The Downside Of The Pandemic Puppy Pursuit

Puppy sales have increased drastically throughout the pandemic, but it seems likely that this trend is soon likely to change with many pups at risk of being relinquished to rescue centres or abandoned as lockdown measures are eased.
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The past year of lockdowns has been a whirlwind not just for us, but also for our pets. People have had to find a way to cope with the trials and tribulations of a COVID-19 world. Not surprisingly, many of us during this time have been comforted by the support of a new furry friend.

Sales of cats, dogs, and other household pets have skyrocketed during the pandemic. The Pet Food Manufacturers Association released their latest research data on the pet population, stating that 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic, and it's pretty clear why.

While stuck in long periods of isolation, pets provide much-needed comfort and solace. During the beginning of the lockdown, while measures were much stricter than the current climate, we were only allowed outside for a few reasons. One of these reasons was exercise, for example, walking a dog. This is tied together with the comfort we feel when with our pets and to our newly formed idea of freedom from indoor captivity.

The UK’s favourite pet has always been the dog and with the pandemic, this favouritism has only risen. Puppy sales especially have surged during this time, with prices for some breeds more than doubling with the added demand.

The surge in pet buying has even caused supply issues with pet food as companies have been unable to keep up with the high pressure that this has caused. With every appeal for a pup comes money-hungry men and women who are prepared to cross moral and legal lines to fulfil that demand. Animal charities such as the RSPCA have posted warnings about the dangers of puppy farms that come along with the pandemic puppy pursuit.

What is a Puppy Farm? 

A puppy farm is an environment in which a breeder forces dogs to breed as many times as possible. Female dogs will be kept for this purpose and discarded once they are no longer of use, even though legally a dog can have only six litters and only the first four of those litters can be registered with the kennel club.

In puppy farms, sometimes known as puppy mills, dogs are usually kept in poor conditions, left in unclean and confined spaces with little access to clean water. Dogs in these environments often have many health and behavioural issues, including but not limited to fleas, worms, and kennel cough.

These places tend to have multiple different breeds available at once, so if a seller has multiple ads with different dogs available this is a good sign that the dogs are being supplied from a puppy farm.

Cody, Tracy's Border Collie pup

Speaking with Tracy Barber, a local Leeds woman, she opened up about her own experience of purchasing a dog which she now believes to be from a puppy farm. Tracy explained how she was “not allowed to go and pick up the dog. The man selling me Cody came to me. He told us that Cody had been vaccinated already so we didn’t have to worry. Turns out he’d had no vaccinations, no microchip, and was sick for weeks after we got him because of how badly he’d been looked after”.

It seems to be a regular occurrence in puppy farms that sickly puppies are often sold on as ‘healthy’ puppies. Many of us are finding this out the hard way in our desperation for a companion during these lonely and uncertain times. Cody, Tracy’s border collie pup, has been lucky enough to find an owner willing to take on his vet bills and is currently on a strict diet until he is back to the healthy young dog he should be and is on his way to a full recovery.

This is the best ending that can be hoped for from a dog purchased from a puppy farm. Other dogs and their prospective owners are not as lucky, with many deaths coming from the mistreatment and disregard for the wellbeing of these dogs. If you are looking at buying a new puppy, please make sure to check that the animal is healthy and being reared in a safe environment before you purchase and support an unethical industry. 

I also spoke with Tania Hings, a local to the Gloucester area, who bought her dog Winston not long before the pandemic. Winston, a Cocker Spaniel, was the runt of the litter when Tania purchased him. Arriving at the property to view the dogs she became greatly concerned about Winston and what would happen to him if he was not sold.

She expressed her concerns as it was clear that the sellers were only interested in making a profit, and not in the welfare of the dogs. The puppies for sale were all male, which is often the case in a puppy farm as female puppies are kept for breeding as soon as they are able.

Winston was immediately taken to a vet after purchase and had worms and other health issues that would have led to his death if he had not been immediately taken care of. Puppy farms, whether you are buying a puppy in or outside of the pandemic, do exist and you should take great care to avoid these when purchasing your dog. 

How to Recognise a Puppy Farm

If you are unsure how to differentiate a puppy farm from a reputable breeder here are a few tips to be aware of.

1. The seller will not let you see their home

When purchasing a puppy, you should always make sure that the seller lets you see where the dog has been living. This way you know that the puppy has been in a home environment and is likely to have been properly cared for. If a seller refuses to let you see the home and asks you to meet in a public place this probably means that they are hiding something.

They will often make it appear that they are doing this for your convenience when this is not the case. If you are shown the house, listen out for whining or signs of other dogs in closed-off places, specifically if there are any outside buildings on the property. 

2. The dog's mother is not shown to you

There are a few reasons that the dog's mother may not be shown to you. The mother may be in poor condition due to being forced to continually breed and the stress and discomfort this would have caused to her.

Puppy farm sellers often use a healthier dog to showcase as the 'mother' rather than showing the cruel reality of their actions. You can check for signs that the dog you are shown is the real mother of the puppy you are looking to purchase such as how the dog interacts with the puppies. If she is wary of them, the pups may not be hers.

There are also physical signs such as the dog's teats, which can identify whether she has recently given birth and is nursing her pups. Another reason could be that the dog is not the breed that the seller has told you they are. If the mother is a different breed or a crossbreed that would lower the price that a seller could get for a puppy, it is likely they would withhold the mother so that a buyer cannot identify this. 

3. The seller does not ask you any questions

A reputable breeder will look after the welfare of their pups. This means that they will want to make sure that they go to a good home after leaving them. They will ask you as many questions as you ask them, looking to find out more about where you live, your lifestyle, and the kind of time that you have available to devote to a dog as well as any previous experience you have with dogs and that specific breed.

If a seller does not ask these types of questions, it implies that the seller is not concerned about the dog's welfare and only wishes to gain profit from their sale. They show no care for what happens to the dog once they are out of their care.

A good indication that a seller cares about the animal they are selling is if the dog has a nickname or temporary name that has been allocated as this is a clear sign of affection, for example when I purchased my dog the sellers would refer to him as Spot. 

4. The seller has multiple ads online for different dogs

When buying online you should always look at the other ads that the seller has active. Puppy farms are often selling several different breeds at the same time so if a seller has numerous ads this is a sure indication of this. You can look at a seller's profile on websites to see what ads they currently have posted.

You can also try searching the seller's phone number online to see if they have ads on other sites. Make sure you also check the wording of the ads. If the ads are vague the same ad may be posted word for word elsewhere. If you see the puppies in person, make sure that the puppies you see are the same puppies that were shown in the photos on the ads.

When I was looking for my dog, a seller wanted to bring me a black and white pup but there were no black and white pups in any of the photos in the ads, meaning it was likely to be a seller from a puppy farm using the same images for multiple ads. 

5. The dog does not have the correct paperwork for its vaccinations and microchip

The seller may claim that a dog has had its vaccines and has been microchipped but without documentation, there is no way to know this for sure. Often sellers of puppy farmed dogs will lie about dogs having these to sell them.

It is the dog breeder's responsibility to make sure that all dogs are microchipped before they can be sold on so make sure that you get proof of this from the seller before purchasing a dog. Breeders are not legally required to vaccinate puppies before selling them so this responsibility may fall to you. Again, if a seller claims to have vaccinated a pup, get proof!

This will be provided by the vet when the vaccine has been administered. You should also check the age of the puppy that is claimed to be vaccinated. Puppies should not be vaccinated until they are at least 6 weeks old so if the seller claims that a puppy younger than this is vaccinated then this is most likely a lie. 

Lockdown seemed like the perfect opportunity to introduce a puppy to a new home. The new owners would constantly be around to train and look after their new addition, but not all pet owners know what they are getting themselves in for. Dogs do provide comfort and support, but many people also do not realise the struggles that come with looking after and training a puppy.

They usually do not come house trained! Where there is a puppy, there is poop! I found this out the hard way when I came downstairs one morning to find this all over the walls! Another source claimed that “puppies are harder than babies” after having the first-hand experience of both her own child and 3 puppies at separate times throughout her life.  

Puppies are needy and always happy to chew whatever they can find so this is something you need to be prepared for if you are contemplating getting a puppy of your own.

A problem very specific to the lockdown is how pets and their owners are affected coming out of it and back into work. Separation anxiety is now a common issue after pet owners spending so much time at home with their pooches. If you bought a puppy during this time, your lockdown routine is the only routine that they will have ever known.

Going from spending all day at home with your dog to going back to spending most of the day at work away from your pet is a huge and incredibly stressful change to their life. Not only do we become attached to dogs, but they become attached to us and count on us to be around to support them, look after them and entertain them.

A dog that is used to such a vast amount of time with its owner may not respond well to changes in work patterns and circumstances. While it may seem that lockdown was a good time to get a dog to be able to have that one-on-one time with your pet, it may be a hindrance to them in the long run.

Signs of separation anxiety include but are not limited to destructive behaviour, the dog being unable to settle down or rest while you are away, whimpering and crying or barking, not leaving you alone while you are in the house, and trying to come with you when you leave it. Unless you are still able to dedicate a similar amount of time to be at home while back to your normal routine, a dog may experience these issues.

The outcome of all this is still to come, but many expect there to be a huge rise in the number of abandoned dogs and puppies. Many people now do not have enough time to dedicate to the pets that they acquired during a lockdown or do not know how to deal with the issues such as separation anxiety that the pandemic has helped to create within these animals.

Behaviour problems such as this are already one of the main reasons that dogs are given over to rescue centres. The sad but obvious conclusion is that going back to work means that the pets that people required during the lockdown as companions are no longer needed or can be properly cared for.

This will put a great amount of pressure on charities such as PDSA, RSPCA, and Dog’s Trust who put animal welfare at the heart of what they do. They will be left with the task of taking in dogs and puppies that are no longer wanted. Many people have not considered what happens to their routines and their pets after lockdown.

In an article, the RSPCA states that they are bracing themselves “for a major dog welfare crisis this year as we expect to see huge numbers of dogs relinquished to rescue centres, sold online or even abandoned”. For dogs, we are the centre of their world. It deeply saddens me to know that we humans do not think and feel about them the same way that they do about us.

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25 year old living in the UK. English Literature graduate from Leeds Beckett University.

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