We really should consider revising certain idioms in English. For example, the negative connotation of the term 'It's a dog's life' should now be nothing short of a compliment to a millionaire's extravagant lifestyle! Because, figure say, despite the economy slowing down to a grinding halt, pet business in poverty-stricken India is booming like never before!
Chikku is a new breed of Indian dog -- the centre of attention for adoring owners who spare no expense to ensure he has everything he needs and, like his Gucci collar and lead, a lot that he doesn't.
AdvertisementThe 350-dollar designer ensemble was a gift for Chikku's "birthday," said Asha Singh, mother of the dog's 10-year-old owner.
"He loves that dog so much," she said of her son as the pug puppy played on the lawn of her New Delhi home.
"(He) wanted something special for his birthday -- the day we brought him home. So we bought the collar and lead."
"This is still a very virgin market for pet products, but it's growing well, there's so much demand," said J. Prakash, owner of VS Associates, a leading pet products importer.
"We've seen no slowdown," he told AFP at a recent trade fair in New Delhi. (Current annual growth being between a whopping 10 and 15 percent.)
India's pet industry is valued at around 45 million dollars annually, according to research firm Euromonitor, still a minnow when compared to the annual 40 billion dollars of the US market.
Experts say that thanks to the economic boom of the past decade, pets have become status symbols in a society undergoing seismic changes that have undermined the traditional extended family.
"Often both parents work and there's no longer any grandparents around for the children to come home to, only the maid," said Linda Brady Hawke, publisher of Indian pet care magazine Creature Companion.
"An animal is something which will greet the children with love," she said.
While mangy mongrels are a common sight on city streets across India, it's the high-status breeds, such as Great Danes, Dalmatians and Afghan hounds, that are to be seen on the end of an expensive leash -- usually being walked by servants.
The breed of the moment is the pug, which soared in popularity after one featured in a mobile phone TV advertisement.
Labradors and golden retrievers have shown staying power, with owners willing to spend up to 300,000 rupees (6,000 dollars) for a championship-level imported purebred specimen -- and to leave the air-conditioning on so thick-coated breeds such as giant St. Bernards won't perish in the summer heat.
Property developer Javed Akhtar Pascha employs a maid to look after his 10 dogs, which include a pair of bulldogs, three pugs, a Pekinese and a Rottweiler.
"We keep them as family members," said Pascha, adding that the cost of their care is no object.
Neither is money a consideration for the clients of pet grooming outlet ScoobyScrub, owned by Sanjeev Kumar.
"Nothing seems too expensive for our customers when it comes to doing things for their animals," he said, adding: "Some treat them like their children."
ScoobyScrub offers such services as "full body massage" and hair streaking -- "to give them a new look" -- which can cost up to 1,000 rupees, more than most maids earn in a week.
It's not so long ago, before the boom fuelled new prosperity, that Indians fed their dogs leftover rice and beans, and a bit of meat if they were lucky.
These days they fear that home cooking isn't nutritious enough and buy their dogs imported food that often costs more than the weekly budget of the 420 million Indians officially classified as poor.
India is home to nearly half of the world's hungry, according to the World Food Programme, with some 40 percent of the population living below the global poverty line of less than 1.25 dollars a day.
"Families want to spend more on pets whether it's branded foods or toys -- that's part of the 'humanisation' process" of the animal, said Euromonitor researcher Yvonne Kok.
Pet stores are catering for the new obsession by stocking herbal shampoos, digestive tonics, scent, designer beds, knitted coats, mufflers, dog shoes and raincoats, as well as regular items such as flea spray.
"People often don't look at the price tags -- they want what's best for their pets," says Mohan Kadam, owner of New Delhi's Windsor Pet Market which sells a range of pet food and accessories.
"We're very excited about the Indian market," said Lars Bogdahn, of retractable lead maker Flexi International.
As he spoke, a crowd gathered at his trade fair stall to marvel at a Swarovski crystal-studded leash his company sells for 8,000 rupees.