A Mystery Solved

Bowl of grapes It has long been known that ingesting grapes – fresh or dried – can prove fatal for dogs but the mechanism of toxicity has hitherto remained a mystery.

Now the Veterinary Poisons Information Service has revealed evidence provided in a letter to the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine Association that suggests that the culprit may be tartaric acid. Tartaric acid is a crystalline organic acid that occurs naturally in many fruits as well as grapes, including bananas, tamarinds and citrus. Its salt, potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar), develops naturally during fermentation. When mixed with sodium bicarbonate, it is sold as baking powder and used as a leavening agent.

The authors of the letter noted that dogs showed similar signs when poisoned by cream of tartar as when poisoned by grapes or raisins. The amount of tartaric acid and potassium bitartrate in grapes varies by the type of grape, growing conditions and growth stage, but is still sufficient to cause renal failure in dogs. The variation in tartaric acid concentrations means that it is not possible to ascertain the toxic dose.

Further research is required but ingestion of grapes and raisins should always be a cause for alarm and a vet should be contacted immediately for advice.

Speaking In Code

dog and cow Natural England and Natural Resources Wales launched a new countryside code on the inauspicious date of April 1st, 2021.

The Countryside Code guidelines were first issued in 1951 and last updated a decade ago. There have always been problems with litter, fly tipping, livestock being harmed and damage to agricultural land and levels have been increasing in recent years. Covid-19 restrictions have seen horrific examples of fly tipping and littering and the increase in the number of new and irresponsible dog owners has probably, in part, been responsible for the increase in incidents of harm inflicted on livestock.

With this in mind, what are the priorities of the new code?

“New advice for people to ‘be nice, say hello, share the space’ as well as ‘enjoy your visit, have fun, make a memory’”

“A refreshed tone of voice, creating a guide for the public rather than a list of rules – recognising the significant health and wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature.”

It is difficult to know whether to cry or scream.

The countryside is not a giant theme park laid out for the pleasure of ramblers and casual visitors. It is the place that grows and rears our food, balances our climate, manages a balanced population of wildlife. It is the place where those custodians live and work, often extremely precariously. What would people think if they invaded towns and cities deposited manure in gardens, savaged pets and then went away again having demanded their right of access?

While those responsible for litter, fly-tipping and dog attacks on livestock are busy boosting their health and well being and making jolly memories of their incursion into the countryside, they leave the cost in time, effort and money of clearing up after them. That willingly continue to get worse until someone with considerably more sense and knowledge of the problems is allowed to create a proper revision and implementation of the Code.

Broken Wings

flying seagull Radio 4 aired a tribute to the director Peter Brook this morning that contained an interesting parable, pertinent to dogs.

Actor Glenda Jackson describes a scene from Brook’s 1966 production of the play US, an examination of the Vietnam War which had then been raging for 11 years.

The parable describes an English woman who is visiting Spain. She witnesses some boys tormenting a seagull which has a broken wing and tries to wrest it from them. When they resist, she pays them 10 pesetas for it and takes it back to her hotel to attempt to repair its wing. Sometime later, there is a knock at her door and she opens it to be confronted by a group of boys, each holding a seagull with a broken wing, demanding that they be paid too.

Her actions are motivated by a desire to do good, but cause far more harm because she makes no attempt to understand the antecedents that lead to the consequences. She does not even possess the necessary skills to heal the first seagull’s trauma.

Are we not doing the same when we import street dogs and expect them to settle in suburban homes?

In all honesty, the importation of such dogs is simply a case of supply and demand and the insistence from owners that they obtain a dog as soon as they want one. Rescues have made it extremely difficult for many potentially excellent owners to obtain a dog and there is now a massive culture of virtue signalling in taking in a previously unwanted dog.

The level of trauma in those dogs is only recorded in the individual cases where owners do obtain professional help and – more importantly – it has done nothing to stop more and more dogs from being dumped on the streets to join the indigenous feral dogs nor has it had any effect on animal cruelty in their home countries.

Anyone can set up a “rescue” but, while there will always be legitimate reasons for dogs to find new homes, how many are just fuelling the dumping and puppy farming by providing an easy outlet?

Uber Alles

A landmark ruling in the USA holds out a ray of hope for the many people in the UK who are regularly refused access to hire vehicles when accompanied by their assistance dog.

Ride-share company Uber has been obliged to pay out $1.1M in compensation after a blind woman was repeatedly refused access by its drivers and even stranded short of her destination. Ultimately, she was sacked from employment following multiple cancelled rides. Uber used the same excuse that it has made in attempts to elude responsibilities towards its employees by claiming that the company itself is not able because the drivers are contractors. This was rightly rejected by an independent arbiter, the second time that Uber has been rebuked for such violations.

It is of course too late to repair the damage once appointments have been missed and jobs lost, but hopefully this ruling may serve as a warning to all drivers that they cannot use the excuse of anti-canine prejudice to run roughshod over the law.

Singing The Praises

Pepito New Opera West Humans are hard-wired to recognise patterns and sometimes, it seems that some things in life are circular.

I trained as an opera singer and it never occurred to me that as a canine and feline behaviourist and trainer, that world would re-surface and interact. However, my colleagues at The Bark magazine in the US alerted me to a new “dog opera” dedicated to promoting canine rehoming.

Pepito is a short work created by New Opera West, co-founded by Emily Thebaut and composer Mark Weiser as a non-profit for creating new work. It has been produced as an animation by Esperanza Guevara and Connor Jacobs and a live version.

Many New Opera West company members own or foster cats or dogs and composer Nicholas Lell Benavides was even inspired to adopt a dog after creating Pepito. The Company also worked with Muttville, an organisation that rehomes older dogs.

Taking on a dog is a massive commitment and a dog that has been through the rehoming process maybe multiple times is even more of a challenge. Pepito may be a resource helping to clear the shelters and may even introduce a new audience to the opera art form. Perhaps they might commission a work that will help to prevent the shelters filling up in the first place? Watch this space!

A Right Old Dog’s Dinner

It was inevitable that Brexit would cause a great deal of disruption, not least to the ease of travelling with dogs, cats and ferrets.

Some of this may be beneficial, especially if it deters people from taking dogs on short holidays, thus risking harm to them and other by importing parasites and diseases. It may also slow the illegal import of dogs, especially feral dogs, that should be imported using the Balai directive – or not imported at all. If fewer dogs are taken from the streets to supply owners in the UK, perhaps there will be more incentive to prevent overbreeding and dumping in their home countries and to improve the conditions under which they live as feral dogs.

No doubt people will still wish to travel with companion animals and, of course, people need to travel with assistance dogs and the aggressive stance on Brexit taken by the incumbent government has now revealed an unexpected angle: it is much harder to cross EU borders with animal feed and amounts are severely limited.

No more than 2 kg of a prescription diet may be imported and then only if it is intended for the animal accompanying the passenger, does not require refrigeration, is a packaged proprietary brand products for direct sale to the consumer and that the packaging is unbroken unless in current use.

Even if travellers use a well-known brand, it may not be readily available in the destination country and changing to a local production addition to the stresses of travelling may cause gastrointestinal upset. Not good for the dog and not much fun for a holiday either.

It remains to be sen how this will pan out, but it is likely that, as travel opens up, a fair few people will get caught at the border and left without food.

Paws For Thought

It is common for dogs to be refused access on the grounds of poor hygiene even when this is illegal. A survey by Guide Dogs found that 75% of assistance dog owners had been refused access to a restaurant, shop or taxi. 33% of assistance dog owners surveyed were refused entry to a minicab or taxi because the driver claimed an allergy but did not hold a valid medical exemption certificate. 20% of assistance dog owners surveyed said that a minicab or taxi arrived but the driver drove off without even speaking to them.

Owners of non-assistance dogs have experienced similar problems with access being refused unreasonably and often due to ignorance and prejudice.

So it is helpful that a new study from the Utrecht University found that 72% of dog paws were negative for Enterobacteriaceae compared to 42% of handlers’ shoe soles. They also had significantly lower bacterial counts. C. difficile, a concerning source of hospital-acquired infection, was found on the soles of one assistance dog user. 81% of the assistance dog users in the study had been denied access with their current dog once or several times for reasons of hygiene.

The study authors concluded “The general hygiene of dogs’ paws is far better than that of shoe soles…Thus, hygiene measures to reduce any contamination due to dog paws do not seem necessary.”

Stop The Crop

Puppy undergoing ear cropping The cropping of dog’s ears is illegal in the UK but, like many other pieces of legislation, it does not stop this horrific multilation from occurring.

The RSPCA has announced a 621% increase in cases since 2015, with 101 cases being reported in 2020 alone. Of course, it is not possible to know how many cases are not reported and it is all too easy to claim that the dog was cropped in a country where it is still legal and then imported. The RSPCA also believe that dogs are being sent abroad to undergo the procedure before being re-imported.

A recent petition to the government requesting that the import of crop-earned dogs be banned garnered 45,161 signatures and the government has stated that it is investigating instigating legislation under world trading rules. There is also a current petition asking for the ban on the import of ear cropping kits which are readily available to buy online.

It goes without saying that this painful and harmful procedure done purely to boost the warped vanity of the owner damages dogs but the harm goes far beyond the immediate pain and possibility of complications. Ears are cropped when the puppy is a few weeks old, well within the vital socialisation period. Such a traumatic experience effectively imprints fear of humans into dogs who then may become very difficult to rehabilitate in later life.

Importing so-called “rescue” dogs has become a major trend in recent years, not least to satisfy the demand for “off the shelf” dogs. There is also an alarming tendency for owners to outcompete each other in virtue signalling, not helped by the number of articles published by dog-owning journalists vilifying people for buying from legitimate, licensed breeders or by those given a platform to tout “rescue” dogs as a cure-all for their anxieties. All of these aspects, together with the Instagram culture of “celebrities” posing with mutilated dogs and dogs with appalling conformation contribute to the danger that cropped ears will join all the other horrors inflicted upon dogs theatre normalised not least because of their ubiquity.

The British Veterinary Association commented “It also seems that in the arms race that is fashion, dogs have moved from being something you might acquire with a certain appearance to make a statement about yourself, to something you might surgically disfigure to enhance your image and status within a peer group.”

Quite.

Masked Menace

Discarded face mask and sock removed from Cockerpoo's gut The domestic dog is an obligate scavenger. The food discarded by humans has played a vital rôle in the domestication of the dog and most dogs in the world continue to live by scavenging from rubbish dumps with some eating scrap food supplied by humans.

Like so many natural behaviours, this can become a maladaption once dogs live in urban environment with their food served up when humans decide that it should be. Dealing with a dog that cannot resist scavenging can be stressful for handlers and even prove fatal for dogs.

Covid-19 has brought many additional stresses into our lives and for dog owners that has meant dealing with the extra burden of discarded face masks and gloves. It wasn’t long into the first lockdown 12 months ago that the first detritus stared appearing on pavements and in parks and that has escalated, along with a horrendous increase in fly-tipping in urban and rural areas.

Puppies explore everything with their mouths but age is no barrier to dogs ingesting unsuitable items. Socks and underwear are favourites because dogs are attracted to the scent that human bodies leave on them. Some American vets even have a competition for the most bizarre object removed from their patients. They of course were the lucky ones that survived.

Riccardo Minelli from Abington Park Veterinary Group in Northampton has provided a video of the procedure that he performed when removing a face mask and a sock from a 3 year old Cockerpoo that was one of the lucky ones.

Don’t let your dog add to the statistics: keep objects out of reach, get help from a qualified, non-aversive trainer to teach your dog to leave discarded objects and food alone when on walks and of course, dispose of PPE responsibly.

Lucy’s Loophole

Lucy's Law posterThe so-called Lucy’s Law which banned the third party sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops from April 6th, 2020 was greeted with some scepticism by canine professionals as being unlikely to have much impact on puppy farming.

The dubious sale of puppies and kittens had already largely been via websites and social media and now it seems that the puppy farmers have found a loophole enabling them to shift their animals via pet shops anyway.

A 2019 amendment to the 2018 Regulations permitted breeders to sell puppies under a pet sales licence instead of a breeders licence if a dog was bred “overseas” and thus not under the jurisdiction of English welfare legislation. DEFRA stated that this was to ensure compliance with European Union Directives and World Trade Organisation rules.

Private Eye magazine has highlighted the continuing problem of puppy farming in the six counties of Ireland and in Eire where thousands of puppy farmed dogs are being shipped to England for sale in premises owned by the very same puppy farmers who have managed to obtain 5 star ratings as licensed breeders in their English premises.

Business as usual – unless of course the source of the problem is dealt with, namely the people who buy these dogs in the first place.