Dog owners who bought puppies during the lockdowns are disguising their pets as strays so rescue centres will take them in, a charity has claimed.
Hope Rescue, in Rhondda Cynon Taf, in Wales, revealed that the number of dogs being dropped off at its rescue centre in Pontyclun was the highest in its 15-year history.
More than 3.2 million pets were bought during the UK’s various lockdowns.
The charity also said people were trying to sell their dogs on Gumtree before turning up at the centre and claiming their pet was in fact a stray.
Sara Rosser, head of welfare at Hope Rescue Centre, told the BBC: “We have to take stray dogs and so fake strays are jumping the queue ahead of dogs that really are abandoned.
“It is definitely unprecedented numbers at the moment.”
She said in the past week alone, five had come into the centre that they knew were fake strays, but the number “could be much higher”.
The centre now has 150 strays, more than it has ever had before.
Ms Rosser added: “The rescues are full and then the vets are ringing us saying ‘is there any chance you can take them because we’re concerned that dog is going to be put to sleep’.”
The centre said these were “desperate times” and others like them were at “crisis point”.
Ms Rosser explained that centres are at capacity because of the increase in people who got dogs during lockdown and later realised they cannot look after them as life returns to normal.
She added: “At the moment what we’re hearing from all the rescue centres that we work with is that they are also full and that they are under massive pressure.”
Dogs arriving at the centre often have health or behavioural problems making them hard to rehome.
Hope Rescue said that interest in rehoming dogs at its centres has increased so much that it was forced to suspend applications.
The Dogs Trust has also warned that there is a “looming crisis” on the horizon as more people give away dogs they purchased during lockdown.
Last month the charity said it had seen a 35 per cent jump in calls from dog owners looking to give up their pets.
It said people were rethinking owning a pet as restrictions eased across the UK.
These concerns were echoed by The Kennel Club, which warned the UK was facing a looming “welfare crisis for pandemic pups” unless more workplaces become dog friendly as more people return to offices.
Bill Lambert from The Kennel Club said: “This new research worryingly shows that if dogs can’t go to places with their owners, and fit their lifestyle post-pandemic, some will be left home alone for too long, or even sadly rehomed or abandoned.
“These consequences could be quite devastating for the nation’s dogs, who frankly don’t deserve to be left behind after being a lifeline for so many during lockdown.”