Coronavirus in Scotland: Scottish SPCA fears surge of pet abandonments as hundreds of owners return to work and struggle to cope with pups bought during lockdown

Fears are growing about a surge of animal abandonments in the coming months as hundreds of pet owners suddenly return to work and struggle to manage the pups they bought early in lockdown when they were always at home.

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said that, although the number of abandonments is down year-on-year between May and June from 88 to 31 incidents, the easing of lockdown restrictions will mean empty houses for longer - with more adults back at work and children in school - which causes issues like separation anxiety with dogs.

Dogs Trust Scotland said the number of calls it has received from people volunteering to hand over their dogs has already risen from 42 cases in April to 121 in July, and that Google searches for 'buy a puppy' have increased by 166 per cent since the start of lockdown on March 23.

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And Mr Flynn said a case of ten emaciated labradoodles being dumped by the roadside in Jedburgh at the weekend, including one which died, is the first time in his 34 years with the society he has seen this many dogs abandoned in one go.

Scottish SPCA chief superintendant Mike Flynn had never seen anything as bad as the case in Jedburgh at the weekend. Pictures: SSPCA

He said: "Right now, people are still in their houses so there's less chance of abandoning but we expect an increase when lockdown eases and people go back to work.

"The most concerning incident has definitely been the Labradoodles which were found in the Borders at the weekend. They would have been dead within the next 24-36 hours (had they not been found)."

In this case, the dogs were taken in by staff at the Arthurshiel Rescue Centre after being found roaming loose by the A68 near Jedburgh, while others had been locked inside an old coal shed. The animals were extremely matted, emaciated and traumatised and one of them had to be put down.

Vets reckon it may have been a litter which was bred over a year ago and the person did not want to sell them, and that if someone threatened this person for illegal breeding it may have driven them to dump the animals.

Another of the dogs found abandoned and in appalling condition in Jedburgh at the weekend.

The SSPCA is appealing for anyone with information about who the dogs may have belonged to to come forward.

Puppy farming

Mr Flynn said he is currently involved in a UK wide operation - involving the SSPCA, other animal welfare societies across the UK and Ireland, Dogs Trust, HMRC and police - to clamp down on illegal puppy farming.

He says hundreds of puppies have been bought in Scotland since early April with a notable rise in online puppy sales across Scotland at inflated prices, with much of it being done illegally.

Mr Flynn says much of the trade comes from southern Ireland where regulations are more relaxed which can mean whole litters of West Highland Terriers, for instance, being sold for about 400 euros and then sold individually for £750 in Scotland.

Three weeks ago, he phoned up about one listing for a cross breed Chihuahua and learned that, although the dog was perfectly healthy, the seller was struggling financially and that someone had bought the dog within 90 minutes of it being advertised that morning for £2,500. Before Covid, it would typically have sold for £400.

Mr Flynn added: "It just shows you the desperate measures some people are taking and that someone is just sitting there with £2,500 in cash. It could have been someone acting on behalf of a puppy dealer."

In recent months he has also seen French Bulldogs being sold for similar prices on some websites and on Facebook and Gumtree, a company which he says does try to police the problem.

He also warned anyone looking to buy a dog to avoid adverts which ask for cash in hand and to be aware of online scams, and that anyone looking to get a puppy should always visit its home first to see the mother.

He added: "You should not be buying a pup unless you can care for it for the rest of its life."

The prospect of job losses because of the pandemic could also mean more people struggling to afford to keep dogs but the advice is always to get in touch with the SSPCA or a rehoming centre instead of abandonment.

Animals which have been reported abandoned in Scotland so far this year have mainly included cats and dogs, as well as chickens and snakes.

'40,000 more abandoned dogs'

The abandonment fears come as it emerged smaller animal welfare and rehoming charities, including the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home, are facing staff job cuts and losses of £650,000 alone in 2020 over the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on fundraising.

The Dogs Trust estimates they could see up to 40,000 more stray or abandoned dogs in need of help in the UK as a result of a looming financial crisis forecast to be worse than the 2008 recession, which led to a 26 per cent increase in stray or abandoned dogs the year after.

The charity also anticipates more dogs being abandoned due to behaviour problems like separation anxiety which could develop during or as a result of lockdown.

According to UK wide research done by the charity in May involving dog 6,000 owners, almost a third of dog owners in Scotland say their pet has developed at least one new behaviour problem during lockdown.

Those who took part were asked about their dog’s routines, walks, enrichment and time spent alone during and before lockdown.

The charity says the single biggest reason why dogs are handed into Dogs Trust is because of behaviour related issues and that around a third of dogs under the age of three are put to sleep by vets because of behavioural problems.

Dogs Trust is concerned that if behavioural problems are not identified and treated early the country could see a rise in dog abandonment, and even euthanasia, in the future.

Owen Sharp, chief executive of Dogs Trust, said: “In these extraordinary times we know that circumstances can change in a heartbeat. 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.

“But we know the worst is yet to come and, like all charities, Dogs Trust is being hit hard by this crisis. We’re very grateful for the donations we have received and for this continued support. This will help us be there for as many dogs as possible and navigate the months and years ahead.”

RSPCA fear ‘massive surge’ in pet abandonments

Dermot Murphy, head of the RSPCA's animal rescue teams, said that pets have become a source of comfort and support for people and it appears many have taken on new animals.

It has meant fewer abandonments during this time, but they are worried about a "massive surge" in abandonments as lockdown eases with more people returning to work, going on holiday or struggling financially.

Mr Murphy said summer already brings a surge in abandonment, which may be down to a combination of the warmer weather making people feel less guilty about dumping a pet to fend for themselves and people going away on holiday and abandoning pets instead of arranging care for them.

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