Pets are being turned over to shelters at a rate never seen before, it has emerged.
A shelter has reported receiving between 13 and 20 animals a day in recent weeks.
A combination of people no longer wanting to buy lockdown and the rising cost of living is leading to a potential crisis as shelters begin to reach capacity.
Owners returning to work after the pandemic are also causing psychological problems, as dogs that were the focus of homeworkers are now left alone for hours on end.
“It leaves a lot of them stressed and confused,” said Paula Adams of Beechgove Doggy Fun Park near Banbridge.
The establishment, which welcomes dogs in groups and individually, works in close collaboration with canine behavior specialists.
Shelters are reporting a large influx of animals in recent weeks and months as owners, many of whom purchased during lockdown, say they are no longer able to care for them.
“Thirteen was our lowest day,” Karen Matthews of Almost Home told Moira, which welcomes all types of pets, but mostly dogs.
She appealed for more volunteers to help out at the shelter.
“Most days 20 or 21 are dropped. We have never, ever been busier,” said Karen, an administrator at the charity who runs the operation and has worked in shelters for nearly two decades.
She thinks some may be using rising prices as an excuse to get rid of their pets.
“We had one who said he couldn’t afford the pet food, but when we offered to provide the food he said ‘no,'” she explained.
“There is also a significant return rate as people come back and say there has been a change in circumstances.
One of the big problems is that more and more rental accommodations do not allow pets. People move around and cannot bring their animals.
Karen has also noticed the psychological impact on dogs purchased by families during lockdown.
Many of them, now perhaps 18 months old, have behavioral issues, with owners who previously worked from home now finding that “dogs left alone end up eating the house”.
Latest figures show steady growth in the pet sector from pre-pandemic levels, with Statista, the research experts, estimating the total value is now around £7billion across the UK , up around £200m from before the Covid emergency.
Based on these figures and the pet population compared to the rest of the UK, the expenditure here is around £200million.
But caring for a pet can be expensive.
A local business noted the potential pressures on households facing rising bills across the board.
Gail Cook, Head of Marketing at Mackle Pet Foods, said: “We are very aware of the economic impact and the effect this could have on pet ownership.
“We are working closely with a number of charities to help support the increased demand for their services.”