RSPCA fears 'lockdown puppies' could hit already-struggling rescue centres after dealing with hundreds of dog incidents in Suffolk
An animal charity is concerned the impact of 'lockdown puppies' will hit already-struggling rescue centres hard in coming months, after revealing it has received reports of hundreds of incidents involving dogs in Suffolk this year.
The RSPCA said its emergency hotline received 189,800 reports related to dogs in 2019, and there had been 45,181 dog incidents dealt with this year up to September 29.
In Suffolk, officers have dealt with 504 dog incidents during the same period. The charity now says it fears next year could be worse.
Searches for 'puppies near me' online increased from 2,000 in January to 15,000 during the lockdown period.
And Government figures show the numbers of licences issued for the commercial import of dogs more than doubled from 5,964 (June to August 2019) to 12,733 for the same three-month period this year.
RSPCA officials say these figures suggest that this rise in demand is fuelling a worrying trend in breeding and importing of puppies, a potentially exploitative and damaging trade which can cause suffering to dogs.
This raises concerns among experts that an impending dog welfare crisis could be on the horizon in 2021 as families return to normal life and may no longer be able to take care of the puppy they bought during lockdown.
Coupled with a fear that the end of furlough and the deepening recession will hit families hard and some may no longer be able to afford their pets, this could put pressure on the already-stretched resources of rescue centres.
The charity is urging families to undertake research and ensure they can commit long-term to a dog before bringing one home, but this October – or Adoptober as the month is known to the charity during its rehoming drive – it is also championing the benefits of rescuing instead of buying a puppy.
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.”
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.
The RSPCA’s national centres and branches rehomed 7,480 dogs last year – 105 dogs were rehomed in Suffolk.
One dog looking for a home in the county is Whippet-type Maude, aged 5, at the Martlesham Animal Centre near Woodbridge .
Maude is described as "a sweet girl who loves human company and really enjoys zoomies, playing with her toys and learning new tricks and skills".
"She’s a clever girl who will benefit from further training," staff at the rescue centre added.
"She is looking for a home with access to a secure garden with a high fence. She’d also like to be the only pet but could live with older children and would like experienced owners.
"Maude is a lovely girl but struggles with other dogs and must be kept on lead and muzzled when out on walks.
"She’d benefit from owners who can continue her muzzle training and help her gain confidence."
For more information, visit the RSPCA Martlesham Animal Centre website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.