‘Now is the danger time’: why the end of lockdown puts puppies at risk

The six puppies were dumped in a crate on the verge of a main road in Kent. Four cocker spaniels and two terrier crossbreeds, bright-eyed and full of life despite being abandoned like fly-tipped rubbish.A passerby took them to the RSPCA’s Canterbury branch, where they were fed, watered and nursed back to health before being fostered by staff while permanent homes were found.

They are safe, but animal charities have warned that the end of the “puppy mania” that seized so many people in lockdown could mean that dangerous times are ahead for countless young dogs.

Six puppies, four red and white cocker spaniels, and two black and white terrier crossbreeds, that were abandoned in Kent.Six puppies, four red and white cocker spaniels, and two black and white terrier crossbreeds, that were abandoned in Kent. Photograph: RSPCA

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There is concern that as demand – and thus prices – fall, unscrupulous breeders may find themselves with puppies they cannot turn a profit on and dump them. As more people return to physical workplaces, fears are growing that new owners may try to sell on dogs on to inappropriate homes or simply abandon them.

Over Christmas, the RSPCA received reports of 1,478 abandoned dogs and other animals, up 29% on the previous year. A spokesperson said this week: “We have long feared that the combination of a surge in spur-of-the-moment pet ownership during the pandemic, the change in people’s circumstances as some normality returned, and the economic impacts of the pandemic could be a perfect storm for abandonments.”

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RSPCA inspector Clive Hopwood, who dealt with the Kent puppies last month, suspects they may have been abandoned by a breeder. “We’ve seen a massive surge in dog ownership,” he said. “Many people have seen this as an easy opportunity to make money by breeding and selling puppies. We believe these puppies may have failed to sell, so they were abandoned. We’re expecting to see more dogs abandoned.”

There have been other abandonments over the last few months.

One of 15 sick puppies, thought to be from two different litters, dumped in a crate on a road in Pitsea, EssexOne of 15 sick puppies, thought to be from two different litters, dumped in a crate on a road in Pitsea, Essex. Photograph: RSPCA

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Fifteen sick cockapoo-type puppies, believed to be from two litters, were dumped in a dirty crate at the side of a road in Pitsea, Essex. One of the cockapoos was dead when it arrived at the RSPCA’s centre and three others were so ill they had to be put down.There are some horribly sad stories. Just before Christmas the bodies of four newborn puppies were found next to a road in Darlington while three dead newborns, possibly staffordshire bull terriers, were dropped into a canal in Tipton, West Midlands, and at the end of January the bodies of two pups thought to be German shepherds were discovered next to a canal in Leeds.

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The seven Labrador puppies found abandoned on the South Downs Way near Winchester.0Labrador puppies found abandoned on the South Downs Way near Winchester. Photograph: Robert Carter/Solent News & Photo Agency
One of the most curious cases was the discovery by Rob Carter, the managing director of a Winchester construction company who discovered seven beautiful Labrador puppies running free as he cycled home in October. “What was remarkable was how calm they were. They were clearly used to human contact,” he said. “They had no collars on, no form of identification. They had just been abandoned.” Carter, a dog lover himself, phoned for help and a kennels came out to pick the dogs up.

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Before the pandemic, the average price of a dog was £876, rising to £2,237 in March 2021, according to the online marketplace Pets4Homes. By the summer it was down to £1,873 and continues to fall.

Some online sellers were this week offering puppies at sharply reduced prices: American bullies down from £3,000 to £1,800; cavapoos from £2,200 to £1,800; and jugs (a hybrid of a pug and a jack russell) from £650 to £450.

A spokesperson for Pets4Homes: said: “It would seem that puppy mania in the UK has peaked and normality is returning.”

Kennels are not reporting a flood of incoming puppies, but this is not necessarily a good thing, the charity Blue Cross said. It pointed out that people who paid inflated prices for dogs at the height of the pandemic would want to recoup some of their outlay and are more likely to sell on their dogs rather than give them up to a charity for re-homing. “That can lead to dogs being unsettled and having behavioural problems or being housed in inappropriate settings,” said a spokesperson.

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The Kennel Club published research in the summer that found almost a quarter (23%) of all owners feared they would no longer be able to provide a suitable home for dog when “normal life” resumed.As more and more people return to physical workplaces, Bill Lambert, a spokesperson for the Kennel Club, said it could be a challenging time: “The fear is there is going to be an influx [of] rescues. Now is the danger time.”