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COVID-19

Furry friends help Germans ease pandemic blues

Markus Salomon and his family had been thinking about getting a dog for years, but it was the coronavirus pandemic that finally pushed them to bring home one-year-old mixed breed Uschi.

Furry friends help Germans ease pandemic blues
Photo: Britta Pedersen/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa

“The pandemic is of course a time when we are at home a lot, so in lockdown, and that is a good time to get a dog,” said the 53-year-old biologist and Berlin resident.

“You can’t do very much, you can’t go on holiday, you can’t visit friends or relatives, but what you can do is go for a walk, a spot of hiking, a drive in the woods, and a dog is great for that,” he said.

Germany has seen an explosion in pet adoption in the pandemic, with demand for cats, dogs and other furry companions soaring as people seek ways to ease loneliness and boredom.

The number of dogs sold in the country increased by a “dramatic” 20 percent in 2020 compared with the previous year, according to the Deutsche Hundewesen (VDH) kennel club.

READ ALSO: Dog days: Germany see ‘extreme’ demand for pups during pandemic

Overall, the number of pets in German households climbed by almost one million to nearly 35 million, figures from the Industrial Association of Pet Care Producers (IVH) show, with cats and dogs at the top of the list.

Breeders and animal shelters have been overwhelmed with demand, with the Tierheim Berlin shelter reporting 500 enquiries in one weekend last spring.

There has also been a knock-on effect for the pet care industry, with demand for food, accessories and toys driving revenues up five percent last year to 5.5 billion euros ($6.5 billion).

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

Emotional support

In a recent survey by the German pet portal Wamiz.de, 84 percent of dog owners said their pets had not only provided a distraction in the pandemic but also much-needed emotional support.

“Pets are conversation partners for many, especially for people living alone,” said Frank Nestmann, a psychologist specialising in human-animal relationships at the Dresden University of Technology.

And their company has been all the more valuable at a time when people are encouraged to stay at home rather than socialise in order to keep coronavirus transmission down.

“People are social beings. When socialising is reduced and rules for distancing are established, then other social beings like dogs or other pets in general take on an even greater meaning,” Nestmann said.

But there is also a dark side to the surging demand for pets, with the number of dogs sold illegally in Germany more than doubling between 2019 and 2020, according to the German Animal Welfare Association.

Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

Such dogs are typically bred abroad in poor conditions and then sold to German consumers for a premium price — but often turn out to be sick or difficult to handle, leading to them being abandoned.

Illegal trade thriving

“Demand is insanely high and all the animal welfare organisations have practically no animals left. Of course, this means that the illegal trade is thriving,” said Berlin shelter spokeswoman Annette Rost.   

Marti, a one-and-a-half-year-old Staffordshire terrier mix, was imported illegally from Romania and then kept locked in a cellar before being brought to the shelter, where he is being treated for balance and coordination issues and other health problems.

Prospective owners are often lured by puppies like Marti because of the “beautiful colours that are so popular on Instagram” but are unable to cope when they grow bigger, said Xenia Katzurke, behavioural therapist for dogs at the shelter.

READ ALSO: How owning a dog makes you more ‘German’

The pandemic in general is leading to a lot of people “getting an animal without thinking… about what will happen when the pandemic is over and their life returns to normal”, according to Rost.

That shouldn’t be a problem for Markus Salomon and his family, who have already gotten used to Uschi stealing food from their bins, barking over their conversations and jumping on the table at mealtimes.
   
Daughter Annelie, 14, described her new companion as “very lively, cheeky… but also sensitive”, bringing a welcome distraction from home
schooling for her and sister Sophie, nine.

And if life ever does return to normal and the family are allowed to travel abroad again, Uschi is small enough to fit in their hand luggage.

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COVID-19 STATS

German hospitals see Covid staff shortages and rising patient numbers

A wave of Covid infections in Germany is causing staff shortages as many people call in sick and isolate - including in hospitals. The number of Covid patients in intensive care is also increasing slightly.

German hospitals see Covid staff shortages and rising patient numbers

Covid-19 infections are sweeping through the country this summer. On Tuesday, Germany reported 147,489 Covid cases within the latest 24 hour period, and 102 deaths.

The number of seriously ill Covid patients in intensive care units in Germany rose to 1,000 on Sunday, and 1,062 on Monday, according to the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (DIVI). The number of ICU patients hasn’t been at this level since mid-May.

At the last highest point – in December 2021 – just under 4,900 seriously ill patients were being treated with Covid-19 in ICUs, after which the figures dropped with phases where they plateaued. 

And now the increasing staff shortages – due to people getting Covid and having to isolate – is causing growing concern among hospitals and doctors, especially as experts believe it will get worse after summer. 

“We are receiving reports from all federal states that individual wards and departments are having to be closed, due to a lack of staff,” the head of the board of the German Hospital Association (DKG), Gerald Gaß, told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

At times, emergency admissions are also being cancelled at rescue coordination centres. “This situation worries us considerably with a view to the upcoming autumn,” said Gaß.

READ ALSO: German politicians clash over Covid rules for autumn

Infection figures have risen sharply in recent weeks. The 7-day incidence on Tuesday stood at 687.7 infections per 100,000 people, but experts believe many cases are going unreported. 

“Although the occupancy rate in intensive care is only rising moderately, it is relatively high for a summer, and the beds available are becoming fewer and fewer due to the shortage of staff,” the scientific director of the ICU registry, Christian Karagiannidis, told the Düsseldorf-based Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

He said clinics and hospitals should work to allocate capacity across the country.

“This includes regional networks for the best possible distribution of patients by level of care,” he said. “Cooperation, but also relieving the burden on staff, will be the order of the day this autumn and winter,” said Karagiannidis, who also sits on the government’s council of experts team.

Germany’s Covid-19 rules still require that people who get Covid isolate for at least five days or a maximum of 10 days. The rules differ from state to state on how people can end the quarantine period. But health and care workers need to have a negative Covid test (PCR or antigen) taken five days into isolation at the earliest before they can return to work, plus a prior 48-hour symptom-free period.

READ ALSO: The Covid rules in place across German states

The German Foundation for Patient Protection rejected a demand to shorten the quarantine period. Wolfgang Kubicki, vice-chairman of the FDP, had proposed people should be able to take a test after only three days to leave isolation.

This “fuels the uncontrolled spread of corona”, said Eugen Brysch, Chairman of the foundation. “That is why the isolation period for corona-positive patients must be extended to 10 days,” Brysch recommend, adding: “This may only be shortened if a PCR test is negative.”

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