Kashmiri veterinarians handling the surging pet rush at their clinics say people prefer pet out of depression in the valley and as a support system during loneliness.
By Syed Burhan
TWO years after picking up a grueling indoor routine, Zahoor Sofi’s children insisted him to buy a ‘talking parrot’.
Mindful of their mental weariness due to the rigorous online-classes, Sofi, a native of Batamaloo Srinagar, promptly visited Old City’s Saida Kadal area which in the last few years has emerged as a hub of pet birds.
He purchased a parrot at Rs 6,000 after the pet-seller promised him that the bird will talk and amuse his children.
But as time passed, Sofi’s children became upset as the parrot failed to utter a word. This forced him to pay an exchange visit to the pet-seller.
However, the pet-seller, Ghulam Rasool Dar, blamed Sofi for failing to take proper care of his pet. He eventually gave Sofi a new parrot in exchange of an old one, charging an additional amount of Rs 2000.
“Such exchange deals have become a routine here,” Dar says.
“Many of these new pet-keepers of Kashmir don’t know how to handle their pets and end up exchanging them. But that hardly stops people from buying these pets.”
Dar who has been selling pets for the last three decades is witnessing a growing rush of customers for pet-keeping in the valley.
“I tell my customers that it’s good to keep a pet, but caring is the most important thing,” he says.
“If his cage remains dirty, the parrot will not eat anything. If I’m rude towards him, he won’t even eat the food. A pet is like your own child.”
Parroting these routine lessons, Dar has become one of the go-getting names in Srinagar for pet-buying. But he’s not alone making most out of the growing passion.
Amid the pet business boom, many young Kashmiris have come out with their stores for catering to their community’s ‘distress demand’. Among them is Basit Zargar.
Zargar runs his pet outlet in the city outskirts of Ellahi Bagh since 2015. Within six years of its inception, his store has become a popular pet shop in Srinagar.
“Pet business in Kashmir is flourishing than ever before,” Zargar, offloading fish into his shop, says.
The young pet-seller sees the lockdown and internet gag of recent times as the main reasons for the surge in sales in the pet market.
“Since lockdown,” Zargar says, “we’ve seen surge in pet business because people are restricted to their homes and in order to pass time people need something to do. Since nothing remains hidden in the digital age, children come to know about pets online. This also generates interest.”
Zargar whose Instagram page has more than fourteen thousand followers says that Kashmiris are willing to spend on pets.
While the minimum cost to setup an aquarium is around Rs 6,000, he says, “I’ve also installed an aquarium worth Rs 3 lac at a house in Srinagar and have sold a single unit of fish for Rs 70,000.”
Zargar goes on to say that Kashmiris are now looking for exotic animals.
“The other day,” he says, “a customer came looking for a snake!”
But while snake-keeping supposedly stays an individualistic pursuit as of now, Zargar is catering to the community passion for turtles he sells along with cats and fish. “Each turtle costs Rs 15,000 and has registered a good sale,” he says.
Persian cat is equally registering a good sale making preference of people quite clear.
This surging pet passion is quite visible at Government Central Veterinary Hospital in Srinagar — where pet owners are arriving in droves for doses and diagnoses.
This footfall, says Dr. Qazi Mudasir, was not there till some years back. “There has been an increase in pet culture in Kashmir quite recently,” the veterinarian with years of clinical experience says.
He attributes the surge to the ever-modernizing society and the post-covid scenario where children have nowhere to go.
“A pet owner lately came to my home to treat his puppy,” Dr. Qazi says. “As soon as my children saw the puppy, they insisted for the one. This is how it is. Since children have nowhere to go, this has led to an increase in the pet culture.”
Among others, a young pet-keeper Tajamul is cooling his heels in the veterinary along with his pet. Travelling a long distance from north Kashmir’s Sopore town, he has brought his Persian cat in a critical condition.
“This has happened to my pet for the first time,” says Tajamul. “My cat’s condition deteriorated last night and since morning, she’s critical.”
But thanks to the efforts of the alert veterinarians, Tajamul’s cat improves as the day progresses.
“Keeping a pet in Kashmir was thought as a taboo till some years back,” Dr. Iqra Shafi Khan, a veterinarian who practices at a private pet clinic, Pet Erena in Karan Nagar, says.
“But now, people pet animals for different reasons. A pet acts as a support system during loneliness and some also prefer pets out of depression.”
This growing surge is gradually getting intriguing as well, she says. “We run a pet clinic and don’t sell pets. But then, we receive five to six people every week. They come looking for a pet in a clinic!”
With this rising pet culture, many pet stores selling products like shampoos and other items have cropped up in the city. People mainly shop for cat accessories there, as Kashmiris prefer cats over dogs, Dr. Iqra says.
“Cats may be easy to handle and keep, but they’re vulnerable to viral diseases as well,” she warns.
“After a cat is purchased it needs to go through deworming and vaccination. After 21 days a booster shot is also important.”
Amid this rising passion, Safa Kadal’s pet market is getting animated with the regular buying.
After agreeing exchange, the pet-seller Dar has a final word for Sofi about the pet handling: “It will talk, just handle it with care. Remember, this is just like your own child, treat it like the one!”
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