A Labrador breeder from Tring has discussed the effects of the pandemic on the demand for puppies in the local area.
Marisha Romer, founder of Honeyfitz, says there was a 'huge demand' for her first covid litter and is sharing the process she uses when finding buyers for the puppies.
Honeyfitz is a family owned and operated KC Assured breeder of Yellow Labrador retrievers with fox red coat, they are fully insured and also offer care, boarding and grooming.
Marisha said: "The first covid litter - there was a huge demand for pups.
"We had a bitch that mated before Covid and she gave birth on April 18th, if we knew there would have been a pandemic, and a lockdown, we would not have mated her because socialisation was so hard in lockdown, there was just so much demand, everyone wanted a puppy.
"We have a few guidelines and policies that we follow, one of them being that we never mate a bitch until the litter has 6 reserves. We think that is important as you already know that they are all going to a home.
"The reason for this is Fox Red Labradors are a relatively rare breed in the UK, but it is growing and they are becoming more in demand which means we have been lucky that we can be relatively choosy with who we place puppies with.
"Honeyfitz has quite a strict vetting process and we do background checks, and we did home visits to make sure they have fence in the garden, and the property must be their own - not rented.
"The reason that we don't sell to renters is that landlords can choose to not allow dogs in the property, and then the dogs end up at a rescue.
"We do interviews with the applicants as well."
The impact of lockdown
Marisha says the Honeyfitz usual application procedure was not possible during lockdown due to all the restrictions.
She said: "It made things more difficult, we were unable to do home visits at first so we were not comfortable not knowing where the puppies were going.
"The demand for puppies from that litter during the first lockdown was ridiculous, we were getting up to 100 calls and emails every day enquiring about buying a puppy.
"We actually had to pay someone to come in and help us deal with all the enquiries because we wanted to respond to all of them.
"The demand for puppies certainly soared, which made it more difficult to find the right owners, did they want a puppy because it was an impulse buy and they were at home, or did they really want one and had they been thinking about it for a while?"
On April 6, 2020, a new law was introduced meaning third-party puppy sales were banned in England.
‘Lucy’s Law’ means that anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten in England must now buy direct from a breeder, or consider adopting from a rescue centre instead. Licensed dog breeders are required to show puppies interacting with their mothers in their place of birth.
Honeyfitz welcomed the new law but it meant they had regular visits from applicants during the first lockdown, which resulted in the police being called for reports of lockdown breaches.
Marisha said: "As a result of cars coming to our property, the neighbours called the police on us several times as they believed we were flouting the lockdown rules, and police investigated but told the neighbours that it was a job and we were not breaking the rules.
"The other problem we faced during lockdown was that a lot of our revenue comes from boarding. In 2019, we produced only one litter a year for eight weeks, so for the rest of the year our income was coming from daycare and boarding.
"But of course with people not going on holiday, and people were working from home, or furloughed, they did not need to board their dogs.
"Easter and summer gets quite booked up by February/March, so we already had a lot of deposits for the holiday periods, which got cancelled so we had to refund the deposits.
"We had two options, cease trading, or find a way of getting the money to do the refunds by putting the company in 10 years of debt with a Bounce Back loan - and that's what we did.
"We now do two litters a year, so we are not so heavily dependent on the boarding side."
Since lockdown Honeyfitz has updated its application process.
Marisha explained: "Our application process now, is that any potential buyers must be prepared to be on the waiting list for eight months, that gives us time to get to know them and it also shows how much they really want one of the Honeyfitz puppies.
"If it's just an impulse buy, they will tend to go somewhere else, but if it is the case that they have wanted one of our puppies for quite a while, they will wait.
"Honeyfitz is a beautiful community and everyone is treated fairly and it is a community that supports each other and helps with advice if needed.
"We do a reunion event once a year and all those on the waiting list, and everyone that has bought a Honeyfitz puppy is invited and it is always a really good event, and everyone enjoys it.
"We also have a cradle to grave policy, which is basically for the life of that dog, we are responsible for it - you are not allowed to sell it, give it away of give it to a rescue.
"If, for whatever reason, you can no longer look after the dog, give it back to Honeyfitz and we will.
"This happened recently, a family could no longer look after one of our adult males, so they gave him back and we fostered him until we found him a new home, which is where he is now.
"I think more breeders should do this, you brought them into this world, and if the owners that you sell to can no longer look after the dog, you should take that responsibility to look after it.
"I am proud of this policy, if we get one back from every 50 puppies we place, then that's probably normal, I would never want a dog that I have brought into this world to be put into a rescue."
Honeyfitz produces two litters a year and can be seen on Facebook, puppies available by application only. On Saturday, Honeyfitz mum 'Ruby' had three girls and five boys.