Puppy factoryOn a balmy February afternoon, employees at Sneha’s Care—an animal rescue centre based out of Chobhar—stumbled upon one of the most grisly sights they had witnessed in their careers:
On a balmy February afternoon, employees at Sneha’s Care—an animal rescue centre based out of Chobhar—stumbled upon one of the most grisly sights they had witnessed in their careers: Over a dozen dog carcasses casually strewn across the landscape. In Kathmandu, where there are no clear protocols on the disposal of deceased animals, it is not uncommon for pet carcasses to end up tossed into a river or simply left to the elements in the Valley’s outskirts. But this was no regular incident.
“It was like we stumbled upon a mass grave,” remembers Manoj Lama, a driver and caretaker at the centre.
According to Lama, there were 17 canine carcasses—some German Shepherds but also mixed-breed strays—dumped from an outlook onto a clearing below. “They had been there for at least a few days; the carcasses were bloated and had started to decompose. The bodies were simply tossed over a cliff, there were a few stuck in branches of trees nearby,” he says.
According to Sneha’s Care, some of the dogs had cannula marks—thin tubes used to administer medication—on their limbs. Soon, the grisly images of the site went viral on social media and questions began surfacing about how the carcasses ended up at Chobhar—could it have been dumped by a “backyard breeder” after the canines succumbed to a fatal, contagious disease?
“Those dogs probably didn’t come from a backyard breeder,” says Sneha Shrestha, the founder of Sneha’s Care, “Given that most of the carcasses were male dogs, they most likely originated from a veterinary service provider in the Valley. That, however, is not to negate the problem backyard breeding has become.”
“In the pet industry, “backyard breeder” is a term used to describe amateur animal breeders whose breeding is considered substandard, and often times misguided,” says Jagannath Dhakal, the secretary of the Kennel Club of Nepal. Because there is no oversight over the pet industry in Nepal, a majority of puppies bought and sold in the Valley are supplied by backyard breeders who put little thought into the nutrition and health of the mother and the pups.
“Most of these dogs are inbred and abused, resulting in lifelong physical ailments and behavourial issues,” Dhakal says, “Which is why there are very strict regulations on pet breeding in a lot of countries, but right now in Kathmandu it is a free-for-all.”
A quick search on Facebook yields dozens of results for breeds of all kinds—from tiny pugs to gargantuan Saint Bernards—up for sale in the Valley.
We followed one lead to a cluster of ramshackle tin shacks in the Gokarna area that at first sight looked to be a run-of-the-mill scrapyard. But inside, holed up in tiny crates, were about three dozen dogs stacked end to end. All of them were “high-value” breeds—German Shepherds, Rottweiler, Labradors and Bulldogs. The operator was willing to part with a 20-day-old male Dalmatian pup for Rs 10,000; Rs 7,000 for the convalescing mother.
Another quick search led us to Kirtipur, where one breeder was offering German Shepherd pups for the cut-price of Rs 9,000. His “facility” had five ill-built shacks housing over a dozen dogs; others were simply tied to poles under the open sky. He was one of the several backyard breeders running similar establishments in the neighbourhood.
Dhakal, a breeder himself and the proprietor of Mahanagar Pet Mart in Hattigauda, says it is inexplicable for pups to come that cheap. “Were you buying a German Shepard from a certified breeder or a kennel club, you’d be shelling out north of Rs 20,000,” he says, “And you would know the pedigree of the dog you’re purchasing, thus any hereditary ailments passed on to it.”
All of the dogs at Mahanagar, according to Dhakal, are vaccinated and micro-chipped with a unique identification number.
But beyond just the problem of inbreeding—that result in pups with deficient immune systems and undesired mutations—backyard breeders overlook the very fundamental tenets of breeding, says Pramada Shah, the president of Animal Nepal, a non-profit animal welfare organisation.
“Selectivity is at the heart of dog breeding. Breeds, age, size and genetics are some factors to be considered while breeding a dog,” she says, “Unfortunately, none of these factors are taken into account. Pure breed dogs tend to be far less resilient and healthy than mixed-breed dogs in the first place. But when you’re churning out them from ‘puppy mills’, you exponentially amplify the chances of mutations, diseases and suffering.”
Which is why, many countries around the world have strictly regulated pet industries. In 2006, Britain passed a legislation that makes it illegal to sell puppies that are less than eight weeks old. India, too in recent years, has rolled out strict breeding laws that require breeders to mandatorily register with the government and maintain explicit records of their canines, breeds, microchip numbers, litters and vaccination details. “In a lot of countries, a breeding facility must be mindful about required infrastructures, such as space, temperature, nutrition, medication and sanitation,” says Dhakal, “There are also regulations as to how many times a female dog is bred in its lifetime.”
According to him, starting from the age of eighteen months, a dog is capable of having six to seven litters in its lifetime, with one litter a year considered optimal for the health of the mother and the pups. “It, however, is normal for backyard breeders to force two litters a year, and up to 12 litters overall,” he says.
The problem stems from the fact that Nepal currently doesn’t have any laws that govern the burgeoning pet industry. It currently is lumped under the purview of The Ministry of Livestock Development, the umbrella government body that oversees animal welfare and industries in Nepal.
Bimal Kumar Nirmal, director general at the Department of Livestock Services, is quick to admit that the Ministry does not have any guidelines for the breeding or sale of dogs. “By definition, the term ‘livestock’ refers particularly to animals that produce milk, meat and eggs,” he says, “Regarding dogs, we focus more on aspects like vaccination and veterinary care. Dog breeders can register themselves in our district branches like any other livestock industry.”
A few do so, however. According to Dhakal, there are only a handful of registered breeders in the country. The rest, about 40 amateur breeders in Kathmandu alone by his estimates, have carte blanche.
“The demand for pure breed dogs is growing exponentially, and is about ninety percent of that demand if met by backyard breeders. It is difficult to put a number on how big the pet economy is at the moment, but some estimates put the annual turnover at about six hundred million rupees. How can an industry that big go unregulated?” he asks.
The Kennel Club of Nepal, along with animal rights organisations, is currently lobbying the government to institutionalise the dog breeding industry by issuing laws and quality control parameters. But until then, Dhakal says, change needs to take root at an individual level. “We get very attached to our pets; they become a part of the family. By bringing home cheap puppies you buy on the internet, or even a pet store, you are not only perpetuating cruel and abusive backyard breeding centres, but you are also overlooking potential financial, and more importantly emotional duress in the future,” he says, “Little will change unless people begin questioning, ‘Why is this puppy so cheap?’”
Sneha Shrestha, who advocates adopting mixed-breed stray dogs over seeking out pure breeds, also agrees that consumers are a part of the problem. “As long as there is a demand for pure breed puppies, there will always be shady suppliers looking to make a quick buck,” she says, “So, it is time we take a hard look not just at the laws governing the pet industry but also our fixation with imported dog breeds.”