There are not many signs of hope in 2021 so far but some good news was announced by the Countryside Alliance today concerning the RSPCA.
The RSPCA has been a toxic brand for many years. It is hard to find any people responsible for animal welfare that has a good word to say for them and the Charity Commission has been obliged to investigate their governance after several exposés. Membership declined and the board of governors became dysfunctional and politically influenced by the so-called animal rights movement. £330,000 of supporters’ money was spent in unsuccessfully trying to prosecute just two members of the Heythrop Hunt as just one example of scandalous behaviour. There was a glimmer of hope RSPCA To Prioritise Animal Welfare At Last in 2016 when yet another CEO, Jeremy Cooper, acknowledged that the charity had become “too adversarial” and will now be “a lot less political”. He was swiftly sent packing by the board as punishment. By 2018, the Charity Commission had placed the RSPCA in special measures which have now been eased.
It is to be hoped that the RSPCA may return to its original remit to improve animal welfare because, goodness knows, there is still a great deal of need out there.
At the 11th hour, it has been announced that the UK will be a Part 2 Listed Country within the Pet Passport Scheme.
In brief, current EU pet passports issued in GB will not be valid for travel to the EU or the six counties of northern Ireland from January 1st, 2021.
Dogs, cats and ferrets travelling to the EU or the six counties of northern Ireland for the first time after that date will require an Animal Health Certificate (AHC) instead of a pet passport and must be microchipped (compulsory for dogs in the UK anyway), older than 12 weeks and vaccinated against rabies. Travel is not permitted within 21 days after the primary rabies vaccination. Thereafter, booster vaccinations will be required for further travel. Details must be completed in the passport and must be completely accurate, otherwise travel will not be permitted.
Tapeworm treatment must be given no less than 24 hours and no more than 120 hours (5 days) before arrival and recorded in the passport if entering another country before travelling to Finland, Ireland, Malta or Norway. This is not required if travelling directly from the UK. The treatment must contain praziquantel or an equivalent proven to be effective against Echinococcus multilocularis.
The immediate implications for travel are that it will require considerably more planning. This may mean that owners will chose not to undertake casual travel such as short holidays which can only be of benefit to their animals. It may also have a positive impact in reducing the diseases that are transmitted and imported.
A 2019 study found that 89% of dogs imported to the UK, often so-called “rescue” dogs, were illicitly imported using a Pet Passport rather than via the required Balai Directive. 14.8% of the dogs in the study that were tested for the zoonosis Leishmaniasis were positive; just one example of the risks to humans and other animals from imported dogs.
There is also a possibility that it may reduce the number of puppy farmed dogs being imported, but of course that pre-supposes that sufficient resources are being implemented into border force controls.
As the Brexit negotiations reach fever pitch just days before the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and the six counties of northern Ireland)* is due to leave the EU, it is still not clear what arrangements will be made with regard to the Pet Passport Scheme.
There are three possibilities for the Pet Passport on January 1st: Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) could either join the countries that are unlisted, listed in Part 1 or listed in Part 2. If Great Britain is unlisted, and current Pet Passports will be invalid from January 1st, 2021. This would require owners of dogs, cats and ferrets to prepare at least four months in advance of travel, as happened when the scheme was first introduced in the UK. Listing under Part 1 or 2 would ease some of those restrictions.
Brexit is also likely to have other implications for dogs (and other animals) regardless of the political deal that may or may not be negotiated in the next 23 days. A great deal of companion animal feed ingredients are imported, mainly from Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Germany and China. Problems with the flow of goods may cause supply problems at least in the short term. There are potentially going to be similar problems with some veterinary medicines and other essential supplies, and it is expected that prices will inevitably rise.
A £705m funding package to help manage Britain’s borders was announced in July and there is the possibility that it might stem the tide of canine imports, both from puppy farms and of European street dogs. The Mediterranean, Ireland, Lithuania and Hungary have been major sources of poorly bred and feral dogs to supply the demand for instant pets. Many of those dogs are imported illegally using the Pet Passport Scheme rather than under the Balai Directive 92/65/EEC which imposes additional requirements regarding welfare and traceability. Dogs must come from a registered holding, undergo a clinical examination by a vet accompanied by the appropriate health certificates and notice of shipment to the Animal and Plant Health Agency. Their destination must be declared to enable follow up checks.
Whether sufficient resources will be put into place to prevent puppy smuggling remains to be seen but it could well be one of the few advantages to the political mess in which the UK has been plunged.
Sales of dogs have gone through the roof during lockdown with many owners buying on impulse with little or no research. The demand for “off the shelf” dogs means that most are inevitably bred illegally and with little or no regard to welfare.
The Royal Veterinary College are undertaking a study into “pandemic puppies”.
If you purchased a puppy in 2019 or 2020, please help the RVC researchers by completing their survey and help them to improve canine welfare.
What we now designate as the territories of China are one of the areas where dogs self-evolved at least 15,000 years ago giving the world Asiastic dogs such as the Chow Chow and Shar Pei. The Chinese are not the only people in the word to take a utilitarian approach to dogs and they have served as many purposes in China over millennia as they have elsewhere – including being a source of food.
However, China has been undergoing rapid social change in recent decades with a wealthier population that is far more open to influence from the rest of the world than ever before.
This has had an effect on companion dog ownership as in all other areas of life, but the attitudes of the authorities have not caught up with the desire for many Chinese dog owners to see their dogs as family members. As in the rest of the world, dog ownership is big business; one indication of changing attitudes to dogs.
Bejing mandated that keeping dogs as companions was forbidden as recently as the 1980s and the effects of the horrific Cultural Revolution meant that keeping animals as companions was regarded as unacceptably bourgeois. All this is changing and, although just 5.7% of households owned a dog in 2019 (10% of the comparable number in the USA), the number is rising and it amounts to approximately 1.36 million dogs. China is also responsible for 20% of the world’s feral dog population.
Tensions between authorities and owners are still evident and, although some areas are bringing in welfare regulations and compulsory microchipping, Yunnan province, notorious for its new annual dog meat festival, mandated on November 13th that dogs must be kept indoors at all times in order to “promote civilised dog-raising habits”. Shanghai, Qingdao and Chengdu have strict one-dog per household policies and Huangshi bans the breeding of dogs larger than 17″ high – that’s about the height of a terrier.
Dog owners, many young, single and female, are not taking this lying down in spite of the fact that the mandate states that, after fining the owner for two violations, dogs will be seized and euthanised if the rules are violated three times. Social media has helped to promote the backlash so let us hope that the emphasis will be on education and responsible dog ownership rather than on causing greater welfare problems and death for dogs.
From the next US leader’s dog to the current leader’s dog in Turkmenistan. Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov unveiled a 19ft statue of a Central Asia Shepherd dog (Среднеазиатская овчарка; Алабай) the Alabai in the capital Ashgabat this week.
Much-derided for being kitsch and for the cost when much of the country lives in poverty, it nevertheless celebrates a national treasure, the base of the statue including an LED display recounting the history of the breed.
The Alabai is a local variant of similar livestock-guarding dogs of the central Asian steppes and is characterised by extremely flexible joints, false ribs and a powerful neck, the head set at a noticeable angle and possessing large flews. Turkmenistan is also home of the glorious Akhal-Teke horse – a lily that is already gilded. The horse’s coat has a golden, metallic sheen to which no statue could do justice.
Even Richard Nixon had a dog.
More than half the population of the USA has a dog and dogs have even united (albeit briefly), Democrats and Republicans when a loose dog was rescued from traffic by placard-waving demonstrators. “See?” one woman said as she walked from the scene. “All of America doesn’t hate each other.”
Well maybe not, but it took a little, scared dog to provoke the unity.
October 31st marks the start of Gundog Theft Awareness Week 2020. According to the Countryside Alliance, 3,500 dogs were reported as stolen during the shooting season in 2014, but it is not just a problem for working dog owners.
Some 50,000 dogs are reported to insurance companies as being lost every year and half of those reported as being stolen are gun dogs. Insurers Direct Line report that cocker spaniel thefts rose by 93% and crossbreed thefts by 42% in 2019.
The DogLost charity found that there has been a 65% increase in dog thefts during lockdown when compared to the same period last year.
Only 22% of dogs reported as stolen in 2019 were returned to their owners. There is no obligation on any authority to scan dogs, and dogs sold online and via fake “rescues” could be stolen, often to order to accommodate the latest fads and the massive demand for dogs. Fewer than 5% of cases of dog theft result in a conviction. Dogs are being stolen from kennels, gardens, cars, when left tied up in public and when they are out of sight of handlers in parks.
Don’t add to the statistics. Never leave your dog unattended when outdoors, secure kennels and add security measures such as CCTV and alarms and use a long line while you are training reliable recall.
Humans have enlisted the help of dog’s scenting ability in conservation for many years and now, a spaniel in the six counties of northern Ireland is searching for red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris). In spite of their name, native red squirrels are no longer common in the UK, having been ousted by the American grey (Sciurus carolinensis) which was introduced as an exotic in the 19thC. Grey squirrels are not affected by the squirrelpox virus that is fatal to the red squirrel and they also outcompete the red squirrels for food, having a broader palate.
Rufus locates squirrels so that they can be examined for signs of pox, enabling the disease to be tracked. A 2018 study showed that improvements in pine marten populations have assisted the red squirrel population, not least because grey squirrels form part of the pine marten diet.
A few more dogs like Rufus in addition to a managed marten population could help the return of a much loved native breed.
Illegal and anti-social cycling has been an increasing problem as cyclists and cycling have been privileged by an influential cycling lobby and local authorities keen to be seen to be “doing something” about transport in towns and cities whilst simultaneously cutting mass public transport and making it less and less affordable.
This has only been exacerbated but cuts in policing and the restrictions imposed by Covid-19. For many pedestrians, life has becomes a misery of daily near-misses and worse. Dogs have not been exempt either, many becoming very fearful as a succession of illegal scooters, hoverboards, skateboards, roller skates and cyclists zooms past on pavements an so-called “shared” spaces. Four dogs were killed in one year by illegal cyclists in Kensington Gardens with two more being injured seriously.
Now, in nearby Acton Park, a cyclist, breaking park by-laws which prohibit cycling, has the audacity to sue the dog owner whose dog he hit. He is claiming £50,000 as reparation for hitting a dog that was playing with a ball in a park which he alleges was therefore not under control. It beggars belief.
Bicycles have been considered as road vehicles under law since the Taylor vs Goodwin judgement in 1879.
It’s high time that cyclists were solely confined to riding on roads and punished severely for breaking the law, enabling pedestrians and dog walkers to reclaim parks gardens, towpaths and other places that have become stressful and hazardous to use. Skateboards, hoverboards, scooters and such like should be returned to the playground where they belong and anyone who wishes to continue to play with them beyond childhood should do so away from the grown ups who simply want to be able to walk in peace and security.