Isolation and lack of human interaction have become the norm in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led many people to adopt or buy pets to keep them company.
Battersea, a leading animal charity in London, warned in a recent report that one-third of new pet owners bought an animal “on impulse,” before or during lockdown.
The report also predicted that the number of abandoned dogs could increase by around 27 percent in the next five years.
But figures from a recent survey by the Waltham Foundation showed that 86 percent of pet owners have bonded with their pet during lockdown with 60 percent saying that their pet helped them maintain a regular routine and 43 percent crediting their new furry friends with reducing their anxiety.
Lu Bai (also known as Isaac), an overseas student based in Manchester is one such pet owner who has found lonely days in a foreign country brightened by his kitten.
The 23-year-old student from China found himself unable to return home because of COVID-19. When his roommate returned to China in April, Isaac found himself left in the company of a cat he had adopted earlier in the year.
Speaking to Westminster World about how much his cat has helped him during the stay-at-home order in UK, he said: “One of my friend’s cats happened to have more kittens and he gave me one in February of this year. Since April I have been living with only my cat and its company has made things much easier and less lonely.
“During the lockdown in my city, when I couldn’t see friends or go out anywhere, having my cat with me was a huge help. If it hadn’t been with me, I would have probably spent all my time playing video games or binging on shows but taking care of my cat, playing with it and making food for it has given me a sense of responsibility.”
Isaac’s story is only one among many instances of pet adoption during lockdown. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), there has been a 600 percent increase in visits to its dog fostering page and a 30 percent rise in traffic to its Find a Pet section during the lockdown months. The Kennel Club also noted a 180 percent increase in enquiries from potential dog owners.
Similarly, the British Pet Food Manufacturing Association (PFMA) released its COVID-19 survey which showed a marked rise in pet acquisition with over 35 percent of young adults (aged 24-35) becoming new pet owners.
The survey also confirmed that 19 percent of them have already added a new pet to their families in lockdown and 16 percent is planning to do the same. In March, Battersea had hopeful figures which revealed that for the week starting Monday, 16 March, 86 dogs and 69 cats were adopted from the charity.
Three Counties Dog Rescue, is a pet rescue organisation based in Bourne, South Lincolnshire which has been dedicated to rehoming dogs and cats since its formation in 1971. Gyll Mauchline, chairman of the charity said that though enquiries about pet adoption has reduced during the lockdown, there have been no instances of abandonment.
She said: “Our enquiries for rehoming pets have still continued though we’ve stopped doing it for the moment. Many have rung in during the lockdown asking about rehoming and adoption during the pandemic. The rates of requests for adoption have fallen during the same period but I believe this is momentary because adoption from our organisation had increased prior to lockdown.”
On the topic of pet abandonment, she continued: “We haven’t had any pets that we’ve rehomed come back to us. We’re also very fussy with our home checks and make sure to eliminate any people who may not suitable to rehome our pets to beforehand.”
While pet owners like Isaac and organisations like Three Counties Dog Rescue indicate that many pets still have a home, the concerns of Battersea are not unfounded. Twitter page Animal adoption UK which is dedicated to helping strays and dogs in shelters find new homes believes that there’s very little information on how animals are treated or how many are put down after abandonment.
The admin of the page – who wishes to remain anonymous – said: “I started sharing pictures and details of animals on Twitter after noticing that some dogs have been in shelters for over 10 years. I couldn’t believe that organisations like RSPCA and Dogs Trust weren’t using social media to help individual animals find suitable homes. Thankfully, that’s changed now with Dogs Trust especially using Twitter to let people know when there are pets for adoption.
“But there’s much more to be done. I have read that in some other countries like Netherlands, there has been less abandonment after introducing measures such as licences or neutering schemes. The UK which is meant to be a nation of animal lovers could do well to learn from the success of these schemes and implement some of their own.”
The RSPCA has received around 1,600 reports of abandoned animals since the beginning of lockdown, but equally there have been many heart-warming stories that reinforce the bond between human and animals such as owners spending their days talking to their pets about their workload and colleagues that suggest that despite bleak numbers many pets may have found their forever homes.