By Nigel Iskander
A puppy is for life, not just for lockdown.
But that has not stopped almost a fifth of London households buying a puppy during the pandemic.
Minnie the schnoodle has been an “awesome” addition to Fritha Flint’s family in Streatham Hill, Streatham.
Freelance marketing executive Fritha, 47, said she spent the first lockdown “badgering“ her husband, Steve, 48, for a dog, but was unable to persuade him of the merits of a pooch.
She said: “By the time the second lockdown came, Steve felt the same as me – we needed to have a dog.”
So they took the plunge and spent £1,500 on a schnoodle almost four months ago, to the delight of their three children, aged 11, 13 and 14.
Fritha added: “When Steve changed his mind and said he’d like a dog, after meeting other dog owners and their pets during his daily walks over lockdown, I already had a shortlist.
“Minnie was our first choice and she has slotted in fantastically.
“She gets all five of us out for a walk every day and for the children in particular she has just been so awesome.
“They love her to bits and I’ve noticed how now they are back at school they are so excited when they walk through the door in the evening to know that they’ll be seeing Minnie again.
“It has been great for Steve too, because the dog has presented extra bonding opportunities with the children.”
A survey found that almost 20 per cent of people living in London bought a pet during lockdown – staggering 18 per cent of Londoners took a pet in, compared to just 11 per cent nationally.
But those living in the capital appear to be more anxious about leaving their pets at home when they return to work – 15 per cent of them reported concerns, compared to 10 per cent nationally.
And training their pets is more of a challenge for Londoners – 22 per cent said it was difficult, compared to just 10 per cent nationwide.
Workplaces in the capital are twice as likely – at 30 per cent – to have a dog-friendly policy, compared with the national average of 15 per cent.
The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) has revealed 3.2m households in the UK have taken on a pet since the start of the pandemic.
The UK figures also reveal::
– 59 per cent of new owners are aged 16-34;
– 56 per cent of new pet owners have children at home;
– Three quarters claim their pet has helped them with their mental health through the pandemic.
– Of the 34m pets throughout the UK, 12m are cats, 12m are dogs and 3.2m are small mammals such as guinea pigs and hamsters.
Nicole Paley, PFMA deputy chief executive officer, said: “Our research confirms the belief many more people are benefitting from pet ownership and we are reassured by the mental health findings.
“However, it is clear that we need to consider the welfare of these new pets. As our survey highlights, introducing a pet to a household in Covid times can have repercussions or create some unexpected difficulties.
“Perhaps worryingly, although just 15 per cent have a pet-friendly office environment, only 10 per cent were concerned about returning to work and spending less time with their pet.
“This figure rises among younger generations We must work together with the pet care sector to ensure the 3.2 million households with new pets get the support they need.
“This is in terms of access to educational material, training and adequate flexible working from home or pets in the office policies.
“It’s never too late to ask for help with your new pet.
“With the right support in place, families can continue to enjoy the company of their pets and the benefits of the incredible bond we have with our animals, for years to come.”
RSPCA pet welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: “Many of our pets are now used to having us around all the time while others have never known any different.
“So we have real concerns that life post-lockdown, could be really difficult for pets, with a new routine and spending time alone to adjust to. That is why it’s so important that owners start to prepare them now.
“In the absence of this preparation, pets could be facing their own crisis.”
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home’s canine behaviourist and training manager Janine Pemberthy said: “It is vital that we ensure our pets are also prepared for this big lifestyle change.
“There’s a whole generation of new dogs that don’t yet understand that lockdown life isn’t the norm.
“There may be some key areas that owners will need to work on with their dog, such as separation anxiety and meeting new people and other dogs, before we all return to ‘normal’ life.”
Battersea is hosting a series of virtual training classes focusing on specific areas of training for puppies and young adult dogs.
“Rescues like Battersea are here to help owners long before they need to make the difficult decision to give up their pet and we’d urge anyone struggling to care for their dog to get in touch,” she added.
Members of the Canine and Feline Sector Group worked together to produce resources for pet owners during the pandemic.
The RSPCA, Battersea, PFMA and other welfare organisations hope to continue this collaborative work so that owners have access to advice from the UK charities and experts helping them prepare their pets and to avoid any unnecessary anxiety after the end of lockdown.
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