Vsod: COVID deaths result in rise of orphaned and abandoned pets in India

A few weeks ago, Bengaluru-based animal welfare organisation Let’s Live Together got to know about Buddy, a five-year-old Indie dog, who had lost his pet parent, an 87-year-old man, to COVID-19. Buddy had no one to look after him and he lay in the courtyard of the house, timid, forlorn and tied to a chain. “It took us a couple of hours to cajole Buddy and earn his trust. He was traumatised, scared and we didn’t know if he had had food since the death of his parent,” recalls Achala Pani, founder of the organisation that rescued Buddy.
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Buddy, a five-year-old Indie dog, who had lost his pet parent, is looking for a loving home
Pic: Instagram/letslivetogether

While Buddy is now at a foster home, ready to get adopted, there have been similar instances across the country following the second wave of COVID-19.
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Abandonment and COVID deaths - a double threat for pets

Animal welfare organisations that were trying to deal with abandoned pets during this time last year are now faced with two issues- abandoned and orphaned pets. Animal activist and admin of a cat rescue page on Facebook, Priyanka Padhye, says the number of pets losing their humans is quite high in Pune.

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While the number of cats losing parents to COVID is high in Pune, there are few instances of these felines finding home again
Pic: iStock

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“Often, when pet parents die, their neighbours aren’t willing to feed the pets. Even if they do, it stops after 2-3 days. Recently, we got a request from a woman whose husband and mother-in-law died due to COVID. She had to travel to her hometown and couldn’t take care of their three cats. Since we don’t have a shelter home, we are working closely with feeders who go around feeding these felines. Although we have managed to get a few cats adopted through social media, there are roughly 60-100 cats still looking for a family.”

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Achala throws light upon this side effect of COVID, where many pets are getting orphaned or abandoned when their parents or primary caretaker succumb to the infection. “For a pet dog, their world revolves around their humans. Plus, in the WFH scenario pets have gotten used to their humans’ constant presence. In such cases, if the pet's parents die, concerned neighbours and relatives bring the pets to a shelter, but not every pet is that lucky. Many are often left on the streets, confused about the situation they have landed in,” she says.

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Be prepared. Make provisions for your furry friend

To make sure your furry friend is in good hands if something happens to you, Achala suggests, "Currently there's no provision in Indian law to have a legal document or will for a pet. So, what pet parents can do is make sure that their pets have other human companions. Socialising is important to help the pet get friendly with humans. It becomes a huge obstacle to rescue a dog that is not friendly. Pet parents can choose godparents too, with their consent. Having pet insurance is beneficial. If not, create a financial backup and let the godparents know of this. Also, create a folder of medical and behavioural history. All this can help in case of emergency or death of the pet parents."

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India has developed detailed guidance on dealing with the issue of the rising number of pets getting orphaned amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Rashmi Gokhale, manager, Veterinary Services, PETA, suggests that one must be prepared for uncertainty. “It is always best for families to make trusted arrangements for their companion animals in case of sickness, hospitalisation, or death. If you find an abandoned dog or cat, please keep the animal safe, ideally at your home, and provide them with food and water until help arrives. You may contact a local animal welfare organisation for help,” suggests Rashmi.

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Providing emotional support to grieving pets

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Orphaned dogs need emotional support
Pic: iStock

A new home and surroundings can become emotionally taxing for pets. Certified pet behaviourist Leena Bajaj from Gurgaon, explains, “Dogs are highly sensitive after losing their owner. They can slip into depression. Through signs such as loss of appetite, weight loss, lack of energy, loss of interest in physical activity, we can tell that a dog is in a state of absolute shock. In such circumstances, putting a dog in newer environs can be difficult and it needs to be done with care.”

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She adds, “An orphaned dog may be sad for weeks following the death of their pet parent/s. Be kind and be patient throughout the process. Give them lots of attention, speak with them, play with them, and cuddle them. If the pet is adopted by a familiar family friend or family member, the healing process becomes quicker.”

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Socialize your pet. Meeting new people and other pets improves the confidence of your pet. Plus, having extra playmates will help relieve some of your pet’s built-up energy.

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