As we begin to emerge on the other side of Covid-19, Deputy Current Affairs Editor Natalia Karolina Gawlas discusses the lonely mid-pandemic and busy post-pandemic effects on animal shelters and their inhabitants.


A dog has always been described as the ultimate ‘man’s best friend’, and whoever came up with that phrase has always been right. The only question to ask here is, if a dog’s best friend is ultimately the ‘man’ we speak of. 


The pandemic resulted in three major lockdowns since its emergence in March 2020, keeping people locked in their houses or within their designated areas, proving to make an ordinary person’s life considerably more lonely on a day-to-day basis. According to a Humanities & Social Sciences Communications journal in 2020, owning a furry friend has many benefits to our mental health, assisting our ability to cope with stress and isolation during a global crisis. As our dogs (or any other pet for that matter) became our companions during a time of loneliness, their added company helped us to deal with the challenges of the pandemic, especially when we had little else to turn to for comfort. 


However, the clearing up of shelter cages once filled with animals longing for homes was but a temporary phenomenon, one with an immense reverse effect. To some, the commitment of a pet only suited for a short period. With more recent easings of restrictions following our latest lockdown, people are increasingly eager to leave their houses. But what happens to that loving four-legged companion when their best friend is no longer at home all the time? 


Animal rescues and charities have reported increased dog surrenders since April 2020. Dogs Trust PR and communications manager Corina Fitzsimons has expressed concern about the number of dog surrenders increasing as schools and on-site employment returns after lockdown. In the beginning, the dog surrender was welcome, ensuring dog safety and care without the abandonment aspect in unsafe conditions. However, as the restrictions eased, concerns rose. Fitzsimons also relayed her anxieties about some owners and their discontent with the ageing of once small puppies saying in a statement, “We also envisage there could be a large increase [in surrenders] as people in offices start to go back to work and as puppies reach that adolescent stage,” she said.


Shelters around Ireland such as Deel Animal Rescue in Co. Limerick and Coolronan Animal Rescue in Co. Meath have had to close their doors as they simply cannot fit more animals into their care and expenditure. Owners are bringing in their beloved pets because the responsibilities of life and work override the responsibility of an animal. Co. Cork has had a substantial rise in dog surrenders due to the surge in ‘pandemic puppies’, leaving minimum capacity for emergency surrenders only.


At the beginning of the pandemic, headlines were beaming with positivity for dogs and other pets getting the deserved love and care, being cherished as they acted as their owner’s main companions. It may be noted, that with shelters being closed for a certain amount of time at the beginning of the pandemic, people’s desperation led them to buy puppies from breeders instead of adopting when possible. This left many grown dogs out of the equation of a possible loving family, as a large majority of people wanted puppies, often forgetting older surrendered dogs.


However, to shine a bright light on the older forgotten dogs, there was a notable increase at the beginning of the pandemic in adopting the older, traditionally less-wanted dogs, suiting many people stuck working remotely


Sadly, this silver lining is overridden by the current situation in which dogs are now being returned to shelters. Dogs Trust had a total of 1,429 surrendered dogs from January to August of 2021 alone – already a considerable number in comparison to the entire year of 2020 in which 1,331 dogs were surrendered. Due to a phenomenon of excessive breeding in a high-demand period, many people now cannot cope with the puppies they paid a large price for, either from health issues that came from the breeding process or behavioural issues. As owner’s spend longer durations away from the home, separation anxiety can become an issue for dogs that became accustomed to their owner’s constant presence.


Often, a dog’s being is not taken into consideration prior to purchase or adoption, leading to the now common-occurring surrendering of pandemic pets. After the rollercoaster ride of 2020 and 2021 with the boom and downfall of puppy demand; one can only hope that owners come to understand that a dog is for life, not just for lockdown.