How are dog welfare charities coping with the pandemic?

For many of us, spending more time with our dogs has been an unexpected upside to life in lockdown. But how are charities and rehoming centres caring for less fortunate pets during the pandemic?

Lockdown challenges for charities

It’s no surprise that staff at Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, have their hands full right now. We spoke to Adam Clowes, Operations Director at the charity, to find out a bit more about kennel life in lockdown.

“For our dogs, life hasn’t changed and they’re getting the same love and care as before! The biggest impact has been on our rehoming centres, as we have a smaller number of staff available. They’re cleaning kennels, managing mealtimes and walking the dogs, all while social distancing. Our teams are incredibly inventive with training, health and welfare tips and socialisation games to keep our centre dogs stimulated and socialised, all in preparation for when restrictions are eased and we can get them to their new homes. They are also providing valuable support through videos on our website and social media for dog owners in the community, who need to help their dogs adjust to this new way of life.”

Like so many other rehoming organisations, Dogs Trust has had to adapt quickly to a new process for rehoming some dogs, freeing up valuable kennel space for any dogs that urgently need support as a result of this crisis, or that Dogs Trust has already promised to care for. For example, that might include dogs whose owners hold a Canine Care Card, a pre-existing agreement with the charity so that Dogs Trust will care for the dog if anything happens to the owner.

Working alongside other rehoming organisations, Dogs Trust has now adopted a new rehoming procedure, where some dogs are “virtually matched” with potential new owners. If a dog can’t be matched or if they need a very particular home, they will stay at the centre until they can find their perfect forever home.

Meanwhile, at Dogs for Good, Chief Executive Peter Gorbing describes the uncertainty around the impact that lockdown will have on the training of service dogs. “A hugely important part of [our dogs’] training is socialisation. Normally, we’d be taking them into town, into shopping malls, on buses – all sorts of things that aren’t appropriate at the moment. How this will affect our dogs as we come out of lockdown, we don’t know yet, but we do anticipate some negative effects.

“We’re doing everything we can to work alongside our puppy socialisers to find innovative ways to give our dogs the experience of different environments, noises and smells, while providing brain-training exercises to keep their minds active. Our team is doing a huge amount of virtual support work with volunteers who have puppies and dogs in training, to help them manage their individual situations and keep up some of their training.”

Like many small charities and animal shelters, the Perthshire Abandoned Dogs Society (PADS) has temporarily paused rehoming. “We’re cautious about rehoming in a time like this. That’s both to protect our staff and for the same reasons we don’t rehome at Christmas,” explains PADS chairwoman Dr Alison Kennedy. “While rehoming a rescue dog can seem like a good idea while you’re spending a lot of time at home, when it’s time to go back to work people may find they’ve made a mistake.”

The centre is still taking in dogs who need their help, despite the lockdown throwing a spanner in the works. “Unfortunately, we were in the middle of renovating our quarantine block when lockdown was announced and our contractors had to leave. Luckily, we still have half of the block available to house strays and new arrivals.”

Finding the silver lining

“We’ve learnt a lot about how to manage things virtually,” says Peter from Dogs for Good. “Like a lot of people, we’re getting to grips with the technology as we go along. But I do think it’s going to help us work more efficiently, and it has really brought out the strengths in our team.”

While Perthshire Abandoned Dogs Society (PADS) has postponed its two main fundraising events of the year (the spring ‘BarkBQ’ and the annual ‘Scrufts’ dog show), the local community has pulled together to help. “We’ve actually been receiving more donations than we normally would,” says Alison. “We’re also supported by Pets at Home, who have been fantastic, and local distillers Persie Gin, who donate £1 to us for every bottle of their Dog Gin sold.”

Catherine Jennings from Staffordshire Rescue Scotland explains that their volunteer-run organisation has been “astounded by the kindness of people throughout the pandemic”. “Our Amazon Wish List has been completely bought out and we’ve had lots of offers of new foster homes,” she says. “We’re very grateful for the technology that’s bringing everyone together.”

How can you help?

The good news is that there are more ways to get involved with your favourite charities than ever before. If you’re missing Quiz Night at your local dog-friendly haunt, you’re in luck! You and your dog can now host a Dogs Trust Pup Quiz without leaving your sofa, while also raising valuable funds for dogs in need.

But doing your bit can be as simple as caring for your own pet during the pandemic. Why not cook up one of these 10 Kong recipes from Blue Cross to keep your dog busy, or try your paws at noughts and crosses?

You can also donate to any of the charities we’ve mentioned on their websites. Most local shelters accept online donations too, so check your local rehoming centre’s site to find out how you can help.

Adjusting to a new normal

In many cases, our dogs have been spending more time indoors, less time interacting with other dogs and a lot more time with their humans than they’re used to. As the lockdown measures are gradually eased, we’ll need to help our dogs readjust to post-lockdown life.

“I think we will see a short-term increase in issues such as dog aggression and separation anxiety,” says Peter from Dogs for Good. “My advice to dog owners is to be very gentle in how you introduce your dog back into the wider environment. Owners can help their dogs by managing this carefully and utilising all the resources that will be available. Just as we’re going to have a comprehensive plan for ourselves as we return to some degree of normality, we can make a plan for our dogs. This is something every pet owner can do, both to help their own dogs and everyone else’s.”

Thanks to the generosity of our customers, the Petplan Charitable Trust has been able to contribute vital funds to animal charities to help get them through the Covid-19 crisis. £150,000 donated to the Association of Dogs and Cats Home (ADCH) Emergency Coronavirus Appeal and another £50,000 donated to the Covid-19 Equine Rescues Emergency Fund. We work in partnership with 1,200 animal charities across the UK and know this money is desperately needed to ensure they can continue to support the animals in their care.

We understand these are challenging times for our customers. If you have any questions about how your policy may be affected by COVID-19, as well as any changes to your cover, please have a look at our FAQs for the latest updates.

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