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Euthanasia rates for dogs could increase by up to 25% in the next year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, an animal welfare charity has warned.
The UK could see as many as 40,000 more stray or abandoned dogs, as families who took on so-called ‘pandemic puppies’ face new difficulties as the country emerges out of lockdown.
The charity Dogs Trust is predicting tens of thousands of dogs could be impacted by the crisis and face behavioural problems, abandonment and be put to sleep.
Pet purchases have surged since the beginning of lockdown, with Google searches for “buy a puppy” increasing by 166%, according to data from Propellernet.
Owen Sharp, chief executive of Dogs Trust, said in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the number of stray and abandoned dogs went up by 25.6% the following year.
“The 2008 economic crisis was the last time we saw a recession on a level that experts are saying we may see on the back of coronavirus,” he told HuffPost UK. “The number of dogs we took in went up and so did the demand for animal welfare.
“There were different reasons people couldn’t cope with their dogs: some couldn’t afford them, some people might have had to move to different accommodation in order to change jobs, their working hours could have changed. There was a catalogue of issues.”
He warned the number could be even higher this time around. “A 25% [increase in euthanasia rates] could be an underestimation,” he said.
“We don’t know the current dog population – there are a lot more dogs around, particularly puppies – so that number could be a lot bigger.”
A 25% increase in euthanasia rates next year would mean more than 1,800 dogs in local authority shelters could be put down unnecessarily.
Dogs who had been adopted while under lockdown could have a “strong chance” of showing behavioural issues in the coming months – the biggest reason people give up dogs for rehoming.
Animals who have become accustomed to being with the family throughout lockdown could suffer from separation anxiety once people return to work or school, becoming withdrawn, hyperexcited or destructive.
They might also not be as well socialised as people hope and may exhibit behavioural problems once places become more crowded.
There are also concerns over how dogs will react to seeing so many people wearing face masks. “We’ve heard stories about dogs who have become quite anxious about masks,” Sharp said.
His charity has launched an urgent fundraising appeal to help care for dogs who might need rehoming as a result of the crisis. It is also urging people to get in touch if they are struggling to cope with caring for their dog.
“In these extraordinary times we know that circumstances can change in a heartbeat,” Sharp said.
“The sad reality is that in times of financial hardship many people struggle to cope with looking after their pets, and the number of abandoned dogs has gone up. We saw this in 2008, and we’re extremely concerned that history could repeat itself in the coming months.
“We’ve already taken a number of dogs in from owners who have sadly passed away from or been hospitalised with Covid-19. We’re doing everything we can to minimise the impact of this crisis on dog welfare, and would urge anyone needing to give up their dog to please turn to us first, and we’ll do everything we possibly can to help you and your dog.”