Year of the dog: Pandemic puppies in high demand, short supply
Breeders, rescue organizations overwhelmed as housebound dog lovers decide now's the time to adopt
It's a simple question of supply and demand: Thousands of Ottawa families have welcomed a pandemic puppy into their homes, and now there aren't enough fur babies to go around.
Reputable breeders have waiting lists stretching months — and several breeding cycles — into the future.
"I would call it insane, actually," said Linda Anglin of Canadian Doodle Puppies in Barrhaven. She's been breeding Australian Labradoodles since 2008.
"In the month of April, I had 600 inquiries," she said. "I had more inquiries in one month than I have sold dogs in 12 years."
Anglin estimates she was spending three hours a day just telling people she had no puppies available, so her website now gently informs visitors they won't receive a reply to their inquiries.
She already has a wait-list of 80 families, which will take her 12-18 months to fill.
In a sign of just how hot the puppy market has become, some families are even posting want ads talking up their big backyards and proximity to dog parks, much like prospective homebuyers in sought-after neighbourhoods, all in an effort to edge out the competition.
Others are hoping to find a sympathetic ear. "This Covid-19 pandemic has been hard on my daughter and she needs a little companion to help her cope with her stress and anxieties," one family wrote.
Vets, pet shops hopping
Local veterinary clinics are signing up new clients paw over claw. The Gloucester Veterinary Hospital has added more than 100 puppies to its roster since COVID-19 started, while the Westboro Animal Hospital has seen 75 new pups, forcing the clinic to extend its hours and bring in more staff.
Puppy kits and post-surgery cones are flying off the shelves at Global Pet Foods, according to Shawn Hoey, who owns two Ottawa locations.
"Cones are usually sold after a dog or cat has been spayed or neutered," said Hoey. "We've definitely sold more cones in … the last quarter than we have in years."
It's not just the breeders who are under pressure: rescue dogs are in high demand, too.
The Ottawa Humane Society (OHS) has no dogs available on its website, when typically in October there would be at least a dozen up for grabs. Recently, a mixed breed with "special needs" named Charlie was the only dog listed, and Charlie's adoption was pending.
"We're seeing a very strong interest in dogs right now, likely as a result of people being home," said Sharon Miko, director of operations at the OHS.
Ottawa Dog Rescue has half as many dogs on its adoption roster as it typically lists. The organization is importing 15 rescue dogs from Texas this week, according to spokesperson Mike Gatta.
Online ads offering puppies for thousands of dollars are leading some to conclude that backyard or amateur breeders are cashing in on the suddenly lucrative trade in pooches.
"There are always unscrupulous breeders or sellers who make animals available where animal welfare is not their primary concern. It is a supply and demand issue," said Miko.
"I've noticed a lot of breeders trying to increase supply to meet demand," said Anglin, who limits her litters. "They're like, now is my chance to make some money, whereas I'm playing the long game."
COVID-19 and canine surrender
For some families, the pandemic has provided a rare chance to stay home with a new puppy, but for people who've been hit hard with the loss of a job or business, it's also meant hard times.
Gatta said Ottawa Dog Rescue saw a jump in surrenders this summer.
"The dog's gotten ill, broken a leg, swallowed a sock," said Gatta. "All of a sudden you're hit with a $6,000 bill and you can't afford it."
Gatta is worried some families are taking on more than they can handle, especially once their lives return to normal post-COVID-19.
"The most common reason that people re-home dogs is they get a cute little puppy and they don't realize that little four pound husky puppy is going to be a 100-pound couch eater in a year," said Gatta.
A 15-year commitment
"I worry that people are getting dogs for the wrong reasons," said Anglin. "Your kids need entertainment. You think it's easier because you're at home. You want a puppy because it's a difficult time. But it's a 15-year commitment, and it's very easy to create behavioural issues in our current environment. Everyone's around too much."
"At some point, people will go back into the office. And now you've got this one-year-old dog who's never been left alone, who doesn't know how to self-soothe and doesn't know how to be home alone," said Anglin.
"I expect dog behaviourists are going to be very, very busy in the next two years."