Perth, it’s time to interrogate this designer dog madness

Our state has a distorted and senseless dog market: people wasting their money on problematic, undersupplied designer dogs while pounds are euthanising an oversupply of homeless ones.

COVID lockdowns and isolations have enabled breeders of widely varying quality to charge up to $10,000 for puppies, sometimes with incomplete paperwork.

Husky Bollie and kelpie Remi were surrendered due to the rental crisis.Credit:Shenton Park Dogs’ Refuge Home

Some of those puppies don’t even exist, with people paying for what they then find is a scam.

Fashions are favouring small designer breeds, many of which end up with rampant behavioural and health issues, overwhelming owners who get a small dog in the belief they are easier.

People facing WA’s rental housing crisis are surrendering their dogs to shelters in record numbers.

Overwhelmed shelters now can’t accept all the dogs they otherwise would from regional pounds, resulting in thousands of homeless dogs being euthanised in WA while others sleep on their owners’ pillows and command their own Instagram followings.

People aren’t getting rescue dogs because they believe all rescue dogs are large with behavioural issues and they resent the scrutiny shelters apply to them.

Dogs can improve our quality of life, but for every dog making a person happy there is another one with behavioural issues ruining a neighbour’s peace.

People are either not researching the issues, thinking about their finances and situations properly and interrogating their perceptions about different breeds and sources of dogs, or their research is not properly canvassing the issues of the market.

A dog is a 10 to 15-year commitment to the life of an intelligent being that forms attachments and is capable of experiencing – and inflicting – emotional suffering.

Cash is pretty cute, I can kind of understand paying $9000 for him.Credit:Bark Busters

Lest I sound holier than thou, I’m aware of this because I recently strongly encouraged someone close to me to get a pet to assuage their loneliness and gain companionship.

They did get companionship … along with enormous expense, initial and ongoing difficulty and stress, little of which we foresaw. I did research in good faith, but a lot of it missed the mark and was about how to vet your breeder and choose a dog breed.

This kind of research completely misses points like what breeds are actually available and whether small dogs and/or puppies are really good ideas for people who need an easy dog.

In case it helps anyone else, I’ll explore these questions and issues over the coming few columns and how WA (along with the other states, most likely) has ended up here.

For starters, costs.

Animal Medicines Australia’s latest pet ownership report from 2019 found the average household spends $2158 a year on its dog. The RSPCA estimates closer to $2500.

This includes food, vet services and healthcare, insurance, accessories, grooming, boarding/minding and training.

If you take the average lifespan of a dog as 13 you’re looking at roughly $30,000 and this is before you’ve bought the actual pooch.

We recently detailed Perth people paying $4000-$5000 for border collie pups and $10,000-$15,000 for puppies online in what were frequently scams.

Maureen Guelfi, a Bark Busters trainer in Perth, with Jasper. Credit:Bark Busters

My personal search for a poodle-cross for my loved one showed an average of around $6000 and puppies were scarce.

Maureen Guelfi, a Perth dog trainer with Bark Busters, told me one of her clients spent $9000 on his pug, hence its name: Cash.

“Hero” breeds such as blue Staffordshire pups were frequently $4500. “Caddlepoos” were ranging from $6500-$7000 or $7500 for a groodle or a labradoodle. Many paid an extra $1000 to fly the dogs to Perth.

“The breeders are rubbing their hands together,” she said.

My experience was that it is difficult to find a breeder in Perth who will tick every box the RSPCA suggests to ensure that you are not patronising a puppy farm, or buying a dog susceptible to health issues. (See the comprehensive guide here.)

It is tough to insist on documentation and proofs while a puppy is bouncing around, knowing demand is so high there are plenty behind you in line asking fewer questions.

On the other hand, Karen Rhodes, president of Shenton Park Dogs’ Refuge Home, says many more dogs are being surrendered than normal and almost three-quarters are victims of Perth’s rental squeeze.

“We are getting about 30 a week in … from local and regional pounds … five to 10 surrender calls a day,” she said.

She said many regional pounds have no choice but to euthanise dogs if Perth no-kill shelters are full.

“There are hundreds, thousands of dogs a year being put down,” she said.

Perth’s median house rent reached $572 in May and rising interest rates are likely to filter through as further rent rises.

Domain predicts Perth house rents will reach a new record in the current quarter.

And neither the state nor federal government have come up with any credible response to the country’s housing crises.

So before you shop, think. Do you have a spare $30,000-$40,000 over the next 10 years?

If you’re renting, do you have a sizeable safety net saved up – think three months’ worth of living expenses – that will enable you to deal with emergencies: job loss, severe illness, homelessness or overcrowding, for you and your family?

If you don’t, that dog will be the first thing to go when the going gets tough.

I understand the desire. I miss having a pet. As I write this series I will see numerous photos of adorable dogs. I am going to want them. But I’m not going to get one. Because I don’t have the time, space, money or the emotional bandwidth to give them what they need.

Do you?

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