Pranita Balar is a Dog Trainer and Canine Behaviourist. She runs her own company called BarkNBond in Mumbai, India.
I am 30, unmarried, and I work with dogs for a living.
This was not my plan. I come from a family where not just girls, even boys get married right out of college. So when I, a 21-year-old management graduate told my parents I wanted to work, they were hesitant. But they didn’t stop me. I joined a Finance firm. Good company, good pay, terribly boring. So I switched to a management role. It was like a breath of fresh air, for the first fifteen minutes. Boredom crept in like a snail on a mission. Slow but determined.
Now I faced a tougher challenge. I wanted to do a Post-Graduation course and that was not the norm in my family, especially not for girls. After a few intense discussions, my parents gave up. They stood by me when the rest of my family was already talking in hushed tones, commenting on my stubbornness and my parents’ lack of ‘discipline’. I did a course in Advertising and Marketing Communications, and I owe it a lot for where I am today. Our course structure allowed us to take multiple internships in various wings of the industry. This served as an elimination process of sorts. So in the end when I decided to settle for Media Planning, I was sure I hated it the least.
But you see, hating something less doesn’t make it something you want to wake up to. I was 24, my parents were already on the lookout for a ‘suitor’ and I was anything but ready to settle. I moved to a start-up and started managing their digital and social media. It was satisfying to some extent, but it still wasn’t enough to make me want to go to work. I had had enough. I sat down and made a list of all my interest. Sadly, there were only 3 items on that list – Dogs, Dance and Food.
I haven’t grown up with dogs. No one in my family has ever had a dog. But I have always felt an inexplicable connection with the animal. I chanced upon an ad for a beginner’s course in Dog Training and without a second thought, I enrolled.
This was the biggest and bravest decision I have ever taken in my life.
By the time the course ended, I was already charting out ideas for my own company. I had found the one thing that had no ring of monotony to it. But things always go downhill before they find a plain ground. I had already quit four jobs and hit the 25 mark. Cousins my age were already planning families and here I was, with a half-baked dream and a bucket full of determination. The parents were furious. Working with dogs did not seem like a feasible business plan, especially in a family where no girl had ever run a business of her own.
My first client was a gorgeous Retriever named Disco. Not only was he easy on the eye, but he had already had his preliminary training and knew most of the commands. The reason I was hired was that like me, Disco too was easily bored. My job was to teach him tricks and keep him entertained. Training a dog is as much about the pet-parent, as it is about the dog. Luckily for me, Disco’s parent, Smriti, was a very open-minded client. She was all for new ideas and experimentation. And so, I started teaching him all I knew and more! I made new toys from scratch, studied as much as I possibly could about how to keep active dogs entertained and set about on my mission to bring fun to a new level in this boy’s life. Disco became my refuge. I was bored, unhappy and depressed. But with him, I found a new me. I might have taught him tricks, but he taught me how to be happy. That’s it. There was no looking back now. To this day, he still remains my best student with the widest range of tricks up his furry sleeves.
Smriti spread the word around, she introduced me to Disco’s friends, I started attending every dog event in the city and eventually, my client base grew. But the business wasn’t enough to sustain me. I took up a few freelance marketing projects on the side, cut down heavily on my expenses, maintained a ledger of every single paisa I spent, stopped hanging out with my friends at fancy restaurants (and only the truest ones stuck around). My family was still struggling with my decision. And then I told them about my next step – Pet-sitting.
Pet-sitting is not as luxurious as it sounds. My mother was horrified by the idea of me living in someone else’ apartment and taking care of their dog while they were out, like a caretaker. But I took these sittings every chance I could. What you learn about a dog when you spend a whole day with him is very different than what an hour with him can teach you. I had never actually LIVED with a dog ever before. So I read every book I could find, consulted my mentor on every step and spent nights researching on what more I could do.
That was five years ago. Today, I have my own boarding facility for pets. I have a client-base of more than 200 dogs. I organize Pet Camps every 3 months, I take my dogs for children’s birthday parties where I do info-entertainment sessions, teaching children how to be around dogs and in turn letting my dogs feel like pampered fluff toys. I do de-stress therapies and employee-engagement sessions for corporates where I take my dogs to their workspaces. My dogs and I also visit differently-abled children for therapy sessions. It still gets monotonous sometimes but now, the moment I get bored, I get creative.
Two years back I got my own dog, Heidi. She is my best student, as well as my visiting card. She even helps me train new puppies. My mother has accepted both, me and my work. When my parents visit us, Heidi sleeps at my dad’s feet. I see him silently glowing with pride and joy. Aunties from my extended family come to me now and tell me of how they wish they were brave enough to take the steps I took. The younger girls and boys look up to me with admiration, not to mention all my nephews and nieces love me and my dogs. (They call me Doggie Maasi).
It’s not easy, especially for women, to take a stand and build something of their own in our culture. But if you are true to your work, really religiously true to it, no obstacle is too high. I was fortunate enough to have really good clients who stood by me and believed in me. My work, my experiences, my dogs give me a reason to wake up every morning. I do want to get married one day, but not because I need a man to give me a stable, secure life. I want to get married for love and companionship. In the initial years of my business I faced immense depression. The decision to give it up was an easy one, but I chose to ignore it. I talked it out with friends, with co-trainers, with anyone who would listen. Because if you are passionate enough, if you are driven and give it all you’ve got, you will see the results. Success does not come to those who quit.
To the young dreamers, this is my advice. If you find something you like, stick to it. Don’t keep running away at small failures. Passion is not enough and attention isn’t important. Patience is, persistence is, hard work is, and diligence is. Manage your money wisely. Build a strong support system. And don’t give up because it seems too hard. I didn’t intend to be a rebel or set an example. I just wanted to do what made me happy. That’s all that counts.