Pakistan’s urban upper middle class obsession with luxury dogs is making people big money

Under the guise of breeds and love of animals, a lucrative business thrives, with some criticising it as inhumane and others as a wasteful luxury

When Ameer Hussain’s three month old German Shepherd puppy fell ill, taking him to the vet resulted in two different blows. The first one was that treatment for the sick puppy would cost anywhere between Rs5,000-7,000. The second was that the puppy he had bought for Rs15,000 thinking it was a German Shepherd, was not a German Shepherd at all – it was a half breed. 

So what did Ameer Hussain do? He sold the puppy using OLX, which is where he had found it in the first place. Of course, when he sold it, he tried to keep hush about the fact that the puppy was not a purebred German Shepherd.

Pet animals can be status symbols for a lot of people. In Pakistan, there is very little culture of adopting or rescuing animals from shelters when you want to get one. People want the most colourful parrots, Persian cats, and German Shepherds and they are willing to spend good money on these animals, both in buying them, and in the expenses that mantining them incurs. 

From an animal rights perspective, this presents a grim picture. Breeding for purity is a tiring process for the animals, they are domesticated and bred for attributes that often decrease their quality of life (some punch nosed cats have severe breathing difficulties for example) and it promotes in the general public hubris rather than a love for animals. Having a pet is a beautiful and humbling experience, but when those pets begin to be kept to denote class status, it turns a wonderful part of the human experience into a capitalist mechanation. 

However, it is a lucrative business to serve pet-owners and in this story, we examine how much money people are willing to pay for these ‘purebred’ animals, who is making bank on these, and what corolary businesses have thrived as a result. The tale that follows, unfortunately, is often one of deception – and one in which the animals end up taking the brunt of the burden.

A cottage industry

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If you have ever kept pets, particularly cats or dogs, then you will probably know a cat uncle or a dog aunty. These are people that have pets of their own and breed them so that they can then sell the litters that these pets produce. A cat can give birth to up to six kittens at a time, and a German Shepherd can have up to eight puppies in a single litter. 

The first kind of people that do this operate on a very small scale. Two families with a male and female cat, for example, arrange to have their pets mate and then either the female cat’s family pays the male cat’s family, or they split the kittens that come out of the union. 

The other kind are people that operate on a much larger scale. They have houses full of animals and breed them incessantly and dangerously so that they can have a large number of kittens and puppies and sell them to prospective buyers either through existing connections or over the internet. However, this has caused more confusion than anything else. Veterinarian Dr. Haseeb Qayyum believes that since newcomers have started breeding animals in their own homes, new enthusiasts often face deceptions with regards to the purity of breeds. 

“In the pet business, breed is the most important thing. In Pakistan in particular, having pets was considered the hobby of the rich who kept expensive breeds of dogs and cats. So people continue to breed and sell these animals at high prices beyond the reach of the common man,” says Dr Haseeb. 

The trend, while not relatively new, is one that has seen a surge since the 1980s. Back around the time when the British took control of India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most animal breeding in India was for cattle and other farm animals. The only kind of breeding for sport or status was horses, which is something that had been happening for centuries before that and continues to happen (horses were bred both for speed, strength and beauty depending on whether they were for work, racing, or showmanship). 

Pets like cats and dogs had been around in India forever, as with any other culture since bonds between humans and animals are normal, but the trend for purebred dogs as pets came with the British, and having such animals as pets became a status symbol among the Indian gentry that wanted to emulate the British. 

“Even after Partition, the trend was for people to adopt or rescue stray animals. There was no focus on breeds as such other than among people that had either lived or had colonial pretenses,” says Yaqub Khan, a dog breeder that has been operating in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the past 20 years. “Then in the 1980s, as people began consuming mass media, there was a demand for purebred dogs.” 

Even back then, as Yaqub explains, the prime breed of dog in Pakistan was the German Shepherd, which was a preferred dog of the English and was an excellent guard dog. As time went by and more people began to feel the need for the dog, people began to focus on making sure they had the purest breed of the dog since a lot of people began breeding their German Shepherd dogs with local species to produce half breeds. Thus with the increasing demand, the business for ‘purebred’ dogs became huge in Karachi, then Lahore and eventually in Islamabad, and then in almost all small and large cities and villages.

Eventually, after generally steady demand, breeders and pet shop owners saw an increase in demand with the advent of social media, as people began posting about their pets, causing more people to want to have them. And since social media is often a subtle competition, the purity of the breeds became all the more important. This is also where for the first time people began using social media as a platform to sell purebred pets online.

Enter social media

“As the trend grew, so did the business, then when we started using YouTube, Facebook and other social networks, it became even more popular to adopt pure breeds. Because through these social network platforms, people show off their precious animals and explain their characteristics,” explains Yaqub. “Recently, we saw another upsurge with the coronavirus pandemic that caused people to be stuck at home. The demand for pets was so high during the lockdown that breeders ran out of stock. Since people were at home and not having long engagements, they started considering keeping pets.”

“The pet business is not very difficult. Every city usually has a pet and bird market from where people can easily get anything, but now if you look at these markets, you can’t find pure breeds here, especially dogs and cats and it seems very difficult to find pure breeds from here. Meanwhile, breeders who used to breed pets also began to use platforms such as OLX and Facebook. Dogs of all breeds are currently being sold on OLX and Facebook, and it is easy for enthusiasts to get their favorite animal directly from a breeder,” explains Khan. 

“Similarly, there are several groups on Facebook where the breeders of each city are advertising to sell their breeds. Although Facebook has banned groups from doing any kind of buying and selling in groups, people still post their numbers stating the availability of animals and customers call and reach the desired breeder or animal.” 

Another breeder, Naveed Hussain, agreed that social media networks have undoubtedly expanded the business. “Earlier, even people from small towns had to go to big cities to get a good breed of animal. For example, in the Tollington market in Lahore, there is a large scale sale and purchase of animals and birds. There are markets in major cities including Empress Market in Karachi and Birds and Pets Market in Saddar area, Pet Market in Peshawar, Pet Market on College Road in Rawalpindi,” he says. 

“Breeders bring their animals to these markets, but stolen animals are also sold on a large scale in these markets. For example, there are people in a particular mindset whose hobby or job is to steal expensive pets. Such people keep an eye on every house or place where there are expensive pets.” 

When Profit conducted a survey to find out which are the most popular and fast selling pet breeds in Pakistan, it was found that many foreign breeds are being sold in Pakistan but Labrador, German Shepherd, Rottweiler and Siberian Husky are the most popular among dogs. Khan believes that some of Pakistan’s most popular breeds still include German Shepherds and Labradors but these days, Siberian husky is also gaining popularity in Pakistan, despite the fact that they do not do well in the Pakistani climate. 

“The popularity of the Labrador had skyrocketed in Pakistan in the 1990s, and given the increase in demand, almost every third person who had a male or female Labrador got it bred and sold them in the market. Usually, a Labrador with normal quality sells anywhere between Rs12,000 to Rs20,000 depending on whether it is fawn, chocolate brown, what colour its eyes are etc. These are the qualities breeders aspire towards.”

Similarly, some other breeds fetch even bigger prices, such as the Golden Retriever. in the Labrador, one category is known as the Golden Retriever. There are not many Golden Retrievers in Pakistan because, on the one hand, they are very expensive and because it is a technical breed which demands a lot of time and attention so they are bought only by those who can afford them. This is followed by the Pedigree Labrador Puppy or Dog category. 

“Interestingly, the price of a pedigree puppy is also determined by the association that registers its papers. For example, the Labrador Puppy or liter that gets registered by Kennel Club Pakistan (KCP) is priced between Rs50,000 and Rs80,000,” Khan explains. 

“I will say this again, this price is for its quality and color and quality is always determined keeping in view the bone structure and bloodline of the animal. Similarly, if the litter of the same breed is pedigree from Pakistan Kennel Club (PKC), its price will be between Rs25,000 to Rs40,000. However, local breeders also sell Labrador puppies in Pakistan for up to Rs250,000 just because of its quality and blood line.” 

The prices we were told for pedigree puppies continued to be staggering. A normal German Shephard puppy costs between Rs20,000 to Rs25,000, and a good quality one can go for as much as Rs40,000. If the same puppy is registered with PKC, its price should be Rs60,000 and if it is registered with KPC, it will be sold for Rs80,000. 

However, those who have show-quality liters and have very good blood lines and quality are selling the same puppies for Rs200,000 to Rs250,000. 

“Dogs of other breeds including American Mastiff, Pug, American Poodle, Bulldog, Doberman, Russian Poodle, Shihtzu are also valuable breeds but their breeders are few and these dogs are expensive. Now, some breeders are raising their breeds so that they can be sold in the market at good prices. What happens now is that if anyone has a non-pedigree Labrador female, he is also earning almost Rs250,000 a year from the litter he gets from his bitch,” Khan added.

The pedigree question 

Let us put this out there once again: buying an animal for its pedigree and breed is a vain, selfish, and completely unjustifiable act. There is no other way to spin it. Animals get mistreated in the process, the commodification of a natural process, and the use of animals as status symbols is the most banal way to show off one’s riches. However, once again, it is something that happens and is in fact a common practice. 

“Having a dog is a hobby as well as a great business. I have earned Rs1 million from my German Shepherd liter in three years. The money I earn by selling her litter I spend back on her because I love her and take special care of her food, supplements and medicines but not everyone does the same,” says Arsal Chauhan, a dog lover that has a single German Shepherd. 

“Those who have a female dog make a profit by selling her puppies and the most earners are the stud service providers. Those who have male dogs do not have to wait for puppies all year round. They sell their dog’s stud and in return receive either Rs10,000 to Rs50,000 or a puppy of their choice.”

Within this business, of course, the most important thing is bloodline and appraisal. So if a litter is coming from a dog that has won awards at dog shows, the price of the puppies will be much higher. Similarly, as mentioned before, depending on what kennel association rates the puppies, the price will go up. Thus the competition to curry favour with these clubs and judges of these competitions is high since the stakes are quite high. 

Of course, the business is not the simple money maker that most people make it out to be. As another breeder from Lahore, Ahmed Ghauri, explains, getting good breeds and selling them is not an easy task and requires patience, and at times the loss incurred can be up to 200 percent. 

“We have four breeds of dogs and two breeds of cats on our kennel which are very popular in Pakistan. I have German Shepherds, Labra, Husky and American Mastiff pedigree dogs. If you look at my investment in this business, I had invested about Rs1.5 million just to buy good quality animals. Now, if I give these dogs home-cooked food, it will make their quality worse and they will not be able to breed well. So when it comes to good food, Royal Canin’s dog food is available at a minimum of Rs1,200 per kg. Now, if I feed my dogs an average of five KGs of dog food a month, then the whole cost of Rs150,000 comes only on dog food. In addition, they have to be given other foods such as chicken, beef or other items that cost separately. Add vaccination and doctor’s fees to this and you have a pretty big and constant investment on your hands,” he says.

“There are other risks too. For example, if a puppy is infected with parvo virus, the whole litter can be infected with the virus and die. These infected puppies can infect all the dogs and cats in my kennel, no matter how much I have vaccinated them. In such a situation, not only do all the animals die but also the entire investment is lost. Similarly, sometimes if we have to have a very outclass breed, we get our female dog mated with a dog with a good blood line and people charge between Rs40,000 to Rs100,000 for the male stud service. But if the female dog has any problems during pregnancy or birth, all of the risk is for us to bear.” 

Of course, there are other considerations as well. One thing that works for breeders is that they have a steady customer base that can afford these luxury pets. 

“Most of the people who buy these breeds are the ones who know them. Husky puppies, for example, can only be bought by those who can afford a puppy worth between Rs90,000 to Rs250,000. They also have to manage their food and a certain temperature for living later, as the name suggests they are Siberian, so they need AC in the summer and not everyone in Pakistan can afford an AC for their pet. Enthusiasts of these dogs do not need to be persuaded much, they find their way to the kennel themselves and even get their rates reduced,” he explains. 

Similarly, with more common breeds like Labradors and German Shepherds, new enthusiasts or the first time pet owners also choose these breeds. “In order to reach both types of customers, we viralize our kennel and the pictures of puppies and their parents available to us in different groups of Facebook and WhatsApp and also give our mobile number. The result of all this activity is that we start receiving calls on a daily basis and customers start coming. On the contrary, if we take these puppies to the market, the shopkeeper will exploit us and ignore our hard work and think of his own profit. Our puppy that sells for Rs20,000 to Rs25,000 online is hardly bought by a market shopkeeper for only Rs10,000. Therefore, it would not be wrong to say that 70 per cent of this business is run on social media. In this business, we do not have many regular customers but only one-time customers.”

The kennel clubs 

These are where the money is at in many ways. On the surface, they are private associations working for the betterment of the animals, but they are also where all the money moving around is decided. New breeders only later find out that if they are to make it in this business, it is important to either get the approval of the earlier mentioned PKC or the KCP. 

“I first tried to get my dogs registered with the KCP. The procedure for the KCP is that they charge Rs3000 for litter registration, the fee for pedigree per dog is Rs1000, dog transfer fee is Rs2,000, single dog registration fee is also Rs1,000 whereas the kennel name registration fee is Rs15,000 and to register export pedigree the fee is Rs2,000. Similarly, according to their terms and conditions, if anyone wants to register a non Pedigreed dog, he can obtain the form from the KCP office and after filling it along with two pictures of the dog it will be sent to the KCP.” 

The process does not end here. After all this money is submitted, the KCP will appoint a judge to make an opinion about the dog and if the judge thinks that the dog is a true representative of its breed, KCP will register the dog with unknown parents. Their application fee is not refundable even if the dog is not approved for registration and such registration does not apply on GSDs and Rottweilers breeds. 

Provided that for each type of registration, a fee has to be paid first and the decision has to be made by the judge of KCP. It seems that the KCP process is very difficult. However, the PKC procedure is simpler than that and the membership fee of PKC is only Rs2500 and the advantage of this is that it is easy for the member to register a litter. But because of this, dogs approved by them do not go for as much money as the ones appraised by the KCP. 

However, both the associations charge all kinds of registration fees and it is not known where the fees go later. When dogs are registered through these associations, it has the advantage that their breed, bloodline and parent quality are assessed.

A member of KCP informed Profit that KCP is a non-profit making club and as laid down in the memorandum of its constitution, its surpluses cannot not be used for any purpose other than the objectives of the club and welfare of dogs. 

“KCP is endeavoring, in every way, to promote the general welfare and improvement of dogs, dog shows, working trials, field trials, obedience classes and tests. The club is responsible for framing and enforcing the rules governing conduct of members, exhibition of dogs and conduct of all shows, trials and tests. The membership of KCP is restricted to five hundred members,” the KCP member revealed. 

“Initially, a person is enrolled as a temporary member and after one year is eligible to become a permanent member. However, KCP is devoted to looking after the canine interests in Pakistan. It is a non-profit organization, having reciprocal arrangements with the two biggest Kennel Clubs in the world i.e., the American Kennel Club and the Kennel Club of England. KCP is the primary registry body for purebred dogs in Pakistan. It is dedicated to encouraging, guiding, and advancing the interests of purebred dogs and their owners and breeders in Pakistan and promoting the knowledge and understanding which dogs can bring to the society. Besides registry, it provides governance and approves dog shows.”

The chairman KCP Imtiaz Shah told Profit said that some people are fond of breeding dogs as keeping dogs is also a hobby of the people but in recent times the trend of doing business by breeding dogs has increased significantly. “A representative of our association visits the kennel before registering it and checks the proper way the animals are kept. It also looks at what breeds Kennel has and what their quality is. We follow international rules before registering any kennel, dog or puppy.” 

The breeders, however, are not particularly fond of these kennel clubs. Ghauri argues that both associations provided a platform where business could actually take place. “If we talk about the role of both the associations, then these people are doing the real business. Col Roy of KCP sells the puppy of Labrador’s breed which he has for Rs200,000 to 250,000. Has anyone ever asked him about taxes?”

“Similarly, Imtiaz Shah, who has a Labrador breed, also sells its puppy for between Rs150,000 to 250,000. The dogs of these people are already booked before delivery. Of course, the quality that they both have is very good, but they have also been earning. These associations hold pet shows in the name of encouraging breeders and these shows are big business points. The blood line value of each show-winning or prize-winning dog increases and that’s where the booking of its litter or stud service begins. Because most dog shows are sponsored by different dog food companies so these people also get free dog food from there. It would not be wrong to call dog shows a commercial activity because if you look at most dog shows, there are more breeders than enthusiasts who do business,” Ghauri claimed.

A senior FBR official believes that the business of not only dogs but also cats and birds has grown in recent times and if this business is brought under the tax net, not only the people involved in this business can be encouraged but also good revenue can be collected in the public exchequer.

“Kennel associations and government bodies can work together to register businesses but since people have started this business indoors, it is difficult to guess whether someone has kept a dog as a hobby or for business purposes. However, a policy can be formulated for the buyers in which the attraction is such that only the registered kennels can be approached and purebreds should be sold cheaply on these kennels so that the business people are also encouraged and the customer’s interest is met in a reasonable way,” he suggested.

The pet food business

While the expensive pet business is booming, the culture of imported dog feeds has grown to the point where this feeds, which used to be seen only in big stores, now appear in almost every pet shop. How many of these feeds are real and how many are fake is a separate debate but many dog ​​breeders and enthusiasts believe that it is only possible to get some real feed at large stores or a trustable pet shop as it is very difficult to get real imported dog feed from the general market or shop.

One breeder thinks that copying the packaging of big brands in Pakistan and making replicas of their products is not a difficult task and if you go to buy Royal Canin’s dog food at Shah Alam Market in Lahore, you will find three qualities and it is very difficult to differentiate, but the price is different for each. Some shopkeepers there call it Iranian smuggled food, some call it Afghan smuggled food and some sell it as real import.

The breeder thinks that by the time you first recognize a fake dog feed, your pet is sick and the dog food seller will not take any responsibility. Similarly, many local brands are also available in markets but not trusted by breeders because of the general market and breeders’ perception that food ingredients are imported from China or any other country and then packaged here and sold in the market. This impression of breeder’s circles is also correct somewhat.

The quality of this dog food is sometimes so poor that the animal’s health deteriorates to a dangerous level. Even though this is food and its price is very low compared to imported food, still people do not pay attention to it.

Dogs and cats food were recently launched in the market by the Seasons Group of Companies and many breeders believe that it is cheaper and gives good results.

For example, a three-kg pack of Season Group’s dog food available in the market under the name of Woof costs around Rs1,150, now, if the same price and weight is compared with any imported dog food, the price of imported is more than double to three times more. The company’s Puppy Food, Adult Dog Food and cat food under the name ‘Flufffy’ is gaining ground in the market. This dog food can be seen in pet stores and many veterinarians’ clinics, as well as being sold online. As the company already has a good position in the market due to its other products and having a good market share, some breeders expect that the local dog feed may now replace the imported dog feed.

However, the entry of local companies into the dog/cat food business also indicates the extent to which the pet business has grown.

The Executive Manager of New Business Development of Seasons Group Wasif Ali, believes that bringing dog food to market was more of a corporate social responsibility than a commercial activity.

Speaking to Profit, Ali informed that imported dog food was undoubtedly popular in Pakistan, which was largely due to the fact that no company had ever manufactured dog food in Pakistan before because it was a highly technical product.

“Now we are in this market and if the price is compared then it is easy to know that our price is very low compared to any good quality imported dog food available in the local market. Similarly, if anyone compares or evaluates imported dog food and our food from any local or international lab, it will be clear that there is very little difference between us and their product,” he added.

When Ali was asked if veterinarians often insist on using imported dog feed, he replied, “It may be true to some extent that doctors insist on using imported dog food, but this is because of the higher profit margins than the nutrients in the food. If you look at the price of imported dog food, it is very high and its actual price is not mentioned anywhere on its packaging, so it is easy to sell it at a higher price or make more profit on it. Anyway, we have a tradition that people with certain mindsets like imported things while better quality is being produced in our country. The most senior vets also recommended and declared our product as a first class product because they have seen the good results of this food. Our product is also available and sold at good veterinarian clinics in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. We do import some ingredients for this food but 80 per cent of the product is manufactured here,” he maintained.

Speaking about the marketing strategy of the product, Ali said that the company focused more on BTL activities to market the product.

“We developed informational posters and other printing materials for our products and introduced them to good veterinarians’ clinics, which resulted in the product not only being sold but also we are also receiving great feedback from the public. Our company already has relevant experience in preparing other feeds. Since the government is also reluctant to import luxury items, we thought that since imported dog food is becoming very expensive, we should bring our product to the market which is also cheaper in price and of best quality. We launched this product with our corporate social responsibility in mind, although compared to other products of our company, this product does not sell very well, but still we want to keep it available in the market,” he concluded. 

Shahab Omer
The writer is a member of the staff and can be reached on [email protected]

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