“Why won’t you shut up,” snapped Raj, holding his Rottweiler by the neck, almost choking him. The trigger that had suddenly transformed him into a toxic pet parent? I don’t quite know. Nothing could justify his reaction—no one had been bitten, there had been no real damage to the house, and his dog had just barked once.
I didn’t intervene or ask why he had behaved that way. He was just a stranger I’d met on the internet and I had no real say in how he behaved with his pet. But it’s a visual that has since influenced how I behave with dogs myself and coloured my opinion of how other pet parents treat the animals under their care.
“In the Indian context, any aggression often goes unnoticed,” explains Mallika, a dog parent to nine indies in her farmhouse off the Mumbai-Pune expressway, which also doubles up as a makeshift veterinarian shelter for animals injured during environmental tragedies. “Any conversation around healthy behaviour with our pets must first begin by acknowledging that it is inaccurate for us to claim to have a fully functional relationship with our pets, regardless of how much we love them. Much like how no child can truthfully claim their parents have always been perfect to them.”
The internet is brimming with videos of traumatised cats who wince when a rescuer attempts to patch up their wounds; dogs who stop wagging their tails and retreat into a shell the moment they meet their abusive human parent; pets who can’t seem to walk straight on smooth surfaces because they are being crushed under the burden of their own weight.
To understand the oft-ignored world of toxicity we inhabit along with our pets and how we can work on fixing it, Vogue India spoke to an animal behaviourist and dog parents who learned their abusive patterns the hard way.
1. Pets always need care, regardless of age
Aaron D’silva, a pet behaviourist based out of Mumbai, says that pet parents often end up assuming that animals don’t require any special care after they grow up. Even the hugs, kisses and selfies peter out after our pets age. “Pets always need our care, and it is very negligent on our part to take their health for granted and assume they can take care of themselves after a certain age,” he says.
2. Always get therapy before adopting pets
D’silva says that pet owners often end up taking out all the stress from work and family on their pets, often without knowing that they are projecting their own anxieties onto them. “A majority of pet parents don’t even realise what is happening and then think the animal is at fault which is untrue,” he explains. “Animals only feed into the emotions of their owners and behave accordingly. If the pet parent is stressed, the animal reacts in a way that might be unpleasant.”