‘Pandemic Puppies’ Trend Dogged by Animal Welfare Concerns

By Mariangela Mazzei
Mariangela Mazzei
Mariangela Mazzei
October 22, 2021 Updated: October 27, 2021

Among all the chaos created by the COVID-19 pandemic, one industry saw an unexpected surge in demand: puppies.

Before COVID, shelters and rescues across Canada were packed to the hilt with eligible dogs, waiting for their chance at a forever home. When stay-at-home orders were issued, however, one of the hottest commodities was the addition of a furry family member. Shelters ran out of dogs. Rescues began bringing in international dogs en masse.

People began breeding their dogs to get in on the ground floor of what has become a booming industry, selling them for thousands of dollars more than pre-pandemic prices.

But what happens to all these “pandemic puppies” when everyone returns to work?

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Eryn and Chris Tone of Toronto adopted Phoebe, a Chihuahua mix, during the pandemic. (Courtesy of Eryn Tone)

A dog rescue volunteer, Ottawa resident Meagan Wiersema was a pandemic “foster fail”—that is to say, she ended up adopting her foster dog, Toby. Wiersema said the puppy boom saw a marked increase in adoption applications compared to pre-pandemic times, but she worries about post-adoption care.

“Lack of access to veterinary services and reputable trainers will limit new owners’ abilities to adequately care for these dogs in the long run, even if they are the ‘perfect owner’ in every other way,” Wiersema told The Epoch Times.

“I’m also [worried] about the long-term impact of health and behavioural issues that we will see, as there are so many new ‘backyard breeders’ to meet this influx of demand who don’t complete proper temperament testing, health checks, or even early socialization with their puppies.”

Justine Arcand owns and operates Dogs and Compagnie boarding and doggy daycare in Vars, Ont., and works with Freedom Dog Rescue. Although Arcand said business has increased since the onset of the pandemic, she is concerned about the amount of under-socialized dogs surrendered by their owners. When inadequately socialized dogs are surrendered, it’s harder to find new homes for them as they are not good with cats, other dogs, or strangers.

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Arnold, a 1-year-old Griffon mix from Egypt, is available for adoption through COAR. (Courtesy of Maria Gillinson)

“Socialization is key,” she said. “It’s definitely been difficult with the stay-at-home orders.”

Amanda Lewandowski Lacombe, a veterinarian at the Cumberland Veterinary Hospital in Ontario, said the veterinary business has grown significantly and they have had to limit the number of new clients in order to maintain staff well-being.

“Staff [is] feeling the added stress from the demand for veterinarians due to the influx of new patients,” Lacombe said. As a result of improper pet socialization and lack of training, she said she believes veterinary behaviourists will see an influx of business.

Arcand echoes Lacombe’s sentiment that there are “not enough vets for the amount of pets.” Even emergency veterinary clinics have reportedly been sending clients home to wait.

Another area of concern with pandemic puppies is the potential for separation anxiety.

“A lot of people may find their dogs are anxious because they haven’t taken the time to wean the dogs off them being home 24/7,” said Maria Gillinson, who runs Central Ontario Animal Rescue (COAR) in Toronto.

“I get a lot of calls for [owner] surrenders and at least 50 percent of them are from these last 18 months. A lot of them are German Shepherds and bigger mixes, only about 10 months old. Now their cute little puppy is bigger, not as cute, and isn’t manageable.”

The Kingston Humane Society is seeing a record number of animals in care, according to an article in the Kingston Whig Standard. Gord Hunter, executive director of the society, said while they have more animals in their care due to animal welfare investigations, there have also been more owner surrenders.

“We are seeing more surrenders,” Hunter said in the article. “It is really coinciding with increasing numbers of vaccinations and increasing number of people returning to workplaces after working from home for extended periods of time,”.

As of Oct. 18, there were 294 animals in care at the Kingston Humane Society, the highest number in the 137-year history of the agency.

Pandemic or not, it’s hard to resist the love of furry companions.

Eryn Tone of Toronto, adopted Phoebe, a Chihuahua mix, from Gillinson in early 2020.

“We chose to rescue because I’ve always had rescue dogs,” Tone said. “We don’t believe in paying thousands of dollars for a dog from a breeder when there are so many little ones that need homes. A rescue may come with its challenges, but so do puppies, and the love you get from a rescue dog is like no other.”

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Cole, a one-year-old Retriever available for adoption through COAR. (Courtesy of Maria Gillinson)

No matter how you add a pup to your life, Lacombe has one simple message.

“If I could tell a new pandemic puppy owner one thing, it would be to leave the pet by themselves for periods of time,” she said.

“Separation anxiety is a serious concern because we have spent so much time at home. There are great training resources to help work on separation anxiety. I am a hopeful person and hope that we will see people seeking help for the behaviour concerns rather than abandoning their pets.”