Woof justice: Dog days draw in as shelters take in lockdown pets

Pandemic tempted many to get a dog but return to office is prompting their surrender

Lockdown seems to have created a perfect storm. The demand for dogs went through the roof when people were at home.

Lockdown seems to have created a perfect storm. The demand for dogs went through the roof when people were at home.

 

“Thoroughbred German Shepherd. She is a good-natured dog, but can be quite hyper so will need two walks a day. Reason for selling is change in personal circumstances.”

“One-year-old Dogo Argentino. Very healthy and in great physical condition. Great with people and children. Selling as she requires more attention than our work schedules can permit. €1,000.”

“For sale through absolutely no fault of her own. €1,300” . . . “Looking for a loving forever home” . . . “Reluctant sale.”

Done Deal may have suspended dog ads from its website more than a year ago, but the online trade in pandemic puppies is as brisk as ever if you know where to look.

With the return to the office now scheduled for September 20th and international travel already restarted, a number of dog shelters are warning that the number of people looking to surrender their pet is already much higher than in the same period last year. And they worry that what they’re experiencing now may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Already, Dogs Trust in Dublin’s Finglas is fielding eight requests a day from people who want to give up their dog. “From January to the end of August, we received 1,429 surrender requests, compared to 1,311 for the entirety of 2020,” says Corina Fitzsimons of Dogs Trust. “We are worried that there will be a second spike in surrender requests as people go back to the office.

“Mostly they’re from people who are struggling with their dog. There are some who have extenuating circumstances – a relationship break-up or a housing issue – but the majority are people that are struggling with behaviour issues.”

Others don’t appear to have given enough thought to what would happen when they went back to work.

“We have seen a lot of people looking to surrender their dogs,” says Sarah Connolly, manager of Tipperary-based Paws Animal Rescue. “And all different breeds of dogs – staffies, pointers, beagles. We’ve had three terriers in in the last week. One of the reasons is people are going back to work and the dog is at home getting bored and destructive.

“There’s been a massive influx of inquiries. I think this is just the start of the peak. It’s going to get crazy.”

‘Perfect storm’

Fiona Gammell runs Wicklow Animal Welfare, and says she has also seen a surge in what she calls “Covid surrenders” over recent weeks. “This was an accident bound to happen. They’re coming at you slyly. They always give some other reason: they’re moving house, or the landlord won’t let them keep the dog. They’re not admitting to getting the dog because it suited them at that time and now it doesn’t suit them anymore.”

DSPCA Animal Shelter in Rathfarnham education officer Gillian Bird with Beckham: “There’s no shame in saying you made a mistake. Just don’t leave it too long to make a decision that you need to surrender the dog.” Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
DSPCA Animal Shelter in Rathfarnham education officer Gillian Bird with Beckham: “There’s no shame in saying you made a mistake. Just don’t leave it too long to make a decision that you need to surrender the dog.” Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Lockdown seems to have created a perfect storm. The demand for dogs went through the roof when people were at home, and prices shot up. Some people adopted or rescued a dog – or even bought one from a reputable breeder – and that dog has become a much-loved part of the family. “We rehomed dogs that we hadn’t been able to find a home for in the previous five years,” says Gammell.

But there was a dark side to the phenomenon. The explosion in demand fuelled irresponsible breeding. Now, 18 months on, puppies are being surrendered because they have health problems their owners hadn’t anticipated or budgeted for.

At Paws, Connolly has seen some examples of “dogs that are worth a lot of money” being rehomed. “We got one dog in that had been imported from Romania for €4,000.” The dog was a “pocket bully” – a pitbull with Jack Russell legs. “He had a deformed leg and the owner didn’t want it anymore.” The bill for surgery to repair the leg was more than €2,000.

‘Backyard breeders’

Other dogs have developed behavioural issues because they missed out on training and socialisation opportunities, or they’re suffering separation anxiety. And now with “the backside gone out of the market”, as Gammell puts it, even some backyard breeders are surrendering their dogs.

She cites some of the recent requests to her charity. A woman who wanted to rehome her “lockdown dog” – a lurcher she had acquired for her son – “because her son is now going back to college”. Last week, “I got a ring from a man who wanted to give up two cocker spaniel terrier cross puppies. He said ‘I bred a litter, and I couldn’t sell these two.’”

There was another request from a woman whose son bought a Dutch Shepherd a year ago and now he doesn’t want it “because it’s not a puppy any more”.

Other rescue centres are experiencing an influx of bigger dogs such as huskies, which became very popular over the past couple of years. “It’s the Game of Thrones effect,” Gammell says of the breed’s popularity. “What is wrong with people?

“We always knew this would happen. But I’ll admit that it happened quicker than I thought. I thought we’d have a break in rescue for about a year and we could regroup and get a rest and get ready for the dogs coming back. Because everybody knew it was going to happen. We didn’t even get a year.”

Corina Fitzsimons, communications manager of Dogs Trust in Finglas with Buster: “We are worried there will be a second spike in surrender requests as people go back to the office.” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
Corina Fitzsimons, communications manager of Dogs Trust in Finglas with Buster: “We are worried there will be a second spike in surrender requests as people go back to the office.” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

She finds it hard to conceal her frustration. “People wanted a dog and they got a dog, with no consideration for the dog. It was all about them. Some people got it to keep the kids entertained. And then they wonder why a dog at four or five months is scared stiff of their children – the dog gets hurt, the dog snaps and the next day they’re gone.”

Behavioural issues

Now, as their owners start to resume their pre-pandemic lives, even well-adjusted dogs who have had constant human company throughout their lives may be finding the transition to the post-lockdown world difficult, Fitzsimons says. “It’s a variety of different things. It’s ‘the dog is barking’. Or ‘I can’t control the dog on the lead’. Or ‘the dog doesn’t behave well when they see other dogs’. Dogs have missed a lot of socialisation. There are dogs who are born this year and last year who have never had people in their homes, so it’s completely alien to them.”

But she is anxious not to heap shame on people who are considering surrendering a dog they are struggling to look after. “We don’t want to be vilifying people in any way.” She worries that shaming people leads to more abandoned dogs. Help is available, she stresses.

Dogs Trust has launched a campaign called Life After Lockdown for dog owners to help their dogs adjust – using simple tricks like leaving them alone initially for five minutes, and then 10, and working slowly upwards. “It’s really important to note that no matter if the dog was born last year or 10 years ago, most are going to struggle with their people just suddenly disappearing” for hours or days on end. If people are struggling, we want them to get a free pack. We want them to have a look on our website and ask for advice. We obviously can’t take every dog that people ask us to take because we simply don’t have the space.”

Surrender requests

At the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA), Gillian Bird has been nervously anticipating a wave of surrender requests since the start of the pandemic dog craze. But so far, it hasn’t materialised there. “We’re getting the dogs of people who passed away, or the trouble dogs, the ones that have serious issues and have snapped at the kids or bitten the kids,” she says.

She is encouraged by higher numbers of owners enrolling their pets in training – that’s a sign people are willing to put the work in, she says.

Still, she is worried about what might lie ahead. “The reality is that there are a lot of people out there who have dogs now who didn’t have them before Covid. And the reason for that is they didn’t have time, they didn’t have the money or their lifestyle just wasn’t suited to having a dog. And there is going to come a day where they look at their lives and go, ‘Oh God, we’ve tethered ourselves to a dog’.

“So we’re asking those people to now have a serious think. Because it’s much easier to rehome a one- or two-year-old dog who doesn’t have serious behavioural issues than a three-year-old dog with separation anxiety who bit the kids twice. There’s no shame in saying you made a mistake. Just don’t leave it too long to make a decision that you need to surrender the dog. It’s not something to be embarrassed about. It’s actually something to be proud of – to say we made the correct decision that we can no longer keep this dog.”

Ask yourself, says Connolly, “is it the best thing for your dog to be surrendered for rehoming? In some situations it is. Most of the time, the best place for your dog is in your home. But you have to put the work in.”

Struggling dog owners can download a pack from DogsTrust.ie/BarktoBasics. Dog training is available from dspcadogtraining.ie

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