When the pandemic hit, Torontonians Deon Best and Maliesa Cadogan had already been registered with a local dog rescue for a couple of months. Mr. Best, who grew up in Trinidad with dogs, was eager to adopt a furry friend.
“The quarantine motivated us to explore more Toronto trails,” he explains. “We often spoke about bringing a dog on the trails as we saw many happy dogs on our walks together.”
By May 2020, Mr. Best and Ms. Cadogan were matched with Dublin, a mastiff mix. The rescue estimated his age to be between two and five years old. The couple renamed him Dub and quickly welcomed him into their North York, Ont. home. They’ve since moved an hour west to Brampton. Dub now accompanies them on their walks through the neighbourhood.
“The extra motivation to get outdoors has been amazing,” says Mr. Best. “Mandatory little cuddle breaks throughout the day aren’t bad either.”
Mr. Best and Ms. Cadogan are just two of many Canadians that became new pet parents during the pandemic. According to a Narrative Research survey conducted in November 2020, 18 per cent of current Canadian pet owners brought home a new animal during the pandemic.
This has had numerous effects on the pet industry, according to Vancouver-based veterinarian Dr. Rob Ashburner. “We’re hearing that breeders don’t have enough animals,” he explains. “They have huge, long waiting lists. And the price has gone up – it’s probably doubled or tripled, and that’s not even for purebred animals.”
Dr. Ashburner also says that some pet food makers have been unable to keep up with demand and have run out of product or it’s on backorder, and that the wholesale prices on pet foods have gone up since the pandemic.
With the bump in pet ownership comes an increase in spending on items related to pets, according to Mark Bordo, chief executive officer of the veterinary telemedicine service Vetster. “These new pet owners are taking very good care of their pets,” he explains.
“You’re seeing a lot more spent on everything you’d want for your pets, like specialty fresh pet food delivery companies to the collars that they’re wearing, their cages, their beds, it’s all blown up. And I expect to see that continue.”
Mr. Bordo says the increased time at home has meant that pet owners are more attentive to their pets’ habits and notice changes in behaviour, like lethargy or eating habits, sooner. That has translated to a rise in vet visits. Dr. Ashburner says his clinic is busier than it was compared to 2019, with wait times up to a week, compared to the same-day appointments they could typically provide pre-pandemic.
Mr. Bordo says Vetster has seen triple-digit month-to-month growth in business, thanks to thousands of vet appointments being booked on his platform.
Dr. Ashburner says he’s happy to see more people benefitting from the joys of pet ownership. “Certainly, it’s important for people who want that human-animal bond,” he says. “If having more animals available gives more people that opportunity – provided they’re willing to be responsible – I think that’s a good thing. But if people aren’t responsible, then we may run into more problems.”
The return to post-pandemic life and offices reopening could be one way that pet owners, especially dog owners, are tested. “If you’ve been home for a year and your animal is used to that, and all of a sudden they’re left alone what you end up with is separation anxiety,” Dr. Ashburner explains. “They don’t like to be alone, and they engage in destructive behaviour.”
Dr. Ashburner is concerned that some new pet owners could regret their decisions once they head back to the office. “My worry is that it’s a bit of a fad with COVID,” he says. “Once they go back to work, are they going to be able to take care of the animal and make sure it’s properly trained?” Dr. Ashburner says he’s hearing reports in the United States, where lockdowns lifted sooner, that people have been taking animals back to adoption agencies. But he hasn’t seen the trend in Canada yet.
To prevent separation anxiety, Dr. Ashburner suggests that dog parents begin acclimatizing their pets to being left alone in the house now, before their work or social schedules shift significantly. “You have to gradually transition,” he explains. This transition period could also mean an increase in demand for services like dog walkers and doggy daycares as owners spend more days in the office and more time out of their homes.
Early on in their pet parent journey, Mr. Best and Ms. Cadogan began getting Dub accustomed to time alone. “We’ve been intentional about building Dub’s confidence staying at home,” Mr. Best explains. “We got a doggy surveillance camera to help build our confidence too.”
The couple started with short 30-minute errands, and over the course of a month, they built their way up to longer stints out of the home of up to five hours. “Most recently, with things opening up, we went out to watch a movie,” Mr. Best says. “It felt great watching a movie on the big screen with popcorn.”
While the couple were out, they checked in on Dub using their doggy camera. “He was doing his regular routine,” Ms. Cadogan explains, which starts with sniffing around their home for any food or leftovers that they forgot to put away. “He found a comfy spot on the carpet to lay down and periodically got up to look out of the window to see if we were back yet. We had tail wags and doggy kisses as soon as we walked through the door.”