With the strangeness of 2020 not yet showing signs of stopping, the demand for lockdown companions has been enormous.

A huge number families have found themselves furloughed or worse and it has seemed, for some, like the perfect time to welcome a new pet into the household.

With more time spent at home comes the incentive to explore nature, as studies have proven the myriad health benefits of getting outside, especially during lockdown. We have a renewed appreciation for the great outdoors and, with home-schooling prevalent in 2020, the appeal of having a new pet at home is understandable.

This has, however, led to a massive demand for puppies for purchase, at more than twice the price – leading to a rise in unscrupulous breeders taking advantage of the demand, at the risk of animal welfare.

Animal welfare charities have expressed their concerns that this could lead to a welfare crisis when people return to work and find themselves unequipped to properly care for their new pets. With rescue centres already under enormous pressure, it is anticipated that things could become even worse. A survey undertaken by ADCH (Association of Dogs and Cats Homes in the UK and ROI) found that over 90% of rescues to date have taken contingency measures in 2020 to deal with COVID-19, with only 52% having funds that will ensure they can continue to operate for over three months.

Could you rescue a pet?

Consider rescuing an animal before buying a puppy or kitten – there are thousands of animals in shelters in the UK looking for forever homes. Rescue animals always need endless quantities of time, patience and love, and each domestic situation is different. Are you at home most of the day? Do you have the hours to commit to gaining the trust of a rescue animal? Are you ready for behavioural quirks and obstacles that ultimately there is nothing more rewarding than to overcome? It is true that there is no love like that of a rescue dog or cat.

71% of rescues who took part in the recent Association of Dogs and Cats Homes survey report having closed their shelters to the public, but are continuing to accept animals – so correspondence is likely to be via phone and email in the first instance if you decide to make an enquiry.

Tips for choosing a breeder

So you’ve decided that a brand-new addition to the family is for you – here are some tips to ensure that you are welcoming the perfect furry friend without inadvertently compromising on welfare during an exciting time.

Be vigilant with prices

New dog owners have reported paying up to £3,000 per puppy during 2020 – often for more sought-after ‘designer’ breeds. It is very likely that any breeder charging such an amount has identified the high demand within the market and is capitalising upon it. This would indicate that animal welfare was not initially at the forefront of their decision to breed.

Meet mum and, if possible, dad.

It’s important to see how mum is interacting – is this her first litter? Is she interested and engaged in the maternal relationship? Is she healthy, are the puppies or kittens feeding well? Any issues are an indicator of future problems. Obtain all the previous health history you possibly can, as any respectable breeder will want to give this to you.

Take note of the surroundings

How well have the young been socialised? Are they kept in a warm, safe and dry space? How well do they react to ‘normal’ household noises such as children’s voices, the vacuum cleaner etc?

Insist upon multiple visits

If and when government social distancing guidelines allow! Any breeder who is happy to allow you to take a puppy or kitten away with you immediately after an initial meeting is not invested enough in their future well-being.

Go with your gut

Ultimately, if when meeting the pet, any of the above criteria give you cause for concern, do not be afraid to walk away. It is very tempting to ‘save’ the animal from an untoward situation, but to buy in this instance would be fuelling the demand and unfortunately encouraging repeat occurrences from the breeder.

One thing required to own an animal is indisputable, and that’s love! However, it has never been more important to be prepared. Do your research, make plans and explore every scenario, so that you and your future pets will enjoy happiness long after 2020 is over.

Hannah Hunter
Rainbow-infused space unicorn... Veterinary receptionist who loves family, food, music and the ocean!

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