Tribute to Heath Robinson

Heath Robinson The late cartoonist William Heath Robinson (d 1944) is probably not a name that trips off the tongue as often as it once did. Although initially taking his name in vain related to his drawings of ridiculously complex, implausible machines for achieving otherwise simple tasks, it eventually referenced temporary fixes made using ingenuity and whatever was to hand such as string and tape.

I found myself taking a leaf from the great man’s book when, in an attempt to travel light, I threw too much out of my metaphorical travel balloon basket and left the dog’s show lead at home. Hardware and bead shop to the rescue – I found a piece of thin sash (red fleck 8mm in case you’re wondering) and a few beads just wide enough to make it look a bit less make do and mend. I stitched a loop at each end and threaded the beads on but then found myself stuck for how to secure it round the dog’s neck, having failed to find a suitable finding in the bead shop. Friend’s toolbox rifled, I popped washer on!

I probably wouldn’t recommend taking a fizzy, medium sized dog very far on a bit of twine and a small washer, but it got us a handful of rosettes!

Would You Visit A Freak Show?

ugly dogs Human “freak shows” were popular pastimes in England from the mid-16th century until the 19th century, by which time they had spread to the United States. Popularised by figures such as PT Barnum, they were extremely successful commercially and often the best way of people with disabilities making a good living and preserving some dignity. I doubt, however that many modern audiences would find them acceptable, so why is it that we deem it permissible to exhibit such dogs?

Skeleton of a dog with short-spine syndrom

Skeleton of a dog with short-spine syndrom

A congenitally deformed dog called Quasi Modo (says it all) has just been “awarded” the title of the “World’s Ugliest Dog” in a competition in a state fair in California, USA. She is owned by a vet who has twice entered the “competition”, coming second last year and now winning it. The vet stated that “The Chinese crested and Mexican hairless ones [in the competition] were all rotten teeth, missing fur and tongues hanging out.” The vet’s dog, by contrast, is suffering from short-spine syndrome that not only results in extreme shortening of the spine, but corresponding shortening of the ligaments, a sloped profile, elongated front legs and cow hocks in the rear legs. The tail is usually absent or bobbed in such dogs. It is a genetic deformity caused by in-breeding.

Deliberate in-breeding by humans.

The vet makes many protestations, perhaps anticipating that her support for this “competition” might draw criticism. “This isn’t about making fun of her, it’s about celebrating our differences. We don’t think she’s ugly, but we love her enough that we can have a little joke”.

Her “little joke” is at the expense of a dog with fused vertebrae that result in her being unable to move her head. “She still has to turn her whole body to look at anything.” Are we meant to celebrate this level of in-breeding? Does this vet seriously think that because she “loves her enough” it makes it all right?

This is a list of the descriptions of some of the previous winners:

  • Blind
  • Bug eyes
  • Long, wagging tongue
  • Hunched
  • Peculiar walk
  • Bi-pedalism
  • Malformed nose
  • Short tufts of hair
  • Protruding tongue
  • Long, seemingly hairless legs
  • Short snout
  • Beady eyes
  • Huge-headed
  • Duck-footed
  • Deformed lips
  • Deformed eyelids.

A vet supporting this “competition” is also supporting an abysmal standard of animal welfare. I’m sure that this little dog, and perhaps others that are similarly afflicted and in caring homes, have a good quality of life but in the end, such competitions are no different to Victorian freak shows. They don’t demonstrate “love” for dogs but the fact that we have chosen to perpetuate genetic mutations such as hairlessness or colourings such as merle, piebald and white, which in some breeds goes hand in hand with congenital deformities, for no other reason than a love of novelty or the vanity of having something that draws attention to ourselves. I’m glad that there are people who are prepared to take these dogs in and give them good homes. Perhaps they think that by highlighting their own dogs that they will automatically prevent more from being bred, but that is certainly not the way that most of the media (and probably the general public view it).

When “ugly” means deformed dentition, skeletal abnormalities, ocular and aural problems and similar issues there is nothing to celebrate, even if the individual dog has a comparatively good life. Making the existence of such dogs acceptable goes hand in hand with the widespread acceptance of conditions such as severe brachycephaly and achondroplasia that cause misery for millions of affected dogs and lead to much reduced lifespans.

The prevalence of brachycephalic and achondroplastic dogs such as pugs, French bulldogs and dachshunds in recent advertising campaigns and in online posts, where their respiratory distress, limited physical ability and chronic associated illnesses are seen by many as being “cute”, is the other side of the coin. When judges and vets accept ataxic, wheezing, gasping dogs as champions, there is something surely very, very wrong.

Before anyone attempts to make a comparison with the lives of people with physical disabilities, we should remember that we have deliberately bred dogs to look like this and that for every dog that may be just plain “ugly” there are many more that suffer the consequences of our (preventable) actions. Many of those dogs, we are told, are the epitome of “beauty”. We should recognise deformities for what they are and we should regard deformed dogs as ugly – not in themselves so much as the fact that they represent some of the worst things that humans have done to dogs.

I hope that the vet is donating her $1,000 winnings and any other money that she may make as a result of her appearances to a campaign to improve dog welfare so that this competition can simply die out through a lack of entries.

Summer Solstice Lychee and Dog Meat Festival

stop Yulin The China Kennel Union and its partners have been working on the design and implementation of various campaigns aiming to make Chinese legislation address animal welfare issues. There have been several initiatives aimed at dogs, including establishing winter housing facilities for strays and aiming to stamp out the practice of dog meat eating festivals, especially Yunin. Several charity events have been run between March and May, culminating in the establishment of the Anti-abuse to Animals Legislation Network Vote Platform prompting more than 150,000 people to cast their votes.

The Companion Animals Cultural Exhibition will be implemented nationwide from May to October, with an exhibition planned for June. The last ten days of June are scheduled as the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, an important focus of the activities.

Idiot of the Month

judge This month’s award is a bit special in that it goes to someone who professes to not only have expertise with dogs but to prioritise their welfare.

In this case, “idiot” is probably too polite word but I also acknowledge that this is possibly at the mild end of the scale under the circumstances.

This “idiot” judges at companion dog shows and is quite happy to tell a bulldog owner that the observable waist in his bulldog is a fault and that the dog, already overloaded on his stunted legs and breathing stentoriously through his flat face and narrow nares should be “fatter”. He is a very sweet dog and the owner is very caring, but nonetheless, he shows a dog that struggles to breathe, cannot cope with heat, has multiple allergies and distorted dentition. He is frequently told at KC Championship shows that his dog is too slim, but fortunately, at least in this respect, he puts his dog’s welfare first.

The same judge also told another bull dog owner that the dog should have his feet forced inward as he would look better if pigeon-toed. This is of course another dog with dreadful breathing, carrying too much weight and is also very timid. Not a notable bull dog trait. The owners also want to championship show. This advice was extended to the owner of a long dog who was told that she should walk her dog on a pebbled beach so that it would be forced to clench its toes and turn them inward.

Oh how I wish that I could force this judge to teeter in her high heels on cobbles all day until her toes were also forced inward – and of course make her wear a fat suit and limit her breathing to the same extent as the poor bull dogs.

Crufts Catastrophe – Yet Again

private video I haven’t had a television for more than a decade and have been too busy to watch Crufts online. Well, that’s my excuse. In reality, I don’t thing that I can bear to look at the travesties of dogs that competitors, judges and the public not only regard as acceptable but reward and perpetuate. I have passed the Kennel Club Judge’s Examinations but have no desire to participate in perpetuating the horrors of the pedigree show ring. Dogs are stunted, neotanised, gasping for breath, weighed down by skin folds, bug eyed or, as in the case of the German Shepherd Cruaghaire Catoria, actually ataxic and terrified to boot… and that’s just the conditions that are visible. Just about the only problem that my examiner would admit to when asked by another candidate about disqualifying dogs on health grounds was lameness. We we were told also that temperament should be taken into account. Well Cruaghaire Catoria was both lame and extremely nervous.

The Kennel Club has now stated that “…we made the decision not to further highlight the unsound movement of the dog whilst we discuss ways forward to improve the health of the breed.” They have blocked the video on You Tube, and instructed Channel 4, which has been airing Crufts since the BBC pulled out on welfare grounds, to edit the footage so that Cruaghaire Catoria was not seen moving.

Thanks to Jemima Harrison and Pedigree Dogs Exposed, the footage is available along with additional information such as these comments from previous judges:

“This bitch is so correct throughout, lovely feminine head & good expression, neck well set on to body. Very good front angulation, lovely topline & good croup, very balanced hind angles. Correct height to length ratio, super underline. In movement she is outstanding so clean coming & going & her profile movement was really excellent.. Very pleased to award her the CC & BOB.”

“…black and gold female of ideal middle size and strength, excellent general proportions, feminine expressive female with well shaped head dark eye and excellent ear carriage, normal wither into straight strong firm back, well laid croup which could be a touch longer, very good forehand with very good underline, excellent hindquarters with strong broad thighs, in top show condition, this female shows a willingness to perform in all phases, demonstrating excellent reach and drive, this was a super class of females, in my opinion this is a female who deserves the highest of accolades, a pleasure to judge. BEST BITCH AND BOB.”

Now I know what I was taught in the KC Judge’s exam and it bore no resemblance to what I saw in this bitch. I could not recognise her from the previous judges’ comments. I would like to think that no one in their right mind could fail to see that this dog was petrified, couldn’t wait to get out of the ring and was actually ataxic. Her topline was so distorted that she seemed to be crouching permanently. When she moved, the whole of her lower hind leg was placed on the ground and she scraped the top of her foot as she struggled to lift her leg high enough to take another step. This is the sort of gait that is commonly seen in dogs suffering from canine degenerative myelopathy. It is an auto-immune disease that is prevalent in German Shepherds and that causes progressive degeneration of the spinal cord resulting in weakness and eventual loss of communication between the brain and the hind legs. This bitch was passed as sound by vets.

Those breeding, judging and showing are supposed to represent the epitome in their chosen breeds so why would any of them think that it what was exhibited at Crufts this year was, in any way, shape or form, normal or acceptable? Not to mention the vet. Now I think it unlikely that this dog has degenerated since she was last judged so that, at every step of the way, a series of supposed experts have concluded that she represents some form of perfection.

Owner Susan Cuthbert has stated “Words cannot express the heart-wrenching experience that I have suffered.” Of course no acknowledgment that it is her dog who is truly suffering. Cuthbert then asks “How can you judge a dog on such a brief observation?”

Well, Ms Cuthbert, I was repeatedly told by my KC examiner that as a judge I would have fewer than two minutes to go over a dog and approximately 30 seconds to see it moving.

Personally, it took me no more than a second or so to see that this dog has an appalling topline, a severely abnormal gait and was clearly very unhappy in the ring.

The handler has further stated that the dog was overwhelmed by the noise, lights, heat and “forced photo [sic]shoots” and that this is “a situation that no owner, trainer or handler can prepare for.” One might forgive him the preposition at the end of the sentence but not that he does not realise that breeders, owners, trainers and handlers can do exactly that. If the dog was that distressed, why was she exhibited? This is supposed to be a top show dog; if her temperament is not suited to the ring, then she should not be shown and should not be bred from. If this was a one-off, she should have been withdrawn.

I took my rescue dog to Crufts a couple of years ago. He coped with the crowds, noise, heat, lights, flashing cameras (often in his face), noisy spectators and 8 hours of being patted, not always in an ideal manner. He also exhibited in the ring with Pets As Therapy. He wasn’t the slightest bit ruffled by any of it, in fact lapped it all up. So did the other PAT dogs – pets, many of them rescue dogs, who had with a minimal amount of good handling and training adapted very well to the demands of Crufts. Had my dog been at all discomfitted, I would have taken him home.

It should be remembered that Crufts was originally established with the aim of selling dog food. It now seem to be a club for the few initiates. In spite of the fact that 47,000 entries were received this year, some finalists were related or obviously known to the judges and the oft-heard complaint that the awards go to “the person on the end of the lead” may not be entirely a case of sour grapes. Even if judges are completely unbaised, awards are obviously not going only to fit, healthy and happy dogs.

The only good thing to come out of this is the outcry that it has engendered. The next good thing that should come of it is effective and immediate action by the Kennel Club to prevent all “recognised” breeds with blatent distortions and heritable problems from being bred from or shown and those that are not “recognised” to remain so. I won’t hold my breath.

45% Of Dogs Are Not Microchipped

A survey of 3,000 UK-based dog owners carried out by OnePoll on behalf of the Dogs Trust reveals that one in five dog owners are not prepared for the changes to the microchipping law that will come into force in England, Wales and Scotland in April 2016. 45% of existing owners have not chipped their dogs.

Approximately half of dogs that currently find their way into rescue shelters cannot be rehomed either because they are not chipped or because the chip details have not been kept up to date. From April 6th, 2016 all dogs must be microchipped and registered to an approved database by the time they are 8 weeks old.

Microchips are not proof of ownership but the person to whom the chip is registered is regarded for legal purposes as the keeper of the animal. The keeper can be served with a notice requiring microchipping within 21 days. Details, including changes of telephone number must be kept up to date on the register.

Failure to chip or to keep details updated can be subject to a £500 fine.

Only trained implanters can microchip animals. Vets will microchip your dog for a fee but there are several local authority-run free microchipping events and it is often offered at dog shows and similar events. The Dogs Trust runs free sessions around the country as do local authorities and rescue orgnisations.

Don’t be one of the 45% – get your dog microchipped now!

Free Microchipping West London

Hounslow Dog Warden services and the DogsTrust are offering free microchipping, health checks and vouchers for neutering, vaccinations, fleas and worming at Edensor Gardens in Chiswick, London W4 2RF on November 18th, 2015 between 11.00 hrs and 15.00 hrs.

Remember, all dogs will be required to be microchipped by April 2016 and it is owner’s responsiblity to keep their details up to date on the database.

Routine health care helps all dogs in the community stay well by providing ‘herd immunity’ and preventing the build up of worms such as toxicara canis.

Free Microchipping in Harefield

chip The Dogs Trust in Harefield are running free microchipping sessions from September to November as follows:

Tuesday 8th September 2015
Tuesday 29th September 2015
Tuesday 6th October 2015
Tuesday 27th October 2015
Tuesday 10th November 2015
Tuesday 17th November 2015

Please contact the Dogs Trust on 01895 453 930 to book an appointment.

Remember, it will be a legal requirement to microchip your dog from April 2016.

Last Chance To Book Training

There are a few places left on the CReDO training week in Broadstairs, Kent.

Choose from a morning puppy session (1 hour) or morning or afternoon sessions for adult dogs (3 hours). Sessions will run from Monday, August 17th to Friday, August 21st inclusive.

Learn how to work with your dog to achieve good heel work, food manners, recall and a host of other achievements. Sessions are limited to ten participants and there will be plenty of time for individual and group work and questions.

Come and learn from an experienced trainer and share experiences with other dog owners in a friendly, co-operative environment.

See Broadstairs Training Week for details.

Responsible Dog Ownership at Chertsey Show

Just back from a fabulous weekend at Chertsey Show. A big thank you to the organisers for making it such a well run and enjoyable event (aided this year by not having torrential rain on the second day). Especial thanks to the announcements made throughout the day reminding owners not to leave their dogs in cars (yes, people still do this even in the baking temperatures that we experienced last weekend), to pick up after their dogs and to keep dogs on leads and under control in the countryside.

On the latter, a calf was exhibited that had been mauled by a loose dog. Thankfully recovered but at huge cost to the farmer, never mind the trauma, mental and physical, suffered by the poor calf.

Events such as Chertsey, the only proper agricultural show within the M25, attract a range of visitors and are an excellent opportunity to remind dog owners of their responsibilities.

Put it in your diary for next year!