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The catastrophe of irresponsible dog purchases during Covid and the consequences

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I have just been listening to the Clive Bull’s radio show on LBC and he was speaking with Stan Rawlinson, one of the UK’s best-known dog behaviourists who painted a black picture of the current situation regarding dog ownership in the UK.

He said that the population of domestic dogs has risen in the UK from about 9 million before the Covid pandemic to around 12.5 million today which represents an approximate 30% increase in a couple of years which has led to all kinds of problems.

Dogs 4 Rescue Manchester

Dogs 4 Rescue Manchester who are dealing with a crisis of dog surrenders. I believe that this is Emma, the manager. Photo: the rescue.

Covid pandemic lockdowns was worse time to purchase a puppy

The first important problem is that the pandemic was the worst time to adopt a puppy. A lot of people bought overly-expensive puppies such as the French bulldog due to market forces at the beginning of the Covid pandemic because they had time on their hands and thought it was a good time to adopt a dog. They did not do their homework and not infrequently they bought puppies from backyard breeders who overcharged for poor quality animals. These people did not do their homework and often did not care if the dogs were in poor health.

But these dogs were sometimes in bad medical condition because they came from backyard breeders who don’t really care about the welfare of the animals that they create. Professional dog breeders wouldn’t do what they do.

The people who adopted these puppies often didn’t prepare for dog adoption by studying dog behavior and welfare and therefore there were not socialised properly. The breeders did not socialise them properly either. During the first 16 weeks of a dog’s life, they should be fully socialised to people and other pets. They should meet a hundred different people and many different pets in order to feel comfortable around them. But they didn’t due to Covid lockdowns.

Increase in dog attacks

Apparently, the NHS has reported a 7.1% increase in dog attacks causing dog bites. The victims find themselves in NHS hospitals. This is due to poor socialisation of this huge number of newly acquired dogs during Covid. Most dog attacks are due to fear not dominance. And unsocialised dogs are fearful of people.

Manchester’s Dogs 4 Rescue

And the problems don’t stop there. A Manchester dog rescue called Dogs 4 Rescue in Manchester is said to be “the most depressing place on earth” by the staff who work there who are reportedly in tears daily as the current cost of living crisis leads to surrender of the dogs acquired during the Covid pandemic to shelters like theirs.

At the moment the number of dogs exceeds the capacity of the shelter. But the phones don’t stop ringing. This sends the staff into despondency and yes, sometimes tears. They are at breaking point. They are pleading with people to foster their unwanted dogs as a kind of spillover to associate rescuers.

Emma Billington, the manager of Dogs 4 Rescue says that the phone line is endlessly ringing with desperate owners keen to surrender their dogs. She said:

“In the last month, we have seen six dogs returned after we have homed them as people are worrying more about the cost following the puppy boom during Covid,” Emma explains. Previously this level of return would only have happened across two or three years. It has never been like this and we need urgent help of people coming forward to foster them – we’ll cover any fees – but we need to free up spaces.”

She said:

“I love my job but this is the most depressing place on earth at the moment. It is utterly soul destroying because we know that we are having to turn away dogs and they are going to be killed because there is nowhere for them to go. I have to be honest. I broke the other day. We had to turn away a four-month-old puppy who I know would ordinarily be picked up soon. The reality is that I know that little boy’s fate and I feel like I am failing them.”

If people who acquired their dogs during Covid are now surrendering them as reported, some dog owners have decided to eat less themselves in order to afford to pay for dog food. It is at the other end of the spectrum in dog caregiving.

Staffordshire bull terrier

Postscript: Stan Rawlinson made a good point about Staffordshire bull terriers. They are sometimes vilified as being dangerous dogs. But he said that this particular breed was selectively bred through aggressive culling i.e. killing in this instance, of aggressive dogs to turn them into very mild-mannered dog breed who were excellent around children. So, a purebred Staffordshire bull terrier is a mild-mannered dog good around children (as is the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel). The problem is that bad people adopt hybrid versions of this dog breed and turn them into aggressive dogs thereby giving the animal a very bad image.

I wrote recently about aggressive dogs and labelling certain breeders being aggressive. Dog should be assessed on behaviour not their breed. Because situation in the UK and perhaps other countries is that certain breeds are being euthanised in shelters when they shouldn’t be so the current model is causing unnecessary dog deaths.

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