August 18, 2009
New Delhi Journal
Matchmaking in India: Canine Division
By LYDIA POLGREEN
NEW DELHI � Their lonely-hearts faces peer out of the advertisements, hangdog and looking for love.
"Hi, I am Musti," one poster reads. "I am a well-mannered, good-looking and considerate hunk. I am very health conscious and love my carrots. I am a one-woman man and promise to take good care of you."
And then there is Foster, all jowls and hooded eyes.
"Foster refuses to eat till we find him a girlfriend!" the poster declares.
In matrimony-mad India, where marriage is the central event of a lifetime, these posters could easily be for lovelorn, small-town bachelors, pasted up by anxious parents seeking a bride.
But the suitable girl these single fellows seek is of the furry, four-footed variety. Finding one, though, is not easy.
"I have been searching for months, but no luck," said Kunal Shingla, who is looking for a mate for Foster, his 2-year-old basset hound.
New Delhi�s elite has long treasured purebred dogs, and as more Indians enter the middle class, having a Pomeranian, Shih Tzu or Neapolitan mastiff at the end of the leash has become a symbol of new wealth and status.
Unlike backyard Indian mutts of old, these dogs, like the pampered pets of affluent Westerners, are part of the family. With young, middle-class Indians waiting longer to get married and have children, and with would-be grandparents impatient for grandchildren, designer dogs have filled a void created by the realities of modern urban life.
"Families are smaller now, just a husband and wife, and they have nobody to talk to," said Partha Chatterjee, a well-known dog show judge in India. "And then they have access to all these television programs where they see how dogs are being treated abroad. They want that kind of symbol of affluence."
But the pups of India�s surging middle class have a problem. Everyone, it seems, wants a male dog. This being India, everyone also wants his or her dog to have a mate. Sterilization is simply out of the question.
"He is a good dog," Mr. Shingla, a well-to-do marketing executive at his family�s manufacturing company, said of Foster. "I want him to have every happiness in life."
Three months ago he posted advertisements with Foster�s tongue-wagging visage at pet shops across Delhi, and on popular pet message boards, searching for a female basset hound. But he has had no takers.
Indians� penchant for male dogs is partly a result of a societal preference towards all things male, breeders here say. In parts of India, sons are treasured far more than daughters. This fact is reflected in the skewed ratio of boys to girls in some states, evidence of the illegal but still prevalent practice of aborting female fetuses.
There is also the perception, false for the most part, that females are more trouble to keep than males as a result of their menstrual cycles. And in the past, when most people got dogs to guard their homes, the perception that male dogs were more aggressive gave them an edge.
Sandeep Chopra, whose company, Classic Kennels, provides dogs to pet shops across the country, said he personally preferred female dogs for their easy temperaments. His clients are another matter.
"When a customer goes and buys a dog, 99 percent go for a male, and down the road when they need a mate, they face a problem," Mr. Chopra said.
He tried his hand at pet matchmaking, linking males and females of the same breeds, but it was simply impossible to find matches. Most of the females remain with breeders, he said, who prefer professional stud dogs. This also helps keep the supply of popular breeds tight � if people cannot breed dogs in their backyard they cannot cut into breeders� profits.
Particular breeds go in and out of fashion. These days pugs are all the rage.
Vodafone, a cellphone company, featured one of the small smushy-faced dogs in a popular advertising campaign. The quizzical little pup of the advertisement, with its pointy ears, wrinkly jowls, and head cocked at a jaunty angle, sent the price for a pug puppy skyrocketing upward of $400.
Vidushi Sinha, a 23-year-old actress, loved her female dog, Betsy, the puppy of a neighborhood mutt. But a few years ago her mother spotted a pug puppy that melted her heart at a pet shop.
"He was just so cute," Ms. Sinha said.
They named the puppy Julian. He is still adorable, Ms. Sinha said, but the family quickly learned the disadvantages of potty training a male.
"Male dogs just lift their leg anywhere," she said. And now there is another problem: Julian likes to get amorous with both furniture and people � closer than many would like.
And so a year ago she put up a poster in an upscale market in New Delhi. A few calls have trickled in, but so far none of the matches have worked out.
"I have already got him about two or three girlfriends, and he is not interested," she said. "I think he is already committed. There is no point looking for a girlfriend because he already has a boyfriend. I hear that a lot of small dogs are gay."
Julian has become very fond of another pug down the street named Chotabhai, Hindi for little brother.
"I am fine with it," Ms. Sinha said, a nonchalant note of resignation in her voice. "As long as he is happy."