A dog is for life, not just for Coronavirus.

Words By Libby Mills

Somehow it’s been nearly a year since the UK saw itself facing it’s first ever national lockdown. Several lockdowns later…we still seem to be in one. It’s been 12 months of great difficulty, with families losing loved ones but not always being able to say their goodbyes. With the collective stress and grief we’ve all experienced to varying degrees this past year, it doesn’t come as a surprise that man’s best friend has become high in demand.

Dogs have been our trusted companions for centuries and offer vital aid such as within the police force, as guide dogs or as emotional support pets. Studies have explored the relationship between having a dog and the benefits it can provide its owner/s physically, socially and psychologically. So in the midst of a global pandemic, it makes sense as to why in August 2020 the Kennel Club found that 1 in 4 people within the UK had admitted to buying a puppy on impulse. Of course the truth is, the initial pull to buy a pandemic puppy isn’t the physical, social or psychological benefits – but that they are simply cute. Many dedicated dog-lovers would say the initial cuteness of the puppy never fades as they become fully grown. However, for the new generation of impulse owners this cuteness is suddenly met with the very real reality of the responsibilities required in order to properly take care of their new addition. 

As the working world went from rush hour to #wfh, suddenly commuters found themselves with more than a minute to spare. With working from home also having been proven to enhance productivity, many families and individuals found themselves being at home with more time on their hands than ever before. However, although no one could foresee how long the UK would find themselves facing lockdowns, a pandemic is temporary – a dog is not. With the average lifespan of a dog said to be between 10-13 years, a dog is a commitment for a large chunk of your own life. 

The BBC spoke to Joanne Doonan, an experienced dog trainer, who had shared how she has been inundated with puppy training requests with this being her busiest year yet as a trainer. However, she warned that the crucial socialisation window for puppies is between 3-14 weeks, which many new dog owners are just simply not aware of. Animal rehoming charities including Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs and Cats and the RSPCA, who usually face struggles on a yearly basis anyway, have shared their worries over the number of dogs that have come to their centres over the past few months. With Dogs Trust receiving 114 calls just between December 27 and 28. 

However, it hasn’t just been the pandemic that has seen the dog-breeding industry boom. As the price of dogs has increased over the past few years, with cross-breeds and so-called designer dogs becoming ever more popular, so has the amount of puppy farms and irresponsible breeding. What some individuals may see as a much beloved pet, others see as a pay cheque. In 2016 presenter and author Grace Victory investigated ‘The Cost of Cute: The Dark Side of the Puppy Trade’. The documentary explored the disturbing conditions of puppy farms, the smuggling and the extent to which the breeders would go to in order to create the appearance of a reliable breeder. Where individuals were shown to portray a trusted breeder within a faux-family home, used specifically to show puppies to interested buyers – often without the mother being available to be seen or a different female dog being brought in to appear to be the litter’s mother. 

So what does the reality look like for these pandemic puppies? For some it’s being abandoned. With the RSPCA having recently shared stories of dogs or young puppies being tied up to lamp posts, until other walkers realise they have been left there with intent to be abandoned by their owners. For others it will be them being handed over to rehoming centres. With 2019 seeing the RSPCA take in 10,564 dogs in England and Wales alone. But with Battersea Dogs and Cats putting down 24% of their dogs in 2014, the reality for the pandemic puppies could be a lot more sinister. Before investing in a potential new best friend, the Kennel Club has started a new campaign #BePuppyWise, where they break down the key steps to ask yourself before inviting a new addition into the family. It’s undeniable how much joy dogs can bring, but it’s vital to remember the time and energy required in order to provide them with a stable home – after all, a dog is for life, not just Coronavirus. 

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