There’s a lot more to having a pet than just cuddling a cute dog. Sriya Narayanan finds out how youngsters cope with the responsibility of owning a pet and career options for pet lovers.

They’re a source of comfort during stressful times and offer their human friends a host of health benefits including reduced blood pressure. In many cases, they work wonders as therapy animals for children with special needs or in senior citizens’ homes.

Bringing home a pet is no doubt a welcome decision, but only if every member of the family is in it for the long haul. Teenagers who are considering pets must factor in all future possibilities before saying ‘yes’ to adoption. If graduate studies in a different city (or country), marriage and babies are all likely in the next 10 to 15 years, it’s important that the pet is not neglected or abandoned during this time.

When journalist Sara Mohan went to the U.K. to get a degree in biodiversity, her rescued cat Rathri stayed in Chennai with her mother. “When I left, Rathri was what kept my mom going. She was her friend and the house didn’t seem so lonely. She is vital to our existence!” says Sara, adding, “No matter what happens in the family (even something as drastic as a death), the pet must always be taken care of”.

Architect Shweta Madiman adopted a kitten from an animal shelter while in the U.S. and brought her pet back to India. “Dogs and cats live for 12-16 years. It’s likely that during that time, kids will move away,or families may need to relocate. When people adopt a pet, they should be aware that they are bringing home a living being: a new baby, not a toy or possession,” she says, observing that even in extreme circumstances, leaving them at a shelter is not the right answer. “People who have no choice but to give away their pet should do everything they can to find a loving and committed home for them. Abandonment (even at a shelter) is selfish, cruel and irresponsible. Leaving your pet, who has known the comfort and companionship of a home, at a shelter is like deliberately abandoning a child in an orphanage,” she says.

Making a living

As more young people learn about the joy pets bring, careers in the field of animal welfare are increasingly being considered. Says N.G. Jayasimha, Country Director, Humane Society International (HSI India), “Animal welfare is becoming the most preferred development sector job.” A prolific speaker and champion of factory farm reforms, he says that, no matter what your skill set or profession, it is easy to find a crucial role to play in this sector. He cites the example of his animator friend who is working on 3D modelling of animals to eliminate the use of live animals in ads and cinema. Other examples include advertising professionals who help animal NGOs with their branding and nutritionists who help promote the benefits of a plant-based diet in humans. Jayasimha himself has a law degree and has worked in the litigation team of PETA India before moving on to HSI.

Dr. Afzal Mohamed, founder and Chief Veterinarian of Doctor Cat Feline Specialty Clinic, feels that growth prospects for clinical veterinary practitioners are also encouraging. “I have loved being around animals since I was a kid,” he says. “I decided I wanted to be a vet when I was 12. This decision was influenced to a great extent by James Herriot”.

Of the path to becoming a vet, he says, “One needs to graduate from a veterinary college recognised by the Veterinary Council of India, following which one needs to register with the council in order to practise. The basic undergraduate degree offered in India is B.VSc (or B.VSc and AH) depending on the university. This takes around five years to complete”.

The business of pet care too is booming, as people realise that their furry friends deserve proper veterinary guidance, and training that does not use harsh or cruel methods. Arunodaya Reddy, founder of Pets101 (facebook.com/pets101india), a pet management service, began his venture after a course at the Cesar Millan Foundation. Apart from a store stocking international brands of pet food and toys, his team offers pet-owners customised veterinary guidance, training techniques based on positive reinforcement and kenneling services. He cautions pet owners against taking the easy way out by going to the ‘nearest available vet’ and offers a service that keeps complete medical records of the pet to hold veterinarians accountable for their advice. “We’re looking at two more stores in the next four months, and ten stores by the next year”, he says of the positive trend in the pet welfare business.

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