by Tim Bonner

The COVID crisis is, of course, having all sorts of unpredictable effects and one of them is a surge in demand for puppies. Lockdown Britain seems to have created a desire for canine companionship which can only be satisfied by the immediate purchase of a dog. The RSPCA, which does much good work in the area of puppy farming, has often emphasised that, for many, a puppy is an impulse purchase. The current rise in demand shows how true that is and it will have consequences, in fact, it already is. Dog thefts are reportedly increasing with a focus on the current fashionable breeds which include cocker spaniels and Labradors, presumably stolen to order in the knowledge of easy resale. Fraudsters are also using the buying frenzy to line their pockets by selling non-existent puppies to desperate buyers. 

In the longer term this phenomenon will have other impacts. It will surely see a rise in unlicensed puppy farming which is an activity that legislators have been struggling to control in England and Wales, and the import of puppies from farms in Eastern Europe and Ireland. With puppies from some fashionable breeds being sold for £2000 or more, the financial incentives for breeding repeatedly from bitches and keeping large numbers of them in unsuitable conditions are considerable.

Meanwhile, it is inevitable that many of the lockdown puppies will become more than a handful for their new owners, especially when the real world of work and competing interests returns. A cocker spaniel puppy may be the sweetest thing in the world at eight weeks old, but as anyone who has ever owned one will attest, at eight months they can resemble a baby-faced psychopath with an obsessive hunting gene. Whilst the welfare of all dogs is important, there is something especially worrying about the thought of working breeds being bought for their looks and ending up in unsuitable homes where their need for exercise and stimulation might not be met. 

Sadly, the long-term legislative consequences of increased demand for puppies often has more impact on responsible dog breeders and owners than they do on those unscrupulous people who profit from the mistreatment of dogs. The Alliance continues to oppose unjustified restrictions on dog breeding and ownership in Westminster and the devolved assemblies but, especially in relation to dog breeding, it is becoming ever more difficult to differentiate in law between responsible breeders of working dogs and those who are profiting from the suffering of breeding bitches. I hope that people will heed the message that a dog is not just for lockdown, but the damage may already have been done.

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