Demand for furry friends in Germany soar in lockdown  

Berlin, Germany: Markus Salomon and his family had been mulling about getting a dog for years, but it was the coronavirus pandemic that finally pushed them to bring home one-year-old mixed breed Uschi.

"The pandemic is of course a time when we are at home a lot, so in lockdown, and that is a good time to get a dog," said the 53-year-old biologist and Berlin resident.

"You can't do very much, you can't go on holiday, you can't visit friends or relatives, but what you can do is go for a walk, a spot of hiking, a drive in the woods, and a dog is great for that," he said.

Germany has seen an explosion in pet adoption in the pandemic, with demand for cats, dogs, and other furry companions soaring as people seek ways to ease loneliness and boredom.

During the pandemic, Germany has seen an increase in pet adoption, with people looking for ways to relieve isolation and boredom by adopting cats, puppies, and other fuzzy pets.

According to the Deutsche Hundewesen (VDH) kennel club, the number of dogs sold in the country rose by a "dramatic" 20% in 2020 relative to the previous year.

According to the Industrial Association of Pet Care Producers (IVH), the number of pets in German households increased by nearly one million to nearly 35 million, with cats and dogs topping the list.

Breeders and animal shelters have been inundated with inquiries, with the Tierheim Berlin shelter receiving 500 in one weekend last spring.

There has also been a knock-on effect in the pet care market, with demand for food, shoes, and toys rising sales by 5% last year to 5.5 billion euros ($6.5 billion).

Emotional support

According to a new survey undertaken by the German pet portal Wamiz.de, 84 percent of dog owners reported that their dogs not only offered a diversion during the pandemic but also much-needed emotional help.

"Pets are conversation partners for many, especially for people living alone," said Frank Nestmann, a psychologist specializing in human-animal relationships at the Dresden University of Technology.

And their business has become especially useful at a time when people are being forced to stay at home rather than go out in order to reduce coronavirus transmission.

"People are social beings. When socializing is reduced and rules for distancing are established, then other social beings like dogs or other pets in general take on an even greater meaning," Nestmann said.

According to the German Animal Welfare Association, the number of dogs sold illegally in Germany more than doubled between 2019 and 2020, indicating a negative side effect of the rising market for pets.

Such dogs are usually born in unhealthy conditions in other countries and then sold to German buyers for a bargain price but they often turn out to be ill or difficult to handle, leading to their abandonment.

Illegal trade thriving

"Demand is insanely high and all the animal welfare organizations have practically no animals left. Of course, this means that the illegal trade is thriving," said Berlin shelter spokeswoman Annette Rost.

Marti, a one-and-a-half-year-old Staffordshire terrier breed, was secretly smuggled from Romania and kept trapped in a basement before being taken to the shelter, where he is being cared for balance and mobility disorders, as well as other health issues.

Prospective owners are often drawn to puppies like Marti because of their "beautiful colors that are so common on Instagram," but they are unable to cope as they get larger, according to Xenia Katzurke, a behavioral trainer for dogs at the shelter.

According to Rost, the pandemic is forcing many people to "have an animal without thought... about what will happen after the pandemic is over and their life returns to usual."

Daughter Annelie, 14, described her new companion as "very lively, cheeky... but also sensitive", bringing a welcome distraction from homeschooling for her and sister Sophie, nine.

And if life ever does return to normal and the family is allowed to travel abroad again, Uschi is small enough to fit in their hand luggage.

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