Pandemic Puppies Wait Time
While we have always had FAR more demand for our Doodle puppies than supply of available puppies, things have become even crazier following the COVID-19 pandemic. Our daily puppy applications tripled, and our website page views grew to almost three million a month (with about 900,000 monthly unique visitors). Before the pandemic we often received over a hundred emails a day of correspondence with puppy questions, but during the pandemic email traffic increased to more than four hundred emails a day. Incidentally part of the reason we no longer give out a phone number to the general public, is we cannot afford to pay enough staff to handle hundreds of daily calls with questions of how they can get on the deposit list.
We believe there are three primary reasons why demand for puppies has increased during the pandemic.
The stay at home orders have increased loneliness and the need for companionship. Particularly for singles or families without kids, the desire for companionship is often perfectly met by a puppy.
Work From Home
Many Americans are currently working from home and will be in the future. An increasing number of companies are allowing their employees to work from home. For some families, work was the primary barrier to them getting a puppy. The opportunity to work from home has sparked the desire to add a puppy to their family.
Closed Borders Stopped Dog Smuggling
It’s estimated that more than a million puppies are illegally imported into the United States annually. Thankfully many states have cracked down on puppy mills, and many states have made it increasingly difficult for breeders to raise puppies. One of the results is that the United States does not produce enough puppies each year to meet the demand for puppies (even before the pandemic). The consequence has been the frightening rise of puppies illegally smuggled into the U.S. Many of these puppies come from Mexico, but China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam have also had increasing puppy mills illegally smuggling puppies into the United States.
The U.S. is not alone in this problem as the United Kingdom, Singapore, and several European countries have also looked for ways to crack down on illegal puppy smuggling. Many of these smuggled puppies go to “rescues” or “animal sanctuaries” where lack of restrictions and supervision allow the smuggled puppies to fly under the radar (those who watched the popular Netflix series Tiger King saw the debate about animal sanctuaries). Small breed puppies smuggled from Mexico often end up in rescue shelters in California, Arizona and Texas in particular.
At the same time the demand for puppies was increasing during the pandemic, the approximately one million illegally smuggled pups annually was stopped by border shutdowns. The increased demand and huge decrease to supply set up the perfect storm for a lack of puppies.
Many of the fraudulent “rescues” or “animal sanctuaries” had an immediate stop to dogs coming across the border. Other quality humane societies and rescues (which we highly recommend) also adopted out all of their pups very, very quickly. Typically, many dog breeders have little to no waiting list. These breeders regularly focus on selling their current litter of pups. When they realized the demand was higher than ever, they followed basic economic principles and raised their pricing. We check competitors’ pricing often and noticed that most of them at least doubled their pricing. Some quadrupled it. Our guess is that the average price of a puppy tripled with many breeders and websites selling puppies. Before the pandemic, we were moderately priced among high-quality breeders. During the pandemic, we became incredibly reasonable compared to other quality breeders, and we now have a much lower price than many well-known puppy mill websites or backyard breeders. Many of these “breeders” raise their pups in terrible conditions, have horrible reviews, little-to-no health guarantee, zero reputation in the dog community, and yet their prices are now considerably higher than ours. We are finding ourselves in a strange situation, and a situation that has increased the demand for our pups to record levels. Before people wanted to get a pup from us because they wanted to go with the best breeder, and we were moderately priced. Now, we still have the outstanding reputation, and our prices are very low compared to most of our competition breeders.
With the extremely high demand that we have for our puppies, we knew that we could double or triple our adoption pricing and still easily find great homes for each of our puppies. Because we had a deposit list of families waiting for a puppy, we did not want to triple our pricing. Although we made a couple minor pricing increases (to deal with increased COVID costs), we chose to keep our pricing relatively steady. We anticipate that very likely we will gradually increase adoption pricing in the future to account for increased expenses.
Although 2-4 months has been the average wait time historically, the wait time has undoubtedly increased for families who have made their deposit since the pandemic. The pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for us to estimate the average wait time. As stay-at-home orders subside and the vaccine becomes available, we are not sure if we will have an increase in families wanting their deposits refunded, which could bring the wait time back down to normal levels. Presently, we are advising families that some breeds (especially Cavapoos and Bernedoodles) will likely have a much longer wait time than in the past.
Steps We’ve Taken
We could have kept the wait time to a few months by tripling our pricing and narrowing the amount of families that could afford a puppy from us, but we had no desire to take that route. We are a group of families raising puppies for other families. We have taken several other steps in an attempt to keep the wait time from growing longer than necessary.
- We’ve been increasingly picky in the application process. We have hired three additional team members to help with evaluating the huge number of applications seeking to narrow them to the best candidates.
- We seek to be transparent about our strengths and weaknesses. If any family feels that they cannot be patient enough to wait months for their puppy, we try to dissuade them from placing a deposit. We also encourage families to take a refund of their deposit if they have any issue with our process. Many of the families who ask for a refund, end up coming back to us wanting to get back on the deposit list (in this case, we’re not able to guarantee that you will come back to your previous spot).
- We decreased our marketing budget by 90%, and then cut it completely. Because of the huge increase of website traffic, we no longer advertise nearly as much as we did previously.
- Four years ago, we made a conscious decision to significantly increase our number of partner homes. Many of these mother dogs are now grown and having puppies, so we have far more Doodle puppies going to homes every month than we ever have in the past decade.