At around 4 pm, the gates at Fetch, a canine training school, are opened and a happy Labrador dog skips out and scampers onto the grass, never leaving her trainer, CV Franklin’s side. He holds out a biscuit, and, Jade, the four-year-old Labrador happily chomps on the treat.
When Franklin, a canine behaviourist, first met Jade, he knew there was something special about her. The roly-poly yellow lab had a sunny disposition and seemed friendly towards anyone she met. But like hundreds of dogs in Bengaluru, Jade had been abandoned by her owners and still showed signs of heartbreak and the burden of having been left behind by her family.
Abandoning pet dogs is a traumatic occurrence that happens far too often in cities like Bengaluru. Take Helen, a Rottweiler who was kicked out of her home. Or Holly, a Saint Bernard who was found wandering the streets. Beauty and Bruno were rescued and never claimed after the Kodagu floods. And Rudra, a cocker spaniel had been treated so cruelly by his previous owners that shelters workers could barely touch him when he was first brought in.
The emotional stress that a dog feels when he or she is abandoned is very real, but Franklin knew that with training and rehabilitation, Jade could overcome her issues of abandonment. However, it takes months of work, love and care to bring those dogs back to a state of happiness.
CUPA's Second Chance Adoption Centre where there are currently almost a hundred dogs.
Why are pet dogs abandoned?
According to Sanjana Madappa, who is in charge of CUPA’s Second Chance Adoption Centre, the most common cases of canine abandonment occur when a dog is left on the streets when they’ve been surrendered by their owners, or in cruelty cases, where the dogs have been severely mistreated. One of the reasons that dogs are abandoned is because people often aren’t aware that there are animal organisations which care for dogs. And even when dog owners are aware of these NGOs, there is often a cost associated with leaving the animal at a shelter, which can also be a deterrent for some.
In other cases, people seek to avoid giving explanations to animal shelters, so their dogs are left loose to fend for themselves. These dogs are often dropped off in well-populated areas, like parks, in hopes that a concerned dog lover will notice the stranded animal. “I think for a lot of them there is a certain amount of shame attached to it,” she said.
CUPA currently has roughly 50 indie dogs and 50 pedigree breeds, many of whom were abandoned. Indies typically end up at the shelter after being injured on the streets or were brought in as puppies. The pedigree dogs, however, were almost all brought in by owners.
Two dogs play with a stick on the grounds at CUPA's Second Chance Adoptions Centre.
India’s feeble breeding laws have caused a proliferation of expensive breeds being sold at lowered costs, making it easier for anyone to own a dog, without considering the cost and commitment required. The majority of abandoned dogs come from people who are able to make a one-time investment in buying the dog -- particularly when illegal breeders and puppy mills are selling them at significantly reduced prices -- but don’t take long-term expenses into consideration.
Ethical breeders work to preserve the quality and standard of the breed, and as a result, these puppies can be exorbitantly expensive and the breeders are careful in selecting owners for their pups. “These people aren’t breeding for money. They’re breeding for the love of the breed,” Sanjana said.
However, there are currently swaths of unethical breeders who fail to follow those same checks. While quality breeders will carefully consider each dog, including genetic and temperament issues, before mating them, there is little governance to ensure that unethical breeders follow those same steps, Sanjana said. As a result, the dogs’ health is compromised and puppies are sold for a pittance.
There are many dogs that spend their lives in shelters, which are rapidly filling up.
This has led to a wide availability of breeds being sold to people who don’t actually have the bandwidth to care for them. “It cannot be to say, ‘I want to have a show dog in my house but I don’t want to pay the price for it. I want a Saint Bernard by I don’t want to pay the Rs 90,000 or one lakh it might actually cost me, I want to pay Rs 5,000,’” Sanjana said.
That’s why animal experts are urging potential dog owners to think beyond short-term costs and investments before bringing a dog into their homes.
“Dogs live an average of 10 years, during which point you can get married, your job can take you somewhere else, you can have a child,” Sanjana said. “If you cannot commit to a dog saying, ‘I will treat the dog as I would any other family member,’ don’t get one.”
From trauma to rehabilitation
After Jade was abandoned at CUPA’s adoption centre, she was eventually taken to Fetch, a canine training centre owned by CV Franklin. “When a dog is abandoned, it goes through a lot of trauma,” he said. “There are times where the dog actually looks for his owner for the next few days. If he hears a male voice from a male owner or a female voice from a female owner, he actually looks for them and says, ‘is it them?’ And then eventually realises that they’re not coming back.”
Helen, a Rottweiler, who was kicked out of her home.
Like humans, dogs also show signs of emotional stress associated with leaving their homes, facing a new environment and suddenly being surrounded by dozens of other dogs. That includes depression, loss of appetite, inactivity, weight gain, skittishness or a shattered sense of trust that makes the animal move away from people and other dogs.
Trainers like Franklin work to rehabilitate these dogs and help relieve them of trauma. He compares this kind of therapy to “a gym workout for a heartbroken person.” It uses a combination of physical routines, like playing fetch and going for walks, and mental ones, like obedience training, to get the dog back on its feet. But this isn’t a quick process — depending on the dog, it can usually take anywhere between 90 to 120 days.
The burden on shelters
In February, CUPA’s Second Chance Adoption Centre moved to its latest home in Doddaballapur, where there are currently almost a hundred dogs, many of whom have been abandoned, including both older dogs and litters of newborn puppies.
CUPA currently has about 50 pedigree dogs and 50 indies, many of whom have been abandoned.
For many abandoned dogs, particularly those who had been treated cruelly, the centre is a welcome change. The dogs can run free in wide-open grounds with shady trees, they can look forward to regular meals and gated enclosures to sleep in. Health check-ups are also performed to ensure the dogs stay healthy. But for some dogs, the change can be jarring, especially if they were attached to their owners, came from comfortable homes and aren’t used to living around so many other dogs. These dogs can become lethargic, may stop eating, or worse, lash out aggressively, particularly if they were trained as guard dogs which is often the case for Rottweilers and Dobermans. And for cruelty cases where dogs have been mistreated to the point of near death, it serves as a loving home where they can spend their last few months in dignity.
When a dog is brought into a shelter, the expenses can vary greatly. For example, an abandoned dog brought into CUPA is first given a blood test as part of a health check, followed by sterilisation as well as vaccinations if those haven’t already been administered. These can add up to Rs 5,000 to 6,000 in just initial expenses. That doesn’t include the monthly expenses for feeding and upkeep, which can shift from dog to dog, and will be expensive for breeds that require more maintenance, like Saint Bernards.
Sweety, a Saint Bernard left at CUPA.
Thanks to NGOs in the city, a good number of abandoned dogs find homes. Still, there are many that spend their lives in shelters, which are rapidly filling up.
“Buying dogs irresponsibly means that we’re going to have more abandonment cases,” Franklin said.
Jade’s next chapter
Since Franklin first met Jade and noticed the spark of kindness and intelligence in her, Jade has spent the last few months working with Franklin, and seems to have come a long way from her timid self when she was abandoned. She’s learnt how to be submissive and gentle, particularly around children, by laying on the ground when a child approaches or carefully taking treats from their hands.
Jade accepts a biscuit from CV Franklin at Fetch, a canine training school.
On a recent Thursday at Fetch canine training centre, Jade was rolling around on a patch of grass, snacking on biscuits, and accepting belly scratches and head rubs. After careful rehabilitation and obedience training, she’s finally ready for a new home and the next chapter in her life.
Jade will be heading to a school where she will live as a companion dog for children. Though Franklin could not disclose the name or location with the school, he said Jade will be interacting with children of different ages to bring joy and comfort to their days. “Basically, sunshine on a dull day kind of dog,” he said.