Dr Rowena Packer has been awarded a research grant from the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation. These grants are available to experienced researchers for short, desk-based research projects on high priority issues in animal welfare.
Rowena, Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science, alongside Dr Dan O’Neill, RVC Senior Lecturer in Companion Animal Epidemiology, will be investigating how, why and by whom puppies were purchased during the UK COVID lockdown.
Widespread media reports indicate that during lockdown, unusually high numbers of the public have sought to, or have, purchased a puppy; with The Kennel Club reporting a 225% rise in puppy enquiries in April-May 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
This phenomenon has raised major concerns regarding canine welfare, including lack of socialisation, habituation and vaccination of newly acquired puppies during a critical period for development, and impulsive buying of puppies by households unsuited to maintaining an appropriate lifestyle for dog ownership post-lockdown. This increased demand for puppies has allegedly resulted in unscrupulous breeders ‘cashing in’ on this phenomenon, breeding large numbers of puppies in conditions inappropriate for welfare, including puppy farms and illegal importation, to supply demand.
The researchers will compare pre-, during and post-purchase motivations and behaviour of owners of popular dog breeds acquired during lockdown to owners of puppies acquired during the same months in 2019. They will explore whether these pandemic purchases were atypical for the breeds investigated; were as impulsive as media reports imply; and whether owners are actively mitigating against potential negative effects upon their puppy. These vital data will inform educational messaging to owners of this vulnerable population, to maximise their dog’s future welfare.