The Dark Underworld of Pandemic Pets

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annabelle-daley-yates
26 May 2021

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In a world where many of us are isolated, it might be easy to think ‘what part of getting a companion during lockdown is bad?’ There are an estimated 51 million pets in the UK, amounting to 44% of households having a companion animal of some sort. The health benefits of having a pet span from a positive impact on mental health, lower blood pressure and an increase in health through physical activity.

But with a spike of people facing isolation, time at home and a change in work circumstances, there has been a sudden shift in the nation’s demand for pets. This is where the problem begins.

Where there is demand, supply will stretch in an attempt to meet this. Responsible breeders will prioritise the health of their dogs and puppies over profit, often paying for multiple vet visits, health testing and pedigree papers. By the end of the process, many responsible breeders affirm that breeding dogs is a labour of love rather than a journey towards profit. So, what happens when you cut corners with the expenses that come with breeding? When cutting corners with screening, health tests, general husbandry and vet visits, the profit margin goes up along with the issues. Dogs from a backyard breeder are often at far greater risk of health problems due to a lack of screening and selectiveness with pairings. Often, the result ends in heartbreak.

But people aren’t just breeding animals to supply the demand the UK has for pets, they’re stealing them too. Dog thefts reached an all time high in 2020, and are continuing to increase throughout our second year in lockdown. In some areas the recorded rates of theft have almost tripled. The sharp rise is unprecedented, leaving owners feeling uneasy and at risk. The tactics range from strangers asking to pet dogs in the street to ensure they are friendly before alerting contacts ahead to grab the animal, breaking into gardens and posing as the RSPCA. The RSPCA has responded to this worrying development and has guidance on their website regarding this.

Despite the value of pets being boosted hugely, our journey through lockdown and the nation’s attempt to return to normal led to the inevitable. As families return to school and work, the time needed to raise and train a pet is reduced. Suddenly the adorable lockdown puppy is an adolescent dog that needs a lot more from you. The reality of vet, insurance and training bills put an unwelcome strain on finances at a difficult time. Already at the break of 2021, shelters across the UK have been inundated with surrendered pets. Through their efforts to bring us joy and comfort in what has been one of the darkest periods in recent history for many, it seems that it is our pets that are once more the victims. 

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