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Plethora of pandemic puppies putting pressure on vets, trainers and daycares

A puppy-purchasing boom during the COVID-19 pandemic is limiting access to veterinarians and trainers. Many are reporting a waitlist.

Vancouver Island veterinarians and dog daycare owners say they've never been busier since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the puppy-purchasing boom experienced over the last 18 months is raising some concerns.

Dr. Jay Rolfe has been working as a vet for more than 30 years and admits this is by far the busiest he has ever been. 

"I’ve been doing this since 1986 and I’ve never really had a situation where every day is a waitlist, every day we are having to tell people we have to book two to three weeks out for a number of things,” he says, noting his shop, Thetis Heights Veterinary Clinic, has at least 30 to 40 people walk through the door each day. Staff have even adapted to new software to make things flow smoother and faster. 

Rolfe says his staff try to fit everyone in; at the same time, pet owners are taking their frustration out on the employees.

"I am finding as the pandemic is stretching on, it's people’s level of frustration added on top of that,” explains Rolfe. "It gets put onto my staff and, to be honest, they are the best staff I have ever had and I am very protective of my staff and I don’t want to see that put on them.”

When it comes to new puppies, his biggest concern is making sure they are socialized and getting trained.

“For every five really nice puppies we see, we see one to two that are poorly socialized... people are going to have behaviour issues when they go back to work,” says Rolfe.

Glenda Hamilton owns and operates Whisker’s Urban Ranch dog daycare, with locations in Victoria and Saanich. She says the pandemic has been challenging and overwhelming. 

“We are very busy now and our downtown location now does have a waitlist; however, we are expanding that location as of October so that is really helpful for us to still take the numbers,” she tells Glacier Media. "It’s busy, everybody from the vets to daycares, to the trainers to the pet supply stores are really trying to adapt as fast as possible to the increase in business."

Normally, during August, they see a dip in clients. But Hamilton says they’ve been busy straight through the year. Many pet owners who use her daycare are still working from home but need to be able to focus while working. 

“We are happy they’re turning to daycare for a solution to maybe some challenges they’re facing at home rather than turning the dogs back into an adoption centre,” says Hamilton.

The BC SPCA states their numbers of returns and surrenders are down and that they haven't seen an increase during COVID-19.

“We are just seeing people that are working with their animals and things going well,” says spokesperson Lorie Chortyk. "I think what we are seeing in B.C. at our shelters differs from some of the trends across North America but we are definitely seeing people keeping their animals and if there are issues, they’re working with them.”

Hamilton admits one thing she is finding is people trying to get their pooches into her daycare without being vaccinated.

"One of the challenges with people wanting to use our services is making sure they have their vaccination information up to date and getting neutered and I know that’s been a challenge in getting the appointments at the vets,” she says. 

Similar to Rolfe, she too is seeing separation anxiety in the animals coming to her. 

"How that manifests here is a lot of barking, whining, a little bit of agitation, taking a little bit longer to get used to our routine,” says Hamilton.

BC SPCA also has a program that focuses on positive reward-based training. 

"We are really trying and encourage people to understand how animals think, the reasons behind their behaviour, so we can make them as comfortable and happy as possible in our homes because animals bring us so much joy but we also have that responsibility to make sure that we are caring not only for their physical needs but their emotional needs,” says Chortyk. 

Rolfe adds it's important to get a proper trainer and make sure these behavioural issues are dealt with early so they don’t become ingrained in the dog.