No Parking

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to bite in the UK with what seems like the beginning of the wave of infections, many dog owners must be very worried about how they will keep their dogs exercised and happy over the coming days and weeks, and perhaps months.

Not every dog owner has a garden and many have very small spaces, perhaps not even with grass. The National Trust, Royal Parks and many local authority parks have already closed gated green spaces and some car parks.

Government advice at time of writing is that one outing a day is permitted to exercise, including walking dogs.

It should be obvious that ensuring one’s own safety as well as that of other people is of the utmost urgency, but the behaviour of many people over the last weekend beggared belief.

Please remember the importance of keeping your dog mentally stimulated and, whilst physical activity outdoors may be limited, keep up and even enhance your training regime, play brain games and keep your dog challenged mentally.

Keep your distance from other people while out walking and take bio-security precautions if you are helping with a dog belonging to someone who is symptomatic or ill.

Keep well, keep safe, keep stimulated!

Larking In The Park

dog park There has been much fuss recently over a New York Times article pointing out the negative impact of dog parks which has now been picked up the BBC in their Radio 4 consumer programme You and Yours for two days running.

The situation in many US states is rather different to that pertaining in the UK where, in spite of access problems in some areas, restrictions on dogs are not quite so widespread. Michigan and Pennsylvania have state-wide “leash laws” that require owners to keep dogs on leads when off their one premises, although challenges have been raised via case law in Pennsylvania where the intent of the law was clarified to be about prevention of roaming other then preventing off-lead exercise.
Several other states prohibit dogs from being off-lead in public parks which had led to the development of the “dog park”: an enclosed area where dogs are permitted off lead. Many mandate that dogs are kept on lead in areas inhabited by livestock or wildlife.

As in the UK, dog-friendly areas vary greatly from small, sterile, parasite-ridden spaces to reasonably large areas. Urban owners are often far better served by varied dog-friendly areas to let their dogs run the owners in the countryside and the density of the dog population is higher.

As ever, the real problem is that owners do not understand their dog’s requirements for stimulation and training and far too many owners purchase dogs and then outsource their care to unqualified, incompetent walkers. The chaos that this has caused in many parks with large numbers of out of control dogs causing havoc and often being abused by their handlers led to many local authorities imposing restrictions on the number of dogs that can be walked at any one time. This in turn led to walkers going out in pairs or groups and further problems led to bans.

Many dogs are now taken out of town, with farmers hiring out fields. Far from solving problems, they continue even further away from owners and are also a poor use of agricultural land.

So are “dog parks” bad?

Well, quality off-lead stimulation and exercise is always good even if the space in which it occurs is not ideal, but how much better would it be if owners would refrain from getting a dog when they don’t have enough time or the inclination to undertake the majority of their care, if dog walkers where trained and regulated and if dogs were so well-adjusted and trained that they could be taken anywhere without fear of incident.

2020 Foresight – A Wish List For The Year

puppy in gift box 2019 saw some legal advances for dogs with the addition of mandatory licensing for breeders and boarders but no additional resources were made available to publicise and police it so it remains largely ineffective. Much still remains to be done, not least legislation that was not drafted but not passed. The ban on third party puppy and kitten sales (aka Lucy’s Law) is due to come into force in April, but, although welcome, will have limited effects on the puppy trade.

So here is my wish list for dogs for 2020:

  • Additions to the AWA 2006 to criminalise aversive training techniques including the use of shock and citronella collars
  • Mandatory licensing of behaviourists, trainers, groomers and walkers, including requirements for qualifications and insurance
  • Mandatory domestic passports for dogs to include origin, microchip details and health records with a compulsory section for declaration of intention to breed, including health checks and countersigned by a vet
  • Limitations on the breeding of brachycephalic and achondroplastic dogs, with all such breeders requiring mandatory additional oversight
  • Removal of severely affected breeds from the UKKC CC qualifications until major health improvements are endemic
  • Sufficient injection resources to police existing and future legislation and for education of canine professionals and the general public
  • Mandatory employment of sufficient dog wardens in every local authority
  • Mandatory restriction of firework use to licensed professionals only with an obligation to use quiet fireworks and a period of public notification in advance of displays where permission is granted
  • Much more implementation of existing law with owners being prosecuted for dogs off lead on roads, obesity and neglect including long periods with dogs left alone on a regular basis.

Happy New Year and here’s hoping.

Banking On It

Assistance dog using ATM Increasingly local authorities, transport companies and businesses are removing payment options and attempting to force people to connect to the internet via computer or mobile telephone. This is frequently done in the name of convenience, but it is pretty one-sided and has everything to do with cutting jobs and costs and nothing to do with providing good service.

Whilst 95% of UK households own a mobile telephone, the 5%, representing nearly 3.5 million people. The Office for National Statistics found that, in 2018, 8.4% of adults had never used the internet and 7% of those that had were victims of online fraud. 33% of people who did not undertake online shopping cited security problems as the reason.

Meanwhile, bank closures continue apace as do closures of ATMs. More than 3,000 banks representing one third of UK branches have closed since 2015 and others have reduced their hours. Coupled with poor or non-existent public transport in rural areas, this has the potential to leave the most disadvantaged in society unable to access their own money.

So what has this got to do with dogs?

Service dogs are often trained to assist with using ATMs, but the design needs to incorporate a ledge on which the dog can rest his paws and there needs to be plenty of room behind. Even where ATMs still exist, they may not therefore, be accessible.

Time to take the banks to task and stop the rot, for everyone’s sake.

Going To Extremes

Whilst the world seems to be becoming increasingly stressful for humans and dogs, it seems that some people can’t get enough of an adrenalin rush. So-called extreme sports have attracted sufficient attention in recent years to be a magnet for advertising and now, it seems, dogs are being hauled along for the ride too.

There is no doubt that one of the best things about living with a social animal such as a dog is that so many activities can be shared. Many dogs would benefit from being included in far more of their owner’s life instead of being shunted off to dog walkers, kennels or left on their own. Many more would benefit from the stimulation of sharing in an activity, competitive or otherwise. The Campaign for Responsible Dog Ownership actively promotes inclusion and better access for dogs in many walks of life (no pun intended).

However, canine welfare must always be paramount and the inclusion of dogs in activities such as surfing and paragliding needs to be seriously questioned. There is perhaps some justification for strapping a service dog to a parachute, but even there, we should be making some serious decisions about whether we should involve animals in our internecine wars for as the Animals In War Memorial states “They had no choice”.

Owners are notoriously poor at detecting stress in their companion animals. Whilst some dogs may actually enjoy the activity to which they are being subjected, if only because it is social, others undoubtedly do not or may be prone to harm by being, for instance, exposed to a great deal of salt water or indeed, mechanical injury. Just take a look at this dog. If I saw the image as it appears at the top of this post, I would be pretty sure that this is not a happy dog. His eyes are wide and fixed, his commissure is tight and his body is rigid with tension. However, context is all. The dog with al teeth bared and wide open mouth may, after all, just be about to catch a toy, however fierce it looks. …and the context – oh yes, this poor dog has just been strapped to a man who has jumped out of a plane and is now plummeting to earth without any opportunity to do otherwise. I can promise that I for one would look far less sanguine under the same circumstances. There are some advantages to possessing a mind that functions mainly in the present.

Dogs are been taken into the skies to satisfy their owners desire for one-upmanship as they post a bragging image on social media too. Many companies offer flights above popular tourist spots, but helicopter tour company FlyNYON not only promote “open door” flights where tourists are encouraged to hang out (literally) and take photographs, they are allowed to subject their dogs to the same danger. the Company’s website has a small notice about their charitable donation to a canine shelter but does not mention anywhere what the policy is on dogs. Maybe that is thanks to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer who has wisely spoken out against this policy and who, along with Senator Robert Menendez, has requested that the Federal Aviation Administration should intervene and prohibit humans and dogs from flying under these circumstances.

There have been four fatal crashes of non-military helicopters in the US so far this year, with one in the Grand Canyon and in New York City resulting in the deaths of ten tourists. At least when humans take to the skies, they can weigh up the likelihood of harm and make their decision, but their dog cannot.

By all means, let us share our lives where appropriate with our dogs, but let us remember that they are dogs, not furry humans and leave them behind if thrill-seeking is the aim.

Just The Ticket for Rover

Plaudits due to dog owner and Go Coach proprietor Austin Blackburn who is participating in Kent’s Follow My Lead campaign which encourages dog owners to explore the Garden of England. Go Coach operates 50 vehicles on 46 routes around Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge. The routes cover dog-friendly castles, country parks and gardens and handlers will receive treats and poo bags as well as not having to pay a fare for their dog.

Go Coach states that it carries up to 5,500 passengers per day. How many can you add with four paws?

This is an excellent campaign which is aimed at increasing tourism, but it is important to remember that not everybody can drive and dog-friendly public transport can mean the difference between making a journey and not going at all.

It is terrific to have some good access news for a change. 3,500 people signed a petition to Transport for Greater Manchester demanding dog-friendly access to the tram system, but TfGM leader Richard Leese said that although he was not opposed to “the principle of the idea”, taking a dog on a tram would be “cruel”, “dangerous” and “not something any sane person would allow.” Of course, all operators are obliged by law to allow assistance dogs to travel and TfGM also allow dogs to be transported if they are being taken to the PDSA in Old Trafford. When they do, no one has brought a prosecution under the AWA 2006 for cruelty, the HSE have not prosecuted anyone for causing danger and no one has been sectioned for daring to travel on a Greater Manchester tram with a dog.

Nottingham trams have an even more convoluted policy. They “graciously” acknowledge their obligation to transport assistance dogs as long as the handler is visually or aurally impaired, but anyone with a different impairment must apply in writing for permission to board with their dog. Everyone else will only be allowed to travel with an “inoffensive” animal, carried in a “suitable container” but only if the tram staff agree. In other words, fine if you have a small dog and you don’t run up against the ignorance or prejudice of the staff.

It behoves dog owners – after all a quarter of the UK population – to continue to put pressure on transport providers and to ensure that when they can travel, their dog is clean, trained appropriately and only settles on the floor.

As you can see from the image here, a calm, sociable dog can even silence a bus load of schoolchildren – and earn the undying thanks of the driver!

Never Knowingly Left Outside

Good news in the dog days of summer- one place to shelter from the rain might be your nearest branch of John Lewis.

The major retailer, taking a leaf out of a certain President’s book perhaps, has announced on social media that all (well-behaved) dogs on fixed leads will be allowed in their retail outlets. This brings John Lewis into line with other large retailers such as Liberty’s and Selfridges.

Good news for owners and it wil probably not harm sales of canine accessories and insurance either. Best of all, fewer dogs will be at risk of being harmed and stolen when left unattended by owners in Aberdeen, Ashford (Kent), Basingstoke, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Cheadle, Chelmsford, Cheltenham, Chester, Chichester, Croydon, Dartford, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow,High Wycombe,
Horsham, Ipswich, Kingston, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London (Brent Cross, Heathrow, Chelsea, Westminster, St Pancras, Stratford, White City), Milton Keynes, Newbury, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Peterborough, Poole, Reading, Sheffield, Solihull, Southampton, Southsea, Swindon (2 stores), Tamworth, Trafford, Tunbridge Wells, Watford, Welwyn and York!

Happy shoping: now for the Post Office…

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.