Locked-down Brits seek creature comfort

by Pauline FROISSART
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A surge in pet adoptions in the United Kingdom has caused a famous London shelter to warn against being too impulsive

Stranded at home, Britons have sought solace in their traditional passion for animals, with shelters recording a wave of applications to adopt dogs and cats.

The famous shelter at Battersea in south London saw 86 dogs and 69 cats leave in the week before the government announced its coronavirus lockdown, more than double the number at this time last year, leading to warnings against impulsive adoptions.

"We are a country of animal lovers and I think people recognise the situation we find ourselves in is exceptional," said Steve Craddock, Centre Manager at Battersea.

While all three Battersea centres have closed since the lockdown, "people continue to apply for adoption online," he said.

"We haven't seen an increase of animals being abandoned which is encouraging," he added.

The Kennel Club, the world-renowned British dog association, has also noted a "surge" in interest.

Puppy searches on its website increased by 53 percent between February and March, with a peak in the week before the confinement measures.

Labradors, cocker spaniels and golden retrievers led the searches, all breeds popular with families.

"There is an enormous surge," Bill Lambert, head of health and well-being at the Kennel Club, told AFP.

"People spend more time at home and are thinking that now they could actually have a dog," he added.

- 'Calm to household' -

But the club warned against "impulsive" decisions to take on new pets.

"People are making decisions about what is happening right now but they might go back to work and their situation might change," said Lambert.

"There is a big risk with getting a puppy now when you've got lot of time on your hands, the puppy will spend lots of time with you and suddenly the puppy's routine will change and the puppy will be left on its own," he added.

"Puppies, and even older dogs should not be left for long periods of time."

However, he highlighted the benefits of having a pet in times of anxiety and isolation, such as pandemics.

"Dogs are a good way to reduce your blood pressure, dogs bring calm to a household, they give people something to focus on, particularly in these terrible times... particularly for people living alone," said Lambert.

The British have not only stocked up on toilet paper, but on treats for their pets.

Pet shops, which are on the list of shops allowed to stay open, are experiencing record sales.

The Pets At Home chain revealed "exceptional levels of demand", both in-store and online as the COVID-19 crisis has developed, but warned in a news release that its financial outlook for the year 2020/2021 remained uncertain.

Shopping for dogs, however, is more complicated due to the pandemic restrictions.

Bill Lambert believes this could be a blessing, forcing potential owners to wait until the crisis is over before making up their mind.

"What we are hoping is that there is a good possibility that some people who are working from home will find a way to work from home far more frequently when the lockdown comes to an end," he said, leading to fewer lonely pups.

A surge in pet adoptions in the United Kingdom has caused a famous London shelter to warn against being too impulsive

"There is a big risk with getting a puppy now when you've got lot of time on your hands, the puppy will spend lots of time with you and suddenly the puppy's routine will change," said the Kennel Club's head of health and well-being