Services and facilities for dogs and dog parents are booming in Kochi

Alexa, Germy, Simba and Zimba meet every Sunday at Rajendra Maidan. They run around the park, playing together while making new friends. Alexa is a Siberian Husky, while the other three are beagles. If not for the dog park Sundays, they would have never met. Four months since opening, the dog park has gained its set of regulars. 

Getting the space, which is under the Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA), for four hours every week is a huge win, says Dona Denny, one of the people who campaigned for the space. Dona along with Aishwarya Nandilath is co-founder of Pawsome Party, Kochi’s annual ‘pet festival’. The dog park is an outcome of Pawsome Party’s first edition. 

From the dog park Kochi
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“People started asking when the next one would be. We did not want to scale it down in order to be able to host another edition of the event in the same year. But the community of dog parents wanted a space to get their pets out, which led us to think of a dog park,” says Dona. Initially they considered Central Park, Panampilly Nagar, but when that did not pan out due to reservations residents around the park had Rajendra Maidan came up as the next option. It took several rounds of meetings, with the support of Hibi Eden, MP, for the park to become a reality.

“It was for the best. There is more space at Rajendra Maidan, there are gates so no question of runaways,” she says. The four hours weekly are publicised so that those who do not like dogs can avoid the park for that duration, we don’t want to inconvenience anybody,” Dona adds.

Besides being an opportunity for pet owners to hang out with their pets, the dog park is an opportunity for dog lovers who don’t have one to spend time with some canine friends. “Those who cannot keep pets can interact with them. It is therapeutic just being in the company of dogs,”  Dona says. It is also an opportunity for pet owners to interact with each other. Software professional Kiran Correa and his wife bring his two year old dog, Germy, to the park every Sunday.  “I can tell that he looks forward to it! It is a wonderful opportunity for the dogs to make ‘friends’; the bonus is that we, pet parents, get to interact with each other and exchange notes!” says Kiran. 

The Sunday dog park hosts events such as Halloween, Christmas and a New Year parties too. It also organises adoption drives (of Indies) in association with Animal Rescue Kochi, an NGO. So far the dog park has facilitated 80-odd adoptions.

Doctor at hand

Like everywhere else during the pandemic, Kochi saw a rise in people getting pets, mostly dogs. As the canine pet population has increased, the city has seen the growth of a vibrant ecosystem. Services and facilities for people to pamper their pets are many. If in the past one depended on the handful of veterinarians, today there is a 24-hour pet hospital in every part of the city. Most of the hospitals have teams of doctors, laboratories for tests, high-tech equipment and operation theatres which even conduct C-sections. These also offer boarding facilities.   

Tux, bowties and more

Tharun Lee Jose, director of Roms N Raks, says “Hobby industries saw a boom during COVID-19. People grew plants, got pets. The pet industry which was growing at the rate of 10 per cent annually, saw a jump of 100 per cent growth in the period from 2019-2021. It has now stabilised. The prices of breed dogs have reduced, more people can afford them and they are now buying food and accessories. Sales of premium pet foods are seeing an upswing.” 

Roms N Raks is a chain of stores of pet supplies, grooming products and services too. It has five branches in Kochi alone, besides those in Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur and Kozhikode. Although sales of supplies and accessories account for 75-80% of business, the rest of it comes from grooming.  Besides the chains, the city has standalone pet stores. Besides the variety in leashes, harnesses, soaps, shampoos and dog food, most of these even have clothes for dogs such as frocks, bow ties and tuxedos, lehengas and what not.

A place to board

Twenty-year-old chartered accountancy student Anamika Hari started a pet sitting, walking and boarding dogs service in 2021. Today she has a network of homes which board dogs whose families are out of town. She also has a team of six pet walkers and sitters. What was then a means of earning pocket money, Priority Paws is now a full-fledged service. “Holidays are a busy time, we take in boarders based on early bookings as we don’t have too many people to host the dogs,” Anamika says. Some clients insist on leaving their dogs with her, because the animals are comfortable with her. The rates for walking your pet range between ₹500 for 45 minutes, which included post-walk grooming — cleaning paws and brushing. Rates for boarding depend on the size of the dog, with indies getting discounted rates. Others are charged between ₹800 to ₹1,000 per day. What sets Priority Paws apart is that the dogs are not caged unlike other facilities in the city. 

Cakes, cookies and treats

Goodies by Hooch and Baileys 

Goodies by Hooch and Baileys 
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“Along with the many things COVID-19 changed, attitude towards pets, especially dogs changed. Apartment building by-laws changed, allowing people to keep their dogs indoors. And now want to celebrate them,” says Jayalakshmi Deepak. Under her brand Hooch and Baileys, she bakes snacks, treats and cakes for dogs and cats. There are days when she bakes up to five customised cakes. These are baked on order, made of either meat or fish. Jayalakshmi was a home baker who used to bake for her pet Bailey, a boxer, who has food allergies. That led her to baking treats for dogs of friends and family, until she had her ‘Aha! Moment’. “That I could bake goodies and treats for dogs. I did not think there would be many takers when I started back in 2019.” 

Party time

Pawsome Party is an annual event for pets, held in February. This year it is scheduled to be held on February 24-25 at Sacred Heart College grounds, Thevara. The event is for pets, species irrespective. “Last year we even had someone ride over on a horse,” says Dona Denny, co-founder of the event. Most of the participants are from the pet industry. The party is aimed at creating a community of pet lovers. “There is no commercial angle, people can get their pets along as everything is for pets. Pet owners were finding it difficult to take their pets out, the idea originated there,” she adds. Although it is a ticketed event, starting at ₹150 for pet parents (with pets), entry is free for indies and rescues. There are events for their humans as well.  

Training time

Pranav Prabhakaran, a professionally qualified dog trainer, has trained over 2,000 pet dogs since 2020. His 30-day training programme for dogs, which is carried out along with their owners, at homes. The programme is aimed at dogs in a domestic environment and includes correcting behavioural issues, socialisation, bite inhibition, toilet training, reducing aggression, walk training and behaviour in the house to mention a few. “It is about practising daily. It takes at least 21 days for the animal to form muscle memory.” The pet dog training method can be applied to other pets, too, Pranav adds. He has employed the same method to train a few pet cats, as well. Pranav’s Alpha Dog Training Centre, is based in Panangad. 

…the flip side

Kochi may wear its love of dogs on its sleeve, but the flip side is that many dogs are being abandoned, the lucky few are surrendered to animal rescue NGOs or are being put up for adoption. “That is the sad side to this story. When things opened-up, post-pandemic, and people returned to their regular lives and jobs, the dogs they bought during the pandemic became a problem,” says Jayalakshmi. Animal rescues, low on funds, are working to full capacity, ones of the reasons for frequent adoption drives. Those planning to get a dog need to keep a few things in mind — get an indie as they adapt well, tend to have fewer health issues and there are so many out there. Pups grow up, they are not accessories to be gifted, but eight to 10 year commitments, and they will always depend on you.

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