Act Now For Access

In September 2018, Bedford Estates, on behalf of the landowner, the Duke of Bedford, required that all dogs using Aspley Woods should be kept on-lead at all times, backtracking on a 2011 requirement that dogs should be kept under control.

This means that 800 acres the woods are now largely denied to dogs for off-lead exercise, with the only off-lead areas being access to a few public rights of way (marked in red on this image). The estate initially erected signs stating that the woods are subject to a Dog Control Order which is not the case. Bedford Estates states that the about-turn is required for “consistency of policy” across their estates. Given that the estate properties include most of Bloomsbury and Russell Square in central London, Woburn Abbey and Woburn Deer Park and a golf course, consistency is hardly possible, even if it were desirable.

The current Duke of Bedford. Andrew Ian Henry Russell is heir to two family companies as well as Woburn Abbey and grounds valued at £150 million. His extensive art collection includes 24 Canalettos and paintings by Canal which alone are valued at £450 million. Not content with riches beyond most people’s wildest dreams, the estate sucks in a £50,000 annual subsidy from Milton Keynes and Central Bedfordshire Councils for funding access and conservation via The Greensand Trust. Milton Keynes council has proposed severe budget cuts for the forthcoming financial year including ceasing funding to the Citizens Advice Service and Community Action MK and cutting the funds to the YMCA and Age UK Milton Keynes. The latter would lose £300,000 which currently funds luncheon clubs and home visiting services. Central Bedfordshire Council have pledge to make £14.8 million of “efficiencies” in addition to the £43 million cuts implemented between 2015 and 2018. Yet both councils are still prepared to subsidise an aristocrat who is wealthier than the queen.

The only possible “justification” for this is for providing public access to estate lands; which is now being curtailed for dog walkers.

The ban brings to an end generations of access for off-lead walking in Apsley woods. It adds to traffic nuisance as locals drive their dogs to more welcoming areas and may mean that the additional journey time involved leads to shorter walks for the dogs. Many businesses that benefit from trade garnered from people walking dogs, whether they be local regulars or visitors. off-lead dog walking in attractive areas providing other dog-friendly facilities is a major draw. Owners can take turns to look after a dog in a dog-friendly cafe or on an off-lead walk while the other looks round a stately home. A good day out is had by all and the estate maximises its revenue. Win-win all round. Given than approximately 25% of people in the UK own a dog, restricting access cuts off a large source of potential revenue at time when few businesses can guarantee to thrive. Uncertainty over the situation with PETS passports may already have led to fewer dog owners deciding to take a holiday abroad with their dog; providing more opportunities for an interesting “staycation” would seem to be a no-brainer.

Locals feel that a ban on off-lead dogs is virtually unenforceable across 800 acres with multiple entrances. Just two rangers patrol the area and would be far better off spending their time in conservation work. Local dog-walkers have produced and publicised a code of conduct and have offered to mobilise volunteers to support the rangers in policing it. They have also proposed a zoning arrangement, which is common in other estates, and which would provide dog-free areas for other users and also ensure that cyclists do not menace dogs.

Bedford Estates has ignored the proposals and is unwilling to revert to the access agreement signed previously requiring that dogs must be under control when off-lead.

Please sign the petition so that dog owners can continue to enjoy facilities to which they, after all, contribute as tax payers.

Keep up to date with the campaign progress: a threat to one is a threat to all. You may never visit Apsley woods but once this sort of discirminatory precedent is set, it spreads and can have a massive impact on canine welfare. Tomorrow it may be your favourite dog-walking area under threat.

Thanks to Mike Daly of Aspley Off Lead.

Goodbye Year of the Dog

As the Chinese Year of the Dog is about to yield to the year of the Pig, it seems a fitting time to review the way that 2018 affected dogs’ lives, for better and for worse.

Estimates of the dog population in the UK vary according to the source, but are approximately 9 million, with just over a quarter of the population owning a dog and a similar number owning a cat, noticeably more than have at least one child under the age of 16 years old (18.9%). The percentage of the population owning a dog has being relatively stable for some time, whereas the percentage likely to have children is projected to decline. It is to be hoped that this may result in commercial pressure to improve access for dogs to everything ranging from accommodation, temporary or permanent, to transport and the countryside.

The commodification of dogs continues apace and there continues to be serious problems with the sheer number of dogs being bred and imported as well as being relinquished. The Dogs Trust Stray Dogs survey has yet to be published for 2018, but there is nothing to suggest that there will be significant improvements in numbers. The Dogs Trust received 277 rehoming requests in the week leading up to Christmas alone and January 2018 saw them take a total of 5,000 requests.

The BVA advise against importing dogs from abroad and campaign for current EU Pet passport conditions to be tightened because of the increased prevalence of disease (including zoonotic diseases) from even legally imported dogs. 93% of companion animal vets reported to the BVA that the number of imported dogs increased in 2018. 40% had seen new or rare conditions in practice associated with imported dogs with the potentially fatal zoonotic disease leishmaniosis being mentioned by 27% of the vets surveyed.

Of course, it is entirely possible that the UK may be treated as an unlisted country as a result of Brexit and the government has published contingency plans regarding travel after March 29th, 2019. Negotiations are continuing regarding treating the UK as a listed or unlisted third country for pet travel purposes. At the moment, the advice is to contact a vet at least four months before the intended date of travel. The BVA has also listed a statement.

Lack of resources and other priorities at border controls mean that an unverified, but huge, quantity of dogs continue to be imported illegally to fuel demand with many owners rejected by domestic re-homing organisations seeking dogs from abroad, often assisted by unqualified ex-pats establishing unregulated “rescue” centres. Illegal imports from Hungary alone are estimated to have increased by 761% since 2014 and Lithuania 663%. Just 1,117 illegally imported puppies were intercepted in the UK between 2016 and 2018. Vets in the UK and abroad some just hours after purchase. 16.6% of dogs were purchased online in 2017. Website Gumtree announced on August 7th, 2018, that it would impose a fee of £2.99 on anyone trading animals on their site. Not much of a deterrent when prices of up to four figures are being demanded and there is no way of verifying the seller’s details, except to say that trading of live animals online should never be considered as being legitimate. The UKKC estimated that 33% of puppies bought online had become ill or died in their first year.

On a positive note, new licensing legislation enacted in October is to be welcomed, although it is unlikely to be effective as resources required to enforce it continue to be diminished. The long-awaited proposed legislation to ban third party sales of puppies and kittens and to ban the use of aversive “training” collars was not enacted and fears continue that the current parliamentary shenanigans will mean that neither may come to pass. The last public announcement on the collar legislation was made in August 2018 and on the third party sales ban in December 2018.

Financial uncertainties and realities mean that there is not likely to be a significant improvement in the numbers of responsible dog owners who obtain dogs after conducting suitable research, train them and take optimal care of their welfare. Few owners have a clue about their legal obligations and most are likely to get away with breaking the law on a daily basis, whether that is not putting their dog on a lead, not picking up or not having a legal collar tag on when out in public. Political decisions made over the next few days and weeks may unwittingly curb the number of dogs imported and have a positive effect on the transmission of diseases by dogs that have travelled abroad.

Watch this space.

Good News In The SW

A consultation regarding access for dogs along the glorious West Dart river on Dartmoor has concluded with an admirable compromise that should see responsible dog walkers and custodians of the land co-exist without conflict.

An exclusion order banning dogs all year round was applied to the West Dart River Valley in 2005 and was due to remain in place until 2999.

Following a public consultation, the original order has been rescinded and replaced with a requirement to keep dogs on leads all year round. The order is set to last until December 12th, 2024

This seems like a sensible solution that will protect livestock and the environment (assuming that owners also pick up faeces) and enable access.

A good start to the year.

Treacherous Thames – Canine Casualties on the Tideway

When most people think of lifeboats they have images of dark and stormy nights, Grace Darling battling huge waves and dramatic launches from seaside slipways. It may be surprising then, to realise that the busiest lifeboat station in the UK is on the river Thames at Tower Bridge, with the other three Thames stations at Chiswick, Gravesend and Teddington being the next busiest. The Thames has had its own lifeboats since 2001 when a safety enquiry following the Marchioness disaster saw the establishment of Tower Bridge station. Uniquely, the Thames stations are manned permanently and vessels are required to be afloat within 90 seconds of being notified of an incident. Chiswick has 3 E-class inshore boats that were designed specifically for the conditions on the Thames: the Chelsea Pensioner (E-003), the Joan and Kenneth Bellamy (E-006) and Dougie and Donna B (E-008). E-class boats are the fastest vessels in service with the RNLI and can reach up to 95% of casualties between Canvey Island and Teddington within 15 minutes.

The Thames is a dangerous place. The tide can rise and fall up to 24ft twice a day and hide all sorts of submerged hazards as well as create treacherous currents and dangerous mud. The average water temperature is 12C (54F); cold water shock can occur at any temperature below 15C (59F). 34 people died in the river between 2000 and 2014. It doesn’t help that charming riverside pubs can create not-at-all-charming drunks who either fall in or think that they are invincible and can swim in all conditions.

Chiswick came into operation in January 2012. Up until the end of 2017, crews had attended 3,328 incidents and rescued 1,707 people, some of whom would otherwise have died.

The dangers aren’t just faced by humans but by dogs too. Involuntary ingestion of river water and the dangers of being infected by leptospirosis (Weill’s disease) can kill dogs and humans. Even the strongest swimmers can and do get swept away by the tide and can get trapped in a variety of hazards by unexpected currents that may not be visible from the bank. Already this year, the Chiswick station, operating between Richmond half lock and Battersea, has been called out for the seventh time to rescue a dog. Crews have also had to rescue handlers who try to retrieve dogs from the water and, as with the seashore, can be in greater danger than the dog that they are trying to bring in. Even if dogs don’t enter the water voluntarily, they can and do fall in not least when banks are slippery with weed and mud (and that’s the polite description, at least until the Thames Tideway becomes operational).

This is what happened when two dogs and their handlers got into difficulty on the Thames this summer.

There were a total of 132 lifeboat launches to dog walking incidents in 2015, with 119 handlers being rescued.

Don’t let yourself or your dog add to the statistics. Respect the water, keep your dog on the lead and/or get a canine lifejacket*. Don’t let your dog swim in the Thames or other tidal waters and make sure that there is no danger from algal blooms and similar in running or still water.

Never go in after your dog.

If your dog does get into difficulties, call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard and keep yourself safe and, if necessary, warm.

Chiswick lifeboat station costs £495,000 per annum to run. The RNLI is completely independent of government and relies on volunteers and fundraising to operate. You can support Chiswick or any other part of the RNLI by taking part in a regular event such as SOS day at the end of January or National Lifeboat day in May or local events or by making a purchase from the RNLI shop* . Drop some change or even notes, into a tin. Even a small donation can help with the annual running costs.

Most of all, you can help by keeping yourself and your dog safe around water.

* CreDO and DogsNet.org do not take responsibility for products advertised on or purchased from third party websites.

Accessible and Safe – Not Much To Ask

The ability to exercise dogs in open spaces has come under increasing threat from restrictive by-laws in recent years and several campaigns have sought to protect long-used access. However, in addition, a new threat was brought home to me this weekend when a dog was killed by an event organiser in a local park.

Many parks and open spaces that were run by councils for the general benefit of the public have been privatised and are now run by large companies such as Mitie, Carillion and Amey that have fingers in several pies. There are approximately 27,000 public parks in the UK, although it is difficult to arrive at an exact figure as many councils do not have accurate records and planning guidelines no longer define public parks. Most are owned by local authorities, although there are “royal” parks in London such as Hyde park, Bushey park and Richmond Park that are owned by the crown and run by a government agency. Some parks were deliberately created in the early 19thC in an attempt to prevent Chartists from holding “monster” rallies and some, including the “royal” parks, were hunting grounds. Many parks were created when philanthropists bequeathed them in perpetuity for the benefit of local people. The latter is true of the park where the dog was killed and should be protected by a set of covenants that attempted to restrict building and other uses to ensure that the public would always have free access.

Parks had traditionally been funded by local authorities with support from community groups that volunteer and raise funds. There are approximately 5,000 such organisations across the UK generating about £30M annually. A Heritage Lottery Fund report found that 86% of parks had revenues cut in the three years prior to the study. Almost half of councils are planning to dispose of some of their green spaces with 19% considering outright disposal of parks. Many more are selling off sections of parks for development and/or running multiple, intrusive events, claiming that the revenue generated will fund upkeep.

The park where the dog was killed occupies 186 acres of land and includes Grade II listed buildings and many extraordinary plant and tree specimens. It is a much valued resource for local dog walkers and is one of the few parks in the area not to impose on-lead restrictions. Since it was gifted to the public in 1926, it was run jointly by two local authorities who spent much of the last 35 years or so passing the buck in a perpetual rally that resulted in the buildings going to wrack and ruin, the planting being overgrown and the tress neglected – sometimes dangerously so. Recent lottery funding has seen huge improvements being made to some of the buildings, but staffing levels remain low and some planting has been ripped up to save on maintenance costs. Management of the park will be handed over to a so called “Community Interest” Company (CIC) which, in the council’s own words “provides freedom for the park to operate in a commercial manner”. This has included winning a successful licence to run multiple commercial events including sound systems, alcohol and vehicles all year round and increased the finishing time from 21.00 hrs to 23.00 hrs. Up to 10,000 people would be licensed to attend for the larger events and in total, events are allowed to be held for 28 days every year. This of course does not include the setting up and striking of events which typically occupies several days either side of public access. In spite of 109 written objections and opposition at the hearing, which ran for four hours until nearly midnight, permission was granted in full.

Opposition to the event at the weekend had run for many years as it was clearly seen by many to be breaking the covenants on the use of the park. The original owners had sold off adjacent land after World War I resulting in the park being fringed by housing and local residents were (rightly) worried about the levels of disruption. Permission was however granted and the organisers began to set up for the 2017 last week. The event occupies the old polo grounds and was not segregated from the public during set up. Fencing was erected on the day of the event to prevent revellers from accessing the existing café and the staff member there was in turn prevented from accessing the lavatory which was subsequently damaged. It could be deduced from these actions that the fencing was there primarily to protect revenues rather than people.

Complaints had been made by several park users about the speed at which vehicles were traversing the park. Great care has been taken during the building works to ensure that plant and other vehicles travel within the 5mph limit and plant is accompanied by a supervising pedestrian. No such care was taken by the event organisers and, in spite of being warned by park staff, one of their member ran into a dog. The dog subsequently died of its injuries.

The increasing use of parks for commercial events not only deprives the users for whom it was intended of facilities, it further restricts the ability for dog owners to exercise their dogs in a relaxed environment. Parks, towpaths and pavements are already major hazards for pedestrians and dogs due to illegal and reckless cycling. Even if dogs are safe and segregated, few will want to access parks whilst amplified sound is being blasted out and hordes of people are crowding the spaces.

This should be a spur to all to redouble their efforts to save and preserve open spaces as havens of peace and quiet in an increasingly tumultuous world. A dog should never again been sacrificed to commercial gain just by engaging in natural and essential behaviour.

Cows Can Kill

A farmer based near Bradford on Avon has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive after two elderly brothers were attacked and injured while walking their dogs on lead on a public foot path. The man who survived suffered multiple rib fractures, a punctured lung and contusions. The incident was the fourth in five years involving injuries to members of the public caused by this farmer’s cattle; he was given a 12 month prison sentence, suspended for 2 years, and ordered to pay costs of £30,000.

18 members of the public were killed by cattle between April 2000 and March 2015. Most of the incidents involved cows with calves and people with dogs. Cattle can attack the walkers because they perceive a risk to their calves from the dogs. Farmers and landowners have a legal duty to assess the risks from livestock to people using any rights of way on their land and they must take all reasonable precautions to prevent injury.

Wherever possible, farmers are advised to avoid keeping cows with calves in fields with public footpaths or to erect temporary fencing to keep cattle, walkers and dogs apart.

Dog owners also have a responsibility to act safely around livestock. Even if there is a right of way, it is much safer to avoid walking past cattle and calves. Backtracking and suggesting to the farmer that the situation is unsafe is a much better option than adding to the statistics of fatalities, human or dog. Dogs should always be on lead near livestock, however reliable they may seem. If you are charged by cattle DROP THE LEAD and seek safety. Your dog will look after himself and you are unlikely to be able to protect him or avoid injury to yourself when faced by an angry cow. It does not matter if you are in area that is designated as being on-lead only by a PSPO; your safety and even your life may be at stake.

Please also remember to worm your dog with a comprehensive, prescription-only (VPOM) wormer. Speak to your vet about the best option. Unwormed dogs can risk spreading diseases such as neosporosis which can cause cattle to abort calves and sarcocystosis which has a similar effect in sheep. Dogs can pick up both infections by eating raw meat (including from carcasses) and placental or foetal material from infected stock. Not all infected animals show signs of illness so it is another reason not to feed a raw diet as it is not possible to be certain that uncooked meat fed to dogs will not be contaminated.

All dog waste should be removed from grazing land and disposed of responsibly so that cross-infection cannot occur between dogs, sheep and cattle.

Walking through farm land is a privilege, and both landowners, farmers and dog walkers have a responsibility to ensure that it is a safe activity for all concerned.

Two Thumbs Up One Thumb Down

distraction Normally, most of the things that I see people doing while with dogs annoys me. So, I was gratified to see two owners on consecutive days using successful distraction techniques as I walked past with my dog on a lead. Perhaps non-aversive training is beginning to percolate through after all.

thumbs down busMeanwhile, a bizarre conversation with a bus driver gets the thumbs down for TFL. I boarded the bus with my dog whereupon the driver thumped his window at me as I was moving towards the rear. Assuming that he hadn’t seen my pass, I went back only to be informed that “There’s a baby on the bus”. As I do not suffer from deafness or anosmia, I was only too aware of the fact. My reply: “Yes, and?” The driver just repeated himself and I carried on being wilfully obtuse. Eventually he said “I’m not taking responsibility….”
This time, I replied “I’m a bit worried that my dog might catch something from the baby but I think that the risk is quite low and I aim to keep well away from it, so I’ll take full responsiblity.”
I’m glad to report that my dog is showing no ill effects from the journey.

Summer Hazards

blue-green algae Three dogs have died, a fourth is close to death and a further six are ill after the drinking water from Brooklands Lake in Dartford, Kent.

Investigations are being carried out but the most likely culprit is blue-green algae.

Blue-green algae belong to the cyanobacteria group of nitrogen fixing bacteria that can produce neurotoxins, cytotoxins, endotoxins and hepatotoxins.They can reproduce explosively under certain conditions resulting in algal blooms that pose a danger to humans and animals.Contaminated water can appear as green, blue-green or greenish brown and may smell musty or earthy.

The Environment Agency recommend that “Not all blue-green algae blooms and scums are toxic, but you can’t tell just by looking at them, so it’s best to assume [that] they are.” They request that all blooms are reported to the
incident hotline on 0800 807 060.

If water is green or otherwise not clear, do not let your dog drink from it or swim.

Also, make sure before your dog enters water that there is nothing on which he can cut paws or become entangled and that he has free access in and out.

The Few Mar It For The Many

dogs welcome As ever a few irresponsible people place all of us in danger of having dogs banned from public spaces as a recent incident displays. Our friends at Dog Friendly have alerted us to a nasty occurence at a dog friendly pub. Investigations are still underway and so they have not named the venue or location.

The pub had asked a dog owner to keep their dog under control but it attacked another (under control) dog and a staff member was badly bitten. This is now the subject of legal action but the irresponsible owners have been reported as not showing any remorse. Shortly afterwards, the owners of the pub asked another owner to keep two dogs on a lead inside the pub as the dogs had wandered into a different area of the pub without their owners. They were met with a barrage of foul language and abuse.

There seem to be a minority of people who feel that they have a “right” to do exactly as they want and, when even the most minor objection or polite request is broached, react aggressively and obnoxiously. It is hardly surprising then that their dogs are often also unsocialised and out of control. The number of dogs off lead on roads or out of control on extendable leads beggars belief. Owners allow them to rush up to other dogs even when asked to keep clear and strangers think nothing of sticking their hands in dogs faces or ruffling their coat the wrong way without so much as eye contact with the owner (or dog). Children are allowed to do the same and woe betide the owner who askes for a dog to be left alone.

There are more and more restrictions being placed on dogs and dog owners and the behaviour of people such as this only makes it more likely that this will get worse. It is probably necessary for dog-friendly venues to train their staff as to how to react if an incident occurs so as to remain safe and indeed, on how to approach a dog generally. In the meantime, let us wish the member of staff involved a speedy recovery and hope that it has not dented the proprietors’ enthusiam for welcoming dogs.

No Ride and Prejudice

taxi I have heard many tales of humans leaving unspeakable mess in taxis. Humans get drunk, become abusive, don’t pay their fare and even assualt the driver. The worst ‘offence’ I’ve ever witnessed of a dog in a taxi is leaving a few hairs behind – something I’m more than capable of doing with or without my dog.

I was forced to abandon attempts at attending the Dogs Day Out show near Bletchley last weekend because I could not find a single taxi firm that was prepared to take my dog, bar one that wanted to charge me an additional two thirds of the original fare quoted for the ‘privilege’. I would have had no guarantee that I could have found a driver to take me back at the end of the day. There are no Sunday bus services in that part of the world and the roads are too dangerous to walk on. Not everyone can afford to run a car and many people are obliged to stop driving as their capacities decline. Are they then to be left to fester indoors if they have a dog?

The range of excuses that I encountered from taxi firms were astonishing. One even told me that it was illegal to carry dogs unless they were assistance dogs. Another said that it would only carry dogs registered with Guide Dogs for the Blind but would refuse any other type of assistance dog.

My “favourite” comment was uttered with all the contempt, rudeness and total disgregard for customer service that only the English can muster:

“I don’t see why we should take your dog in our vehicle just because you can’t be bothered to walk home from the park”.