Pet ownership soars

13th November 2020 –

Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard – Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

MORI was founded in 1969 by Robert Worcester and was one of the first and now, as Ipso MORI, remains one of the leading market research groups in the UK. I was introduced to the charismatic Robert when I was developing the Institute of Quality in the mid 1980s by a friend who worked closely with him. He was born in the United States, became a British Citizen, was appointed Chancellor of the University of Kent and was a very well respected figure in British political circles and media commentator, especially about voting intentions in British and American elections. He died in 2014 but his legacy remains and my memories of him were triggered when I read a press release in Pet Business World News, the headline of which was ‘Pet ownership soars in Covid Britain’.

The research was carried out by Ipso MORI on behalf of an investment company called LetterOne. I had not come across this company before but I like it for one of the things it does is to sponsor an international jazz award but even apart from that, my research into its background has proved fascinating. It was founded in 2013 and brought together a number of long-term active investors to search out companies where ‘sector experience, and strategic geographic expertise will improve performance’.

They have a lot of money: over $23 billion in investments and liquidity of $5 billion: at the very least that implies that they have identified areas where investment will prove profitable. Their strategy embraces energy, food retail and technology and their strap line is to have a ‘strong bias to satisfy societies’ needs’. One sector they have selected as having potential and one upon which I think we can all agree ‘satisfies societies’ needs’, is pet ownership.

To ensure their continued success LetterOne carries out research in all the sectors within which it invests and the examination of the economic and health benefits associated with pet ownership is published in a series of journals called ‘The Pet Factor’. Its latest, intensely interesting edition considers: how a dog can make people feel less lonely or isolated; hears how soldiers in the British Army develop long-lasting emotional bonds with the horses in their care; explores the intense and often complex bond between pets and those experiencing homelessness through a contribution from veterinary charity, StreetVet – and reports on the Ipsos MORI survey they commissioned.

What the research shows

The research indicates that Britain is more besotted with pets than ever. The headlines include:

· A staggering 41% of current pet owners got a new pet during lockdown, of which 95% were existing pet owners who got another animal while 5% did not previously own a pet before the lockdown.

· Overall, 80% of those polled with dogs in their household agree that their dog keeps them physically active. Around 4 in 10 dog owners agree that as lockdown restrictions are lifted, they will take their dogs for more frequent and longer walks.

· As a consequence of lockdown, 37% of pet owners who have worked from home say they now have a closer relationship with their pets than before.

· Among pet owners who expect spending on their pets to change as a result of lockdown restrictions being lifted, the majority anticipate spending more. 30% of dog owners say they will spend more money on dog walking services in the near future.

The whole publication is available online and provides a unique perspective into pet ownership internationally.

It goes some way to explaining the explosion so many breeders have experienced over the past few months. This has been the subject of some pessimistic speculation regarding the behaviour of new owners once we get back to some semblance of normal but it is clear from the research that most owners are thinking about the future responsibly shown by the significant number being prepared to spend on dog walking services as and when necessary.

I will certainly be returning to this incredible mine of information in future articles but for the present I would like to use it as a foundation for one of the most important factors with respect to pet ownership which I am sure is at the forefront of our minds: how do responsible breeders ensure that their stock goes to good homes and how do prospective owners find a responsible breeder. This age old question has no simple answers but over the last few years a number of initiatives have tried to provide one although, unfortunately none have been particularly successful

Every attempt has some impact

Publications such as the Dog Directory and the classified pages of magazines devoted to dogs tried to provide centres for information over the years but the inexorable rise of the Internet has made them redundant. The Kennel Club, in an attempt to counter the criticism that ‘anyone can register pedigree dogs with the KC but no checks are ever carried out on the quality of the breeders’ by launching what was originally the Accredited Breeders Scheme and which for technical reasons associated with each UK Accreditation is now the Assured Breeders Scheme. Although it has a great deal going for it, it can hardly be considered a success for like all such schemes it has to tread a line between cost and complexity. Even government intervention culminating in the recent 2018 Regulations on breeding along with other legal initiatives such as Lucy’s Law are, in my view at least, not likely to be successful either. This is not to say they have not value: of course they do but they largely speak to those who would behave responsibly anyway.

A number of web sites which are free to access and largely free to post information on, have also been set up. Perhaps the best known is followed by the National Register of Pedigree Dog Breeders ( and Pets4Homes along with a number of commercial advertising sites such as Gumtree and almost all breeders will have their own websites. Layered on top of actually finding a puppy to buy, is extensive advice from charities, lobby groups, government, local authorities, commercial dog food manufacturers (and the Kennel Club, of course) providing advice and guidance on how to go about it. I would not for a moment challenge their aims and objectives but they are repetitive and, if experience is anything to go by, have not made very much difference to the puppy buying public: the ones who have been responsible remain responsible and those which are irresponsible ignore any advice.

The demands of those devoted to pedigree dogs range from, ‘no puppy should be allowed to be sold unless all those involved in its pedigree have been subjected to a battery of of tests to ensure that it is free of any genetic weakness’ to those who recognise that ‘breeding should be focused on the overall health of the sire and dam and rely on their experience and instinct to ensure that their puppies are sound’. Then there are the lobby groups and charities who all too often hold the view that breeders cannot be trusted to breed sound puppies, that they breed too much and too often and so prospective owners should be protected from exploitation versus the commercial companies in whose interest it is to persuade more people to have dogs: it is a media minefield.

As any reasonably intelligent person can quickly see, finding any sort of compromise which even partially fulfils these many expectations is clearly impossible and most of the commercial sites which have been set up in recent years have not survived.

The most recent attempt to capture this market was launched a couple of years back and I mentioned it in Speakers’ Corner at the time. There is no doubt the motives of those behind Tailwise are sound and it is a smart, professional site – but fulfilling the demands of every interest group is exceptionally difficult. For instance, if you want to buy a puppy through Tailwise there are eight stages you need to complete (including a payment to Tailwise of £95 when the transaction to buy your puppy has taken place) and if you are a breeder (the scheme is free to join) you need to go through a similar extended questionnaire. I have no idea how successful the site is because there is no way you can ‘search’ for a puppy neither can you tell how many breeders are listed on the site but I wish it every success and have no hesitation in suggesting that responsible breeders take the trouble to sign up.

If you do so, please contact me with your impressions and whether it is successful for you.

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