They’re cuddly, they’re adorable, and as a result of the Twilight films, the popular fantasy series Game of Thrones and countless YouTube clips, they’ve become incredibly popular. But Siberian Huskies and other wolf-like dogs are being abandoned in record numbers as owners realise that the latest “status” canines are temperamental and difficult to control.
Animal welfare groups have warned that droves of people are buying these working breeds for their looks, only to dump them in shelters soon afterwards. The Siberian Husky Welfare Association claimed it was struggling to handle dozens of calls each week from people looking to offload their unwanted pets.
“We started our organisation in 2007, and back then we thought there was a crisis because we were getting five calls a week from people saying they couldn’t cope with their dogs,” said the Association’s secretary Mick Brent. “And now it’s between 20 and 30. And not only that, but there are now half a dozen more organisations like us across the country.”
He warned that this year’s Christmas presents could become next year’s kennel fodder, saying: “At this time of year, we get last year’s Christmas dogs that people can’t handle any more.”
London’s Battersea Cats and Dogs home took in 66 huskies between January and November, a 16 per cent increase on 2011. Blue Cross centres took in 63 Alaskan malamutes, Northern Inuits, Siberian huskies and Utonagons this year, almost double last year’s figure of 32.
“The percentage increase of breeds such as Alaskan malamutes and Siberian Huskies being given up is a real concern and if the last few years are anything to go by, it does look like a trend that could continue,” A Blue Cross spokesperson said.
Mandy Jones, head of Blue Cross rehoming services, said the dogs’ prevalence in film and TV were probably to blame: “One theory is that these breeds have a wolf-like appearance and the fashion for vampire-themed TV and films may be a feature of their increasing popularity in recent years,” she said.
In the Twilight films, some characters are able to turn into large wolves at will, while the mythical “Direwolves” in the acclaimed HBO series Game of Thrones are played on screen by the stocky Northern Inuit breed. YouTube videos of Mishka the husky, famed for its ability to mimic human speech, have accrued more than 330 million views.
In 2002, only 238 Alaskan Malamutes – larger than the husky, and more prone to display dog-on-dog aggression – and 985 huskies were registered with the Kennel Club. Last year, those numbers had grown to 1,295 and 1,940 respectively, without accounting for the numbers of half-breed dogs, as well as those bought from home breeders and puppy farms.
“Whereas 20 years ago it was almost impossible to buy a husky from a breeder, now you can go on the internet, buy a husky puppy, pay on Paypal and collect it the next day,” said Mr Brent.
Husky experts warned that while the dogs often made for loving companions, they require a vast amount of attention and exercise. “People who buy them are completely ignorant about the nature of the breed,” Mr Brent continued. “The husky puppy is wonderful: it’s obedient and it doesn’t want to be parted from you. But between 12 and 18 months they turn into Kevin the teenager.”