With apartment complexes becoming the norm, it becomes important for pet owners to understand their rights and responsibilities, for the welfare of their pets and their neighbours. Residents sometimes find a letter taped to the notice board (on behalf of the Apartment Association) that says that pets are banned and that owners must either vacate or abandon their pets. “This is tantamount to harassment, and utterly unlawful,”says Anjali Sharma, Advocate, practising at the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court of India, who is an Executive Committee Member of, and Legal Advisor to the Animal Welfare Board of India. “Apartment owners' associations and residents’ welfare associations cannot ‘legislate’. They cannot take it upon themselves to issue ‘edicts’ and restrict rights available to citizens. There is no law enacted by Parliament or any State Legislature that ‘bans’ companion animals. At best, municipalities and local authorities can regulate, or insist on registration or licensing of pets. These high handed circulars and letters suddenly taped to notice boards are therefore illegal. By pressurizing people to abandon their pets in this manner, they actually compel them to violate the law, since Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, declares the same as being an offence.”
She notes that consumer courts at Mumbai have at least on two occasions upheld the rights of residents faced with similar harassment, and observed that in the present times, pets are akin to children. Denying pet-owners the right to use elevators or common areas with their pets has been held to be deficiency in service on the part of these associations. She therefore urges pet-owners to stand by their companion animals in the face of such harassment, and refuse to 'give them up', or abandon them.
These rights, however, do come with duties. Pet-owners must earn the goodwill of neighbours by keeping their dogs on leash while in common areas and cleaning up after them if they soil the place. Sharma tells pet owners that being considerate is a must, and a basic courtesy. “Be reasonable”, is her simple, yet powerful advice to pet owners. “Exercise care. Ensure that their vaccinations are always up to date. And always walk your dog with a leash”. She signs off with the advice that being a responsible pet parent is important to ensure harmony in community living.