On paper, rescuing dogs seems like a good thing to do, and vast amounts of money are paid into multiple charities, large and small, to facilitate it. Whereas in the past, dogs mostly needed re-homing because owners became ill or died, that is no longer the case.
Dogs are big business and the illicit trade in imported dogs, bred in appalling conditions is augmented by austerity measures which lead to minimal checks at ports and borders and the willingness of owners to commodify dogs and expect them to be delivered on demand in the same way as they might order a pizza. The best breeders and rescues screen dogs and people to try to ensure a good match but success is limited. Anyone can set up a rescue, but good intentions are not enough, any more than “love” is all that is required to rehabilitate a damaged dog.
As reported earlier, there are various legislative moves afoot and recently enacted to regulate the breeding and sale of dogs and other companion animals that have the potantial to make a real dent in the puppy farm trade. Of course, all legislation is only as good as the resources put into publicising and enforcing it and, at the moment, there is no sign that the resources required will be forthcoming or that existing resources will not be further denuded. Nevertheless, the ground is being laid for a significant improvement in canine welfare.
Many practitioners are beginning to learn lessons from the supply chains that operate in other businesses and to realise that each link in the chain needs to be tackled in order to make a real difference. There is a thriving supply chain creating a demand and a market for dogs that is fuelled by the ease of buying and selling dogs online in which both buyer and seller – and the middle man created by rescue organisations – are perpetrating puppy farming, the exporting of “problem” dogs from abroad and the boomerang dog syndrome. No kill policies mean that rescues cannot keep up with the number of dumped and returned dogs and also find themselves stuck in complex legal situations if they end up with a dog proscribed under the DDA. the Environment Food and Rial Affairs committee (EFRA) have produced a detailed report following an evidence gathering session where the inadequacies of the DDA and breed-specific legislation were considered, with very promising results.
One major victory in the seemingly impossible task of regulating online sales has been scored by the animal welfare charity Four Paws following a petition sent to Gumtree UK (owned by eBay Inc.). The pressure has caused Gumtree to announce plans to introduce a mandatory paywall for people advertising animals for sale on their site which should make it easier to trace animals that have been imported illegally and animals that become ill or die shortly after being sold. Four Paws are continuing to put pressure on eBay to extend this to all their sites.
Looking closer to home, the Kennel Club would like people to think that buying a dog with “papers” is some kind of guarantee that the dog was bred in ideal conditions but anyone taking a glance at the figures will realise that this simply cannot be the case. A Battersea Cats and Dogs Home report estimated that in 2015, 67,125 puppies had been bred by licensed breeders. The KC has 6,000 Assured breeders but registers 250,000 dogs per annum, 30,887 of which in 2017 were French bulldogs, obviously not coming from accredited breeders. Of course there are good breeders out there who do not see any benefit to paying the KC to license an activity which their local authority already licenses and those who have no need to pay the KC to produce a piece of paper to prove the provenance of their dog. However, clearly, not all of these dogs are coming from responsible breeders and equally clearly, the KC could not provide the resources required to check that they were before registering them even if it wanted to.
If we really want to be able to make life better for all dogs, it is time that we took a clear-headed, unsentimental look at the canine supply chain and recognised the elements for what they are. No matter that the intentions of puppy farmers, rescues and purchasers may differ, the effects are the same.
Every dog taken from rescue, or a puppy farm or imported from an unending supply abroad leaves room for another to fill the gap. Even dogs brought from apparebntly legitimate sources may have been bred badly and be destined for the scrap heap. Owners who take on dogs, damaged or otherwise, with little or no ability to look after their needs are perpetrating the misery for themselves as well as the dogs. Look online and you can find sob story after sob story about how guilty people feel when they dump a dog – not usually guilty enough for them not to go out and immediately get another dog without any effort to learn from their mistakes. Just not the right dog for them say the rescues – try another, we have plenty. In the meantime, another boomerang dog gets returned to kennels and the odds of it being re-homed diminish. If owners were obliged to have a dog euthanised or knew that most dogs taken in would be euthanised after a set period of time as used to happen, the supply might very well recede of its own accord.
It might just be better to euthanise the majority of dogs that will never find a home and that will suffer untold distress in the meantime so that there is some hope of giving the remaining dogs a chance. It might also mean that owners are forced to think before they act and rescues can spend the required amount of time supporting dogs and owners so that they stay together. Quite simply, online sales make it easy to buy a dog, often for it to be dumped or die shortly after purchase, and rescues make it easy for people to dump dogs. This would be bad enough if it were just a domestic problem, but the importing of dogs from abroad, often wrenched from living in feral communities in rural areas and then expected to adjust to being a fireside dog in an urban household, maybe spending most of their time with a dog walker or boarded has helped to turn this into a canine crisis. They are of course facilitating the spread of diseases such as parvo virus and leishmaniasis that affect the whole canine population.