friends and family. But the lack of proper care and attention took a toll. “A few of these dogs fell ill. Nine of them even died!” he says with a tinge of sadness that gives away his immense dedication to animals.
Karachi-based dog breeder Ahmed Ali with his pit bull. PHOTOS BY AYESHA MIR AND SARAH MUNIR
Eventually, he left his job and bought a place in Korangi where he now keeps his animals, which include dogs, roosters, goats, sheep and deer. “I have two trainers who look after these animals. I personally dedicate eight hours a day to this place,” he adds.
Currently, the kennel has 16 different breeds of dogs including regular breeds such as American pitbull terrier, German shepherd, Staffordshire terrier, great dane, labrador, rottweiler, pug, poodle, German pointer, English mastiff and American bull along with rare ones such as the Italian mastiff, Siberian husky, English bull terrier and dogo argentino. Although every customer has a different specification of what they are looking for in a dog, the easiest ones to maintain are labradors. Others like great danes and mastiffs require space and a proper trainer to look after them. Similarly, poodles are difficult to maintain because of their hair coat while Neapolitan mastiffs are also challenging because they are slow and may have skin problems.
Shan Saleem at his kennel in Korangi, Karachi . PHOTOS BY AYESHA MIR AND SARAH MUNIR
Breeding dogs is not easy on the pocket and Saleem’s current expenditure amounts to nearly Rs70,000 per month. He admits that he was under a lot of financial pressure once he quit his job but could not continue due to his time commitment to the animals. For now, he re-invests whatever money he makes from breeding and selling the dogs back into the business. However, he says it’s a shame that a lot of people have entered this market solely for the purpose of making money without knowing much or caring about the animals.
Keeping dogs as pets is as expensive as breeding them, restricting the trend to middle class and upper-middle class households. “It is impossible to keep your dog healthy unless you feed him right and invest time and money. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of doing that,” says Raza Babar, who owns three dogs.
Six-week-old pit bull puppies. PHOTOS BY AYESHA MIR AND SARAH MUNIR
According to Saleem, the average age of dog buyers ranges between 18 to 25 years, including a large number of couples. The most enthusiastic ones are the first-time buyers who want to know every detail about their dog and want to get everything from bathing to feeding absolutely right. “It’s almost like having a baby. You can’t take it lightly,” says Nashmia Tariq who bought an eight-week-old labrador last year.
On the other hand, for Lahore-based Nighat Bukhari, breeding cats and dogs is more of a personal indulgence. Love for animals is in her blood as Bukhari’s grandfather was also a pet enthusiast. And the lack of regulations around owning and breeding animals in the country has made it much easier to pursue her passion.
“It is pretty easy to raise a pet here in Pakistan as compared to the UK. Over there, you need to register your animal with a clinic and proper records have to be maintained. In Pakistan, there are no such systems in place, which is sad” she says.
A Siberian husky during a dog show organised by Rude Plannet Kennel. PHOTOS BY AYESHA MIR AND SARAH MUNIR
Bukhari confides that up until a few years ago, awareness regarding dog breeding was minimal. “People could be fooled into buying ‘original’ breeds. One would find so-called dog breeders on the streets selling strays as pure pedigree.” However, with increasing awareness, people have become far more cautious about purchasing their dogs from reliable sources.
According to 27-year-old Karachi-based dog breeder Ahmed Ali, one can tell a pure pedigree by its line, length, colour and coat. However, he adds that it is not easy for an ordinary buyer to tell the difference. The rates for the dogs also vary accordingly. While a pedigreed dog can cost anywhere between Rs45,000 to Rs75,000, a pure breed ranges from Rs25,000 to Rs40,000 and a mix breed can be bought for up to Rs15,000.
Barking up the wrong tree
Even though his own love for animals is unparalleled, Saleem complains that the state of animal rights in the country is extremely dismal. “There are hardly any vets or clinics where the [dogs] can be treated properly. Anybody can open up a clinic and claim to be a vet, without any qualification, and no one gives a damn,” he says.
Apart from proper institutions, Ali also criticises the cruelty that animals are subjected to on an individual level. “It is common to see people kicking or throwing stones at stray animals. We need to develop compassion towards animals on a societal level,” he says.
However, Bukhari feels that with increasing media attention, dog shows and more people taking an interest in keeping pets, things are gradually improving. “Previously, people would resort to home remedies for every problem. Now, they are conscious enough to get the right care for their animal in case of a problem or disease,” she adds.
The influx of people into the dog breeding market has also commercialised the process. “Earlier, only people who really loved pets would raise and then breed them once the time came. Now, a lot of people are getting into the business because it is the ‘in’ thing to do,” says Bukhari. She says that the maximum breeding time for a female dog is seven years, but most people usually get tired of the older dogs and do away with them.
According to Saleem, proper diet is another hugely neglected area by pet owners which leads to diseases and deaths in dogs. When that happens, the buyer blames the seller for giving them an unhealthy dog. “Keeping a pet is not child’s play. You need to know your dog’s breed really well and care for it accordingly, otherwise mishaps are bound to happen,” he says.
Bukhari also emphasises the importance of taking personal care of animals. “If you look after your own pet, there is a shine in their fur. You can easily tell a well-loved and well-groomed dog from one that is left to domestic help,” she says.
Both Saleem and Ali claim that their link to the dog does not end with its sale. They like to stay involved in the dog’s grooming and are always available to their customers in case of any problems.
“My clients are more of a family to me, so I make sure I keep them updated on vaccinations, breeding, grooming and training of the dog. They are a part of Rude Plannet Kennel and they stay in touch with me throughout the process,” adds Saleem. Bukhari on the other end has a much less hands-on approach. She says she is choosy about giving her dogs away and will not do so unless she is absolutely sure that the buyer will take good care of the animal. However, once she has screened and sold the animal, she allows the owner to take complete charge.
Man’s best friend
A 1994 study conducted by the University of California in Australia shows that people with dogs tend to get depressed less and even have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels compared to people with no pets. Children who grow up with pets are also reported to have higher self-esteem and lower anxiety levels.
Eight-month-old Aneesa who is plopped comfortably next to Alsa, their family’s fifth generation German shepherd is a living testimony to these facts. “ We bought Alsa’s great grandmother for my mother who was suffering from Alzheimers. It [the dog] took her mind off things and helped her a lot,” explains Aneesa’s grandfather, Major Baig. “Today, it is impossible to imagine our family without these friendly giants.”
Saadia Qamar is a life and style reporter at The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 9th, 2014.