Locked puppies: Tring Labrador breeder discusses impact of Covid pandemic on demand for companion dogs
A Labrador breeder from Tring discussed the effects of the pandemic on the demand for puppies in the area.
Marisha Romer, founder of Honeyfitz, says there was ‘huge demand’ for her first covid litter and shares the process she uses to find buyers for the puppies.
Honeyfitz is a KC Assured family run kennel of yellow Labrador retrievers with fox red coats, they are fully insured and also offer care, boarding and grooming.
Marisha said: “The first covid litter – there was a huge demand for puppies.
“We had a female dog who mated before Covid and she gave birth on April 18, if we had known there would have been a pandemic, and lockdown, we wouldn’t have mated her because socializing was so difficult in confinement, there was 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 female dog until the litter has 6 reserves. We think this is important because you already know that they all go to a house.
“The reason for this is that Fox Red Labradors are a relatively rare breed in the UK, but they are growing and they are in increasing demand, which means we have been lucky enough to be able to be relatively selective with who we let’s place puppies.
“Honeyfitz has a pretty strict vetting process and we do background checks, and we’ve done house calls to make sure they have a fence in the garden, and the property is to be theirs – not rented.
“The reason we don’t sell to tenants is that landlords can choose not to allow dogs on the property and then the dogs end up at a shelter.
“We also organize interviews with candidates.”
Marisha says the usual Honeyfitz application process was not possible during the lockdown due to all the restrictions.
She said: “It made it more difficult, we weren’t able to do house calls at first so we weren’t comfortable not knowing where the puppies were going.
“The demand for puppies of this litter during the first lockdown was ridiculous, we were getting up to 100 calls and emails every day asking us to buy a puppy.
“We actually had to pay someone to come and help us with all the inquiries because we wanted to respond to them all.
“The demand for puppies certainly skyrocketed which made it harder to find the right owners, did they want a puppy because it was an impulse buy and they were home, or did they want one really one and had they thought about it for a while?”
On April 6, 2020, a new law was introduced which meant that sales of puppies to third parties were banned in England.
‘Lucy’s Law’ means that anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten in England must now buy directly from a breeder or consider adopting from a rescue center instead. Licensed dog breeders are required to show puppies interacting with their mothers at their birthplace.
Honeyfitz welcomed the new law, but it meant they had regular visits from candidates during the first lockdown, leading to police being called to report lockdown breaches.
Marisha said: “Following the arrival of cars on our property, neighbors called the police on several occasions as they believed we were flouting the lockdown rules, and the police investigated but told the neighbors that it was It was a job and we weren’t breaking the rules.
“The other issue we faced during lockdown was that a lot of our income came from boarding school. In 2019 we only produced one litter a year for eight weeks, so for the rest of the year, our income came from daycare and boarding school.
“But of course, since people weren’t going on holiday and people were working from home or on leave, they didn’t need to board their dogs.
“Easter and summer are quite full in February/March, so we already had a lot of deposits for the holiday periods, which were cancelled, so we had to refund the deposits.
“We had two options, either cease trading or find a way to get the money to make the repayments by putting the business in debt for 10 years with a Bounce Back Loan – and that’s what we did.
“We now do two litters a year, so we’re not as dependent on boarding school.”
Since the lockdown, Honeyfitz has updated its application process.
Marisha explained: “Our application process now is that any potential buyer has to be prepared to be on the waiting list for eight months, it gives us time to get to know them and it also shows how point they really want one of the Honeyfitz puppies.
“If it’s just an impulse buy, they’ll tend to go elsewhere, but if it turns out they’ve wanted one of our puppies for a while, they’ll wait.
“Honeyfitz is a beautiful community and everyone is treated fairly and it’s a community that supports each other and helps with advice if needed.
“We have a reunion event once a year and everyone who’s on the waitlist, and everyone who’s purchased a Honeyfitz puppy is invited and it’s always a great event, and everyone appreciate.
“We also have a cradle-to-grave policy, which is basically about the life of that dog, we’re responsible for that – you’re not allowed to sell it, donate it or give it to a rescue.
“If for any reason you can no longer care for the dog, return it to Honeyfitz and we will.
“It happened recently, a family couldn’t take care of one of our adult males anymore, so they released him and we placed him in foster care until we found him a new one. home, where he is now.
“I think more breeders should do this, you’ve brought them into the world, and if the owners you’re selling to can’t take care of the dog anymore, you should take responsibility for looking after them.
“I’m proud of this policy, if we get one out of every 50 puppies we place then that’s probably normal, I would never want a dog I gave birth to go into rescue.”
Honeyfitz produces two litters a year and can be viewed on Facebook, puppies available by request only. On Saturday, mum Honeyfitz ‘Ruby’ welcomed three girls and five boys.