The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pet peeves

There are few things as heart warming as coming back home to a dog eagerly wagging its tail at you. A pet is like a family member — to be loved and cared for. Its illness or death can cause great distress. So while buying a pet one must ensure that one chooses a healthy animal.

“People often end up buying diseased animals as pets because of lack of awareness. They get their pets from the grey market where they are kept in dismal conditions. So they are often left with a sick animal,” says Rana Ganguly of Moitri Veterinary Centre in south Calcutta.

Stroll down north Calcutta’s Galiff Street on a Sunday morning and you will find a variety of domestic animals on sale. From dogs, cats, rabbits and white mice to birds and fish — you can take your pick. But look closer, and you may find that the animals are not so ship shape after all. For example, a peek inside a small plastic basket reveals four lethargic looking Spitz puppies squeezed together. The price? Only Rs 1,500 each, says the seller. It appears to be a steal as a Spitz pup from a reputed kennel would cost nearly three times as much.

But is it? Experts point out that temptingly low prices usually translate into animals that are not of the best quality, of dubious breeds, or even animals that are sick already.

“A German Shepherd (Alsatian) pup costs at least Rs 10,000. Those imported from Germany could cost even Rs 3 lakh to Rs 4 lakh,” says Indrajit Basak of Tulip Kennel, Calcutta. But you could pick up an Alsatian pup for as little as Rs 6,000 from the grey market. Of course, you could get lucky and become the owner of a fine pet. But more often than not, you could be cheated. As Pankaj Banerjee of Pets Planet, a pet care centre in Salt Lake, says, “People buying from the grey market often end up with diseased dogs.”

If you are not careful, you may also be duped into buying a different or an inferior breed to the one you had set your heart on. “Stray dogs in Bhutan and other hilly areas often bear a close resemblance to the German Shepherd. It’s hard to distinguish between the two, especially at the puppy stage. Unscrupulous sellers often take advantage of this,” says Banerjee.

Arundhati Mishra, a home-maker in Calcutta, has a personal horror story to relate. “My father once bought an Alsatian pup from Hatibagan. When it was given a bath, the black patches on its fur ran out and we were left with a sorry looking brown Bhutanese stray.”

So if you want to buy a healthy puppy, it is best to go to a reputed kennel or a breeder, say experts. “Once a pup or a litter is born, the breeder or kennel intimates us. Our officers go and check the pups as well as the mother,” says C.V. Sudarshan, CEO, Kennel Club of India, Chennai, the apex body of kennel clubs in the country. Bodies affiliated to the Kennel Club of India issue certificates to every pup born in Indian kennels. To ensure that a pup is not sold with a false certificate, the club has now decreed that pups and their mothers be fitted with microchips in their bodies. This ensures that a dog’s pedigree cannot be faked.

But what if you want to buy other pets such as birds? Unfortunately, there is no organisation that can certify that the bird you are buying is healthy. The bird section of the market at Galiff Street is crammed with cages of lovebirds, cocktails, pigeons, javas (sparrows) and finches. Experts advise that you seek the counsel of someone who knows about birds. “Take a person along with you who has knowledge of these things. Otherwise you will be cheated into buying sick birds,” says Sumita Paul, who has a collection of javas, lovebirds, budgies and cocktails. If you bargain hard, you can get a pair of lovebirds for Rs 600, javas for Rs 500, a golden finch for Rs 120 and a pigeon for only Rs 30.

Incidentally, the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 bans the sale of indigenous birds like parrots and finches, so make sure you don’t buy these species. “Birds in the grey market are kept in unhygienic conditions and can suffer from diarrhoea, falling feathers or loss of appetite,” warns Banerjee. Ensure that the bird you are buying has clean and smooth feathers and no bald patches around the head or neck. Of course, it would be smarter to buy them from a well known bird shop such as the Blue Bird Corporation in Dalhousie or the Beauty Bird and Fish Centre at Dum Dum.

Keeping aquariums are the rage these days but buying fish too requires great care. Especially since one infected fish can kill off the whole lot in your aquarium. “Fish caught from the sea may suffer from certain viral and parasitic infections. These may be passed on to other fish in an aquarium,” says Babu Banik, proprietor of Eastern India Aquarists, a Calcutta-based dealer of freshwater and marine fishes and corals.

Experts say that if the fish are kept in unhygienic conditions, they run the risk of being infected with diseases like marine white spot (a fungal infection more commonly known as velvet), chlorella or clownfish disease.

“We keep the fish for a period of 45 days before selling them. During this period, they are tested for infections and are treated accordingly,” says Banik.

Another advantage of buying your pet fish from a well-established shop is that it can advise you on the compatibility of different breeds. For example, goldfish and wallago attu (an aquatic predator fish) cannot be kept in the same aquarium. Sellers in the grey market usually lack the knowledge or the expertise to guide their customers on such matters.

So be vigilant and buy your pet only from a reputed seller. It will make for a long and fruitful relationship between you and your beloved pet.

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