Fears recession and 'lockdown puppies' could spark dog welfare crisis

Fears recession and 'lockdown puppies' could spark dog welfare crisis

We fear that the coming recession and the impact of 'lockdown puppies' will hit already-struggling rescue centres in the coming months after the number of people looking for puppies online during recent months soared by 650% and imports of dogs doubled.

Our experts are urging anyone thinking of taking on a dog to 'Adopt Don't Shop' this Adoptober as new figures reveal that, during lockdown, Google searches for 'Puppies near me' increased more than six times (650%) with 15,000 searches in July 2020 compared to 2,000 in January 2020. The figure was also five times higher than the same month last year (July 2019).

And Government figures show the numbers of licences issued for the commercial import of dogs more than doubled from 5,964 (June - August 2019) to 12,733 for the same three-month period this year. The figures suggest that this rise in demand is fuelling a worrying trend in breeding and importing of puppies, which, if not bought from a responsible breeder, is a potentially exploitative and damaging trade which can cause life-long suffering to dogs.

Adopt Don't Shop

During 2020 (up to 29 September), we responded to 94,277 incidents across England and Wales - almost half of all incidents reported related to dogs, 45,181.

Our chief executive Chris Sherwood said:

We have seen a rise in people searching for dogs to adopt during lockdown, which is fantastic, but at the same time, there appears to be a rise in people looking to buy puppies.

We know that there are not enough puppies bred in the UK to meet the demands of those who want to buy them and, worryingly, there appears to be a surge in puppies coming in from outside the UK. The problem with this is that, although breeders from countries like Romania are licensed, we have no way of checking the conditions those animals are being kept in and we fear that sales like these could be fuelling cruel puppy farms as well as exposing puppies to long and stressful journeys.

Chris added:

"We're all used to being able to buy whatever we want when we want it but we're urging people to thoroughly do their research before committing to getting any dog and to make sure they don't get caught out by people acting illegally or irresponsibly. We have lots of dogs waiting for their forever homes so please do consider getting a rescue dog. Although it is really tempting to buy a puppy, those from abroad may have been bred in poor conditions, leaving them with potentially serious medical and behavioural problems whereas adopting from somewhere like the RSPCA where staff have really got to know the dog, means you get the advice and support you need.

"If families would still prefer to buy a dog, we're encouraging them to use The Puppy Contract. This is a free online tool that will help find responsible breeders and a happy, healthy dog."

Dog welfare crisis on the horizon

We're concerned that an impending dog welfare crisis could be on the horizon in 2021 as families return to normal life and may no longer be able to take care of the puppy they bought during lockdown. Coupled with a fear that the end of furlough and the deepening recession will hit families hard and some may no longer be able to afford their pets, this could put pressure on the already-stretched resources of rescue centres.

Dog Bruno at RSPCA Leybourne © RSPCA

We're urging families to do lots of research and ensure they can commit long-term to a dog before bringing one home, but this Adoptober, it is also championing the benefits of rescuing instead of buying a puppy.

Our online pet search saw a surge in visits during lockdown, increasing 129% to more than 3,700,000 searches compared to 1,600,000 last year. Despite having to pause rehoming for at least a month during lockdown and major changes to rehoming protocols in light of the pandemic, the charity has also been rehoming dogs quicker than ever before. In 2019, the RSPCA rehomed a total of 7,480 dogs across England and Wales - one every 90 minutes.

Our national centres and branches rehomed 7,480 dogs last year; that's 623 a month, 144 a week, 20 every day or one every hour and a half! But there are many more dogs still waiting to find their paw-fect homes. To see all of the dogs currently waiting for new homes, visit our Find A Pet to find your paw-fect match. 

Don't impulse buy

Dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said:

"It's wonderful to see that so many people want to welcome dogs into their families and we've loved waving so many of our own dogs off into their forever homes. 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 and people are hit by 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.

"We're also worried that more families will hand their dogs into rescue due to behaviour problems that have emerged due to changes in routines and set-ups caused by lockdown. During the past few months we've seen more visits to our website from people seeking advice on their dog's behaviour with a 105% increase in visits to our understanding dogs behaviour pages, compared to last year, and a 27% increase in visits to our find a behaviourist pages.

"Dogs can be sensitive to changes to their routine and we'd urge anyone who is concerned about their pets' behaviour to speak to their vet or to a clinical animal behaviourist for help."