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Big bullet   Entrepreneur - April 2010

Read the entire article on the Entrepreneur website
Pet Shop Girls
by Shonali Advani & Sumita Guha Ray

The warm, playful presence of our therapy pets can be relaxing and stress reducing. Because of our therapy pets across the world, pets are driving big businesses for pet-friendly entrepreneurs. In India, the pet industry is currently valued at around Rs. 500 crore, growing at about 25 percent. And this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg, says Anupama Vinayak, founder of PetVacations.in. Only one in a 100 Indian homes has a pet, as opposed to one out of three in the United States. The potential for growth in this segment is undeniable, as these early movers will vouch for.


orange-paw bullet  Angel Therapy

Unlike professional dog trainers Rohini Fernandes and Radhika Nair, Angel — co-therapist at the Mumbai-based Angel Animals Foundation — is not a certified practitioner in animal assisted therapy (AAT). Whereas the other two therapists are graduates from the University of North Texas and the Delta Society, Angel can provide just what the doctor ordered: love, attention and emotional therapy.

The Animal Angels Foundation (AAF) was started in January 2005 by Rohini Fernandes. This first-of-its-kind organization offers animal assisted therapy along with Angel, Rohini’s Golden Retriever. Angel was the inspiration behind the organization’s name and was also its first therapy dog. Six months later, Fernandes was joined by her batch mate Radhika Nair as a co-founder, and the foundation was launched — with zero funding.

Although pet-oriented therapy — initially developed by Dr. Boris Levinson — has been practiced for over three decades in the West, it is a new concept in India. Due to this, the duo faced considerable difficulty in raising funds from investors and venture capitalists.

However, a few presentations with NGOs and schools set the ball rolling for Rohini and Radhika. They believe that animal assisted therapy can treat learning and developmental disabilities, emotional and behavioral problems, and other psychiatric conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Today, AAF has 20 therapy dogs, one cat and an aquarium of fish. It practices in three special schools, two mental health institutes and a daycare center for patients with dementia. Their clients range from age one to 95 years. “Animals are great motivators and are used, through various activities, [to help] children develop social, verbal and motor skills. A simple task like brushing a dog’s coat has proven to be a therapeutic remedy for several disorders; it has generated great results”, says Radhika Nair.

AAF currently earns its money through a small service fee that it charges NGOs and schools. Over the years, it has also attracted funding from angel investors, mainly those who generously came forth on their own.

A regular pet therapy session typically lasts 30-45 minutes and costs Rs. 500-1,000. Both therapists offer tailor-made programs, divided into three stages, for each client. The whole process is documented and then evaluated.

"Alternative therapy [such as this] is gradually gaining ground”, says Fernandes. We’ve been contacting hospitals as well to take animal assisted therapy to heart patients and people with other physical illnesses.”

...continued on the Entrepreneur website.


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