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Life in lockdown has dogs’ tails wagging, but our pets could struggle after pandemic passes, warns Co Down animal sanctuary boss

A leading animal welfare charity says our furry friends are having a ball spending time with their owners during lockdown but warned there may be a sting in the tail.

As the country prepares for yet another week of battening down the hatches and social distancing, many people will be spending even more quality time with their pooches, pussycats and parakeets.

Despite our pets having all the fun of the fur, Nigel Mason (61), the CEO of Co Down's Assisi Animal Sanctuary, warned against complacency after life returns to normal.

"Most dogs and other pets are having the best time of their lives at the moment, getting to spend all this spare time with their owners. They will be loving every minute of it," he said.

"But I think we're going to have problems when people do go back to work because their pets will be used to that environment.

"They will have become used to that level of socialisation and they will struggle and perhaps become distressed when it changes.

"We will seek to provide advice for pet owners on that because dog owners in particular will find their dogs had such a good time with them at home that it will cause some behavioural problems in the future.


Nigel Mason, CEO of Assisi Animal Sanctuary near Newtownards.

Nigel Mason, CEO of Assisi Animal Sanctuary near Newtownards.

Colm O'Reilly

Nigel Mason, CEO of Assisi Animal Sanctuary near Newtownards.

"The manifestation of that may be vocalising much more because they're trying to call out to their missing family.

"You'll get more barking potentially and they may also become more destructive, which can lead to defecation in the home as they get more anxious.

"People will be able to help or mitigate that progression back into normal life by doing certain things before they return to work. For example, weaning pets back to a normal amount of interaction will really help. We will be able to give advice around that."

As the Covid-19 pandemic ramps up the pressure on frontline services and the economy, there have been reports of people giving up their pets due to lack of money or time, or even out of fear of contracting the illness.

But Nigel said owners were not at a higher risk of catching Covid-19, as far as he was aware, and the Assisi Animal Sanctuary is providing help and advice.

"Thankfully we haven't been inundated by people trying to rehome or relocate their pets, which is good because people are doing the right thing and taking their responsibilities seriously," he added.

"There isn't much of an issue around coronavirus with cats, dogs and other pets, as far as I am aware. It's really coming into contact with other people and their dogs coming up to you. It's perfectly natural that we have a tendency to make a fuss of them. It doesn't seem to be something people do as much on the continent, but it's definitely part of our culture here.

"That's where the fear appears to come from but, as I say, it seems to be pretty low-risk, as far as I know.

"People can just wash their dogs down with a flannel and some gentle soap and that will suffice to allay any worries after being out for a walk. That's the advice we have been given for owners.


Cliodhna Lavery animal welfare assistant at Assisi Animal Sanctuary near Newtownards.

Cliodhna Lavery animal welfare assistant at Assisi Animal Sanctuary near Newtownards.

Colm O'Reilly

Cliodhna Lavery animal welfare assistant at Assisi Animal Sanctuary near Newtownards.

"It's not something I am doing with my little terrier Dukie, who is blind, but he doesn't have much of a tendency to approach people anyway.

"The big issue we have seen increasing is that people will get to a situation where they cannot keep their animals from a financial point of view, with lay-offs and furloughs compounding that. We also understand some councils have withdrawn dog warden services during the crisis and that's a real issue because there is now no agency to pick up stray dogs.

"A lot of people assume we can do that, but we can't as we don't have the infrastructure, kennels or equipment."

The animal welfare charity is also facing problems with its 14-year scheme to save dogs in council kennels from euthanaisa.

"We have been mostly taking them over to England, where they find loving homes, something they may well not have done here in Northern Ireland," Nigel explained.

"We're working with the Dogs Trust to keep an eye on that situation and see what we can do.

"The last thing we want is dogs being euthanised due to the want of a home here. That's a real concern."

The charity is hoping to act as a go-between for people who are now unable to care for their pets and those willing to foster pets in need.

"We have had a number of people willing to foster dogs for us and we have compiled a database of these people," Nigel told Sunday Life.

"We have had a couple of calls from concerned health workers on the scheme whose hours have been increased dramatically and who are struggling to cope with their obligations as pet owners.

"We can almost act as an agency for health workers who are struggling to care for their pets.

"We put them in touch with appropriate fosterers and work out if that's a possible solution where necessary.

"If people are struggling to care for their dog, cat, rabbit or guinea pig, they can contact us.

"If we feel that there is someone suitable in our areas, we can put them in touch. We can help them if there is a need."

Contact Assisi Animal Sanctuary on 028 9181 2622 or donations can be made via

Belfast Telegraph