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疫情后的宠物市场,混乱程度超乎想象

疫情后的宠物市场,混乱程度超乎想象

Katherine Dunn 2021年04月03日
膨胀和扭曲,还牵扯如此多的骗局。

图片来源:IBYANGSHU SARKAR—AFP/GETTY IMAGES

2020年9月,某个周一的下午,正值英国全国封锁的间歇期,我不得不面对我疯狂地想拥有一只狗狗的事实。

几封长长的电子邮件就能证明我当时的狂热:一封是来自位于伦敦的英国税务海关总署的信件;另一封是与我在加拿大家乡艾伯塔省卡尔加里咨询过的专业宠物托运人的信件。这两封信为的都是同一件事。

是的,在一场把人类困住的全球新冠疫情期间,把一只小狗送到一个班次极少的跨大西洋航班的货舱里,带它跨越国界还是有可能的。但这只是一个可怕的想法,需要数月的时间和数千美元的执行费用。光是文书工作就令人望而却步。

从技术上讲,其中涉及的繁文缛节,听起来与试图进口一匹表演用的小马或者一件昂贵的艺术品没有什么不同。

我想要这样做的主要原因是我害怕被困在英国家中,并且身边没有狗狗陪伴,因而想从加拿大艾伯塔南部买一条柯基犬。当地小狗相对充足,价格合理。

在这个过程中,我发现,要想拥有四条腿的小朋友,就得面对让人头痛的市场,这一市场充满了恶性竞争、坐地起价、无良饲主、欧洲走私者、狡诈的骗子和明目张胆的盗狗者。

而这还只是伦敦的情况。

全球养狗热潮已经成为疫情时代的特色,从加拿大到瑞典,再到西班牙、巴西、澳大利亚和以色列,处处需求激增。

在美国,从洛杉矶到纽约的动物收容所在疫情刚开始便被猛增的需求扫清,不少人还开创了根据需求开车或坐飞机往全国运输狗狗的作坊行业,呈现出一派欣欣向荣的景象。

据繁育者在线报价网站PuppySpot的数据,与之前一年相比,疫情爆发后的美国小狗价格上涨了36%,目前仍然维持高位。该网站称,黄金贵宾犬最受欢迎,至于价格最高昂的英国牧羊贵宾犬的价格飙升了近90%。

不过,对狗狗的需求也可能导致现存的严重问题日益恶化,因为美国政府经常在公开市场上为军队购买德国牧羊犬和拉布拉多犬,导致跟民间形成竞争。据彭博社报道,某些犬种即便在精英训练开始之前,其价格也经常超过5500美元。

与狗狗相关的诈骗和盗窃案件也在增加。今年2月,帮Lady Gaga遛狗的人在洛杉矶一条街上遭到枪杀,两条法国斗牛犬被偷。后来狗狗找了回来,但原因是Lady Gaga悬赏50万美元并承诺“不问任何问题”。

目前尚不清楚劫匪盗狗是因为知道主人是流行歌星,还是单纯因为法国斗牛犬需求飙升,目前这种狗的售价高达1万美元。

但随着法国斗牛犬被盗的报道增多,美国养犬俱乐部迅速为忧心忡忡的主人发布了指南。该俱乐部指出,美国每年大约有200万只狗被抢走,通常是“转手”给新主人,其中小型高价犬尤其危险。

“这种狗很容易抓也容易转移。”该俱乐部旗下寻犬服务AKC Reunite的首席执行官汤姆·夏普表示。

诈骗也层出不穷。有数据记录的最后一个月为2020年11月,Better Business Bureau记录了337起与宠物相关的欺诈投诉,同比增加了400%以上。

据该机构估计,2020年美国和加拿大相关诈骗损失可能超过300万美元。与此同时,骗子在2020年还创新了手法,有些通过Venmo和礼品卡付款,有些甚至伪造动物收容所。

美国联邦贸易委员会警告称,骗子经常以疫情为借口要求额外“费用”运送并不存在的小狗。

需求和诈骗根源都是同一现象。自疫情爆发以来,全球城市里相对享有特权的人们似乎都爱囤积重要物资:豆子、游戏、卫生纸和狗狗。

在封锁期间,人们对狗狗的热爱往往会转变为几乎全社会的痴迷,这个过程中形成了奇怪而且有时令人不安的供需扭曲。与卫生纸不同的是,这并不是短暂现象。

我应该算是有发言权的。毕竟有那么几个月,我除了狗狗之外,基本什么都不想。

可爱的商品

2020年9月6日,印度加尔各答的小狗。全球范围的封锁导致对狗的需求激增,尤其是小狗。图片来源:DIBYANGSHU SARKAR—AFP/GETTY IMAGES

等到我和男朋友在空旷的高速公路上争分夺秒,终于在秋天抱来小狗的时候,第二波全国性封锁已然迫近。我们正式成为了疫情养狗热潮中的一份子。

格里夫是一只潘布鲁克威尔士柯基犬,最喜欢嚼棍子,拦截其他小狗,也喜欢吃公园里发现的脏东西,它自己也成了历史性时刻的一部分。疫情期间的狗狗眼前所见的是压抑、生活拮据且时常相伴的人类。而人类在疫情期间唯一的爱好,或社交安慰的来源就是遛狗,他们十分需要狗狗的陪伴。

当然,所有人包括我在内,都不喜欢把心爱的狗狗当成商品。然而疫情期间不管实际情况如果,狗狗就是这样的存在,不仅是商品,还是热门商品。

英国原本就是热爱狗狗的岛国,过去一年里,全国性的封锁中有一半时间,其国家边界受到疫情和脱欧的双重限制,如今更是完全陷入养狗狂热之中。

过去一年在监管松懈的英国公开市场上,小狗的价格一路走高,也成为股市可怕泡沫的镜像。

2020年5月,随着英国第一轮封锁结束,一家名为Pets4Homes的在线网站发现,每只待售小狗都能够收到420条认真的咨询。

该网站表示,到2020年11月,也就是完整数据最新的一个月,小狗的价格是2019年平均价格的2.3倍,跃升至数千英镑水平,涨幅当然还达不到比特币的水平,但明显高过标普500指数。

与此同时,贵宾犬、猎犬和斗牛犬组成的排行榜证明了人们对时髦品种的疯狂需求,其中迷你贵宾犬排名第一,每只小狗有1882名买家感兴趣,而最昂贵的品种则是英国斗牛犬。到2020年中期,温斯顿·丘吉尔当年钟爱的狗狗平均涨价3000英镑。

当然也有一些间歇期,这一时间往往跟英国人面临的封锁限制密切相关。限制放松时,人们买狗;限制收紧时,人们就到处找狗。(到2021年1月中旬,随着英国第三波限制,每只小狗的咨询从2020年高点下降,仍然徘徊在200以上。)

Pets4Homes的英国总经理李·吉布森在查看该网站流量后表示,整体走势看起来接近三个高峰,跟全国封锁时间保持一致。

不仅纯种狗的购买增加,网上领养的数量同样激增。去年3月英国首次封锁,伦敦著名猫狗之家Battersea发现为宠物找新家的申请也在激增。

Battersea的康复和福利经理贝基·麦基弗表示,仅在5月的一个星期里,领养中心就收到了5000份领养狗狗的申请。她补充说,最近该中心接收的狗被领养得更快,通常几天内就可以找到新家。

“狗狗可怜巴巴眼神”的力量

2020年6月6日,位于洛杉矶的诺曼·O·哈德逊公园里,黑人平权事件中一只特别友好的小狗。图片来源:KENT NISHIMURA—LOS ANGELES TIMES/GETTY IMAGES

杜克大学的进化人类学家,也是《狗狗的天才:为何狗狗比你想象中聪明》(The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think)一书的合著者布莱恩·黑尔称,纵观历史,狗狗在人类生活中扮演过很多角色。狗一直是暖床狩猎的伙伴,“身边食物不够时,还会吃狗肉。”

那么,为何现在人们如此热爱养狗呢?虽然人类几乎不需要什么鼓励就能够陷入购买狂潮,看看2021年年初GameStop的涨势就知道,如果再要假装人类跟狗的关系没有什么特别的地方,就有点愤世嫉俗了。

事实上,人类跟狗狗的联系常常被认为是进化的一大亮点。由于眼睛肌肉发达,狗狗扬起眉毛后的眼睛看起来特别大,即“狗狗可怜巴巴的眼神”,这与人类婴儿的表情相似,所以魔力非常大。婴儿学会说话,或以其他交流方式之前,就是通过眼神接触与成人建立联系。

眼神接触会使人分泌催产素,刺激大脑感受到爱和养育,从而扩大和加深自身的眼神接触,然后再感受一遍催产素的刺激。

“当狗狗盯着你眼睛看的时候,触发了父母跟孩子之间的催产素循环。”黑尔说,“相当于狗狗在用眼睛拥抱你。”

现代社会对狗的痴迷,往往被认为是孤独社会的副作用,或是生育率下降和推迟分娩的严酷后果,伴随着相关Instagram账户、狗狗定制服装、狗狗日托还有高价标签等。(疫情刚开始时,还被吹捧为可以催生新一波婴儿潮的时机,结果对美国夫妇的影响似乎恰好相反。)黑尔也提出了务实的疫情前理论。

“任何在千禧年前养过狗的人都会熟悉‘沐浴和祈祷’这种控制跳蚤的方法。”他说。

在21世纪之前,出于需要,狗狗经常为放养,后来现代兽医将控制跳蚤的方法简化为在花生酱里藏上几粒药丸。成功驱除跳蚤之后,狗狗突然能够上沙发,甚至跳上床了。他认为,人类立刻迷上了狗狗的个性,忍不住称赞狗狗聪明。

然而,人们很难忽视狗狗与儿童的相似之处。

2020年5月,在《财富》杂志撰稿人王波非的一篇关于宠物行业利润丰厚的报道中,写到美国人将宠物狗“人性化”的本能如何影响商业。

狗狗变成家庭成员,经常吃高价的“人类级”狗粮;宠物主通常不被称为“主人”,而是“宠物父母”。这不仅提升了狗狗在家庭中的地位,还经常使宠物变成主人的心肝宝贝。

“19世纪是人类孩子的世纪,21世纪则是狗狗的世纪。”2019年黑尔跟瓦妮莎·伍兹合写的《纽约时报》文章中写道。

“多数狗不需要长时间工作, 除了爱我们之外,什么都不用做。而且狗狗在这一点上做得很好。”

涨价和收养面试

在小狗完成疫苗接种后,我们就带它去当地公园,加入早晨一众狗狗的行列。这是非正式,同时也保持社交距离的会面,在吵闹、摔跤、飞跑的狗狗身旁,是极度渴望社交的新主人。

伦敦的科基犬格里夫,也是全球疫情中养狗热潮的一部分。图片来源:COURTESY OF KATHERINE DUNN

我们有很多同伴,“疫情小狗”非常多。在当地公园里,年幼的狗狗非正式地分成几代,这也跟幼年的特殊封锁有关。其中最小的小狗只是颤抖的小毛团,而年纪最大的已经是顽皮成熟的少年。

不久之后,我们不可避免地受邀加入WhatsApp群,人们幸福地分享训练技巧、天气预报和有趣的狗狗照片,而对政治或新闻则很少关注。

不过当我问起狗狗的来源,人们便打开话匣子,聊了几个小时。一位混种贵宾犬的主人说,狗狗原来的主人要求收养者7点准时打电话,好像抢购热门音乐会门票一样。当七八分钟后终于打通电话时,12只小狗只剩下了两只。

另一位混种腊肠犬的主人坦言,曾经带着一沓现金穿越伦敦去抱小狗,结果刚把狗抱在怀里,就听说价格突然提高了250英镑(约合341美元)。

很多群友也曾经试图领养狗狗,但大多都以失败告终。收容所说一位群友不够“自信”;还问另一些群友是否计划成家,如果有计划则是什么时候。

有位本地狗狗的主人远从罗马尼亚找来一条救援犬,整个过程相当典型,包括两次电话采访、一次视频审核,还有一次见面,最后才把狗带回家。

另一些人表示参加过领养前的测试,主要考验狗狗训练知识;经过一轮轮采访,一对夫妇发现电子邮件再也没有收到回复。

而我的故事很简短也很认真,就是努力从大西洋彼岸运来一只小狗,结果丝毫没有出奇之处。

“进入银行账户——钱没了”

安迪·西蒙斯是西苏塞克斯郡一家名为Transfur的小型家庭宠物搬迁公司的负责人,每周都会接到两三次电话,希望他可以帮助自家的狗狗接生。但这样的谈话极少有好的结局。

“跟这些人交谈时能够很明显感觉到,他们是诈骗的对象。”他说。“对方要求他们用亚马逊的代金券或西联汇款支付,就是骗钱。登进银行账户——钱就没了。”

经常有人将公司网页上的详细信息发给潜在的狗狗主人。不用说,描述的小狗并不存在。

他说,也有越来越多的人打电话希望安排小狗过境,通常来自东欧。

“我怀疑这些人是从小狗农场购买,现在发现……没有办法把小狗送到英国。”西蒙斯说。他指出,Transfur也做不到。通常情况下,公司只可以将宠物送出国,而且是在搬家时,并不是将宠物运进来。

欺诈行为虽然并不新奇,却是伴随小狗价格大幅上涨可预见的副作用。

然而,运输是个新问题。英国的养狗爱好者相当集中,长期以来一直很吸引进口狗,有些是从流浪狗众多的国家拯救而来的,有些则是来自狗狗繁育基地,通常饲养和运输条件相当可怕。

由于小狗走私者受打击、疫情限制边境流通、航班减少以及英国新脱欧规则下的进口狗海关政策混乱,依靠进口很难满足英国人对小狗的需求。

除了价格飙升,外部供应停滞也可能导致国内一波盗狗热潮。

很难判断盗狗有多普遍,因为伦敦警察局并没有区分偷狗和其他类型的财产盗窃,但慈善机构Lost Dog称,2020年是“有史以来盗狗现象最严重的”一年,相关报告增加了250%。

有位退休警官现在是警犬侦探,工作简直做不完。与此同时,去年12月英国广播公司的一个电视节目称,英国接二连三的盗狗案也是一种“疫情”,还引述一位不具名的情报人士称,至少有两个犯罪组织从贩毒改为偷狗。毕竟经济回报更大,而且往往惩罚极轻。

就连传奇的调查新闻网站Bellingcat的创始人艾略特·希金斯也卷入其中。最近希金斯对英国《金融时报》表示,虽然他以揭露叙利亚战争罪行闻名,但近期却通过破译车牌协助,找回了一只被盗的狗。

诸多盗狗报道,再加上社交媒体上流传丢失狗狗的主人饱含痛苦的海报,有些甚至直接从手上抢走,都引发了人们对犯罪的恐惧,让人想起常有时髦小狗被夺走,勒索赎金的维多利亚时代的英国。

其中有个案例激发了弗吉尼亚·伍尔夫的灵感,后来写出小说《阿弗小传》(Flush)。

本地公园里,同行的遛狗者开始发现,附近出现了不起眼、不遛狗,还长时间拍摄狗狗的男人。在一次学习调查新闻机构Bellingcat的行动中,我的男朋友在偷拍狗狗玩耍的照片里,发现一个模糊的人影在给狗狗拍照。

当然,偷拍者可能只是不擅社交的爱狗人士,或者只是封锁期间无聊出门散步的伦敦人。但在恐惧的氛围中,没有人愿意冒险。很多谈话都涉及遛狗伙伴、报警哨和潜在的冲突。

群成员还在当地咖啡馆贴上了印刷牌。牌上有只戴着手套的手,要抓被吓坏的小狗,上面写着“小心!”

疫情期间的养狗后果

在这艰难的12个月里,养狗无疑是难得的亮点。我小时候就养过很多只柯基犬,多年来一直想自己养。我的衣柜都变成了柯基主题,这对于一名31岁的女性来说略显尴尬。

问题是不仅包括新奇的袜子和T恤,连手提包、帽子、盐和胡椒瓶都有柯基,这些往往是家里同样热爱狗的家人送的礼物。

养狗之前我常常慢跑,路过其他遛狗的人时,心里很难过,总是梦想着什么时候可以养一条自己的狗。等到我的狗狗到家,就发现狂躁的狗叫和不停拉屎,换来的是拥抱、遛狗和不必专注于全球疫情的放松,相比之下,这些代价都是值得的。

很多人感觉,在如此残酷又如此累人的一年里,养宠物狗打破了人们的外壳。

在伦敦,跟陌生人闲聊并不是常态,然而不管是慢跑者、工人还是害羞的小学生,早上散步时都愿意停下来拥抱格里夫。

在把它抱来之后的一个月里,尽管还是要戴着口罩并保持社交距离,与我聊天的人更多了,我也会对更多陌生人微笑,这是多年来没有的经历。

在幸福明显短缺的时候,向小狗问好会让人明显且不可控制地感到幸福。

但当我写这篇报道时,却时常为所发现的信息而感到震惊、不安甚至羞愧。当然,对狗狗的热爱应该保持纯粹。集体的痴迷怎会产生如此巨大的泡沫,发生这样的膨胀和扭曲,还牵扯如此多的骗局?

小狗不应该是世间纯粹美好的存在吗?

而实际情况是,需求激增明显让各种宠物慈善机构和养犬俱乐部感到恐慌,甚至集体做出警告称,骗局规模庞大、狗狗繁育者动机不单纯以及最终可能出现遗弃,让新一波入坑的养狗者面临诸多变数且未来难料。

英国的Kennel Club向我提供了2020年7月开始的研究结果,发现伦敦超过三分之一的新主人无法辨别恶劣的繁育者或骗局,约45%的人对于回到“正常”生活模式的疫情后如何处理狗狗毫无计划。

从疫情开始到目前,Pets4Homes和Battersea都尚未发现小狗送到收养中心或广告趋势上升。

但Battersea的麦基弗警告称,由于英国采取强制休假,封锁期间仍然付给员工薪水,所以推迟了遗弃激增。她表示,该中心预计如果英国因为疫情而进入另一场衰退,流浪狗或被遗弃的狗狗将增加27%。(去年英国已经进入技术衰退。)Battersea和英国其他领养中心都在“默默做准备”,她说。

兽医、慈善机构和饲养员也警告称,狗狗在适应“正常”生活方式方面可能比人类更困难,因为过去一年大部分时间里人们非常渴望走出家门,甚至去办公室都知足。

他们警告说,如果狗狗的身边无人长时间陪伴,获得的注意力不够时,就可能出现诸多分离焦虑和行为问题。

布莱恩·黑尔等人严肃提出建议,在疫情期间要让狗狗多适应独处。

但我依然不后悔养格里夫,虽然也是疫情期间的选择。像我认识多数真心爱狗的主人一样,我的感觉不再理性。我很清楚它不是我的孩子,客观地说我也知道养它花了很多钱。可以说花费是疫情前的两倍。

但每当我轻轻抱着会叫、会咬、会放屁的大耳朵毛团,都会深深凝望着它的眼睛。我的爱犬也注视着我,它明显想知道我是不是会给它块饼干,此时我会迷失在催产素诱发的爱意中。

“格里夫,”我一边唱歌一边在狗狗身边跳华尔兹,“你像我爱你一样爱我吗?”(财富中文网)

译者:冯丰

审校:夏林

2020年9月,某个周一的下午,正值英国全国封锁的间歇期,我不得不面对我疯狂地想拥有一只狗狗的事实。

几封长长的电子邮件就能证明我当时的狂热:一封是来自位于伦敦的英国税务海关总署的信件;另一封是与我在加拿大家乡艾伯塔省卡尔加里咨询过的专业宠物托运人的信件。这两封信为的都是同一件事。

是的,在一场把人类困住的全球新冠疫情期间,把一只小狗送到一个班次极少的跨大西洋航班的货舱里,带它跨越国界还是有可能的。但这只是一个可怕的想法,需要数月的时间和数千美元的执行费用。光是文书工作就令人望而却步。

从技术上讲,其中涉及的繁文缛节,听起来与试图进口一匹表演用的小马或者一件昂贵的艺术品没有什么不同。

我想要这样做的主要原因是我害怕被困在英国家中,并且身边没有狗狗陪伴,因而想从加拿大艾伯塔南部买一条柯基犬。当地小狗相对充足,价格合理。

在这个过程中,我发现,要想拥有四条腿的小朋友,就得面对让人头痛的市场,这一市场充满了恶性竞争、坐地起价、无良饲主、欧洲走私者、狡诈的骗子和明目张胆的盗狗者。

而这还只是伦敦的情况。

全球养狗热潮已经成为疫情时代的特色,从加拿大到瑞典,再到西班牙、巴西、澳大利亚和以色列,处处需求激增。

在美国,从洛杉矶到纽约的动物收容所在疫情刚开始便被猛增的需求扫清,不少人还开创了根据需求开车或坐飞机往全国运输狗狗的作坊行业,呈现出一派欣欣向荣的景象。

据繁育者在线报价网站PuppySpot的数据,与之前一年相比,疫情爆发后的美国小狗价格上涨了36%,目前仍然维持高位。该网站称,黄金贵宾犬最受欢迎,至于价格最高昂的英国牧羊贵宾犬的价格飙升了近90%。

不过,对狗狗的需求也可能导致现存的严重问题日益恶化,因为美国政府经常在公开市场上为军队购买德国牧羊犬和拉布拉多犬,导致跟民间形成竞争。据彭博社报道,某些犬种即便在精英训练开始之前,其价格也经常超过5500美元。

与狗狗相关的诈骗和盗窃案件也在增加。今年2月,帮Lady Gaga遛狗的人在洛杉矶一条街上遭到枪杀,两条法国斗牛犬被偷。后来狗狗找了回来,但原因是Lady Gaga悬赏50万美元并承诺“不问任何问题”。

目前尚不清楚劫匪盗狗是因为知道主人是流行歌星,还是单纯因为法国斗牛犬需求飙升,目前这种狗的售价高达1万美元。

但随着法国斗牛犬被盗的报道增多,美国养犬俱乐部迅速为忧心忡忡的主人发布了指南。该俱乐部指出,美国每年大约有200万只狗被抢走,通常是“转手”给新主人,其中小型高价犬尤其危险。

“这种狗很容易抓也容易转移。”该俱乐部旗下寻犬服务AKC Reunite的首席执行官汤姆·夏普表示。

诈骗也层出不穷。有数据记录的最后一个月为2020年11月,Better Business Bureau记录了337起与宠物相关的欺诈投诉,同比增加了400%以上。

据该机构估计,2020年美国和加拿大相关诈骗损失可能超过300万美元。与此同时,骗子在2020年还创新了手法,有些通过Venmo和礼品卡付款,有些甚至伪造动物收容所。

美国联邦贸易委员会警告称,骗子经常以疫情为借口要求额外“费用”运送并不存在的小狗。

需求和诈骗根源都是同一现象。自疫情爆发以来,全球城市里相对享有特权的人们似乎都爱囤积重要物资:豆子、游戏、卫生纸和狗狗。

在封锁期间,人们对狗狗的热爱往往会转变为几乎全社会的痴迷,这个过程中形成了奇怪而且有时令人不安的供需扭曲。与卫生纸不同的是,这并不是短暂现象。

我应该算是有发言权的。毕竟有那么几个月,我除了狗狗之外,基本什么都不想。

可爱的商品

等到我和男朋友在空旷的高速公路上争分夺秒,终于在秋天抱来小狗的时候,第二波全国性封锁已然迫近。我们正式成为了疫情养狗热潮中的一份子。

格里夫是一只潘布鲁克威尔士柯基犬,最喜欢嚼棍子,拦截其他小狗,也喜欢吃公园里发现的脏东西,它自己也成了历史性时刻的一部分。疫情期间的狗狗眼前所见的是压抑、生活拮据且时常相伴的人类。而人类在疫情期间唯一的爱好,或社交安慰的来源就是遛狗,他们十分需要狗狗的陪伴。

当然,所有人包括我在内,都不喜欢把心爱的狗狗当成商品。然而疫情期间不管实际情况如果,狗狗就是这样的存在,不仅是商品,还是热门商品。

英国原本就是热爱狗狗的岛国,过去一年里,全国性的封锁中有一半时间,其国家边界受到疫情和脱欧的双重限制,如今更是完全陷入养狗狂热之中。

过去一年在监管松懈的英国公开市场上,小狗的价格一路走高,也成为股市可怕泡沫的镜像。

2020年5月,随着英国第一轮封锁结束,一家名为Pets4Homes的在线网站发现,每只待售小狗都能够收到420条认真的咨询。

该网站表示,到2020年11月,也就是完整数据最新的一个月,小狗的价格是2019年平均价格的2.3倍,跃升至数千英镑水平,涨幅当然还达不到比特币的水平,但明显高过标普500指数。

与此同时,贵宾犬、猎犬和斗牛犬组成的排行榜证明了人们对时髦品种的疯狂需求,其中迷你贵宾犬排名第一,每只小狗有1882名买家感兴趣,而最昂贵的品种则是英国斗牛犬。到2020年中期,温斯顿·丘吉尔当年钟爱的狗狗平均涨价3000英镑。

当然也有一些间歇期,这一时间往往跟英国人面临的封锁限制密切相关。限制放松时,人们买狗;限制收紧时,人们就到处找狗。(到2021年1月中旬,随着英国第三波限制,每只小狗的咨询从2020年高点下降,仍然徘徊在200以上。)

Pets4Homes的英国总经理李·吉布森在查看该网站流量后表示,整体走势看起来接近三个高峰,跟全国封锁时间保持一致。

不仅纯种狗的购买增加,网上领养的数量同样激增。去年3月英国首次封锁,伦敦著名猫狗之家Battersea发现为宠物找新家的申请也在激增。

Battersea的康复和福利经理贝基·麦基弗表示,仅在5月的一个星期里,领养中心就收到了5000份领养狗狗的申请。她补充说,最近该中心接收的狗被领养得更快,通常几天内就可以找到新家。

“狗狗可怜巴巴眼神”的力量

杜克大学的进化人类学家,也是《狗狗的天才:为何狗狗比你想象中聪明》(The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think)一书的合著者布莱恩·黑尔称,纵观历史,狗狗在人类生活中扮演过很多角色。狗一直是暖床狩猎的伙伴,“身边食物不够时,还会吃狗肉。”

那么,为何现在人们如此热爱养狗呢?虽然人类几乎不需要什么鼓励就能够陷入购买狂潮,看看2021年年初GameStop的涨势就知道,如果再要假装人类跟狗的关系没有什么特别的地方,就有点愤世嫉俗了。

事实上,人类跟狗狗的联系常常被认为是进化的一大亮点。由于眼睛肌肉发达,狗狗扬起眉毛后的眼睛看起来特别大,即“狗狗可怜巴巴的眼神”,这与人类婴儿的表情相似,所以魔力非常大。婴儿学会说话,或以其他交流方式之前,就是通过眼神接触与成人建立联系。

眼神接触会使人分泌催产素,刺激大脑感受到爱和养育,从而扩大和加深自身的眼神接触,然后再感受一遍催产素的刺激。

“当狗狗盯着你眼睛看的时候,触发了父母跟孩子之间的催产素循环。”黑尔说,“相当于狗狗在用眼睛拥抱你。”

现代社会对狗的痴迷,往往被认为是孤独社会的副作用,或是生育率下降和推迟分娩的严酷后果,伴随着相关Instagram账户、狗狗定制服装、狗狗日托还有高价标签等。(疫情刚开始时,还被吹捧为可以催生新一波婴儿潮的时机,结果对美国夫妇的影响似乎恰好相反。)黑尔也提出了务实的疫情前理论。

“任何在千禧年前养过狗的人都会熟悉‘沐浴和祈祷’这种控制跳蚤的方法。”他说。

在21世纪之前,出于需要,狗狗经常为放养,后来现代兽医将控制跳蚤的方法简化为在花生酱里藏上几粒药丸。成功驱除跳蚤之后,狗狗突然能够上沙发,甚至跳上床了。他认为,人类立刻迷上了狗狗的个性,忍不住称赞狗狗聪明。

然而,人们很难忽视狗狗与儿童的相似之处。

2020年5月,在《财富》杂志撰稿人王波非的一篇关于宠物行业利润丰厚的报道中,写到美国人将宠物狗“人性化”的本能如何影响商业。

狗狗变成家庭成员,经常吃高价的“人类级”狗粮;宠物主通常不被称为“主人”,而是“宠物父母”。这不仅提升了狗狗在家庭中的地位,还经常使宠物变成主人的心肝宝贝。

“19世纪是人类孩子的世纪,21世纪则是狗狗的世纪。”2019年黑尔跟瓦妮莎·伍兹合写的《纽约时报》文章中写道。

“多数狗不需要长时间工作, 除了爱我们之外,什么都不用做。而且狗狗在这一点上做得很好。”

涨价和收养面试

在小狗完成疫苗接种后,我们就带它去当地公园,加入早晨一众狗狗的行列。这是非正式,同时也保持社交距离的会面,在吵闹、摔跤、飞跑的狗狗身旁,是极度渴望社交的新主人。

我们有很多同伴,“疫情小狗”非常多。在当地公园里,年幼的狗狗非正式地分成几代,这也跟幼年的特殊封锁有关。其中最小的小狗只是颤抖的小毛团,而年纪最大的已经是顽皮成熟的少年。

不久之后,我们不可避免地受邀加入WhatsApp群,人们幸福地分享训练技巧、天气预报和有趣的狗狗照片,而对政治或新闻则很少关注。

不过当我问起狗狗的来源,人们便打开话匣子,聊了几个小时。一位混种贵宾犬的主人说,狗狗原来的主人要求收养者7点准时打电话,好像抢购热门音乐会门票一样。当七八分钟后终于打通电话时,12只小狗只剩下了两只。

另一位混种腊肠犬的主人坦言,曾经带着一沓现金穿越伦敦去抱小狗,结果刚把狗抱在怀里,就听说价格突然提高了250英镑(约合341美元)。

很多群友也曾经试图领养狗狗,但大多都以失败告终。收容所说一位群友不够“自信”;还问另一些群友是否计划成家,如果有计划则是什么时候。

有位本地狗狗的主人远从罗马尼亚找来一条救援犬,整个过程相当典型,包括两次电话采访、一次视频审核,还有一次见面,最后才把狗带回家。

另一些人表示参加过领养前的测试,主要考验狗狗训练知识;经过一轮轮采访,一对夫妇发现电子邮件再也没有收到回复。

而我的故事很简短也很认真,就是努力从大西洋彼岸运来一只小狗,结果丝毫没有出奇之处。

“进入银行账户——钱没了”

安迪·西蒙斯是西苏塞克斯郡一家名为Transfur的小型家庭宠物搬迁公司的负责人,每周都会接到两三次电话,希望他可以帮助自家的狗狗接生。但这样的谈话极少有好的结局。

“跟这些人交谈时能够很明显感觉到,他们是诈骗的对象。”他说。“对方要求他们用亚马逊的代金券或西联汇款支付,就是骗钱。登进银行账户——钱就没了。”

经常有人将公司网页上的详细信息发给潜在的狗狗主人。不用说,描述的小狗并不存在。

他说,也有越来越多的人打电话希望安排小狗过境,通常来自东欧。

“我怀疑这些人是从小狗农场购买,现在发现……没有办法把小狗送到英国。”西蒙斯说。他指出,Transfur也做不到。通常情况下,公司只可以将宠物送出国,而且是在搬家时,并不是将宠物运进来。

欺诈行为虽然并不新奇,却是伴随小狗价格大幅上涨可预见的副作用。

然而,运输是个新问题。英国的养狗爱好者相当集中,长期以来一直很吸引进口狗,有些是从流浪狗众多的国家拯救而来的,有些则是来自狗狗繁育基地,通常饲养和运输条件相当可怕。

由于小狗走私者受打击、疫情限制边境流通、航班减少以及英国新脱欧规则下的进口狗海关政策混乱,依靠进口很难满足英国人对小狗的需求。

除了价格飙升,外部供应停滞也可能导致国内一波盗狗热潮。

很难判断盗狗有多普遍,因为伦敦警察局并没有区分偷狗和其他类型的财产盗窃,但慈善机构Lost Dog称,2020年是“有史以来盗狗现象最严重的”一年,相关报告增加了250%。

有位退休警官现在是警犬侦探,工作简直做不完。与此同时,去年12月英国广播公司的一个电视节目称,英国接二连三的盗狗案也是一种“疫情”,还引述一位不具名的情报人士称,至少有两个犯罪组织从贩毒改为偷狗。毕竟经济回报更大,而且往往惩罚极轻。

就连传奇的调查新闻网站Bellingcat的创始人艾略特·希金斯也卷入其中。最近希金斯对英国《金融时报》表示,虽然他以揭露叙利亚战争罪行闻名,但近期却通过破译车牌协助,找回了一只被盗的狗。

诸多盗狗报道,再加上社交媒体上流传丢失狗狗的主人饱含痛苦的海报,有些甚至直接从手上抢走,都引发了人们对犯罪的恐惧,让人想起常有时髦小狗被夺走,勒索赎金的维多利亚时代的英国。

其中有个案例激发了弗吉尼亚·伍尔夫的灵感,后来写出小说《阿弗小传》(Flush)。

本地公园里,同行的遛狗者开始发现,附近出现了不起眼、不遛狗,还长时间拍摄狗狗的男人。在一次学习调查新闻机构Bellingcat的行动中,我的男朋友在偷拍狗狗玩耍的照片里,发现一个模糊的人影在给狗狗拍照。

当然,偷拍者可能只是不擅社交的爱狗人士,或者只是封锁期间无聊出门散步的伦敦人。但在恐惧的氛围中,没有人愿意冒险。很多谈话都涉及遛狗伙伴、报警哨和潜在的冲突。

群成员还在当地咖啡馆贴上了印刷牌。牌上有只戴着手套的手,要抓被吓坏的小狗,上面写着“小心!”

疫情期间的养狗后果

在这艰难的12个月里,养狗无疑是难得的亮点。我小时候就养过很多只柯基犬,多年来一直想自己养。我的衣柜都变成了柯基主题,这对于一名31岁的女性来说略显尴尬。

问题是不仅包括新奇的袜子和T恤,连手提包、帽子、盐和胡椒瓶都有柯基,这些往往是家里同样热爱狗的家人送的礼物。

养狗之前我常常慢跑,路过其他遛狗的人时,心里很难过,总是梦想着什么时候可以养一条自己的狗。等到我的狗狗到家,就发现狂躁的狗叫和不停拉屎,换来的是拥抱、遛狗和不必专注于全球疫情的放松,相比之下,这些代价都是值得的。

很多人感觉,在如此残酷又如此累人的一年里,养宠物狗打破了人们的外壳。

在伦敦,跟陌生人闲聊并不是常态,然而不管是慢跑者、工人还是害羞的小学生,早上散步时都愿意停下来拥抱格里夫。

在把它抱来之后的一个月里,尽管还是要戴着口罩并保持社交距离,与我聊天的人更多了,我也会对更多陌生人微笑,这是多年来没有的经历。

在幸福明显短缺的时候,向小狗问好会让人明显且不可控制地感到幸福。

但当我写这篇报道时,却时常为所发现的信息而感到震惊、不安甚至羞愧。当然,对狗狗的热爱应该保持纯粹。集体的痴迷怎会产生如此巨大的泡沫,发生这样的膨胀和扭曲,还牵扯如此多的骗局?

小狗不应该是世间纯粹美好的存在吗?

而实际情况是,需求激增明显让各种宠物慈善机构和养犬俱乐部感到恐慌,甚至集体做出警告称,骗局规模庞大、狗狗繁育者动机不单纯以及最终可能出现遗弃,让新一波入坑的养狗者面临诸多变数且未来难料。

英国的Kennel Club向我提供了2020年7月开始的研究结果,发现伦敦超过三分之一的新主人无法辨别恶劣的繁育者或骗局,约45%的人对于回到“正常”生活模式的疫情后如何处理狗狗毫无计划。

从疫情开始到目前,Pets4Homes和Battersea都尚未发现小狗送到收养中心或广告趋势上升。

但Battersea的麦基弗警告称,由于英国采取强制休假,封锁期间仍然付给员工薪水,所以推迟了遗弃激增。她表示,该中心预计如果英国因为疫情而进入另一场衰退,流浪狗或被遗弃的狗狗将增加27%。(去年英国已经进入技术衰退。)Battersea和英国其他领养中心都在“默默做准备”,她说。

兽医、慈善机构和饲养员也警告称,狗狗在适应“正常”生活方式方面可能比人类更困难,因为过去一年大部分时间里人们非常渴望走出家门,甚至去办公室都知足。

他们警告说,如果狗狗的身边无人长时间陪伴,获得的注意力不够时,就可能出现诸多分离焦虑和行为问题。

布莱恩·黑尔等人严肃提出建议,在疫情期间要让狗狗多适应独处。

但我依然不后悔养格里夫,虽然也是疫情期间的选择。像我认识多数真心爱狗的主人一样,我的感觉不再理性。我很清楚它不是我的孩子,客观地说我也知道养它花了很多钱。可以说花费是疫情前的两倍。

但每当我轻轻抱着会叫、会咬、会放屁的大耳朵毛团,都会深深凝望着它的眼睛。我的爱犬也注视着我,它明显想知道我是不是会给它块饼干,此时我会迷失在催产素诱发的爱意中。

“格里夫,”我一边唱歌一边在狗狗身边跳华尔兹,“你像我爱你一样爱我吗?”(财富中文网)

译者:冯丰

审校:夏林

On a Monday afternoon last September, amid a lull between nationwide U.K. lockdowns, I was forced to confront evidence that I had become obsessed.

The clues came in the form of several long email chains: one a correspondence with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs in London, where I live; another with a specialist pet shipper I had consulted in Calgary, Alberta, my hometown in Canada. Both had led me to the same conclusion. Yes, it was possible to send a puppy across international borders, in the cargo hold of one of a now sparse number of transatlantic flights during a global pandemic that had restricted human movement. It was just a terrible idea—one that would take months and costs thousands of dollars to execute. The paperwork alone would be prohibitive. The red tape involved didn’t sound that different, technically, from trying to import a show pony, or an expensive piece of art.

My efforts were a failed attempt at international arbitrage. Desperate not to go back into lockdown without a dog, at home in the U.K., I was attempting to take advantage of a relative surplus of responsibly bred, reasonably priced corgi puppies in southern Alberta. In the process, I had found myself trying to navigate a fraught market for four-legged friends marked by vicious competition for rescue dogs, sharp price hikes for pups, unscrupulous breeders, European smugglers, conniving scammers, and outright dognappers. And that was just in London.

The pandemic puppy boom is now a COVID-19 era trope around the world, with demand surging from Canada to Sweden to Spain, Brazil, Australia, and Israel. In the U.S., the intense demand initially cleared out animal shelters from Los Angeles to New York, and created a thriving cottage industry of people who will drive or fly puppies across the country on request.

Prices for puppies in the U.S. rose by 36% after the pandemic began compared with the previous year, and are still at roughly those levels, according to PuppySpot, an online listing site for breeders. Goldendoodles were the most popular breed, the site says, and for the priciest breed—English Sheepadoodles—prices have soared by almost 90%. The puppy demand could also exacerbate already mounting problems: The U.S. government, which typically buys German shepherd and Labrador puppies for the military on the open market, must compete with civilian puppy demand. Even before their elite training begins, such pups typically cost upwards of $5,500, according to Bloomberg.

Dog scams and thefts are also on the rise. In February, Lady Gaga’s dogwalker was shot and two of her French bulldogs were stolen off a street in Los Angeles. The dogs were eventually returned, but not before Gaga had offered a “no questions asked” $500,000 reward. It’s not clear if the robbers knew the dogs belonged to the pop star—or if they were simply attracted by the soaring demand for French bulldogs, who, as puppies, can now fetch prices of up to $10,000.

But as reports of dognapped Frenchies grew, the American Kennel Club quickly released guidance for worried owners. The club noted that roughly 2 million dogs are snatched per year in the U.S.¬—often in order to be “flipped” to new owners—with small, high-priced dogs particularly at risk.

“These types of dogs are easy to grab and run with,” says Tom Sharp, president and CEO of AKC Reunite, the club’s dog recovery service.

Scams, too, have abounded: In November 2020, the last month for which data is available, the Better Business Bureau recorded 337 complaints of fraud involving pets, up more than 400% from the same month the previous year; they estimated that the losses from such scams in the U.S. and Canada likely topped $3 million in 2020. Meanwhile, the puppy scammers of 2020 have also innovated—requesting payment via Venmo and gift cards, or even impersonating real animal shelters, said the bureau. The scammers often used COVID-19 as a pretext for requesting additional “fees” to deliver nonexistent puppies, the Federal Trade Commission warned.

The demand—and the scams—are a product of the same phenomenon. Since the start of the pandemic, much of the world’s relatively privileged, urban populations seemed to have stockpiled the things they thought they needed most: beans, gaming systems, toilet paper—and dogs.

On the way, a passion for dogs frequently and collectively tipped into something closer to a society-wide obsession—and created bizarre and sometimes disturbing distortions of supply and demand along the way. Unlike toilet paper, moreover, this wasn’t a passing phase. I should know. I spent months thinking of little else.

A very cuddly commodity

By the time my boyfriend and I finally found a puppy in the autumn, in a race-against-the-clock dash down empty highways as a second nationwide lockdown loomed, a pattern had been established. We were officially part of the Great Pandemic Puppy Boom.

Griff, a Pembroke Welsh corgi who is passionate about chewing sticks, tackling other puppies, and eating disgusting stuff he finds in the park, is himself part of a historical moment: a generation of dogs who have known only the pandemic era, and so have only known depressed, needy, ever-present humans, whose only hobby or source of social comfort is taking them for walks.

Of course nobody, least of all me, likes to think of their beloved dog as a commodity. But during the pandemic, for better and sometimes for worse, that’s often what puppies were: not just a commodity, but a hot one.

The U.K., a dog-obsessed island nation—which has spent half of the past year in nationwide lockdowns, and now finds its borders constrained by both a pandemic and Brexit—is the perfect petri dish for this obsession.

Over the course of the past year, British puppy prices on the poorly regulated open market rose and rose, in an eerie mirror of the frothy stock market. In May 2020, as the first British lockdown ended, one online site, Pets4Homes, saw serious inquiries rise to 420 per listed puppy. By November 2020, the last month for which full figures were available, puppy prices were 2.3 times as high as the 2019 average, the site said, vaulting into the thousands of pounds—not quite Bitcoin levels, but significantly outperforming the S&P 500.

Meanwhile, a league table of poodle mixes, terriers, and bulldogs proved the frantic demand for buzzy breeds: cavapoos took first place, with 1,882 interested buyers per puppy, while the most expensive breed— appropriately enough—was the English bulldog. By mid-2020, the breed closely associated with Winston Churchill would set you back, on average, about £3,000 ($4,100).

There have been lulls, of course, but they tend to be closely linked to the restrictions Britons are facing. When those restrictions are loose, people buy dogs; when they are tight—as they are now—people look for them. (By mid-January 2021, with the U.K. in lockdown for the third time, inquiries per puppy were down from the heights of 2020, but were still hovering above 200.) When Lee Gibson, Pets4Homes’ U.K. managing director, looks at the site’s viewer numbers, he says the pattern looks almost like three peaks—one for each national lockdown.

It hasn’t just been pedigree dogs bought online—adoptions, too, have surged. As the U.K.’s first lockdown loomed last March, Battersea, the famous London dogs and cats home, saw applications to rehome animals spike. In one week in May, the adoption center saw 5,000 applications to rehome a dog, according to Becky MacIver, Battersea’s rehoming and welfare manager. Lately, the dogs the center does receive get adopted more quickly, she added, and puppies can usually be rehomed in a matter of a days.

The power of “puppy dog eyes”

Throughout history, dogs have held many roles for us, says Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University and coauthor of The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think. Dogs have been bed warmers, hunting buddies, “and when not much else was around, we ate them.”

So what is it about them that now seems to so overwhelm us? While humans hardly need much encouragement to enter a buying frenzy—see the GameStop rally of early 2021—it would be cynical to pretend there wasn’t something special about our relationship with dogs.

In fact, that bond is often attributed to a stroke of evolutionary genius. The development of eye muscles, which allows dogs to raise their eyebrows and make their eyes look particularly large—i.e., “puppy dog eyes”—is powerful because it mimics the expressions of human babies, who use eye contact to bond with adults before they can speak or otherwise communicate. The eye contact produces oxytocin, encouraging your brain to feel loving and nurturing, and extending and deepening your own eye contact—sending oxytocin right back.

“When your dog stares into your eyes, they are hijacking the oxytocin loop usually reserved for parents and their babies,” Hare says. “Your dog is hugging you with their eyes.”

Our modern-grade obsession with dogs—with its attendant Instagram accounts, custom clothes, doggie day cares, and high price tags—has often been dismissed as a side effect of lonely societies, or a harsh outcome of falling fertility rates and delayed childbirth. (The pandemic, which was initially touted as an opportunity for a baby boom, seems to have had the opposite effect on American couples.) But Hare also offers a pragmatic, pre-pandemic theory.

“Anyone who remembers owning a dog before the turn of the millennium would be familiar with the ‘bath and a prayer’ method of flea control,” he says. Until the 21st century, when modern veterinary medicine reduced flea control to a couple of pills hidden in some peanut butter, dogs—out of necessity—were frequently relegated to the outside world. But once we had successfully banished the fleas, they were suddenly welcome on the couch—even the bed. We were entranced, he argues: besotted with their personalities, prone to marveling at their ingenuity.

The parallel to children, however, is hard to miss. In a May 2020 story on the lucrative pet industry, Fortune writer Phil Wahba reported on the business impact of Americans’ instinct to “humanize” their dogs. These dogs are part of the family: They often eat high-priced, “human grade” dog food; and pet executives universally refer not to “owners” but to “pet parents.” This has elevated dogs not just into our families, but often made them their beating heart.

“As the 19th century was for human children, the 21st century is for the dog,” Hare wrote, in a 2019 piece for the New York Times with his coauthor, Vanessa Woods.

“Most dogs are not required to work long hours. Most are required not to do anything at all, except love us. And this they do very well.”

Price hikes and adoption interviews

As soon as our puppy was fully vaccinated, we brought him to our local park, where he joined the ranks of the local morning Puppy Rumble—an informal, socially distanced meeting of rowdy, wrestling, humping pups, and their socially starved new owners.

We had plenty of company: There were so many “pandemic puppies” that the younger dogs in our local park are informally divided into generations, linked to the particular lockdown in which they spent their formative puppyhood. The youngest are just quivering puffs of fur; the oldest are already naughty, fully grown adolescents.

It quickly became clear the community element did not extend to merely an hour’s exercise on rainy London mornings. Shortly after, we were invited to join the inevitable WhatsApp group, where training tips, weather reports, and funny dog photos are blissfully prioritized over any hint of politics or news.

But when I thought to ask the group for stories of their dogs’ origins, the cathartic outpouring lasted for hours. One owner of a poodle mix recounted being instructed to call the breeder at exactly 7 p.m.—as if for a hot concert ticket. By the time they got through, seven or eight minutes later, there were only two of the 12 puppies left. Another owner of a dachshund mix confessed she’d made the trip across London with a wad of cash to collect her puppy, only to be told—once she had the dog in her arms—that the price had suddenly been raised by £250 ($341).

Many in the group had also attempted to rescue a dog, and most had been unsuccessful. One was told by a shelter that she wasn’t “confident” enough; others received invasive questions on whether they planned to start a family, and if so, when.

For one local dog owner who did get a rescue dog brought over from Romania, the process—fairly typically—involved two phone interviews, a video house inspection, and a meet-and-greet before they could take the dog home. Others said they had gone through pre-adoption quizzes to test their knowledge of dog training; after rounds of interviews, one couple found their emails simply stopped being returned.

My story, of briefly but seriously trying to import a puppy from across the Atlantic, turned out not to be surprising at all.

“Goes into a bank account—gone”

Two or three times a week, Andy Symons, the director of a small family-owned West Sussex pet relocation company called Transfur, gets a call from someone who is expecting him to deliver his or her dog. The conversation rarely ends well.

“When you get talking to these people, it becomes very apparent they have been the subject of a scam,” he says. “They’ve been asked to pay with Amazon vouchers or by Western Union, and it’s just money down the drain. Goes into a bank account—gone.”

The company’s details have typically been lifted off its website and handed out to would-be owners. The puppy, needless to say, does not exist.

The calls also increasingly come from people who are trying to arrange transit for a puppy, typically from Eastern Europe, he says. “My suspicion is these are people buying from puppy farms and now find themselves…with no means of getting them to the U.K.,” says Symons. Transfur is not in a position to do these jobs, he notes; typically, the company only sends pets out of the country, usually when families relocate, rather than bringing them in.

The increase in outright scamming, though not novel, is one predictable side effect of the enormous rise in puppy prices. The transport problems, however, are something new. The concentration of dog lovers in the U.K. has long attracted imported dogs—both rescued street dogs from countries with large stray populations, and puppy-farmed dogs typically reared and transported in horrendous conditions. But the combination of a crackdown on puppy smugglers, COVID-19 border restrictions, decreased flights, and hopelessly muddled customs policies for imported dogs under the U.K.’s messy new Brexit trade rules, seem to have made it newly difficult to meet British puppy demand through shady imports.

Alongside the huge price spikes, that shutdown of outside supply may have led to a wave of domestic dognapping. Though it’s difficult to tell how common dognapping is—the Metropolitan Police don’t distinguish between dog theft and property theft of other kinds—one charity, Lost Dog, called 2020 the “worst ever” year for dog thefts, with reports up 250%; a retired police officer who now works as a dog detective has more work than he can possibly take on. A BBC TV spot in December, meanwhile, called the spate of British dognappings an “epidemic” and quoted an unnamed intelligence source who said that at least two criminal organizations had pivoted their operations from drug dealing to dog theft. After all, the financial rewards were larger, and the penalties tend to be surprisingly small.

Even Eliot Higgins, the founder of legendary investigative journalism site Bellingcat, has gotten involved. While best known for exposing war crimes in Syria, Higgins recently told the Financial Times he had helped find a stolen dog through a deciphered license plate.

These reports, paired with anguished posters circulating on social media of dog owners whose pets have sometimes been wrenched from their arms, have raised fears of a crime that harkens back to Victorian England, when posh puppies were held for ransom; one such case helped inspire the Virginia Woolf novel Flush.

In our local park, fellow dog walkers began spotting nondescript, dog-less men standing nearby and filming the dogs for long stretches; in a Bellingcat-style move, my boyfriend found blurry pictures of one dog-filmer lurking in the background of candid shots of doggy playtime. (In a non-Bellingcat move, nobody could make out his face.)

Of course, the filmers could simply be socially awkward dog lovers, or just bored Londoners, out for yet another lockdown walk. But in this atmosphere of fear, no one wants to take any chances. Many conversations revolve around dog-walking buddies, collar alarms, and potential confrontations. Members of the group have papered the local cafés with printed signs. They show a gloved hand reaching for a cowering puppy and the words “WATCH OUT!”

The pandemic puppy backlash

Getting a dog has, undoubtedly, been a rare bright spot in a trying 12 months. I grew up with multiple corgis and had wanted a dog for years. My wardrobe had come to be, for a 31-year-old woman, embarrassingly corgi themed; the problem was not just the novelty socks and T-shirts, but the tote bags, hats, and salt and pepper shakers, often presents from my dog-obsessed family back home.

Before we got our dog, I used to jog, sadly, past the other dog walkers, dreaming of when I’d have one of my own. Once he arrived, I found the manic yapping and constant pooping a fair price to pay for the cuddling, the walks, and the sheer distraction from a global pandemic.

In a year that has been so brutal, so tiring, for so many, pandemic puppies broke down people’s shells. In London, where small talk with strangers is not the norm, joggers, workmen, and shy schoolkids would all stop on morning walks to cuddle Griff. In the month after we got him, despite masks and social distancing, I talked to more people, smiled at more strangers, than I had in years. Saying hello to a puppy made people visibly, irrepressibly happy—at a time when happiness was so clearly in short supply.

And yet, when reporting this story, I found myself frequently fielding twinges of alarm, discomfort, even shame. Surely, puppy love was one thing that should remain pure. How could this collective obsession have produced an apparent bubble so fizzy, so distorted, and so scam-ridden? Shouldn’t puppies be the one thing that is just good?

And yet, the surge in demand has openly horrified the various dog charities and kennel clubs, which have collectively warned of the scale of the scams, the incentives for puppy farmers, and the prospect of eventual abandonment, painting a fickle and uninformed picture of this new wave of dog owners.

The U.K.’s Kennel Club provided me with results of a study from July 2020, which found that more than a third of new London dog owners were not confident they could have spotted a rogue breeder or a scam, and about 45% had done no planning on what would happen to their new dog after they went back to “normal” life post-pandemic.

Neither Pets4Homes nor Battersea has so far seen a notable upward trend toward more young dogs being either turned over to the center, or advertised, since the pandemic began. But MacIver of Battersea warns me that the U.K.’s furlough scheme to keep workers earning wages during lockdowns had only delayed the expected surge. The center expects a 27% increase in stray or abandoned dogs if the U.K. enters another recession as a result of the pandemic, she says. (The country already entered a technical recession once last year.) Battersea, and other centers across the U.K., are “quietly preparing,” she says.

Vets, charities and breeders, too, are warning that dogs may have much more trouble adjusting to a return to “normality” than the humans who have spent much of the last year desperate to get out of the house, even just to go to the office. They warn that they expect an epidemic of separation anxiety and behavioral problems when the dogs no longer have constant company and attention. Brian Hare, among others, offered strict advice to start providing pandemic dogs and puppies plenty of practice of being alone.

But I can’t regret getting Griff, even during a pandemic. Like most of the devoted dog owners I know, my feelings aren’t even rational anymore. I know he’s not my child, and I know, objectively, that he cost money: double, if you must know, the pre-pandemic going rate.

But whenever I cradle my barking, nipping, farting ball of big-eared fur, I look deep into his eyes. I get lost in a one-sided oxytocin loop as he stares right back at me, transparently wondering whether I’m about to give him a cookie.

“Griffy,” I sing, waltzing him around the room. “Do you love me as much as I love you?”

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