Heartless pet owners are disguising unwanted dogs they got during the lockdown as strays so rescue centres will take them in, animal rescuers revealed.
Animal shelters are worried about the rising number of dogs being passed off as strays by owners who bought them during the pandemic and can no longer look after them.
Buying pets in lockdown soared as families spent more time at home or professionals sought the companionship of a four-legged friend while working from home.
But when the world opened back up, many pet owners realised they were not in a position to carry on caring for their new furry companions.
To skip the long waiting lists in place for people wanting to surrender their pets, centres were inundated with phone calls from pet owners who were claiming their unwanted dogs were in fact strays.
Vanessa Waddon, founder of Hope Rescue in Wales, said there were more than three million pets bought in Britain during the pandemic.
New figures released this week by the RSPCA reveal 4,877 dogs across the country were rehomed last year, despite the coronavirus crisis and lockdown.
She added: “At the moment rescuers are struggling because of the fallout from the pandemic.
“The fact that 3.2m pets were purchased during the pandemic, it’s going to be inevitable that we start seeing some of those pets being surrendered to rescue.
“The types of dogs that we are getting in now are a bit more difficult – so they’re dogs with the house and behavioural problems, dogs that were purchased perhaps during the lockdown, when that huge demand was met in part, by low-welfare breeders.”
According to Vanessa, a lot of unscrupulous breeders do not carefully match the right dog with the right owner, meaning dogs often end up needing to be rehomed.
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Vanessa continued: “At Hope Rescue centre we have 154 dogs at the moment – more than we have ever had in our 16-year history – so what some owners are doing is, because we are usually obligated to take in the strays, they’re actually pretending that their dog is a stray.
“So they’re either ringing us to see if we can take the dog in and if we have to say no, they are deliberately abandoning it as if it was a stray.
“And others pretend they are strays and ask the dog warden if they can come and pick it up, or potentially drop it off to us and pretend it’s been found.
“Although we don’t have 100 per cent proof, there are lots of things that point to these incidents happening.”
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The centre has taken in a number of “strays” but because of tell-tale signs, they believe they were actually unwanted pets made to look like a stray, Vanessa said.
Although the Hope Rescue charity is committed to rehoming as many strays as possible, their vet fees are set to hit a staggering £200,000 this year.
For some pet owners, the cost of looking after a dog can come as a shock, and in some cases, people find it cheaper to throw out their pet, rather than face up to the vet bills.
It means that instead of getting treatment some dogs have been left in agony unnecessarily for weeks.
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