RSPCA urges public not to forget rescue dogs after surge in lockdown puppies

The RSPCA is urging new dog owners to ‘Adopt Don’t Shop’ this Adoptober as new figures reveal the number of people looking for puppies online during lockdown soared by 650% and imports of dogs doubled.

During lockdown, google searches for ‘Puppies near me’ increased by 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).

Government figures also show that the number of licences issued for the commercial import of dogs more than doubled from 5,964 (June to August 2019) to 12,700 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 exploitive and damaging trade, which can cause life-long suffering to dogs.

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

RSPCA 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. We are 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.”

The RSPCA’s online Find A Pet 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.

But there are many more dogs still waiting to find their paw-fect homes. Dogs like Bandit, who has been patiently waiting for 18 months for his new family and is sadly the only dog from last year’s Adoptober rehoming drive to have failed to find a new home.

Youngster Bandit is a two-year-old lurcher (pictured) with bags of energy who was taken into the care of RSPCA York Animal Home when his previous owners realised they couldn’t keep up with him. He’s looking for an active home with owners who are experienced caring for big, boisterous and strong dogs.

The RSPCA’s 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!

RSPCA 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.”

Throughout the month of October, the RSPCA is shining a light on animals in its care which need a new home and promoting the benefits of adopting a rescue animal through its Adoptober campaign.

To offer an RSPCA rescue dog a new home please visit www.rspca.org.uk/findapet to find your paw-fect match.