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The New Reality: The appeal of the pandemic puppy

Coronavirus: The power of pets in the pandemic
Coronavirus: The power of pets in the pandemic

It looked like a drug deal.

Two vehicles were parked 50 feet apart in an empty mall parking lot. The occupants wore gloves and masks and, because of a strong side wind, had to raise their voices to finalize the terms of the deal.  The prize in question was a puppy, which was handed over in a split second.  No one touched nor breathed the same air.

As crazy as it sounds, it was exactly what happened when this journalist adopted a pet pug at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

It is a scenario that has played out in similar fashion across the country. Demand for puppies has doubled in some parts as animal shelters and breeders say Canadians are looking for companionship during the coronavirus pandemic.

READ MORE: Should you adopt a pet during the COVID-19 pandemic?

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The Toronto Humane Society reports 71 dogs were put into foster homes in February and 141 in March after much of the city went into isolation. The Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society has seen double its normal applications and Humane Canada reports adoption numbers are up between 20 and 60 per cent across the country.  Breeders have also seen an increase in demand, with litters selling out months before conception.

In Kitchener, Ont., Dolly and Tim Radmore had always planned on getting a dog for their son Kendrick and decided with all the extra time on their hands, now was the perfect opportunity.

He’s a very compassionate child who loves animals,” says Dolly. “But we don’t have any. So we thought a good start would be maybe a puppy that we can take care of and have grow up with him.”  

So they reached out to the Havanese breeder that had been recommended to them and put down a deposit — except the litter that was old enough to move into people’s homes was already spoken for. The next litter was expected in June, but those yet-to-be-born puppies also had homes waiting for them.

“We’re actually the third litter of this year, which is not till August,” Dolly says.

READ MORE: B.C. SPCA sees uptick in adoptions during COVID-19 pandemic

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With demand like that, it’s not hard to see how online scammers have taken notice.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre had 188 animal-related scams reported to it during the first four months of the year, almost as many (207) as it saw for all of 2019.

In an email to Global News, the anti-fraud centre reports the most common scam involves ads offering free puppies that the owners can no longer care for. When contacted by an interested family, the scammer makes the deal seem legitimate by asking probing questions to ensure the dog will be going to a good home. The victim is then asked to pay shipping costs and insurance.

Animal shelters and vets offer advice to pet owners amid coronavirus quarantine
Animal shelters and vets offer advice to pet owners amid coronavirus quarantine

Of the 188 cases reported to the centre this year, 124 people believed the lie and were conned out of a combined $127,000. Similar stories were reported to the Better Business Bureau.

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Chelsea Simpson managed to avoid any scams when she picked up her Miniature Poodle. She had been out of work because of the pandemic and remembered her dad had told her that if she could keep a plant alive for a year, he’d get her a dog. The next week, she had Beans, who almost immediately had his own Instagram page.

“People are pretty interested in his day-to-day activities, so I think people are just kind of bored,” she says. “But it’s been fun. My friends obviously love watching him on social media.”

READ MORE: Canadians embrace pandemic puppies and other creature comfort during COVID-19 crisis

The appeal dogs offer has been proven in numerous studies. An article published in the National Library of Medicine claims dogs have the ability to reduce stress in our lives, and a research paper published by Springer claims dogs can read our facial expressions and respond accordingly.

“Firstly, I think he’s just brought me so much extra happiness,” she says. “I never realized the companionship that I was lacking. It’s just so amazing.”