Retired director, GSI, with around seven decades of association with furry friends
The apartment culture has caught up very fast in our country. Ever-rising population and demands for dwellings has compelled us to go vertical. It is now common to find high rise apartments, termed Societies in almost every large town. When people migrate to such dwellings, they sell/gift/give away whatever surplus/useless household material they have. But when it comes to pets, it becomes very difficult for them to part with their pet. There comes the problem. Many Societies make it very clear to the buyer that pets like ‘dogs and cats’ are not allowed.
But there are many which just forewarn the owner that his/her pet should not be a nuisance for others and there should be no complaint and allow the pet. While I agree that the love for pet is so deep that one cannot dream of parting with the pet. But one must think carefully and also know the pros and cons of keeping a pet, like a dog. The only pros in favour of keeping a pet in an apartment is that you don’t have to part with your dog.
Now let us examine the cons. Do you know that a small dog like a Spitz needs a minimum of free space of 40 sq feet of his own! It is impossible to provide that space. But like large cars, these days, people prefer large breeds of dogs. They are ideal no doubt, but they need proportionately much larger space than a Spitz. The next major problem is that being a living animal, a dog has to pass urine and stool as per his requirement. You may contest that my dog is fully trained and I take him out whenever required. Okay fine, but that is where the problem begins. Often due to holding urine for considerable time, his bladder is full and the poor creature is not able to hold further and relieves himself in the lift itself. There starts the problem. The other users of the lift protest and it is very correct for them to object. Suppose you manage to overcome that, but the dog having been locked up in the flat throughout the day, feels the urge so much that he relieves at the entrance or on the road itself.
Let me explain a point here. For dogs, urination is not just a biological urge, but it is their visiting card too. They leave a message on the spot that ‘I have been here’. The other dog passing by, doesn’t miss a chance and puts his signatures too. Like that, the spot becomes a common point for all the dogs of the society, whether being reared as a pet or the strays. Such incidents lead to arguments and counter arguments and bitterness among the residents of a society. Ultimately your pet becomes bane for many.
Personally speaking, I am against the idea of keeping dogs as pets in a high rise society. But if there is no other alternative, it is better to train your dog to live in that kind of society. Preferably you should keep a small breed, so that whenever required you can pick him up and carry in your lap, especially in the lifts. Alternatively, you can use the staircase, but climbing up or going down several floors can be a problem for you and the pet as well. If you own a large dog, please try to ensure that there is no one else in the lift. Always carry your dog on a short leash with a choke caller, so that he cannot lunge at the co-passenger. A muzzled dog is the safest bet.
You may disagree and say, ‘I cannot muzzle my dog, as that amounts to cruelty.’ Agreed, but then if your dog accidentally attacks or bites the co-passenger then you had it. Many housing societies have fixed places for dogs to poop and pee. If that is available then make it a point to take your pet to that spot only. As I said earlier that they go by the odour, thus for your pet, a space so ear marked will be especially attractive and he will be keen to go there. However, remember that in order to increase his territory he may mark other spots like flower pots, poles or even tyres of the cars parked there. Better avoid all such spots. If need be, carry him in your lap. In case he is too big to be carried, then hurriedly take him to the desired spot and let him finish his job. Do praise him lavishly thereafter. In case he tries or succeeds in doing at other spots, show your anger by change of tone and facial expression.
In case your society doesn’t have a space ear-marked, then in consultation with other pet owners and the office bearers of the society select a spot slightly away from the residential areas and out of sight and make that as pet dogs’ poop park. Mind you, in case you have strays too in the society they too will throng the spot soon. You have to be extra careful in such cases to avoid a dog fight or a sudden attack. Always carry a stick in your hands, NEVER to be used on your dog or even other dogs. But do use it to scare away a possible attacker.
If you have a small breed, never lift him in your lap, if attacked by the strays. In that case your pet may escape, but you are bound to be accidentally bitten on the hands. In case of an attack, just stand your ground, do not stare at the attacker or attackers, you may however shoo them away by shouting or show as if picking up a stone, and mock throw it in their direction. This may help to deter them. Yes, as per the present laws you are not supposed to hurt even a stray dog. Therefore, be careful.
These days the societies generally have a large Park for the people to sit and relax. Never take your pet there to play. Generally senior citizens sit there or children play. Dogs have an attraction for anything that moves fast. A running kid can be mistaken by your pet as a running hare or his prey. His hunting instinct tells him to rush and catch the prey. For him it is just an instinct, but if he actually pounces on the kid, then your relations with other society members get ruined. Likewise, the senior citizens cannot escape, if a dog charges at them.
Since it is your decision to own a pet dog, it is for you to devise ways and means to keep your pet well exercised, but not at the cost of other residents of the Society who are scared of dogs. The only solutions are to perfectly train your dog to obey your commands, come what may. Always carry him on a leash. Never ever let him romp around without leash. After all he is a dog and his instinct to chase is ever present.
If you ask me what other pet you can safely keep? In my opinion fish in aquarium are the best and safest. Among fish too Goldfish are such that they interact with humans. My Goldfish, the moment they see me around especially at about 8 AM, huddle up together at the water surface and beg for food. Likewise, they repeat this performance in the evening. During the rest of the period, they remain unconcerned. However, if I put my finger in the tank they come and nibble at it. But if I ask someone else to do so, they shy away. They are able to recognise the person who feeds them. Not a bad idea, if you are in a flat and need a pet, go for an aquarium.