Dog days:

the pleasures and perils of pandemic puppies

Ten-week-old Bowie with her new owner Jade in the early days of the pandemic lockdown.   PHOTOS: Roger Smith

 By Roger Smith

When COVID-19 forced my daughter Jade to leave her job in England earlier than planned and move back home for the lockdown, she found the perfect distraction in troubled times – she bought a pandemic puppy.

“Being locked down gave me so much more time to train and care for a dog,” she said. “The puppy gets me out of bed and outside every morning. Everything is new to her, so she lends her sense of wonder to every day.”

In late March, she found a Havanese, the same breed as our family dog that died last year, and a few weeks later, Bowie (named after David) moved in with us. Jade was lucky she acted so fast – as the lockdown grew longer, so did the waiting lists of breeders and shelters.

“It’s as if anyone who ever thought about getting a dog decided to do it during the pandemic,” said Beth Obrecht, who breeds Havanese in Wakefield.

Nathan Potechin, a breeder in Richmond Hill, has been flooded by calls and all his expected puppies are spoken for until well into next year.

“Every breeder of every reputable breed is getting the same thing,” he said. “People are stuck at home, they have time with the kids and think ‘Great, we can raise it together. It’s the perfect time now.’”

At Ottawa’s Freedom Dog Rescue, which brings in dogs from northern Manitoba and Nunavut, inquiries about adoptions are up by half. The Ottawa Humane Society reports a 40-per-cent jump. At both organizations, demand far outstrips supply.

That’s why Deborah Sarmento is glad she went on a waiting list last summer. In late May, a Cavapoo (a cross between poodle and Cavalier King Charles spaniel) puppy named Charlie finally arrived at her Glebe home. She and her husband are working from home and looking after their two children, nine-year-old Stella and four-year-old Nicholas.

“It’s been easier for us to train him because we’re home, and we can let him out regularly to do his business,” she said, adding it was perfect timing for her housebound kids. “Once he arrived home, it was all about Charlie. He was being held 24/7.”

Chris Plaza regularly brings his five-month-old toy poodle from Centretown to play with new Glebe dog friends in Central Park East. After putting down a deposit last fall, he picked up Prince on April 4.

“Having a companion right now is amazing, especially during self-isolation,” he says. “There’s always plenty of time throughout the day to take him for walks and spend time with him, which is ideal for raising a pup.”

While the timing worked out well for those who’d been on waiting lists, others have been making spur-of-the-moment decisions since the pandemic started. That’s raised fears some first-time owners might be overwhelmed by the commitment and decide later to give up the dog.

“There are a few people who say they want a dog because they have the time now,” says Shanna Harding, adoptions director at Freedom Dog Rescue. “Okay, great. But what’s going to happen in six months? Or when they want to go away?”

Not only are dogs time consuming, Harding worries many don’t realize how expensive they can be, with big and sometimes unexpected vet bills.

“That’s my greatest concern that people make sure dogs are included in their financial plans.”

Walking at Brown’s Inlet with a Wheaton terrier she got in June, Danielle Savoie fears the demand for pandemic pups will drive prospective owners to the internet and shady breeders.

“You don’t know where those dogs are coming from,” she says. “They’re more than likely coming from puppy mills, which is inhumane, and the puppy is not well socialized and may have medical problems. So I think people need to do a lot of research.”

But Humane Society president Bruce Roney isn’t too concerned about a flood of dogs being returned to breeders or shelters. He thinks it’s a great time to get a dog but agrees buyers have to be smart.

“Do your research,” he advises. “Find a reputable breeder. Ask to see where the puppies are being kept. Ask to see the parents. If the breeder asks to meet you in a parking lot, that’s a problem.”

The other fear about pandemic pups is that after so much time with the family, they will suffer separation anxiety when parents go back to the office and kids go back to school. My daughter is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen to Bowie. Jade and her partner, who’ve now moved to Washington, both work from home, but they send Bowie to doggy daycare occasionally to get her accustomed to being without them. It seems to be working – the first time Jade picked her up, Bowie was having so much fun that she didn’t want to come home.

Roger Smith, a retired journalist and copy editor of the Glebe Report, is on a waiting list for a puppy.

Charlie the Cavapoo is the centre of attention with his new owners, Deborah Sarmento, Mark Cauchi, Stella and Nicholas.
Chris Plaza brings his toy poodle, Prince, to play with new dog friends in Central Park East.




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