Meet Hamsika Mani and Sairam Santhanam, proud parents of our ‘Pet of the Month’, Zara the retriever…. We got an opportunity to touch base with them and getting to know from pet parent’s point of view, what challenges they face while raising a pet. Here are excerpts from their life of being first-time pet parents……


When did you bring Zara in your life? Is she your first pet?

She is our first pet. We brought her home on 6th April, 2018. We even remember the date; she is so close to us.

Is there any story behind this name ‘Zara’?

The brand Zara was very captivating for us. We observed that there was a striking similarity between how pet was responding and the name ‘Zara’. Literally, Zara means something blossoming out; her every look blossomed happiness inside us. We wrote different names on chits and let her pick one. Guess what? It was Zara.  

When you decided to get her, were you looking for a particular breed of a dog?

Hamsika: No, we were open to anything. At that point of time, we just needed a pet. Our families are a little orthodox and did not like pets at all. Initially, even I was afraid of pets. But, Sairam loved dogs. He took me to different dog cafes and to friends who had pets, so that I get familiar with them first. Then we decided that we are ready to have a pet now.

Sairam: I remember that incident. When we were in Mumbai, we had been to one of the popular cafes; there was one Golden Retriever, which got attached with Hamsi. It was time to close that café, but the dog was reluctant to leave her. Café owner said, “The breed is fixed now”. I was wary at first, but when I saw Hamsi was so comfortable with that dog, we decided to take a Golden Retriever.

What is Zara’s diet like? What do you generally feed her?

In her early years, we gave her Royal Canine, but she remained underweight for a long time. Then we consulted a vet, and he changed it to Farmina N&D. Over the period, she got bored and wanted different items every day. Then we started preparing egg rice and curd rice for her. We are Brahmins; still we decided to get her chicken. But, after some time, she got skin allergy. Veterinarian put her on hypoallergenic diet. At present, we give her Farmina Ultrahypo. She loves to eat raw vegetables though. Her skin allergies got better and now her fur coat is also better.

Do you take Zara along when you travel?

Of course! Hamsika never likes to travel without her. Our relatives restricted us from bringing in Zara. Moreover, we are Bharatnatayam dancers, so we have to travel frequently for our shows. At such occasions, our friend Rohit takes care of her. But whenever it is some major trip, we surely took her along. Once we had to travel from Mumbai to Chennai, we inquired about air travel; it was restricted in India. We were skeptical to take Zara via train being doubtful of the fact, whether she would adapt sitting at one place. Moreover, railways had a rule that the person needs to be accommodative if the pet is shouting or the dog is barking. So finally, we decided to have a 30-hour long journey by car. One of our friends agreed to take us along in his car, just for Zara. While travelling, we stopped by various ‘Dhabas’, where people allowed her in with us. It was a wonderful journey. Everybody should try travelling with their pets. It’s an amazing experience!

How do you and Zara spend time together?

Zara just loves humans around her. She wants to meet more people, more pets, and enjoy with them. We took her to Pet Fed Competition. She was six months old then. We wanted her to socialize and to our surprise, she enjoyed being in the crowd and people cheering for her. She wants everybody to pamper her.  At home, we take her for walk, whenever we are free. In Mumbai, we had space; she would run for 5 kms a day. After coming to Chennai, we lacked space, but she managed to complete her walk splitting it in the morning and evening sessions. She needs time to run around and relax. Zara is very fond of scooter rides also. In games, she loves playing fetch.

Do you have any favourite pet shops or e-commerce sites from where you buy products for her?

We usually shop for her from Heads Up For Tails (HUFT), both in store and online. Apart from that, we got her a few products from PetWale also. Pawshbox is our choice for her food; it is the only place where Acana was available (Zara was on Acana diet also for sometime). We explored a lot because we wanted best for her. But majorly, we prefer HUFT for her accessories and Pawshbox for food. Locally, sometimes we purchase from ‘Lovely Pets’ also.

Who is your Veterinarian for Zara?

In Mumbai, it was Dr. Mahdik. He is the best Vet there in Dombivalli. He never charges for normal visits and consultations. He liked Zara and was 24*7 available on call.

In Chennai, Dr. Thanigaivel in Velacheri attends to her. He is also very nominal. He is the one who cured Zara’s skin allergies.

Do you feel any gap between what you get in market and what you look for your pet?

Product selection needs to be changed for pet shops. Most of them have the same kind of toys and accessories. They need to innovate but at the same time keeping in mind budget of a common man.

Whenever Zara gets bored, we make DIYs for her. We take a bottle, make holes in it, and put treats in it. She keeps rolling it to get the treats. Once you get a pet, everything becomes an experience for you. You need to understand what your pet visualizes and start being innovative.

With regard to food, we have realized that quality of food is very low in India. Whenever we had interaction with breeders and experienced pet parents, they advised us to import food from outside India. We can recollect one instance when we were in Singapore. There was one popular pet store; food from the same brand is imported to India as well. But, food delivered to our Indian market is probably of the third or fourth quality. Only junk is supplied to India. We were very disappointed that quality of food from the same brand differed in India and abroad. Secondly, India lacks variety too. In foreign countries, various different varieties are available as dried chicken or dried beef, which are not found in India.

Do you think brands are doing enough to promote responsible pet keeping along with their products?

We have seen HUFT doing it very well. We see their posts on social media and what they do in their stores. It is commendable! For them, responsible pet keeping comes first and profit is secondary. But most of the pet stores concentrate only on profit making. Money making is everything for them. Many of them indulge in unethical practices as well.

According to us, it depends upon pet parents also. People want premium products for their pets. They start humanizing their pets. They mark value of a product with its price. It is obvious that companies manufacturing pet care products will focus on the kind of demand they are getting. People need to understand what is required for their pets. We are of the view that one should be a responsible pet parent. People like to show off their pets on social media wearing different attractive accessories, which is not at all required. You can pamper your pets for yourself, but when you start displaying it on social media with more accessories, it may give a wrong message and people coming from lower strata misconceive a notion that they cannot afford pets.

First, pet parents need to be aware and responsible; only then comes the role of pet care companies.

Summarize your bond with Zara.

She is like our daughter. She is our baby! Having said that, we also firmly believe that we should never force a dog to become human in our lives. We should give them their space. When we start humanizing a dog, it gets irritated.

Zara gives positivity. Whenever Zara is around, there will be at least five people happy around her. Whenever there is somebody who does not like dogs or is scared, she will first make that person comfortable enough to be accommodative with her.

She is a symbol of peace for us. In fact, she won family restrictions also. Whenever we are on call with our parents, before disconnecting, they ask about Zara. This journey from “Why Zara?” to “How is Zara?” has been incredible. 

Message for other pet parents

Do not humanize your pets. Give them their space. Focus and observe the qualities of a particular breed they are having. Try to enhance those qualities, rather than doing anything and everything with them.

Regarding training – Instead of hiring trainers at first, research and study yourself and try to give basic training to your dog yourself. There will be a difference in you training your dog, rather than somebody else doing it. Trainers need to be kept only for high-end obedience and agility training, not the basic one.