It may have been a mongrel of a year but for special needs and senior rescue dogs, it’s been a winner as Aussies embraced hard-case hounds like never before.
It may have been a mongrel of a year but for special needs and senior rescue dogs, it’s been a winner as Aussies embraced hard-case hounds like never before.

How rescue dogs won 2020’s COVID pet boom

Some arrived on the hot mess express with shabby coats and wonky teeth, others came with missing limbs, mental health problems and the frailties of old age.

Despite their ruff looks, special needs and senior rescue dogs have been big winners in 2020 as a pandemic pet boom saw Australians embrace the 'hard-case' hounds often left behind.

"It's just been amazing because, years ago, those sort of dogs would be with us until they die," said Monika Biernacki of Monika's Doggie Rescue.

"We've managed to adopt out some amazing dogs, older dogs, dogs with medical issues, people just came out of the woodwork."

Jacky Tang adopted 10-year-old cattle-dog-cross-fox-terrier Sherry, who has recovered from medical issues, during COVID and she’s fit right into his lifestyle. Picture: Toby Zerna
Jacky Tang adopted 10-year-old cattle-dog-cross-fox-terrier Sherry, who has recovered from medical issues, during COVID and she’s fit right into his lifestyle. Picture: Toby Zerna

Dogs with injuries and genetic diseases once passed over found forever homes this year, as did the golden oldies including their 15,000th adoption, a little "granny" called Sherry.

Sherry arrived at Monika's with a distended stomach full of bones, a mammary tumour and a hernia with bladder entrapment.

Once those were fixed, now a little arthritic but otherwise in good health, the senior cattle dog-cross-fox terrier now spends her days napping under the desk of Jacky Tang.

"She's just so gentle and compatible with our other dog," said Mr Tang, 31, who had been looking to adopt a senior dog.

"At the end of the day it's about the right fit for your lifestyle. And with older dogs, they've already had a pretty tough life so we want to make sure we spoil them and give them a bit more love."

Dog shelter owner Monika Biernacki says the rate of dogs being surrendered this year has dropped — meaning more people are happy with their pets.
Dog shelter owner Monika Biernacki says the rate of dogs being surrendered this year has dropped — meaning more people are happy with their pets.

Rescue groups and the RSPCA have faced a phenomenal demand for pets, with competition fierce and some dogs attracting hundreds of applicants.

RSPCA NSW spokesman Kieren Watson said rescue dogs were finally giving designer dogs a run for their money, with pandemic pet demand emptying pounds across the country.

"In Sydney, we ran out of dogs at one stage, we had absolutely no dogs available, it didn't matter if they were old dogs, or what breed they were, people just wanted them," he said.

"And, one weekend, we even ran out of cats for adoption which is crazy. That's never happened, it's unheard of.".

RSPCA adoptions across the state between May-June surged 30 per cent over the previous year, while surrenders were down 30 per cent and still are.

Senior dogs and adult breeds including bull breeds - often the hardest to rehome - were also being adopted in half the usual time, he said.

"A lot of people were just happy to have companionship. It didn't matter if their dog was a $6000 oodle or a $400 rescue," he said. "And surrenders are down so people are clearly happy with their decision."

Owen Canning and his new best mate Oscar, an anxious cattle dog who had rarely been outside.
Owen Canning and his new best mate Oscar, an anxious cattle dog who had rarely been outside.

For the rescue groups riding out the adoption rush, it's been like working the Boxing Day sales for nine months straight.

"It was a bit like toilet paper in the beginning, you know, (people) had to get a dog," said Caroline Moore of Paterson Valley Dog Rescue.

Mrs Moore, who specialises in small and senior dogs, is still flat out.

She's just placed Henry, a blind three-legged Pekingese-cross-Maltese cross-cavalier, after wading through 100 applicants.

The intense demand has meant she stepped up screening to prevent surrenders down the track and, as a result, she's made some perfect matches including Oscar and Owen.

Owen Canning, 24, adopted Oscar the two-year-old cattle dog from Paterson Valley about a month ago and the pair have formed a strong bond.

Sushi, who is still looking for a home through Monika’s Doggie Rescue, is a highly anxious girl who would do best in a calm adult environment away from other dogs.
Sushi, who is still looking for a home through Monika’s Doggie Rescue, is a highly anxious girl who would do best in a calm adult environment away from other dogs.

Mr Canning and Oscar both suffer from anxiety - Oscar's as a result of being locked indoors by a previous owner who suffered mental health issues before he was surrendered.

"He was very nervous, very shy, he was anxious about going outside," said Mr Canning.

"I was a bit worried, was I going to be able to look after this dog? But when I saw him, I was like, yep, that's exactly the dog I want."

The family has adapted to a routine to help Oscar settle and he's since become Mr Canning's shadow.

A clever, intuitive dog who constantly looks to him for reassurance, Mr Canning said he often sees his own traits in Oscar.

"Seeing Oscar and helping Oscar get through things, sort of then means I can do some of those things with myself to deal with a similar anxiety," he said.

"It's helped a lot, having him. Everything's going great."

Originally published as How rescue dogs won 2020's COVID pet boom

Pekingese/Maltese/cavalier Henry, 10, found a new home after he lost both eyes and a front legs in separate accidents last year and his owners were forced to surrender him.
Pekingese/Maltese/cavalier Henry, 10, found a new home after he lost both eyes and a front legs in separate accidents last year and his owners were forced to surrender him.

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