New lockdown trends continue to emerge as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Whether it’s the forced family Zoom quiz, baking endless batches of banana bread or the late-night binge through Hinge or Tiktok, we all seem to have taken on at least one new fad. Yet not all of these time-fillers have positive impacts on our well-being (watching Grandma navigate FaceTime can indeed be agonising for us all). However, one craze that proves beneficial and continues to boom this lockdown is the addition of a new furry friend to the household. Especially canine companions, last year saw a sharp increase in puppy buying. The charity Dogs Trust reported that the number of people searching for dogs on their site had more than doubled in 2020, while visits to sites such as Pets4Homes were peaking at 20 million views per month between April and June.
Increased interest in puppy buying during the pandemic has happened for a number of reasons. Millions of people are now working from home or are on extended furlough, while children are again home-schooling which promises a perfect environment for a four-legged friend. Working parents can finally fulfil that once unattainable dream of a puppy joining the family, while those living alone gain companionship and a buddy to take with them for their daily exercise. Indeed, the therapeutic benefits of owning a dog are increasingly recognised by researchers. Speaking to The Guardian, psychologist June McNicholas pointed out that pet-care and self-care are inextricably linked: the owner is forced to leave the house, to exercise and to shop for food for their pet which in turn means they are more likely to feed themselves. This sense of responsibility and social recognition with a dog can be life-saving, especially among those who are isolated or depressed.
The evidence of deteriorating mental health cannot be denied amidst the Covid 19 pandemic. It is thought that certain groups are particularly prone to suffering, with women and young people at the forefront. Whilst young people are much less likely to become severely ill with coronavirus, the disruption to education and the impact of isolation on mental health continues to be a concern. An NHS survey carried out last July found that 1 in 6 children are experiencing a probable mental disorder, which is up from 1 in 9 in 2017. Researchers have expressed concern over the lasting psychological effects the lockdowns will have, effects that will sadly be disrupting lives long after the virus has diminished.
It seems as though deteriorating mental health has also played a part in this wave of sudden dog-buying. Puppies are an easy fix to boost morale, curb loneliness and encourage regular exercise. However due to the increased demand puppy prices have skyrocketed. The cost of a puppy has more than doubled since lockdown first began in March, with the most popular breeds now going for £3,000 or more. The sad outcome of this demand is an unprecedented surge in ‘dognapping’, with UK dog thefts increasing by a whopping 250% in 2020. Criminals have been cashing in on puppies like never before, with female pups being the hottest target due to their breeding potential. The 1% likelihood of dog thefts ending up in court (you will more likely receive a small fine or suspended sentence) does not do much to deter criminals from this serious money-maker. However the government are cracking down. Legislation such as Lucy’s Law have been introduced in the last year to try and put a stop to the cruel business of puppy farming. These squalid and unsafe farms subject bitches to repeated breeding, churning out high numbers of sick and traumatised puppies to sell for an excessive profit.
If you have recently bought a lockdown puppy then do be cautious. Having a dog now may help you maintain balanced mental health, but losing that companion can be devastating. Some owners are reported to have suffered with depression, PTSD or anxiety as a result of thefts. It’s also essential, as Dog’s Trust say, to remember that ‘a dog is for life, not just for lockdown’. It’s important to consider the reality of not home-working forever, and whether you can continue to maintain a high level of care for your puppy after the pandemic. So go and get your dog chipped, keep them on a lead if you’re ever uneasy and make sure your garden is secure. We need to keep our canine companions safe as well this year!
By Lara Keville