Experts advise thorough research before adopting a pet during the pandemic, especially if they’re from abroad, and double-checking that you really have time for your new fluffy friend.
Taz, 13, is a small senior Yorkie. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) found him in a “pretty sorry state”. After several weeks of care, this little one found his next home through RSPCA’s service, which hopefully will be permanent. RSCPA knows very little of his past, but his carer says: “Taz is such a happy and friendly boy who really should be in a loving home and not a rescue centre at his time of life.”
Animal welfare charities do a great job. They look after pets whose owners can’t take care of them anymore or those who have been abandoned. Besides, charities are waiting for a second spike in animal-cruelty incidents, when the second lockdown eases. The first happened in summer, after the first lockdown. The end of this second lockdown will coincide with Christmas, when traditionally many people gift puppies, who may be neglected afterwards.
Geoff Edmond, national wildlife coordinator at RSPCA, says: “There’s no place for cruelty to animals in today’s society. We urge anyone who spots anything suspicious when out on their daily exercise or sees anything online to report it to our cruelty line or their local police force.
“We’ve seen some particularly distressing incidents in recent months. Police forces reported a rise in anti-social behaviour during the first lockdown, when pressures and frustrations led to more of these types of crime. We fear it may lead to some seeking ‘entertainment’ through these sorts of barbaric incidents involving wildlife.”
Indeed, now that many people are spending more time at home than usual, the interest in bringing a fluffy, lovely and loyal company to home has increased. The number of online searches for ‘adopting a dog’ rose from 69,000 in January, before Covid-19, to 140,000 in April and 210,000 in July. In the same month last year, July 2019, there were just 49,500 searches.
‘Families may not be considering the long-term commitment’
Dr Samantha Gaines, a dog welfare expert, warns people to think twice before adopting a dog because, whether we like or not, at some point, normality will be back. “It’s wonderful to see that so many people want to welcome dogs into their families,” she says. “However, we are concerned that some families may not be considering the long-term commitment of taking on a dog and how they’ll care for their new pet post-lockdown.
“We’re worried that as people return to their normal lives post-lockdown, while many are hit by a recession, we could see more dogs coming into our care or being abandoned. The message here is simple: do lots of research to help find the right pet for your family and don’t impulse buy.”
Recently, PFMA conducted a survey that confirmed a dramatic increase in pet acquisition during the pandemic, especially among young adults. Such is the case of Kiera Webb, 23. She always wanted a pet, so when she was furloughed, she saw her opportunity. “I did loads of research and found Rosie, a cockapoo, who is hypo-allergenic and was suitable with my mild allergies. I obviously had time to help settle Rosie into life at home, but the responsibility was testing.
“I didn’t quite realise how much time puppies do take up, with training, toilet training, teething, etc, but she is making a fabulous companion, and she has helped my mental health massively. She brings me so much joy.”
Experts highly advise doing thorough research before buying or adopting a pet. Despite the government ban of third-party puppy sales with Lucy’s Law last April; the Internet is a different ground. Prices have more than doubled during the pandemic, with puppies costing almost £2,000 on average, a BBC investigation reveals.
There can be tempting offers on the web. But when they are from abroad, it is hard to check what conditions the puppies have been kept in, even when they are properly licenced. It may leave charming puppies with serious medical and behavioural problems, which will make it challenging for them to adapt to a new environment.
Jimena Carreño, from Palma de Mallorca in Spain, moved with her family to the UK. She came with her husband, two daughters and a son-in-law. Now, she is waiting for three more family members: her pugs, Persi, Bimba, and Kuky. At the moment, Carreño is looking for a house for her and her family — not an easy task with an extra three dogs.
They relocated due to work, but she couldn’t leave her pets behind. “We’re very close to our pets because they are very noble beings. They give you all their love, regardless of your condition. This makes the animal special.” However, she warns: “It is not easy, though. It’s a lot of time and money in food and vet care; everything, in my case, is threefold. But they deserve it.”
In Spain, one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic, the situation has been hard for pets. The Affinity Foundation published a report on how the first lockdown affected pets. Until the pandemic, levels of abandonment were stable. Around 104,000 dogs got in animal shelters each year; arguably, there was not a significant increase in dogs neglected in the last five years.
Carolina Corral, chief executive at the Association for the Liberation and Welfare of Animals (ALBA), says that surprisingly, not many pets were neglected, or at least not more than usual. Although that “might be explained because there were fewer people on the streets for reporting, and the police have more urgent matters”.
“However, there were many admissions because the owners were affected by Covid,” she says. “What we have noticed, is that many people have shown solidarity with pet shelters. They offer to temporarily adopt a pet while the owner is unable to take care of them.”
This option of temporary adoption was helpful for animal shelters. Although they were still working as usual and admitting new entries, people couldn’t adopt pets so easily because of Covid-19 restrictions. Besides, ALBA requires a couple of pre-meetings with the people interested in adoption.
Overall, animal shelters have reported similar numbers of abandonment and adoption. Many people wanted a dog without really being prepared, and others wanted to fulfil their homes. Corral reiterates that pets are living beings with requirements. If the owners can’t meet their needs or spend money on their health and education, it’s better to not have a pet.
Recently, there have been many changes worldwide due to the pandemic — both for us or our pet friends. According to the Affinity Foundation report, 70% of pet-parents have detected a change in their behaviours, which could be due to sadness, anxiety or extra-dependency. After spending almost all day, every day at home, animals are shocked when we get back to offices and our regular life. They, like us, are complex.
Lockdown affects pet behaviour
Luis Al-dada, a dog trainer from Global Canine, explains how this new situation has created disorder in our and our dogs’ daily lives. He says that the owner and dog create a unique system, and what affects one reflects on the other: “We are connected to our pets through emotions. So, how we are and how we feel is going to affect how our pet sees us, and the world.”
Al-dada educates dogs and heals behaviour problems. Global Canine also has online services to deal with dogs all around the globe. “To have a pet is a responsibility, and both parts should be happy. For that, I think a trainer is not a luxury. To have an educated dog is to enjoy with him, and he enjoys with you.”
He highlights the four pillars of dog education: activation, focus, social context and calm. He argues the owner can’t expect to have a calm dog if the animal cannot first focus enough on hearing under a stressful situation. For him, dogs easily understand us and our emotions. They work with their owner not for a reward, but for the sake of doing it.
“I couldn’t have survived the lockdown without my dog,” says Al-dada. Indeed, pets are our best friends, and during pandemics, they can be a great support. But they are very complex, with their own emotions and needs. Therefore, think twice before adopting a furry ball full of love.