I volunteered at Manchester Dogs’ Home during university and walked a dog named Daisy, who had visible stitches all across her face.
Whether they were injuries she had sustained from her previous owner, or some she had gained from being on the streets as a stray, I don’t know, but seeing her and the rest of the animals in their viewing pens, whether they’d been there a few days, or a period of years, was utterly heartbreaking.
While the shelter is an amazing place and does its absolute best for its dogs, seeing the newer dogs pacing around in their small holding rooms, utterly bereft and in complete confusion as to where they were there, brought tears to my eyes.
The dogs who had been there for longer were equally as sad, because you knew they hadn’t seen a proper home in years, sitting defeated on the floor, glancing up with strained hope that today could finally be the day they might be chosen.
It’s 2021, yet the number of dogs who are continuing to be abandoned and given into shelters has barely improved, and the pandemic has seemly just exacerbated the problem.
Before buying a living, breathing animal, you would think that most people would take a while to consider if they have the financial security, time and love to give a pet the attention and care it needs. But between August 2020 and January 2021, there was a ‘41% increase in web traffic’ to Dogs Trust’s ‘Giving Up Your Dog’ page.
During a pandemic which made everyone feel isolated, many blindly flocked to the internet or a pet store to purchase a dog to feel less alone. Yet as we emerge out the other side, many are realising that having gone back to work, a dog just isn’t a viable option anymore.
But why didn’t they think about this sooner? UNILAD spoke to Steve from Manchester Dogs’ Home about how the pandemic has impacted the state of dog adoption, how the effects could worsen in the run-up to Christmas, and what owners should do if they really can’t cope.
While Manchester Dogs’ Home didn’t see a particular increase in stray dogs over the pandemic, because ‘of course no one was really out on the streets looking for dogs anyway’, Steve noted how they ‘are seeing a big increase’ in what they call ‘rehomes’.
Basically for whatever reason a member of the public can’t keep the dog they’ve got at the moment, and the vast majority of those dogs tend to be ones they’ve gotten during lockdown.
Steve explained the main problem is that people are going back to work and realising they ‘don’t have quite as much time as they once had’.
‘Or maybe the dog that they had or got during lockdown is now a little bit older and isn’t being good on its own, so gets a bit more stressed and eats the furniture or shoes. So we’re starting to see those dogs coming in a lot more,’ he said.
While the shelter works to ‘rehabilitate and put those dogs back up for adoption’, its adoption list closed by mid-December at the latest.
‘Usually early December we close the rehoming system, so anyone who’s interested in a dog is encouraged to come back and get them in January. That way we’re negating this whole just giving a dog as a present sort of thing,’ Steve explained. ‘I would hope other centres did this as well.’
I think the other thing to consider is with younger dogs, if you’re getting a particularly young dog for Christmas and you take it into the house over the festive period, with the stress of the kids, and additional family coming round, you’re pretty much setting that dog up to fail.
Because that dog is going to bite somebody, it’s going to get excited and pee on something. And unfortunately, at that point over Christmas, people tend to not be quite as patient as they hope to be, so they won’t necessarily give the dog extra chances, or if they bite somebody they might turn it out on the streets.
But you shouldn’t have put the dog in that situation to begin with.
Steve anticipates that the issue will likely get worse, despite it having been a bit of a ‘slow burn’.
He explained how the relaxing of coronavirus restrictions saw ‘numbers increase slowly,’ but ‘as people have started to go back to work, now is when the numbers have started to ramp up’. According to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home’s Covid Research Report, 20% of owners who bought pets during the pandemic admitted to not having considered the ‘long-term implications’.
‘But to be honest, we expected to see this, and expect to see it in the future,’ Steve said.
Heartbreakingly, Steve revealed that pre-pandemic, it was quite common to see people abandoning older dogs ‘on the road […] so they can get puppies ready for Christmas’.
Such an example is why the shelter always closes early before the festive period fully begins, ‘so that people can’t just put a dog out to replace it on Christmas morning.’
According to Steve, people often give up older dogs as a result of health issues, ‘particularly people who have lost their jobs, or work heavy hours, and can’t afford the older dogs because they can’t afford the insurance or vet bills which go with them’. 53% of British pet owners underestimate the cost of keeping a pet, according to Forbes Advisor, which is approximately £1,340 a year. Moreover, 44% admitted to not even having pet insurance.
If the dog does develop a problem or have an accident then you have to deal with that and there’s no NHS for dogs. So there’s no quick fix.
Covid has added extra risks for those who work at the shelters too, as they don’t have the ‘luxury of saying we’re not going to work tomorrow, because we’ve got 100 dogs to look after,’ Steve said.
‘You’ve got your own health concerns to consider, you’ve got the fact that you don’t want to put yourself at risk of covid or anything else. But at the same time, we’re dealing with animals,’ he explained.
Regardless of whether they felt safe to come into the shelter, workers still had to ‘feed the dogs, they’ve still got to be cleaned, exercised, so while we’re not taking away anything that was given to frontline workers or shop workers, we were working in exactly the same conditions’.
Moreover, shelters saw a decline in donations and financial support as a result of the pandemic. Battersea Dogs and Cats Home reported a ‘loss of £4m in income’ to Blue Cross, a ‘fall of between 15-30% in donations’ to Dogs Trust, and a ‘£4m loss in fundraising income’ to Battersea.
Steve noted how this Christmas there is definitely a ‘sense of the unknown’, but he explained ‘whichever way it goes, [they’ll] manage it’.
Having fewer dogs in the shelters means that more time can be spent exercising the dogs and assessing them so they can get a better fit for adoption and be rehomed more quickly. However, Steve noted that his team is ‘here to do the best for the dog’.
‘We’re never just going to put a dog into a home because we need it out of the kennel. We will find a work around,’ he said.
If you are planning on getting a dog this Christmas, Steve warned to ‘think about the implications’.
Having a dog is no different to having children. It’s the same time commitment, sometimes more, because you don’t have the additional benefit of nurseries and support out there. There aren’t after school clubs or places you can put the dog when you pop out.
Steve urged potential dog owners to make sure they are in the financial position to be able to afford it, have ‘good health care in place for the dog’ and get it insured.
‘Do your research, look for the right breeder, look for the right fit for you, make sure more than anything else you can afford it,’ he stressed.
If you are in a position where you are struggling and can no longer look after your pet, Steve pleaded to not ‘just put it out on the street’.
‘Don’t let it run stray, or dump it, it’s stressful for the dog. We’ve come in and had dogs tied to the gate, it’s not fair on the animal,’ he said.
While he acknowledged it’s not ‘pleasant and can be heartbreaking for the person who needs to give it up’, he asked that the owner gets in touch with a shelter.
He concluded: ‘Have a conversation with us, tell us the do’s and don’ts with that dog, like if it’s good with kids, because the more information you can give us the easier and the quicker it is for us to find that home.’
If you are struggling to cope with your dog or looking to rehome one after the Christmas period, then you can find more information via Manchester Dog Home’s website.
If you see an animal in distress and/or in need of help, contact the RSPCA’s 24-hour animal cruelty line on 0300 1234 999 or visit their website for further advice
CreditsBattersea Dogs and Cats Home and 1 other
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home
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