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illegal trade Charity fears 'deluge' of abandoned pets after bumper year for puppy farms

Nigel Mason said the rising demand for dogs during the pandemic has been a massive boom for puppy farmers across Ireland

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CEO of Assisi Animal Sanctuary Nigel Mason with Buster

CEO of Assisi Animal Sanctuary Nigel Mason with Buster

CEO of Assisi Animal Sanctuary Nigel Mason with Buster

An animal charity chief has said he and his staff are expecting a “deluge” of unwanted animals this summer after a bumper year for illegal puppy farmers.

Nigel Mason, chief executive of Assisi Animal Sanctuary in County Down, has told the Sunday World that the pandemic, coupled with the rise in people buying dogs on social media, has raised fears that there will be a crisis of abandoned dogs in the coming months.

He said the rising demand for dogs during the pandemic has been a massive boom for puppy farmers across Ireland, who use social media as their means of choice to sell dogs illegally.

Nigel told us: “The number of people requiring our help has decreased pretty dramatically over the pandemic period.

“We have had a very significant increase in the number of people contacting us looking for puppies, but sanctuaries, by default, don’t tend to take that many puppies anyway.

“At the moment people are trying to get dogs from anywhere they can, because they are finding it difficult to get them - even from breeders.

“Our greatest fear, which we see happening now, is that people then revert to social media, and that inevitably means puppy farms.

“Puppy farms will have made hay during this time, no doubt.

“Social media really is a beast on its own. It bypasses the normal groups, people like ourselves and breeders and so on, and it absolutely suits the machinations of illegal puppy farmers."

“There are thousands of puppies being farmed across Ireland before they are shipped on places like England.

"Before the pandemic, we’d been exporting around 2,000 dogs per year to England from puppy farms.

"That’s been a problem for a long time and will have grown somewhat no doubt during the pandemic.

“But in terms of dogs being brought to our door, we haven’t had an influx in January at all, quite the reverse. There has also been a drop in the number of strays that are being picked up.

"Our fear is that we will get an inundation in the summer.”

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CEO of Assisi Animal Sanctuary Nigel Mason.

CEO of Assisi Animal Sanctuary Nigel Mason.

CEO of Assisi Animal Sanctuary Nigel Mason.

Nigel said that one of the biggest problems centres like Assisi face is when people don’t train their dogs properly, with the animal becoming harder and harder to control.

“When people acquire puppies, there are a few problems they might not envisage.

"One is that they don’t tend to have too many difficulties until the puppy is a young juvenile, around a year old. Most people probably don’t do enough of the training and socialisation and end up with a young delinquent on their hands that they want to get rid of and they will turn to people like us to do that.

“Once people get back to work, they might find that they’re coming home to pee and poo everywhere.”

Speaking of the coming months, Nigel said it is very difficult for animal charities to prepare for what will be a wholly unpredictable summer, though he and his colleagues are expecting an influx of unwanted dogs.

“Our situation sort of depends on what the new normal looks like.

"If 30 per cent of people stay working from home, then actually that changes the game completely, because many of those dog owners will probably be fine and will have created the right sort of relationship with their dog.

“On the other hand, we had an example recently were a very young couple rang us, who were quite inexperienced with dogs, and they acquired an American bulldog, which wouldn’t be suitable for most people.

“The breeder just gave the dog to them because he was going away. Now they’re having massive problems, because there are two young kids in the house and they want us to take the dog.

"Now they have a problem dog because they allowed it to rule the roost for so long.

“Hopefully these things won’t happen, but we suspect that may be the case.”

Nigel also revealed that Assisi, like so many other charities, has been struggling in terms of donations during the pandemic crisis .

“Every time we take a dog in, it will cost us something like £800 (€900) per dog.

"That’s the cost of employing people to care for them, vaccinations, neutering and keeping and feeding them until we can find a home for them.

To donate to Assisi visit Assisi-NI.org or for more information contact info@assisi-ni.org

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