For pet owners, some vacations or emergency getaways have a high probability of getting nightmarish.

When 52-year-old Srikala Thambi’s mother passed away in New Delhi, she had no choice but to leave her two dogs, either at a friend’s place or at a dog shelter. “I had left them at dog shelters earlier and regretted much because it used to take many days for them to stop shivering or even to eat properly. They are not used to being confined in cages or to the constant barking of other dogs.”

Ms. Srikala then left the dogs with an acquaintance who used to frequent their house earlier and play with the dogs. “He volunteered to help himself. He used to come to our former neighbour’s house often and had said he worked at a mutual friend’s house. And since I had left the dogs earlier with him once, I did not think it to be wrong.”

But, that led to several traumatic weeks for Ms. Srikala. The caretaker, Santosh kept evading Ms. Srikala’s constant pleadings to return her pets to her, when she came back after a week. “He first said the dogs were with his friend. Then he said he had left the dogs in Porur and then, in Saidapet. Every day, my daughter and I used to search for them in those areas. After that, he stopped taking my calls.”

Ms. Srikala had approached the Kodambakkam police station in mid-January but she alleges the police officials there were reluctant to file a complaint.

“They warned his sister and asked me to wait.” It was only after she met the city police commissioner on Saturday that police officials sprung into action.

Kodambakkam police officials said they have registered a case of theft as well as under certain sections of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. “We have traced down his number. It is in Erode. We have spoken to his father too. The investigation is on and very soon, we will find him,” said a senior police official.

Niranjan Ambarnath, an animal activist from PETA, said that often, complaints regarding loss and theft of pet animals are not taken seriously. Kalki Devarajan, who owns two dogs, says, the number of people putting up posts on social media about missing pets has increased greatly too. “Services offered in shelters range up to Rs. 500 – Rs. 1,500 per day. Spending Rs. 5,000 on my pet whenever I want to go on five-day holiday is not affordable,” said Kalki.

There are nearly seven animal shelter houses in Chennai, while Mumbai and Bangalore have close to 120 each.

Mr. Niranjan says the concept of pet boarding and shelter is new to Chennai and many are not suited for pets. “There was one where dogs are tied to a tree under the open sun, and another with all the dogs cooped in cages. It can be traumatic for both pets, because these are animals that move in packs, and consider family members as companions. When left, they undergo immense emotional pain, which needs to be dealt with patiently. The best is to leave a family member with them at home.”

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