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Animal lovers

When mojo needs minding

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MOOCHING POOCHES Vaishnavi Prasad with her dogs. Prasad, along with a friend, created an online forum that connects pet owners with a sitter. The service is free though owners can tip the sitters if they want to

Like most people, Michelle D'Souza loves celebrating Christmas with friends and family. This year, the Mumbai-based digital strategist will brighten up her celebrations by pet-sitting a little puppy while its owners are away for the Christmas weekend. "I can't think of celebrating Christmas in a better way. I love being surrounded by animals, " says D'Souza, who is part of Pet-Sitters India, an online forum of animal lovers that was started this April. The Facebook group is the one to go to if you need someone to watch your furry companion while you are out shopping or away on a holiday.

Vaishnavi Prasad came up with the idea when she moved to Bangalore. "I couldn't have a pet there as I was working and living on my own, but I missed having animals around me, " says Prasad, who has since moved back to Chennai. Her parents were also finding it difficult to get someone to mind their dogs Sumo and Poochi when they travelled. "Many people who work find it difficult to keep pets but would love to spend time with animals, " says 24-year-old Prasad. "Pet owners find it difficult to get someone who cares for animals to mind their pets while they are away. So I thought I would create a forum for such people to meet. "

She discussed the idea with D'Souza and the two of them created the Facebook group, adding friends who were also animal lovers. "It was popular within a week and we now have more than 500 members across the country, " says D'Souza.
The way the forum works is fairly simple. Pet owners state their requirements of a sitter. "It is just a connecting point, " says Prasad. "It is up to the owner to meet the petsitter and cross check their credentials. "
The FB page is really active at this time of year with requests for sitters as the holiday season is especially busy with people travelling. "Many IT professionals working in Chennai adopt a pet as they feel lonely, but when they go to their hometowns to spend time with their families, they need a sitter, " says Surya Dinkar.

Owners are encouraged to give as much information about their animal as possible, and provide food, feeding bowls and familiar toys. "Many pets get insecure when they are away from home so it is good to have things they are familiar with around them, " says Prasad.

Since all pet sitters are animal lovers, it is a win-win situation for both owner and sitter. "Since I am a bachelor and work long hours, I cannot keep a dog, " says Bangalore-based Siddharth Mahesh. "But I have free time on weekends so I petsit and get to spend time with animals. " Sitters stick to the animal's daily routine as well as dietary requirements. "Recently, I was looking after Harper, an Indian dog, which was very active. So I took him for walks thrice a day and enjoyed them as much as Harper, " says Mahesh.

Dinkar signed up to be a pet-sitter soon after she lost her dog Mojo. "I had a friend who helped me out by looking after him whenever I travelled but I realised not everyone has that kind of luxury, " she says. "There are a few kennels, but not many are good and dogs don't get the kind of personalised attention they would get at home. " Though she usually takes in animals for short periods of time, Dinkar has interesting anecdotes to share. "I took in a dog for a week but it ended up being there with me for three months as the owner was held up abroad, " she says.

None of the pet-sitters charge for their service, though owners can tip them. "It is not a commercial venture, we are doing it out of love for animals, " says D'Souza. "I hope more people join the initiative. "

priya. menon@timesgroup. com

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