Jan 1 / Teresa Tyler

New Year, New Pet?

It’s the first of January 2021 and I am sure I am not alone in enjoying seeing the back of 2020! It is a time for reflection and planning, new starts and resolutions.Last year was significant for the life changing COVID-19 pandemic, which saw a massive increase in pet keeping.

Acquiring dogs became a difficult task and shelters were for once, not bursting at the seams with dogs. There was a surge in people getting puppies in particular and with the extra time of being at home during lockdown, there was a feeling that it was a good time to get one. I expect puppy farmed dogs were in demand too, despite the obvious disadvantages of buying from them and rescue dogs were sought from abroad like never before.

The knock-on effect of this is yet to be seen but I hear that six-month old dogs are already trickling into shelters as people decide for whatever reason, they no longer want them.For the first time many dogs were not left home alone whilst their owners were away working. This must have been wonderful for them, or so I hope. But I wonder how this change in routine affected them. I know the change for many people was huge and the adjustment to working from home and balancing that with family life, which for parents meant home schooling children too.
With all this change, did our dogs adjust? Did they become clingier and more difficult to leave? How will they manage if and when we do go back to the office?I guess my concern is that the majority of people believe that pets are good for us. They keep us fitter, aid our mental health, prevent loneliness, provide a relationship that is easy and not demanding. Yet as Herzog (2020) and Bekoff (2020) point out, pet keeping isn’t always a positive experience for humans and certainly isn’t for many pets. I don’t think people stop and really consider the responsibility and commitment of owning and caring for another creature.

Puppies and kittens have sensitive periods of socialisation where the rest of their life depends on these early experiences, yet in a lockdown, how can this need have possibly been met? Pets cost money! Not just for food, but equipment, toys, bedding, vet fees, and general care which can add up to thousands a year. They need care and attention even when we are preoccupied, busy or just not feeling it.

Most importantly though is how we ensure that our captive pets, yes they are captive, can live happy and fulfilling lives. How can we make sure that they reach their potential, or feel emotionally secure? It takes an awful lot of time, energy and money to create a happy rather than obedient pup. Pet ownership is hard. It is also incredibly rewarding when done right, and fortunately there are many people who do rise to the challenge and do what is in their pet’s best interests.

Are we creating a generation of pandemic puppies?

So my hopes for 2021 are that people live with their pets in mutually rewarding ways, that meet both human and non-human needs. That the joy of this co-habitation is felt by all parties and that we can continue to exist in happy, safe and healthy ways. Happy New Year to all!
Bekoff, M. (2020) Are emotional support dogs always a panacea? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/animal-emotions/202012/are-emotional-support-dogs-always-cure-all
Herzog, Hal. (2020) Can pets relieve loneliness in the age of coronavirus? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/animals-and-us/202004/can-pets-relieve-loneliness-in-the-age-coronavirus
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