According to the RSPCA, it is estimated that 12 million (44%) of UK households have pets with around 51 million pets owned. The UK pet population in 2018 was estimated at about nine million dogs and eight million cats. These numbers have reportedly increased by over three million since 2020 and Covid lockdown as people decided that a new furry family member helped to combat loneliness. It was also a good excuse to walk in the park or street without having to justify a reason for leaving one’s home. Families with children who couldn’t go to school were hoping that having a pet would help them miss their daily routine and their friends less.
Do people think about the kind of commitment a pet is?
I wonder how many people who decided on the spur of the moment to get a sweet puppy have considered the animal’s needs?
A BBC report on 12 March explained that this rush to acquire a pet during the pandemic also raises some difficult animal welfare issues. The Pet Food Manufacturers Association warns, “Introducing a pet to a household in Covid times can have repercussions or create some unexpected difficulties”.
The RSPCA says the boom in pet ownership could turn into a crisis for animals, once their owners returned to work after lockdown and could no longer lavish so much attention on them.
RSPCA pet welfare expert Samantha Gaines said: “Many of our pets are now used to having us around all the time, while others have never known any different.”
More trouble to look after than expected
One of the issues is that some new pet owners are finding their new acquisition more trouble to look after than they had anticipated. According to the BBC, “More than a third of new owners said it was like having a baby, while about a fifth of families with children said training their new pet was proving challenging. As a result, 5% of those who had bought a pet during the pandemic had already given it up.”
That’s around 160,000 abandoned pets for rescues to deal with. Once people start to go back to work, we might face an even larger number of pets waiting for new homes. It is vital to tell prospective owners just how big a commitment keeping a dog is.
A dog lives somewhere between 10 and 16 years. Puppies must be socialised and need a lot of attention if you want to end up with a well-adjusted dog. An older rescue dog might have lost a previous attachment and might be showing symptoms of grieving, be withdrawn or aggressive. They may have been traumatised by abuse. Any one of these could require a great deal of patience from the new owner and take a lot of his or her time to help the new pet recover.
Many new owners are getting a dog, sometimes on the cheap, from sellers whose history they don’t know. Some turn out to be physically or behaviourally disturbed and can cost owners a lot of money in vets’ fees and specialist training sessions.
Personal experience of issues I never expected
As the owner of two dogs who I consider to be family members, I know how much work taking on a puppy or an older rescue dog is. I acquired one of my dogs as a puppy and the other one as a grown rescue dog. My springer spaniel was a four-month-old puppy when a friend decided she couldn’t cope with his high energy demand. Despite never wanting to have the responsibility for another dog after my previous dog, a Labrador that died, I couldn’t say no to an adorable spaniel puppy. It was love at first sight for me.
Sadly, I wasn’t the only one who thought he was beautiful. At age three, he was stolen from our home and taken to an illegal puppy farm for breeding. I was devastated and it took me 18 months of desperate searching to find him.
When we were reunited, he was terribly underfed, had elbow dysplasia and needed two operations. His personality had changed too – and he still hides in the back room when I open the front door.
As people who have been burgled will know, I felt unsafe in my own house after the theft of my puppy. Having a dog gave me a feeling of security. I missed my spaniel desperately, so two months after he was stolen, I collected a German Shepherd cross from a rescue place as my special Christmas present to myself.
She is a wonderful, loving, obedient dog, out to please, but she has never got over the separation she developed as a result of her experience of having been abandoned. If I leave her alone, she howls and starts chewing furniture. I have the choice of taking her with me wherever I go or becoming very unpopular with the neighbours and having to replace furniture while causing her a lot of sadness.
My dogs are now 12 and 14 years old, which is sadly getting close to the life expectancy of their breeds. They both need frequent vet visits and medication. Their keep costs me roughly a quarter of my pension. I would rather live on bread and water than not give them all they need for a happy life. They are my responsibility. And for those of us who have made our pet a real family member, we face the prospect of the pain of losing them, as they age at roughly seven times the rate of humans. I am bracing myself for two very traumatic events in the near future.
Considering all the possible issues mentioned, will people cope with the sort of commitment a pet needs? We haven’t yet mentioned the financial aspect of dog ownership. This varies per dog, but the PDSA has published estimated figures according to size of dog.
In the case of my two elderly dogs, their food costs me £80 a month, medicines another £80 and vets’ fees £35 each visit. Since the Brexit vote, both the food and the medicines have gone up by around 35% as both are made in the EU and the decrease in the value of the GBP means an increase in cost.
Much of the food that they eat and the medicines that they need come from the EU and prices have increased significantly as a result of Brexit.
They also need flea and tick treatment and regular worming tablets. Both drugs are again imported and their prices have gone up since January. On average, the total spend on my dogs is some £215 a month; this does not include the pet insurance which I cancelled when the dogs got to seven years old because it just became too expensive. Every vet visit costs £35 even if there is no need for any treatment, and insurances have an excess of £25.
As my two are now very old, top of the emotional trauma of losing them I expect to have to find somewhere between £250 to £500 for each of them for the cost of euthanasia and cremation.
Travel for dog owners
A warning for people who are planning to go on holidays with their dogs. Accommodation with dogs is more expensive and reduces your flexibility. If you like to visit castles or museums, note that National Trust properties for example don’t allow dogs on their premises.
Before you get carried away by the idea of taking on a sweet new family member please, do consider that every dog is like having a three-year-old who never grows up during the average 12-15 years of its lifespan, and whose keep costs up to £3000 a year.
Conclusion: think it over very carefully!
If people act hastily, it’s the dogs that pay the price
Thousands of healthy, innocent cute dogs and cats face being put down once shelters run by volunteers cannot cope with the high numbers of abandoned traumatised animals.
Think about it carefully before you take on the responsibility!