Shelters are bracing for an influx of abandoned 'pandemic puppies'

Remember those heady days of early lockdown, when we were all baking bread and bumping elbows?

Those trends faded fast, but others have had more long-term ramifactions.

One of these is the rise of the ‘pandemic puppy’.

You probably saw it happening, even if you didn’t partake. Locked down and working from home, people jumped at what seemed like the perfect opportunity to adopt a dog, then gleefully showed off their new family member.

But while some had simply used the Covid-19 pandemic as a trigger for a long-pondered decision, others had acted on impulse, and soon realised they were woefully unprepared for the reality of caring for an animal.

Life sped back up, pandemic pups stopped receiving the same level of fuss, and regret started to set in.

Now, shelters and charities fear an influx of abandoned pandemic pets.

RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines tells Metro.co.uk: ‘There was a huge surge in demand for dogs during lockdown as families made the most of spending more time at home.

‘What concerns us is what’s happening to these “lockdown puppies” now and what will happen to them over the coming months.

‘We’re worried that while many families will have considered the long-term commitment of taking on a dog, some may not have been thinking post-lockdown about how they’ll care for their new pet when they return to work or how they’ll pay for them if they should be hit by the recession.

‘We expect that we’ll see a major dog welfare crisis this year as huge numbers of dogs are relinquished to rescue centres, sold on online or even abandoned; with struggling charities forced to pick up the pieces.’

While the RSPCA team note that they haven’t seen a massive increase in dogs coming into their care yet, there are concerns that numbers could jump up in the months ahead.

They explain that as we return to offices, dogs adopted in lockdown might start showing problem behaviour that new owners aren’t equipped to deal with.

‘Many dogs who have got used to having their owners at home may struggle to adapt once furloughing ends and people begin to migrate back to the office,’ says Samantha.

‘We know that one of the major reasons dogs are relinquished is due to behaviour problems and research suggests that separation related anxiety may affect 85% of dogs. This could result in more dogs coming into rescue centres as owners return to work and they struggle to cope.

‘In addition to this, many of the puppies bought during lockdown will be approaching adolescence, a period of time where big behavioural changes can occur.

‘This period does typically pass but may bring additional challenges for owners if unprepared for how best to manage their dog during this time.’

At Dogs Trust, it’s a similar story, with staff braced for a wave of young dogs ditched when owners realise their pet doesn’t fit in their non-lockdown life.

‘While we are starting to see an increase in dogs coming into our care, we are yet to see the full impact of dogs purchased or acquired during the pandemic being handed in to us,’ says a Dogs Trust spokesperson.

‘However, we believe the worst is yet to come and that we will likely see more people having to give up their dog if families struggle to cope with the fallout of the coronavirus crisis or life changes for them in a way they didn’t predict.’

The key to tackling this looming crisis is obvious: we need to think very carefully before rushing into adopting or buying a dog.

‘Dogs are a huge responsibility and taking one on should always be a decision that is made carefully, with great consideration given to whether you can care for that pet for the rest of their life,’ says Samantha. ‘Any prospective pet owners should do lots of research and ensure they can commit to that animal.

‘Sadly, we know that as animals are so readily and easily available to buy online, it can be very easy for people to buy a new pet on a whim and that often means that, within a few months, they quickly realise that they cannot cope with them and seek to give them up or sell them on.

‘Our advice to anyone thinking of getting a dog is to do lots of research and take time to really consider whether you can commit to a dog and the responsibility and costs associated with owning one.

‘If you can, then please consider adopting a rescue dog instead of buying a puppy.’

Dogs Trust has a quiz to help you check if you’re ‘dog ready’, which can be a handy reality check.

But for some, it’s too late to give the decision proper consideration. The dog has been adopted, you’ve realised you aren’t prepared… now what?

The shelters are keen to advise anyone who is experiencing puppy regret to please, please, come to them if they’re struggling. It’s important that those who have realised they’re unable to care for an animal don’t feel so shamed that they’re unable to ask for help.

Robert Young, head of centre operations at Battersea, says: ‘Our research shows more than 40% of people who bought a puppy during the first national lockdown hadn’t previously considered getting a pet – and buyers’ remorse may be settling in for these thousands of impulse shoppers.

‘Many may now be struggling to cope and we’ve seen a small number of young dogs under six months old come through Battersea’s gates due to medical problems or because their owners’ circumstances have changed.

‘We would remind owners who are struggling with their pets that bringing them to a rescue like Battersea is the most responsible decision if they can no longer care for them.

‘We are here for every dog and cat who needs our help and to provide owners with advice and support.’

Accepting that you are not able to provide the right home for a dog is difficult, but the kindest thing to do in this situation is give a pet over to the experts so they can find them the best care.

What we don’t want is to see pandemic puppies being neglected, mistreated, or abandoned in unsafe conditions.

A Dogs Trust spokesperson adds: ‘If people are struggling to look after their dog for whatever reason, we would urge them to get in touch with Dogs Trust and we will do everything we can to help.’

Some of the victims of the pandemic puppy boom…

Nelson

Eighteen-month-old cockapoo Nelson was bought as a family pet at the beginning of lockdown. He was handed over to the RSPCA’s Mount Noddy Animal Centre, in Chichester, West Sussex, when the family’s circumstances changed and they could no longer care for him.

A spokesperson from RSPCA Sussex, Chichester & District Branch said:’“Poor Nelson is nervous of strangers and this is something we’re concerned may become prevalent in lockdown puppies, who weren’t able to socialise properly due to Government restrictions.

‘He’s now in a foster home where he’s doing really well and we’ve had more than 200 applications to offer him a home so we’re sure we’ll find him a wonderful new home soon.’

Scooby

Jack Russell terrier cross Corgi Scooby was found abandoned in an alleyway in Chertsey, Surrey, on December 13 – and the RSPCA believe he is likely another victim of pandemic puppy regret.

RSPCA Inspector Mike Beaman went to collect the frightened little dog. He said: ‘A member of the public had found the little tan and white dog tied up to a lamp post down an alleyway when he was walking his own dog at around 2pm.

‘When he passed again, around five hours later, the little dog was still there, wearing a harness and attached with a metal chain. It was raining, cold and the poor dog was shivering so he untied him and took him home before calling us.’

Molly

Ten-week-old pup Molly ended up in RSPCA care just eight days after going home with her new owners. The poodle cross fox terrier was purchased over Christmas but was relinquished to the charity’s Martlesham Animal Centre – run by RSPCA Suffolk East & Ipswich Branch – just over a week later.

Animal centre manager Zoe Barrett said: ‘Molly didn’t get on with the other dog in the house and her new owners simply couldn’t cope with her so asked us for help.

‘Unfortunately, lockdown has made it much more difficult for puppy owners to properly socialise and train their dogs.’

Robbie

Robbie, a poodle cross Jack Russell terrier, arrived at the RSPCA’s Mount Noddy Animal Centre, in West Sussex, in October.

The then eight-month-old was born at the start of lockdown after being bred by a hobby breeder and bought by an elderly couple from the local area.

Susan Botherway, manager at the centre run by the RSPCA Sussex, Chichester & District Branch, said: ‘The couple already had one dog and wanted a second but, unfortunately, just couldn’t cope with Robbie.

‘He was never walked or let out of the house or garden so he was extremely nervous when he arrived and found kennels really stressful. He’d missed out on so many vital early-life experiences.

‘We managed to place him in a foster home where he slowly began to calm down, settle and come out of his shell. His fosterers have fallen in love with him and have now taken him on permanently.’

Muffin

Nine-month-old cockapoo Muffin was born in April, which means she would have gone to her home around June time. She was abandoned in Surrey in October and rescued by the dog warden who brought her to the RSPCA’s Millbrook Animal Centre, in Chobham, Surrey.

A spokesperson said: ‘I expect Muffin was a lockdown puppy, bought by a family during lockdown and abandoned when they realised they couldn’t take care of her.

‘She was very nervous and under socialised when she arrived so we spent a lot of time working with her to help her learn all of the things she has unfortunately missed out on due to lockdown.

‘We believe her previous owners may not have fully understood what they were taking on when they got Muffin and that she may have been bought on a whim.’

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