The pet pendulum: the alarming ups and downs for animals in the age of Covid-19…
…and the argument against getting a new pet.
In this, our second blog in the Long Tail Theories series we’ve talked to our expert friends in the pet and animal health industries and we debate the huge disparities in fortune for both humans and animals during lockdown and beyond. For a consultancy that works so much to promote the joy of pet ownership, it underlines how much The View needs to continually educate people and fly the flag for responsible care in its PR and marketing campaigns.
Though these last few months may have been golden days for many pets and their owners, for others they have been relentlessly grinding and there have been some desperately hard times.
Pet ownership – and the puppy and kitten buying frenzy
Jade Statt, co-founder of charity StreetVet, says: “We’ve heard a lot of people saying the only enjoyable part of lockdown for them was getting out and walking their dog.”
She continues: “But, with my vet’s hat on I have real concerns about people buying pets during the current circumstances. So often the intention is good, but it can be negative for the pet. For so many people, the reality of being in the house all day will not be ongoing. Pets will have issues afterwards because of it.”
It’s been fairly well documented that there’s been a huge upsurge of interest in owning pets during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s surely a natural desire, when people are faced with being alone for a protracted period and want some company. They think it’s a great time to take on a pet for the family. The broadcast content specialist Markettiers and its market research arm Opinion Matters shared various pertinent nuggets with us. They surveyed the UK public in the middle of lockdown and found that 1 in nine of us (11 per cent) were thinking of buying a pet at the time. A week later one in five non-pet owning adults (just under 20 per cent) said they were considering buying one.
James Westgate, editor of Veterinary Times and Veterinary Business Journal told me: “There have been a lot of people buying puppies, but until recently vets were only able to provide emergency services, so basic requirements such as inoculations weren’t conducted in most cases.”
That’s backed up by CM Research, the specialist veterinary and pet owner market research firm. In its lockdown study of UK vets it found they’d either reduced or stopped vaccinations by 95 per cent and microchipping by 92 per cent. They’re two core requirements for breeders and new owners. And neutering was stopped or reduced by a staggering 98 per cent.
Our wonderful former client, the honorary president of the Fellowship of Animal Behaviour Clinicians, former RSPCA chief vet and TV presenter Mark Evans suggests: “In one way, it’s true: ‘we’re all home so now’s a great time to buy one’, but demand has outstripped supply and it’s encouraged irresponsible breeding to keep up. This will have a negative impact on the quality of pets produced.”
At The View we conducted a quick couple of Google searches for ‘puppies for sale’ and things have gone bonkers. Even last week it was showing over 34 million results. And that’s just for the UK. A search for ‘kittens for sale near me’ showed no fewer than 55.3 million results. Google’s ‘answer box’ also reveals that people are asking ‘where can I get free kittens’.
Getting a pet – the due diligence
Paid ads from Battersea and the RSPCA are prominent at the top of the page and will provide tried and tested rehoming procedures and have vetted pets, but the big winners in the organic search stakes are the likes of Gumtree.com and Preloved.co.uk. Clearly would-be owners have to conduct their own due diligence here. The sometimes eye-watering sums charged for young companion animals, and the preponderance of ‘fashion breeds’ suggest perhaps not everyone is in it for the love of their animals. This is particularly notable with mixed breeds, with ever increasing numbers of portmanteau name configurations.
Deceitful pet sellers are also using ‘petfish’ tactics to lure unsuspecting buyers. These unscrupulous people create a fictional online persona and pretend the puppy or kitten they’re selling you comes from a happy home. DEFRA has a whole campaign aimed at creating awareness around this. It warns: “Some have severe health problems. Often, they won’t have been socialised with other animals or people. In reality, the animal may have been bred or kept in poor conditions.”
At least Lucy’s Law legislation is now in force. Championed by vet Marc Abrahams, it means anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten in England must now buy direct from a breeder (and no younger than eight weeks old), or consider adopting from a rescue centre. No third parties, or ‘puppy farms’ can be involved.
Accommodation with a ‘no pets’ policy
Gabby Keuhn, runs the PAAW House website, blog and dog-loving social community. It campaigns for a change in legislation to allow pets to live in rented and leasehold accommodation. She commented: “I am obviously in support of Lucy’s Law and anti-cruelty, but my own concern is that there will be acquired ‘lockdown’ puppies and kittens, that are now part of the family, in loving homes, but which may have to be relinquished because owners find they’re not allowed to keep them. 55% of private landlords currently have a ‘no pets’ policy”.
She continues: “This is especially pertinent for Millennials who mostly rent rather than own their own homes. According to Mintel, 37% of under 38-year olds now own dogs. Couple this with the Office of National Statistics revealing that 35% of the rental market in Britain belongs to 25-34-year olds and it looks stark.
“I am working tirelessly to change the law, to banish unnecessarily discriminatory anti-pet clauses” she finishes.
Pets at home during Covid
Considering matters in the home, during the pandemic, Mark Evans cautions: “From a puppy’s perspective, in the first three months, the importance of its socialisation and having the right experiences cannot be underestimated. Being stuck at home means it’s exposed to the sights, sounds and smells of a normal domestic house, but little else. They won’t have met other dogs, which is crucial, nor people who are different from those at home (age, sex, ethnicity and so on).
He continues: “They won’t have been going out to the vet, travelled in cars, or gone on public transport. And more DIY or vacuuming going on might make them bomb-proof, but if done badly could over-sensitise them.
“Varying experiences, handled well at this stage, are critical to a dog leading a happy, healthy, chilled-out and comfortable life. You’ll have a more ‘formed’ animal by this age. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it later. But it’s much more difficult.
“Having a pet at this time could, on the face of it, be wonderful from a human perspective, but there’s a flipside. During coronavirus there’s been a change in the dynamic of a cat or dog’s lifestyle and exercise and the ability to spend time resting and sleeping. Not simply youngsters, but older dogs, cats, even guinea pigs and rabbits could be being hassled by bored people, who’ve run out of DIY and TV to watch.
“It may well be that the dog or cat loves playing, but, because the family is home all the time, might mean their pets never get a break. Puppies particularly get exhausted and need sleep and peace and quiet. There’s no chance for them to get away, whereas in normal working homes people tend to go out to work or school more and leave them in peace.
“The other observation is that, for many people living in lockdown or working from home together, it’s put a real strain on relationships, again, because you can’t escape. So why wouldn’t that be the same if you’ve got a dog? Or it might be your partner’s dog and you find it quite irritating. Another potential stress trigger for all concerned.”
Dogs of the homeless
One of the toughest scenarios has been for those sleeping rough with their pets. We’ve witnessed it first hand as, over the last few months, The View has been proud to support the incredible charity StreetVet with its PR. StreetVet provides free veterinary treatment and care for animals of the homeless – and has been working feverishly to develop an accredited hostels scheme, where people can go with their dogs. The initiative was profiled last week in The Guardian. 90 per cent of current U.K. hostels are NOT pet friendly.
As the charity’s inspirational co-founder Jade Statt explains: “Most rough sleepers feel they’ve lost everything else; they simply won’t lose their beloved dog too, in order to secure a bed. So accredited hostels would make the world of difference to them”.
Then, at the start of lockdown, councils were given just days to move thousands of vulnerable people off the streets and out of shelters into self-contained rooms, many in hotels or B&Bs. But there was huge confusion as many were simply not set up to accommodate pets.
StreetVet has been intensely busy helping these establishments too, in this unprecedented situation. They’ve been giving them practical help and advice so homeless dog owners can be kept together WITH their pets. Where this is simply not possible it has even arranged places for dogs in boarding kennels until things settle down.
In our next Long Tail Theory blog, we look at how another side of the pet business world; the veterinary practice – and its patients – have fared. Please join me then to hear some further fascinating observations and thoughts from eminent people within it.