Give a dog a bone, a child a home

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When there are adoption centres overflowing with children and puppies who could use a home, is surrogacy and pet-breeding not an extravagance we can ill-afford?

Fertility centres seem to be coming up faster than, erm, babies. I turn a corner, and there I spot a spanking new facility. I turn a newspaper page, and here I come across an ad for a newly opened centre or a new fertility department of an existing hospital chain. All promising “the joy of motherhood”, or some warm copy and visuals to this effect. The existing centres, not to be left out in the BYOB (beget your own baby) race, seem to be devising more creative ways of marketing themselves.

Outside one centre, I spotted a huge banner featuring a tapestry of kids’ pictures. It couldn’t have been all those kids’ birthdays the same day, for that’s what the banner looked like: individual studio pix, sprinkled with balloons and candles. So, I gathered — as my transport whizzed past — that the facility was celebrating its own birthday. I guess what better way to celebrate a fertility facility’s birthday than by showcasing all the birthdays they’ve helped cause, right? And in last week’s paper, things seem to have gotten expectedly commercial. One ad talked of different packages (Basic, Standard, Premier), and another of easy EMIs. And you thought bringing up the baby was the expensive part.

I find this both intriguing and amusing. Amusing, because — heaven knows — this country’s leading deficit is babies. Also because some folks seem to have taken our PM’s call for Make in India quite seriously, and are determined that, at least in this department, we’re going to sock it to China. And intriguing because someone like me, who isn’t too hot about either marriage or moppets, can only wonder at the boom of these baby-promising places. Some reasons seem fathomable. Couples are not able to beget due to some “problem” with either or both of them, age-related issues (with the increasing tendency of couples to marry later in life, once they turn their attention from the rat race to the brat race, they find themselves fighting against the biological clock), and lifestyle-related complications (longer work-hours, shorter leisure-hours, the resulting stress and exhaustion) leading to love-making complications.

Another rarely-cited reason is the lack of compatibility. Some research shows that one in three marriages end in divorce — and within three to four years of getting married. Before they get to that, though, some couples, as a last resort, are turning to that old gem: “Maybe a baby can fix things?” but are perhaps ignoring that other gem: “Maybe the problem is not in the bed, but in the head”.

Some more researching throws light on another reason — another trend. Many of these centres have a large clientele of foreign nationals, especially from European countries, where population isn’t a problem, or — rather — ‘under-population’ is a problem; and where money isn’t a concern, being the developed world and all. One such friend once told me their government incentivises them to have kids, such as through educational subsidies.

HYDERABAD (AP) -06-07-2013 - BL / REPORT:RASHMI PRATAP / INDIA FILE : Canadian father Richard Rheo Riopel with Brazilian wife Dulcilene Correa Vieira and their infant Indian born daughter Sofia Correa Riopel ,born through surrogacy , in Hyderabad . --PHOTO: P_V_SIVAKUMAR

Which leads me to the biggest wonder: why aren’t these folk looking at... adoption? With the number of kids we know are filling orphanages and adoption centres, and the appalling conditions and illegal practices in quite a few of them, instead of paying so much to bring forth a new life, why not pay nothing to give a home and a new life to one of these kids, and the same joy to yourself?

Foreigners are up against a lot when doing so, having to go through a litany of checks. But Indians? Ah, the good-old attitude of “ log kya kahenge [what will people say]?” and “ pataa nahi kiskaa bachchaa hogaa [we can’t be sure about the parentage of the child]”. And then, of course, there’s the Great Wall of Religion.

And, of late, some people we look up to in some ways don’t seem to be helping much either. Things looked promising until a decade or so ago, when we had two Bollywood divas, Raveena Tandon and Sushmita Sen, choosing to adopt even when single, sending out great signals in pre-Twitter times (Raveena later got married and had two children with her husband). But of late, the fertility centres seem to be winning. A few Bollywood biggies (Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Farah Khan) and a couple of “mediums” as well (Sohail Khan and, most lately, Tusshar Kapoor) have, in recent years, all chosen to have kids through surrogacy.

Just imagine if Aamir Khan had emulated his character from Taare Zameen Par, taking under his wing (albeit in a different way) a lesser-blessed kid. Such an act would have sent out a message that reinforced both his screen persona and the narrative around adoption.

Now, for someone who has already said he isn’t too hot about kids, why am I going on about them? Well, I may not like babies, but I love their four-legged versions, animals (who are just as innocent but with more hair). But I see the same attitudes prevailing here. No, not that animals are going to fertility clinics for problems on the jungle bed a la Mufasa and Sarabi, or Raksha and Rama. I’m talking about people’s tendency to bring home animals from pet shops and breeders as opposed to adopting one from a shelter. So, they continue to buy Persian cats and Afghan hounds and house them in climes they are not meant for. I mean, don’t you see the incongruity from the very names? A Siberian Husky in Scorching Chennai?

Puppy-farming involves keeping dogs captive or caged when they aren’t breeding. Before that, it involves having them constantly pregnant, leading to a range of problems, from malnutrition to pendulous mammaries. And when their pup-producing days are over, they are either cast off on the roads or bumped off.

Why do they do it, then? It seems to have to do with the same old fear of societal judgment…

“How will it look if I get a shelter-residing dog into my sea-facing penthouse?”

“Ew, only a shiny Golden Retriever will do in my gleaming silver Merc.”

And to be straight-up snarky, “Oh, the irony of feeding Pedigree to a dog without one.”

And so, they continue fattening unscrupulous pet-shop owners and animal breeders and perpetuating puppy-farm cruelty. A puppy farm, or puppy mill — in case you don’t know — is actually various kinds of cruelty rolled into one. It involves keeping breeding dogs captive or caged when they aren’t breeding, which is very little of their miserable lives. Before that, it involves having them constantly pregnant, leading to a range of problems, from malnutrition to pendulous mammaries. And when their pup-producing days are over, they are either cast off on the roads or bumped off.

New-born pups don’t have it much better either — neither the ones who make it to the pet store nor those that don’t. The pups that do make it have been pulled away at birth from their mom, resulting in separation anxiety (for both), and are brought to the store packed in like sardines, resulting in stress and fatigue. The ones who don’t make it to the store — because they are adjudged unhealthy or abnormal among the other pups on the assembly line — face a fate similar to mom’s. Suddenly, you’re seeing the cruelty behind the cutie in the pet-shop cage. Blood Doggies, anyone?

Even when enlightened, people don’t care — or worse, they don’t want to. On my morning walks, I sometimes meet this man with this Lhasa Apso (again, a bad choice for the Indian climate, but then most foreign breeds are) named Fido. Last time, though, Fido wasn’t to be seen. When I asked him about it, he told me that Fido had passed away after an incident of food poisoning. After expressing my remorse, enquiring about the details, and commiserating him over the loss of “his son” (his words: “he was like a son to me”), since I know the way these things go, I ventured, “So, you plan to bring home another dog”? Pat came the answer, even before Fido’s soul could have reached animal heaven, “Yes. I’ve already paid for it. It’s a Beagle.”

Even as I was sighing at the idea of “paying” for a “son”, I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to inform him about the cruelties of dog breeders, that he could consider adopting one from a shelter (without having to pay, to boot), and that if he really wanted a Beagle, he could go for a Freagle, a Beagle that has been freed from an animal-testing lab and is up for adoption.

He looked at me like I had just revealed it was I who had poisoned Fido. We parted, with him offering that he’d think about it, but I daresay, since the money’s been paid, the deed’s been done. And the next time I see him on my morning excursion, there’ll be alongside him a fresh little Beagle pup, and not a thankful shelter-housed indie. Because attitudes, unlike pets, are not so easy to change.

Some people ask me why I campaign for animals as such. My usual reply is, “Because for most humans, animals are at the level of trash”. Given our propensity to want “our own” child at any cost, rather than give a home to one from an orphanage, our outlook toward less-fortunate younger human beings seems no better.

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