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 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”.

Adding Insult to Injury

floods I was listening to an item on radio 4 last night about the aftermath of the devastating floods in York. The reporter was visiting roads that had been flooded and speaking to the remaining residents.

It must always be difficult finding alternative accommodation at short notice in such circumstances; many people had found rented premises. However, one man was remaining in unsuitable conditions after his house had been flooded up the skirting boards because he could not find a landlord that would accept his dogs.

This is a disgraceful situation. No doubt there would be an outcry if landlords en masse refused to accept children because they are noisy, may draw on the walls or play ball games and annoy the neighbours. More than a quarter of the popoulation of the UK own dogs: now we might not be the most houseproud of people but our dogs are by and large perfectly capable of living civilised lives alongside humans when trained well.

We must continue to campaign for fair access for dog owners to all appropriate areas of society, including housing. Owners must take responsiblity for their dog’s behaviour and take the consequences if their dog does cause damage. However, the default position should not be one of prejudice against dogs because of the behaviour of a minority.

Details of dog friendly housing and dog friendly letting, along with other campaigns, can be accessed via the DogsNet Campaigns for Access page.

Dover Council Imposes Criminal Sanctions on Dog Walkers

Dover District Council imposed a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) affective from July 27th, 2015 to be in place for three years requiring that dogs be kept on leads under threat of criminal prosecution. They state that it will “replace a number of out of date by-laws and create a more comprehensive and consistent approach when dealing with issues such as dog fouling, keeping dogs on leads and excluding dogs from specified areas.”

Having a dog off the lead on a designated highway is already illegal under the Road Traffic Act 1988, Section 27, but it is certainly not enforced in London or many other places that I have visited. This however is far more Draconian and I believe contradicts the requirements of the Anuimal Welfare Act 2006 which imposes a duty of care on dog owners to enable their dogs to exhibit “normal” behaviours – surely including having adequate, off-lead exercise?

The order:

  • Excludes dogs from:
    • enclosed children’s play areas
    • specific beaches at certain times of year
    • specific sporting or recreational facilities
    • Requires dogs to be kept on leads:
    • within specific churchyards and cemeteries
    • specific seafront promenades and seafront gardens
    • specific memorial sites and nature reserves
    • Requires dog owners to remove dog faeces
    • This applies to any land to which is open to air and to which the public have access
    • Requires dog owners to put their dog on a lead when directed to do so by an authorised officer
    • This will apply to any public land where a dog is considered to be out of control or causing alarm and distress.

Breaches of the order are liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to £1,000. Fixed penalty notices of £75.00 can also be applied.

PSPOs may be enforced by police officers, police community safety officers and any officers designated by Dover District Council.
Full details are available here .

This is insidious legislation that imposes huge restrictions on dog walkers, has the potential to criminalise responsible dog owners for making minor mistakes such as missing a doig defecating and does nothing to tackle irresponsible owners including the serious problem of untrained, out fo control dogs.

How much of it is about pandering to an anti-dog lobby, hysteria about protecting children from supposed disease and, of course, raising revue for cash-strapped councils?

Living with a Dog Is Good for Your Immune System

microbes Like many people, I half listen to Radio 4’s Today programme as I rush around changing from dog walking to office wear and eating on the run.

Every so often I am arrested by something that stops the frantic race against the clock and such was the case when Professor Dunn spoke about the effect of living with a dog on the human immune system.

I had read a brief paper about this but it was gratifying to hear it promoted on this flagship radio broadcast as a counter to the ban on dogs in so many public places.

Professor Dunn blogs on the Your Wild Life website and states there:

“Having a dog influences the microbes in our homes and in doing so potentially reduces our risk of having children with asthma and other autoimmune disorders.”

Phew, we can stop beating ourselves up about housework! Read more on the Your Wildlife site.