The pandemic puppy boom

The onset of the pandemic last year ushered in a new way of life for many of us. It was a lonely time, a scary time. A time when much of the life we had created was reduced to work, with little play. Enter: the pandemic puppy.


Nicole Glennon

Cover Image: Brown Cocker Spaniel puppy looks through the bars of his outdoor kennel, many puppy farms have several puppies squished into small outdoor kennels. Picture: iStock

Dogs are such a comfort,” new puppy parent Emma Langford says.
“I think during a time when the news is so full of awful stuff, and tensions are high and people are at each others' throats… a dog is such a wonderful remedy for all of that.”

Ms Langford and her partner Kennedy O’Brien were one of many who became first-time pawparents during the pandemic. Willow, a border collie and husky mix, came into their lives in October of last year.
“It wasn't really a conscious decision on our part,” Ms Langford explains.

“We were in contact with a rescue in Listowel.. we love the work they do and we've called out there and given them a hand walking dogs a few times, so we've got a good relationship with them. "

With the onset of the pandemic, the couple found they had more time at home and reached out to the shelter to offer to foster a dog for a few months. 

“What ended up happening was Willow came in, and on the day that she did, the owner just knew she was the right fit for us and for our situation.”


Emma Langford and Kenney O'Brien with their pandemic pup Willow Picture: George Hooker

Emma Langford's dog Willow Picture: Kennedy O'Brien


“From our perspective, the logic to adopting a dog now, especially a puppy, was that we have time to really give her the attention and care needed for training.”

“There's a lot of people who've maybe never owned a dog, who see a dog as a fun little decoration, a new ornament to the house, a piece of furniture,” she says.


But it's as much of a commitment as introducing a new family member.


Máire O'Sullivan, (left) Cork D.A.W.G with Maire O'Donovan, foster mum with Peggy Picture: Eddie O'Hare

the demand for puppies since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has been “absolutely berserk.” That’s according to Máire O’Sullivan of Cork Dog Action Welfare Group (D.A.W.G). “Every time we put up a small cute dog we have hundreds and hundreds of applications. 

“We'll put up a dog that we say is not suitable for a home with children and people will pretend they don't have children. Then when we send someone to do a home check, there's clearly kids living there.”


We've even had situations where people tried to lie to us to get dogs.

Coupled with an increase in demand, is a decrease in supply, with the shelter being tasked with rehoming less puppies. 
“Usually we get a lot of dogs from pounds and pick up stray dogs and things like that.”


“We also get a lot of owners re-homing... that would be people who are emigrating, moving to a new rental property where the landlord won't let them keep their dogs, people who have had a change in their life circumstances, even deaths in the family where, you know elderly peoples’ pets need to be rehomed,” Ms O’Sullivan explained.

“We've had none of that in the last year.” 
It’s a similar story at Limerick Animal Welfare, Marion Fitzgerald reports. 
“We don't have any puppies in the sanctuary at the minute, normally, at this time of year we would have anything between 40 and 55 puppies.. we'd have litters of puppies coming in, and there's no litters at the minute.”


Grinch a Bulldog/Collie looking for a home from Cork Dog Action Welfare Group Picture: Eddie O'Hare


“They're all being bought the minute they're born.”
“And it doesn't really matter what mix breed they are, it's not all the thoroughbreds, it's every kind of puppy… there’s no such thing as not being able to sell a litter anymore.”


Grinch a Bulldog/Collie looking for a home from Cork Dog Action Welfare Group Picture: Eddie O'Hare


Criminals Cashing in


the demand for puppies is “unlike anything I’ve ever seen”, the Irish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) Chief Inspector Conor Dowling told the Examiner. “It's extraordinary - the demand, and what people are willing to pay.”

Mr Dowling estimates there's been a four fold increase in the price of puppies, with the average designer crossbreed now going for upwards of €1500.

ISPCA's Chief Inspector Conor Dowling with his rescue dog, Bailey. Picture: ISPCA

And with that increase in value comes an increase in the numbers of criminals spotting a potentially highly lucrative business. 
“Looking back at our work in the last six months we've found a number of unregistered dog breed establishments, some of which have been operating for some time, but some of which have sort of been set up to take advantage of the money that's to be made,” Inspector Dowling said.

Last year, ISPCA inspectors carried out close to 500 investigations with over 800 animals seized or surrendered and taken into ISPCA care.


ISPCA News 24th May 2021 Dogs living in substandard and overcrowded living conditions seized by the ISPCA on Thursday 20th May
Pictures: ISPCA


In the past six months alone, the ISPCA has removed close to 200 dogs and puppies from ten illegal dog breeding establishments. 
Worryingly, the number of illegal dog breeding establishments the group is encountering appears to be increasing.

“We've removed hundreds of dogs from illegal dog breeders before, the biggest we’ve had would be 350 dogs, but what we're seeing now is bigger numbers of establishments where maybe the number of dogs is not so big.”

There are “unscrupulous people” out there that are seeing an opportunity “to make a few quid,” he said.

“They don't have the facilities, they don't have the right set-up, they don't have the knowledge, but they have just decided to get a few dogs and start breeding.”


Brenda Dennehy with Winston her long haired miniature dachshund Picture: Eddie O'Hare


Radio producer and journalist Brenda Dennehy witnessed the “crazy” demand and skyrocketing price of pups when she went looking for a miniature dachshund in March. 

While Ms Dennehy ultimately paid out €1,200 for her new best friend, she was quoted up to €3,500 for a miniature dachshund puppy. 

“If they’re trying to charge you that, it’s bad news,” she said, “I’ve a dog from a breeder who loves the dogs… he sent me pictures everyday [before she bought the dog] and we’re still in touch now.” 

For Ms Dennehy part of her motivation for getting a puppy of her own is the fact that their family dog is now 12 years-old and she fears he doesn’t have much time left with him.

“I can’t be without a dog,” she said, “and I’ve always loved miniature dachshunds.”

And so began her hunt for Winston.

“I was willing to adopt,” she says, “but they weren't there [in the shelters].” 

Ms Dennehy then started looking to purchase a pooch.


“I was like a detective,” she says, “I wanted to do all my background checks. I wanted pictures of the mother, the mother’s papers, pictures of the father, how many were in the litter... I even found his big brother and sister on Instagram!”

While she has no regrets about buying her dog from a breeder, she says she feels people are often made to feel guilty purchasing a pooch over adopting.

"I had someone from a shelter tell me 'wait for all the grief now, that you shopped and didn't adopt.' 


I had someone from a shelter tell me 'wait for all the grief now, that you shopped and didn't adopt.

“There's that kind of guilt.. I get where they're coming from but why would I want to take something I didn't like? 

“If you want a certain dog and you're going to look after it, I don't think people should make you feel guilty.”

Winston has his own  Instagram page and Ms Dennehy acknowledges there is now a culture where a dog can be seen almost as a supplement to one's social status, especially #onthegram. 


“There is a competitiveness with people and their dogs,” she said, and the allure of having your very own pupfluencer may lead you to fork out more for the perfect pooch. 

“I know a girl who paid €3,500 for her dog and it’s a big thing on her Instagram.” 

But while designer dogs might drive up the likes, Ms Dennehy thinks people should be more cautious about sharing information about their dogs online.

“I am terrified to disclose my location because I'm not stupid, he's home alone [sometimes] and someone could nab him. 

“The really expensive sought after dogs, I think people probably need to be a bit more careful about having them all over Instagram.” 


One of many dogs stolen in Ireland in the past year. Picture: @gardainfo/Twitter


Beware of the Dognappers


Ms Dennehy’s fear about her pooch being nabbed from his home while she’s out doesn’t seem unreasonable if you’ve been online over the past few months.

Reports of Irish dogs being stolen from their owners in broad daylight have frightened many dog owners, while posts of heartbroken families appealing for their beloved pets' return have been shared thousands of times on Facebook. Organisations who run Lost and Found Dogs facebook groups such as Dogs Trust have also reported an increase in postings on these pages. 

But while there “certainly” has been an increase in dog thefts in the past number of months, Inspector Dowling believes reports of a pinching pup pandemic are exaggerated.


Beat the dognappers

The ISPCA, Dogs Trust and An Garda Síochana all offer in-depth advice on preventing dog theft, which includes but is not limited to

Ensure your dog is microchipped and register your most up-to-date contact details. This is a legal requirement and the best hope of reuniting you with your pup if they go missing or are stolen.

Your dog’s collar should have your name and contact information on it. Dogs Trust does not recommend putting your dog’s name on the tag as if thieves know your dog's name, it can be easier for them to lure your dog into a false sense of security.

Vary the times and places you walk your dog to avoid creating a pattern for thieves to track and plan around.

Don’t leave your dog tied up outside of a shop or other public spaces

Don’t leave your dog alone in a car, besides the safety risks this could be an opportunity for a thief

Don’t leave your dog unsupervised in public or at home


Indeed, official Garda figures suggest there was an increase of just 16% last year - 244 dogs were reported stolen in 2020, compared to 2019 when just 205 dogs were reported stolen. 


I've heard people say that they're afraid to walk their dog in case somebody grabs it.

“Anything like that would be extremely rare,” he stresses.

Rumours about drones surveilling housing estates and criminals marking houses and gates where dogs reside have also reached the ISPCA.

“We haven't seen any evidence to confirm [those reports].”

But, there are certainly “opportunistic thieves” he said, “If they see an opportunity to take a dog, which would be of value, they will do so.”


Small dog looking away by the window searching for his owner.


Ruff times: Prepare for post-pandemic problems


Recent research carried out by the DSPCA suggests one in eight of us got a new pet during the pandemic, with the youngest cohort of 18 to 24 year-olds the most likely to have acquired a furry friend during the various lockdowns. But, worryingly, 60% of respondents said they were not concerned or even aware that their pets will likely develop anxiety when there’s an inevitable change to their routine when Covid-19 restrictions come to an end. 

Similar research carried out by The Kennel Club in the UK revealed one in five new dog owners are not sure how they will look after their dog when they return to the workplace, with 48% admitting they hadn’t even taken this into consideration before getting their pandemic pup.

“When we're rehoming dogs we really don't like to home a dog to somebody who's gone all day,” Marion Fitzgerald of Limerick Animal Welfare said.

“A whole lot of dogs have found homes during the pandemic now, and nobody has ever asked what happens [after the pandemic].” 

“If you got a puppy at 7, 8, 9, 10 weeks old, and it's been used to a lot of attention and all of a sudden, everybody goes out in the morning and it's left to its own devices.. that’s a problem.”


Prepare for post-pandemic anxiety

If dogs are used to the same things happening at the same time each day, they can become worried or anxious by changes. Dogs with separation anxiety exhibit separation related behaviours which can be cumbersome or distressing for their owners including, destructive behaviour, urinating and defecating in the home, barking, whining and howling. To help prevent these behaviours and ease your dog's anxiety, you should:

Start training your dog now to be away from you. Factor in time apart from your dog each day e.g. leave your dog in another part of the house for periods of time whilst working from home, so they are not with you all the time. Try and leave them in the house alone when going for essential trips as well. This will help them cope better when everyone goes back to work, university, school etc.

Begin leaving them alone for very short periods - as little as one minute to begin with, then gradually build up the length of time you are away from your dog to a half hour, an hour, two hours etc.

Establish a leaving routine, use a special word or phrase that you only use when you leave. For example “stay and be good”. Routine lets your dog know what happens next, and consistency helps your dog feel secure.

Leave an old item of clothing that smells of you in your dog’s bed.

Leave your dog with food-releasing toy or something safe that is long lasting and tasty to eat.

Once they can cope alone, think about how long your dog can go between toilet breaks and don’t leave them for longer than this period of time.


“A dog shouldn't be left alone for more than four hours, and four hours is even a lot for a young dog, if you're out all day, you need to make some arrangement that somebody comes in at lunchtime or after a couple of hours and gets the dog out.”

If there is likely to be a change in the household routine in the coming months, now is the time to start preparing your pup, Marie O’Sullivan of Cork’s DAWG advises. 
“Get in touch with positive reinforcement trainers who will be able to talk you through simple steps to help the dog cope with your absence when it comes.”

“Even if you just have a phone consultation with one of them, they can give you tips and tricks. 


It's really important to prepare the dog to be without you.

“If you have a dog that's very high energy and intelligent, you need to think about getting them into a doggy daycare or [asking yourself] could you pay for a dog walker to come at lunchtime?”
“You need to think about how they're going to get that exercise, how they're going to get that mental stimulation, how they're going to get that socialization, before it comes to a pinch point.”
“There is doggy daycare now and there are people that will call and walk your dog for a fee,” Ms Fitzgerald of Limerick’s Animal Welfare adds, “but it’s all expensive.”

In fact, most people have no idea how expensive having a dog really is, she says.

“Very often people run into trouble with veterinary bills and costs associated with the dog.”

“Different people will find different solutions but some people will probably ring us…”


Dalmatian puppy is running on the grass in the garden. Picture: iStock


For sale: The pandemic pup


Throughout the pandemic, animal welfare charities have warned of a surge of surrendered puppies to accompany the end of the pandemic. And as we move nearer to that end, that fear is starting to become reality.

“Unfortunately, we are starting to see exactly what we feared,” Becky Bristow, executive director at Dogs Trust says.

“It has started to happen in the last four to six weeks.”

“And prior to that, we were seeing people over the last year who perhaps on a whim bought a puppy reselling them online.”
Now, people are starting to come to Dogs Trust and other shelters. 
“We are getting litters of puppies for big breeds in, people who maybe it was an accidental litter or maybe, they thought they would breed and sell them on and there just isn't the market anymore.”


“The demand for dogs has actually dropped in the last couple of weeks, the prices have fallen quite dramatically.”
Cork’s DAWG has seen similar. 
“We've seen the start of the pandemic puppies coming to us,” O’Sullivan admits. 
“A lot of the dogs that we currently have for homing that are small, cute, fuzies are under a year old and have things like severe separation anxiety because they've never been left alone. 
“It's going to be difficult to find homes for those kinds of dogs.”

Nevertheless, if you want to rehome your dog and give it it’s best chance, Ms O’Sullivan says it’s always best to call a reputable animal welfare charity.

“If it comes to it and your lifestyle is not suitable and you have realized the best choice you can make is to rehome your dog, contact a reputable animal welfare charity, with nice pictures, and an accurate description of the dog's personality.


I had someone from a shelter tell me 'wait for all the grief now, that you shopped and didn't adopt.


A young collie dog has been given a new lease on life thanks to the animal welfare charity: Dog Action Welfare Group (DAWG) and their stalwart supporters.


“Do not put a dog free to home online and definitely don't dump a dog. 
“If you give us time we will find someone to take the dog.”

“We are begging people not to rehome online,” Bristow says, “there’s no assessments of the home or the dog’s need..”

“I've heard people talk about 'getting their investment back.”

"At the peak of the pandemic, people were paying €2,500 to €3,000 for a dog and if it's not working out and they're looking around and seeing they might get €1,000 or €500 for their dog.. but a dog is not a product.”

“We just hope that enough people will have a heart and do the right thing.”


Emma Langford released her single 'Free To Fall', in aid of her unofficial charity partner Dogstrust. The single is still available to buy here


Cork DAWG have an array of dogs looking for their forever home. Click here to visit their website to learn more

2 year old Grinch the Bulldog-Collie cross 

Ruby the four year old red and white collie.

Maire O'Donovan, foster mum with Peggy a 10 year old German shepherd, who is looking for a forever home.

Benny, this hunk of a hound, with foster brother

Layla the Lurcher

Bonnie the greyhound.


Pandemic puppy stories 


Sabrina and Frank Sinatra

Sabrina from Cork said her beloved pooch Frank Sinatra has really provided a sense of the passage of time during this time. 'As a pandemic pup he's never really had a chance to gain independence and as a result he's a regular feature in my Zoom meetings.'

Louis and Cookie

Louise from Cork got Cookie from Dogs Trust in September after applying to various rescues since the start of the first lockdown. 'She definitely made lockdown easier for all of us.'

Stephen, Kristian and Abby

Stephen and Kristian from Cork were delighted to get Abby from friends during the pandemic. 'She has become the boss of the house.. and she has made our house a home.'

Margaret and Gracie

Margaret from Carlow says lockdown was both the reasoning and the ideal opportunity to get her puppy Gracie. 'She has changed my life.'

Poppy and Mossie

Laura says her daughter Poppy (9) gained a new best friend in golden retriever pup Mossie over lockdown. 'Covid pup. A lot of work, like having another child.' Picture: Nicole Le Saout, Moments Photography

Vanessa and Diego

Vanessa from Tipperary adopted Diego from the OSPCA. ‘We'd been talking about it for ages and we felt that our son was old enough to understand and respect a dog. It's been the best thing ever.'

Béibhínn, Ailbhe and Sidney

Béibhínn and Ailbhe from Kildare with puppy Sidney. Dad Séan says it's been a challenge but rewarding process: 'Once we went back to work in the autumn he destroyed: his beds, his kennel, every plant that was upright, the swings, the trampoline, put a hole in the shed, and I would often wake up in the morning and see him with my license plate in his mouth. We spent hours on YouTube watching conflicting training videos. Dog training centres were closed or booked out for months. As the winter passed, he calmed down a bit (there wasn't much else to chew!) and we were lucky to get a really good dog trainer there last week (after a few months of a wait). But even though this "goofball" (as the dog trainer called him) has wrecked our heads over the last year, he has changed our lives for the better - our daughters play outside much more and myself and my wife get out walking more because of him. And, as you can probably tell from the picture, it is hard to stay mad with him for too long.'

Irish Examiner Longread


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