The number of dogs and cats being abandoned due to Covid-related job losses and deaths has spiked in Portugal, while UK animal charities are warning that owners who ‘panic-bought’ puppies during lockdown could soon give them up.
The tally of pets ditched in Portugal this year has shot up compared to the same period last year, according to a report published by Portuguese newspaper Jornal de Notícias on Thursday.
Unemployment and the death of an elderly person due to Covid-19 are said to be to blame, with most cases occurring in the country’s major cities, the report said.
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Portuguese law enforcement agencies the Public Security Police and the Republican National Guard investigated 667 cases of abandonment between January and August this year – up from fewer than 500 during the same period in 2019.
“Many elderly people who died of Covid had lived alone with their cats. Their family members, due to financial incapacity, did not welcome the cats, who then ended up on the streets,” said Lisbon’s animal welfare ombudsman Marisa Quaresma dos Reis.
Unlike in many other countries, pets in Portugal have a right to legal protection, and abandoning a pet is a crime that is punishable with a fine or a prison sentence of up to six months.
But the problem is not unique to Portugal. Animal-welfare charities across Europe have been sounding a similar alarm for weeks.
In the UK, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, a leading charity in the field, released a report earlier this week warning of the “potentially catastrophic” impact Covid-19 and the first lockdown in the spring has had on domestic animals across the country.
“Lockdown led thousands of people to panic-buy pets for company, with more than 40% of people who bought puppies during lockdown admitting they had not previously planned to get a dog,” the charity said.
It also warns that the pandemic and ensuing restrictions are threatening the future of dozens of smaller and already overwhelmed rescue organizations across the UK.
The UK’s largest animal-welfare charity, the RSPCA, is reported to be preparing for its “toughest Christmas yet,” because the financial strain could lead many to abandon or neglect their pets. And that’s on top of the annual surge in abandonment that charities usually report in January, as those bought as Christmas gifts are surrendered when the novelty of having a pet wears off and the reality of looking after it sets in.
Pet abandonment due to Covid-19 appears to be a global issue. It is also reportedly on the rise outside Europe, in countries such as India, China, and Malaysia.
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