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‘People can’t give up jobs, so they give up their dogs’: Kennels face influx of lockdown pups


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Marty Burrell and Smokey
Marty Burrell and Smokey

The combination of lockdown puppies and the cost of living crisis have led to an increase in abandoned dogs, says Marty Burrell of Hilbrae Rescue Kennels in Cold Hatton, near Telford.

Marty has been helping to rescue the county’s strays for 33 years, but over the last couple of years, the centre has been bursting full of dogs that have been given up by their owners.

She says the lasting impact of Covid, the cost of living crisis, and the lack of microchipping have meant an unprecedented influx of dogs in their care.

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Marty Burrell, right, and Sophie Hounsell with Bonnie and Jack

“We have empty kennels for a day or two, but they soon get filled,” said Marty.

“As soon as we rehome one, we’ve got a list of people waiting to bring another in. In that respect, we don’t have any empty kennels.”

In January this year, the RSPCA reported it had seen an alarming 73 per cent increase in young dogs being abandoned.

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The animal welfare charity believed a decline in puppy sales following the surge in people buying dogs during lockdown, was causing breeders to dump puppies that no one wants to buy.

A total of 711 puppies and breeding dogs were abandoned last year, up from 411 the previous year. Pre-pandemic, in 2019, the charity reported a total of 275 dumped puppies.

Some 3,260 animals were abandoned in the last two months of 2022 alone – a 14 per cent increase on the year before.

Sophie Hounsell and Marty Burrell with Millie the collie

The RSPCA raised concerns that the cost of living crisis was contributing to the upsurge, and Marty agrees.

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She said: “We’ve seen an increase in people wanting to get rid of their dogs, the ones we’ve had dumped a lot of them have things wrong with them.

“My feeling is that it’s probably the cost of vet fees and insurance. They know if they dump them, they’ll be picked up by the warden who will bring them here and they’ll get sorted out.”

But rising food and vets’ fees aren’t the only reason people are wanting to be rid of their pets.

Marty explained: “It’s partly financial, but it’s the aftermath of all the lockdown puppies.

“They had human companionship for months and months, and bought them so they could go for walks and go out but now they’ve gone back to work and the puppies are now young dogs and they’re bored, and lonely and restless, and being a nuisance.

“People can’t give up their jobs, so they give up their dogs. That’s got a lot to do with it, and I think we’ll be feeling that for quite some time.”

Lockdown, Marty said, has had a dramatic impact on the dogs’ development too, with Marty explaining that the lack of socialisation has seen an increase in dogs with behavioural issues.

“We’re getting a lot that are anti-social with other dogs, there’s a big increase in that. While in lockdown they might have been going out, they weren’t going out in groups or meeting each other, they weren’t going to training classes.

“We’re definitely seeing a lot more dogs with behavioural issues towards each other, they don’t know how to behave with other dogs.”

But one of the biggest issues facing the rescue centre is the lack of up-to-date microchips. Dogs that have escaped or been stolen end up at the centre, and quite often the staff have no way of tracking down the owner.

Even though microchipping dogs have been required by law in the UK since 2016, the centre still finds many dogs without anything connecting them to their humans.

Marty said: “It’s like a heart attack – it’s always going to happen to someone else, it will never happen to you – your dog will never run off.

“And we have people come in, really distressed people going to all sort of lengths to get their dog back and you ask, where they chipped? Did it have the right phone number?

“Some are not chipped, but some are not up to date, or don’t have the right number, the right address. It’s the most important thing you can do, make sure they’re chipped, make sure your contact details are correct and make sure they’re wearing a collar and a tag.”

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