Thursday, 10 May 2012

Credit-crunch canine crisis

It was with a heavy heart that I read that more than 35 per cent of the dogs abandoned in 2011 are still looking for their new homes.

The news comes courtesy of a study of 300 rescue centres, carried out by rehoming website on behalf of Churchill Pet Insurance. It found that financial concerns and relationship break-ups are the main reasons for unprecedented numbers of dogs coming into rescue, bringing animal rescue organisations to breaking point.

Sadly, the news is no real surprise. Dogs Trust pointed out last year that the number of unwanted dogs in the UK had reached an 11-year high, citing the number of unwanted bull breeds and a worrying trend in people ‘disposing’ of unwanted dogs alongside the economic pressures as reasons for the rise. But it’s a truly depressing reminder of how the recession is negatively impacting the UK’s families and their canine companions.

There was a glimmer of hope on the horizon for dogs that have been in rescues for a while though. In the past, dogs that have been in rescue centres for more than six months have been overlooked due to potential owners’ concerns about how well they’d fit into their homes. But now attitudes seem to be changing, with 56 per cent of 1,277 dog owners surveyed saying that they wouldn’t consider a dog who’s been in a rescue centre for six months or more to be a problem dog.

I’m trying to be optimistic about the situation. I know there are many reasons why responsible dog-owners might give up their dog for adoption, and I hope the fact that more dogs are going into rescue centres also means that fewer dogs are being rehomed privately through websites like Gumtree. And as Pete Bishenden, spokesperson for Churchill Pet Insurance, observed: “It’s worrying that so many pets are being housed in rescue centres because owners are struggling to cope. However, it seems that more prospective dog owners are willing, and would even prefer, to take in a rescue dog. Over 90 per cent of dog lovers know about the problems dogs in rescue centres face and are aware of how many dogs are currently waiting for new homes. As a result, more would-be dog owners than in previous years are investigating adopting a dog.”

So it's not all bad news, and awareness is building due to the hard work of rescue organisations and drives like the Pedigree Adoption Drive. But at the moment, as breeds come in and out of fashion and irresponsible breeders c- including puppy farms - continue to provide popular puppies, there are simply too many dogs and too few owners who are willing or able to look after them. And the worst thing is, there is no quick and simple answer to the problem. As co-founder Ryan O’Meara commented: “Whilst donations and funding for the welfare sector are as important as ever, the only real, long-term solution to the problems are for more dog lovers to consider adopting a dog rather than buying from breeders.”

There will always be people who, even with the best of intentions, realise too late that they really aren’t able to look after a dog. And there will always be people who would prefer a puppy from a breeder to a rescue dog with a largely unknown history; or people who have a particular breed in mind and want to make sure it comes from a responsible breeder. As the owner of both rescue dogs and dogs that I bought from breeders, I can see both sides of the story, but I will say this: if you’re considering getting a dog, or you know anyone who is, please make a rescue organisation your first port of call.

If you favour a certain breed, there are many breed rescues with dogs – and sometimes puppies – looking for homes. As a Whippet-lover, I was delighted to foster the wonderful, sweet-natured Stanley Whippet for Scruples Whippet Rescue at the end of last year. You couldn’t fail to love him, so of course I ended up adopting him. In the past, I’ve bought puppies because I wanted to spend as many years with them as possible, from puppyhood to old age. But at 18 months old, Stanley is still likely to be around for a good long while, and while like any dog, he’s a commitment to be taken seriously, he hasn’t been half as much hard work as a puppy.

And if you don’t mind what type or age of dog you get so long as it’s lovely, any rescue organisation should work hard to make sure you and your new companion are well suited. As the owner of 13-year-old Charlie Whippet, who I bought as a puppy, I’m also aware of the plight of older dogs in rescue, what wonderful companions they make and how much they deserve a cosy home. Older dogs aren’t over the hill, they’re just more mature and experienced – take a look at the Oldies Club and see for yourself.

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