July 22, 2024

Why a dog is for life, not just for lockdown

Marc Abraham is a veterinarian, animal welfare campaigner, and author who spent the best part of the last decade campaigning for ‘Lucy’s Law’- which, as of April 2020, is now established legislation.

It was named after Lucy the Cavalier King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who was bred on a legal puppy farm in the UK, and bans the third sale party of puppies and kittens, so far in England only. It means that anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten must now buy direct from a breeder, or consider adopting from a rescue centre instead. Licensed dog breeders are required to show puppies interacting with their mothers in their place of birth.

Though the law is in effect, Covid19 threw in an unfortunate temporary relaxation of the rules. Dogs can now be delivered (to reduce risk of human to human infection) and this may cause issues of accountability if buyers can no longer meet the breeder, or most importantly, see their puppy interacting with its mother in the place he or she was born.

Lockdown’s pretty…what’s the word I’m searching for? Oh yes…boring. So, it’s little wonder that for many people, getting a dog at this time could be seen as a great idea.

It’s wonderful for your mental health, and can offer much needed furry-friend companionship and many people have taken this opportunity to snap one up; with internet searches for ‘buy a puppy’ up by 120% during the first month of lockdown, with demand rising to extortionate levels and pet insurers seeing a 78% rise in owners registering new animals.

But…is it actually the best thing for a dog? Should you get a Pandemic Puppy?

Marc is concerned that this is opening up the floor to not just puppy farms and irresponsible breeders who depend on puppies delivered remotely and their breeding dogs kept hidden from public view, but also to the unscrupulous breeding and selling practices recently highlighted by Mr Chai, the Pomeranian puppy bought by Love Island stars Tommy and Molly Mae, which was imported from Russia, and died after six days.

“There is currently a real danger in buying from an irresponsible breeder,” he explains, “What they often tend to do is remove them from their mums before they’re ready, at around 4-5 weeks of age which is far too soon, as they want them to still be cute when sold.

These puppies have a compromised immune system, they haven’t had enough of their mother’s milk, they haven’t socialised enough with their mother, their littermates, other dogs, or humans, and are also often inbred, meaning they can have any number of life-threatening conditions from surgical problems to viral and bacterial infections, as well as infestations of fleas, ticks, worms, and mange, as well as suffering serious behavioural issues too. From wherever they are from; if they are irresponsibly bred- they are ticking time bombs of deadly disease. ”

Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director at Dogs Trust, agrees. She urges people to rescue a dog rather than buy, but also warns of being “Dogfished” by an irresponsible breeder.

“There are many sellers out there who put profits before animal welfare, who often falsify paperwork, offer discounts for a quick sale or lie about the health, age and breed of the dog,” she explains, “Our advice if choosing to purchase a puppy from a breeder is to always see puppy and mum together at their home and make sure to visit more than once (this may not be possible during the current lockdown, please check government advice on essential/non-essential travel). Ask lots of questions and make sure you see all vital paperwork, such as a puppy contract – which gives lots of information about their parents, breed, health, diet and more. ”

“Most importantly,” she adds, “If you have any doubts or feel pressured to buy, as hard as it may be, walk away and report it. ”

Even if you have acquired a responsibly-bred dog during lockdown- or are thinking about it – the conditions of lockdown pose their own problems for pandemic pup…

“You have a golden social development window before 16 weeks where new owners really need to socialise their puppy,” says Marc, “If no one else gets to hold or see the dog at that time, or they don’t get to meet other dogs because of lockdown, they are liable to be wary of other people and other dogs. ”

The other main issue is separation anxiety.

“The bonds that are forming now, between owner and dog, are so strong, that if you suddenly start leaving the house to go to work, without putting the right preparation in place, that dog is potentially going to start howling, barking, destroying your property,” Marc explains, “It’s a huge issue and you have to start preparing your dog for that possibility right now. ”

He recommends getting the dog used to spending time without you, and ensuring the dog has enough stimulating entertainment whilst you are away. You may need to be prepared to hire a dog walker, or even a behavioural specialist if you suspect your dog will especially suffer from it. Certain breeds, ages, and dogs with varying backgrounds may be especially susceptible to separation anxiety.

“Take them for a walk, feed them, put them in their happy place as part of their normal routine, and then start spending more and more time out of sight; which mobile devices allow you to do and still keep an eye on them,” advises Marc, “Leave some treat-dispensing games out for them, such as a snuffle mats – which are made of lots of different pieces of cloth and you can leave treats in them and they can enjoy foraging for them. Once they are kept busy with that, and are not as bothered about where you are, you can start increasing your time apart. ”

Both Marc and Paula voice concern that many dogs bought during lockdown may tragically be abandoned when their owners go back to work. It’s why Dog’s Trust has rephrased its famous catchphrase to “A dog is for life, not just for lockdown…”

“There are many rewards that come with having a dog in our lives,” says Paula, “ However, before making the decision to get a dog, it is important to fully consider if now is the right time and whether you are going to be able to continue to look after your dog as lockdown restrictions are eased and the daily stresses of normal life resume. ”
So if you *haven’t* bought your very own pandemic puppy yet? The experts say be patient.

“I would say now is definitely not the right time,” says Marc, “If you really love dogs, please prioritise the animal and its mum’s welfare, and wait until after lockdown. Plus always consider rescues; there will most likely be so many dogs and puppies available for adoption when the shelters finally open up again. A dog is worth waiting for. ”

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