Memorial To Maly – A Ban On The Public Sale Of Fireworks

Nine years ago today I lost the dog of a lifetime. I didn’t even realise that he was until he was nearly half way through his life. Maly was a collie/shepherd, the offspring of an unplanned mating a friend’s dog and a reluctant acquisition on their part. My friend was in an abusive relationship that would contribute greatly to her early death. Much of the abuse spilled over to affect Maly, indirectly and directly. He began to look to me for comfort and assurance and frequently, regular exercise. As I became more aware of the domestic circumstances, I suggested that perhaps I take Maly on. At the time, I was freelancing as a professional performer and this was used as a, not unreasonable, excuse for refusal. Maly ended up becoming a piece of property which neither side would relinquish but which neither really wanted. Eventually my friend moved out of London, exacerbating her isolation and her domestic problems. She died just three and a half years later.

Knowing that she was terminally ill, she had asked me to take Maly but I had nothing in writing and, in spite of looking after her in her final months, her family shut me out at the last. Her partner and most of her family were drunk before they got to her funeral. I made the decision to simply walk off with Maly and take him back to London. I got him microchipped the next day and began the long, slow road to rehabilitating what was by then, a very traumatised 11 year old dog.

Maly died on his 16th birthday, just five years later. They were undoubtedly the best five years that I will ever have with any dog and all too short. In that brief time, he discovered a love of competing in shows, usually walking away with the trick class, being the brightest dog and fastest learner that I have ever encountered. He was Your Dog Golden Oldie of 2009 and I still get a thrill when his images are used in the magazine.

I had taken a job in a vet at the time Maly became very ill. I nursed him at home on a drip for five days and, on a gloriously sunny March 1st, exactly 16 years after he was born, knew that I could do no more. My colleagues, a vet and the senior nurse, came to my house and together we ended his life and took his still beautiful but lifeless body into the practice for storage.

The following days were ones of raw, agonising grief. I felt as if I were a fish that was being gutted alive. I woke myself up calling for him. I spent a long weekend in the country with friends staring at the sea for hours, numb with misery. If they hadn’t fed me, I doubt that I would have bothered to eat. I had dealt with many bereaved clients at the vet and discussed final arrangements with them. I knew that I could not bear for Maly to be reduced to ashes. I began to search for someone to set his skeleton.

It took weeks. I called museums and veterinary schools but it seemed that the few people who possessed the necessary skills had either retired or given up the work.

Then I found Luke Williams at Skeletons UK. Not only is Luke an extraordinarily talented young man whose work is in demand all over the world, he is one of the most sensitive people I have ever come across. He kindly picked me up from the station after an horrendous journey (apart from the emotional impact, taking a frozen dog on crowded trains without help is not to be recommended). We ended up in the pub sharing gallows humour as a release from all the tension, although I still shudder when I go through Birmingham station remembering how hard it was to transfer to the local train. He explained every step of the process and afterwards even sent me images in a book, keeping me updated throughout the months that the work takes. I was just about to ask Luke to preserve Maly’s heart, but he anticipated my wishes, enabling me to bury it in the garden of the house where he was born along with a ‘time capsule’ telling his story.

Finally the time came when my beautiful skeleton was ready. This time, I managed to get a lift there and back. Maly-bones now looks over my bedroom. I confess, I converse with him all the time and always rush in to see him when I have been away.

A year after he died, I took on a rescue Siberian Husky. I felt disloyal, guilty and sometimes even resentful of him for some time after. I deliberately took on a dog that I knew was in a bad way and was a huge handful as it left me less time to fret over my lost love. He died three months ago at a ripe old age, leaving another gaping hole in my life.

I have been longer without Maly him and miss my Sibe more than I ever thought possible. They have both led me to places and situations that I would not have imagined and I am now awaiting a successful mating that will lead to my new puppy.

Maly was a typical collie-type in that he was inherently noise-sensitive. 11 years of abuse added to his distress, and it took me a long three years of patient desensitisation and counter-conditioning to help him recover. I was proud as punch when he walked past a stand of guns with barely an anxious glance in their direction. Fireworks used to be a nightmare and I was profoundly grateful when my Sibe proved to be bombproof. He even slept through an attempt by a drunken, drugged woman to break down my front door in the early hours, including 20 minutes where she kept her hand on the (loud) doorbell continuously.

Most owners won’t be so lucky, which is why I’ve made a submission to the current parliamentary select committee enquiry into changing the law on fireworks. Pressure to restrict the sale and use of fireworks to organised, licensed displays has increased over the last few years and, in spite of refusing to act on it when last investigated, a new petition has triggered another enquiry. Please add your signature to the petition and add your voice to the enquiry submissions so that we can look forward to an autumn and winter without sleep-disturbed nights and trauma in our companion animals and wildlife.

The Great Insurance Gamble

The history of insurance begins well before the rise of capitalism when medieval merchants decided to hedge their bets against loss and theft. The modern insurance industry dates from the rise of industrialism in the eighteenth century, with London leading the pack. The first animal insurance policy is generally credited to Claes Virgi who founded the Länsförsäkrings Alliance in Sweden to insure horses and livestock in 1890. Sweden also created the first dog insurance policy in 1924. Britain didn’t follow suit until 1947, but now has the second-highest number of animals insured covering 23% of the non-equine companion animal population. By contrast, only 0.7% of the similar population of companion animals are insured in the US.

The principal behind insurance is of course a communal gamble. The insured population provides the pool of resources from which the members can claim according to the rules of the insurer. Thus, the scheme would not work without the element of a gamble in that paying in could be worth it but, from the insurer’s point of view, knowing that only a minority will claim otherwise they would make no profits and the scheme would eventually be bankrupt. Insurance of any sort is therefore constant arms race between providing enough to make the scheme seem worthwhile but not paying out too much so that the scheme collapses.

Companion animal insurance has also led to another “arms race” in that it has made available treatments that could not be dreamed of, even for humans, a few years ago but with a consequential rise in premiums to cover the huge cost of diagnostic technology, surgical interventions and pharmaceuticals as well as behavioural services and complimentary therapies such as hydrotherapy and TTouch. This is possibly beginning to lead to a decline in the number of people taking out health insurance as schemes become unaffordable and the risk of not being insured seems a better option.

Insurers use a variety of means to assess the likelihood of paying out on any given claim. This can lead to a wide variation in the rates of insurance as well as the excess levied (the amount that is payable by the insured person before they can claim on their policy). Excesses are fair in that it would be untenable for insurers to deal with comparatively petty claims but unfair in that they do not (and possibly cannot) take individual’s circumstances into account. Excesses can also be gambled on as some policies allow owners to choose the excess which will of course be reflected in the overall price. Quoting different rates according to breed is also not unreasonable. The owner of a brachycephalic dog for instance, is likely to make far more claims than the owner of a crossbreed with hybrid vigour. Risk also increases with age, so policies tend to get more expensive as the animal ages regardless of any claims, although this is sometimes hidden in policies that even out the cost across the duration of the policy. As with other forms of insurance, the comparative wealth of the population where the purchaser lives will affect the excess rates even if the individual has a low income as do the number of claims made in an area.

I myself am a typical example. Insurance rates for animals where I live are more than double that of other parts of the country. Although the exact details of how insurers work out rates are considered commercially secret, living in an area where the population is relatively affluent means that the locals are more likely to buy an expensive pedigree dog in the first place and more likely to buy insurance to cover fees that include referral services and para-professionals such as behaviourists. They may be better informed about the availability of such services and of course, more likely to have access as the services will be located where the clients are. This made insurance for my pedigree dog (bargain basement rescue!) out of the question for me. The sum that I was quoted for a 3½ year old dog represented 4% of my monthly income. Had I been earning the median income in the year in which I obtained the quote for the city in which I live, it would have represented just 2% and of course, even less for someone living in an affluent area on a much higher salary than the median. Consumer Intelligence data obtained from quotes between May 2017 and May 2018 found that the average annual premium for dog insurance costs UK owners a third of the amount that I was quoted in 2011.

It isn’t just dogs that cost more to buy initially that will affect the rates that insurers charge, but the relative availability of dogs from puppy farms and back street breeders who are extremely likely to need expensive care, as well as the popularity of severely brachycephalic and achondroplastic dogs amongst young, relatively affluent people. The more that in-breeding affects the supply of all dogs and the more that poorly bred dogs are crossed to provide a dog with “oodle” or “uggle” at the end of its name, the more expensive insurance will be for everyone. Obviously the type of insurance will affect the cost and, in general, you gets what you pays for. Accident only is probably the biggest gamble of all as it won’t pay out for illnesses that are the more-likely to occur. Time-limited insurance often comes as a shock to owners when their “cheap” policy turns out only to cover them for 12 months and their dog has a chronic problem. The nest gamble is to decide with on-time limited insurance what the maximum cap in any 12 month period per condition should be. A friend maxed out her insurance in a couple of weeks after her dog was bitten by an adder. Lifetime insurance is the most expensive up front but provides the most comprehensive cover as the cap is re-applied annually. It is the most effective for chronic conditions typically seen with age or in dogs with a particular susceptibility die to in-breeding. Premiums usually increase annually and that can be sharp as the dog enters higher age brackets. Companies also raise the excess which can be as much as 35% of the claim with a 9 year old dog. Not a problem if you have a giant dog who may not reach that age anyway, but a consideration for a breed or cross that may get well into double figures. Puppies are also more expensive to insure than adolescents as they are more likely to be accident-prone and as an effect of the prevalence of sickly puppy-farmed dogs. In addition, not all policies cover all conditions. Many consider essential dental work such as tartar removal to be “cosmetic” for instance. Not all pay for para-professional services such as hydrotherapy or behavioural consultations.

One of the litany of complaints levied at vets is that the “first question that they ask” is whether the animal is insured. I would be willing to bet that the actual first question is more along the lines of “What seems to be the problem?” However, the perception is that all vets are profiteering and will automatically offer the most expensive option if they know that the animal is insured. How many owners consider that the vet may temper the options according to whether they think that the owner will be able to afford the treatment so as not to make they fret if they cannot afford a more complex alternative? No vet should offer more intervention than is deemed necessary to treat the presenting condition, although of course, they may offer less for clinical as well as financial reasons, with the option to progress if no improvement is seen. Of course vets want to use their skills to give animals in their care every chance but they also have to deal with the real world and know that cost is a consideration in addition to welfare. Opinion among vets and owners differs widely as to how much intervention is desirable.

Having just lost a dog myself, I know how agonising it can be to have to weigh up costs as well as clinical and ethical considerations. That is not just the cost of treatment but the cost of aftercare following intervention including time that may be lost from earning or to look after a very sick dog or to pay back a loan. There are no guarantees that intervention will be successful but the cost will remain to be paid and may affect the ability to own another dog. The only illness that my dog had in the 7½ years that he lived with me was the terminal one that was diagnosed a few weeks before his death which was well within the bounds of the average for his breed. So, in the event, the cost of insurance would not have been worth it. Some of that was due to luck and some to judgment in the decision to buy that dog in the first place and the care and training that he had that made him less prone to accident, illness and disease.

Clinical and ethical considerations would always come first for vet (save for the rare criminally irresponsible individual) and owner but it would be untrue to pretend that money is not an issue for both. As to insurance, it may well be that the balance tips away from favouring insurers if fewer people can afford the products. In that case, it is possible that insurers will offer ever-more complex products in which case – caveat emptor.

At the end of the day, animal insurance has been beneficial to owners, animals and veterinary and human science in general but it, like owning a companion animal is a relative luxury that, like all luxuries, must be weighed in the balance before undertaking.

The Legacy of Dr Sophia Yin

The end of the Year of the Dog also marked the birthday of the late Dr Sophia Yin. Dr Yin is perhaps better known in the US than here in the UK, although her influence on dogs and other animals was global. She was a tireless advocate for non-aversive training for humans and other animals and worked with owners and other professionals to make handling feral, captive and companion animals easier, safer and kinder for them and their handlers. Every time that I see a vet, show judge, groomer, trainer or owner manhandle an animal, I want to make them watch one of Sophia’s videos or at least read her books.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

Dr Yin not only pioneered co-operative handling techniques, she publicised them and started when she was still in veterinary school: her fellow students actually bought copies of her notes which became The Small Animal Nerdbook and which is still being used by students. This was the start of Cattle Dog Publishing.

Whilst Dr Yin’s legacy lives on, her innovative presence is no longer able to inspire in person. Sophia Yin, like many in the veterinary world, was very driven and seemingly very self-critical. In some ways, these qualities are essential for survival in a very competitive field where the demands never slacken, but the toll can be immense. Like too many of her colleagues, Dr Yin committed suicide on September 28th, 2014 at the age of 48.

In the UK where we are not used to paying at source for healthcare, the cost of veterinary treatments can seem excessive. Owners know little of the actual costs incurred by veterinary practices and, because they deal with companion animals, often seem to think that it should be undertaken at cost. Veterinary staff are constantly accused to their faces of profiteering and, having been on the sharp end of many an owner’s tongue, I can promise that it becomes very wearing. No one is obliged to own an animal but, once undertaken, owners have a duty of care. They expect the best professional support but complain about paying for it. Most vets earn far less than owners assume and work very long, very stressful hours. They must always be at their best because their patients’ wellbeing and often lives depend on it and their “bedside manner” is key to the success of the business. Their task is far more complex than that of a GP because of the number of species with which they have to deal and they also have to work within a commercial environment. Yes, they chose to do it but many other people chose their careers without the expectation that they should do it for the “love” and take the abuse to boot.

The mean UK salary for newly-qualified vets is £31,000. This rises to £43,200 following further training in small animal practice and is slightly higher in large animal practices at £44,184 where the on-call demands and poor working conditions can be far worse. Senior vets with more than 20 years’ experience can earn up to £72,360 as employees. The British Veterinary Association found that since student fees rose to £9,000 per annum in 2012, the expected debt for a UK vet graduate was £57,092. This had increased from the £20,000 expected debt faced in the year before fees were hiked. In addition to the difficulty of getting that all-important first job without experience, newly qualified vets not only have to pay all of the usual living expenses and service their student loan, they will be obliged to undertake continuing professional development. Courses are not cheap and are not always paid for or subsidised by employers. All practising veterinary surgeons and registered veterinary nurses must complete the minimum CPD requirement of 105 hours in any three-year period with an average of 35 hours per year for vets and 45 hours in any three-year period with an average of 15 hours per year for registered nurses, regardless of whether they are working full-time or part-time. Many professionals undertake considerably more than this.

Most owners will see vets in the context of small animal practice where vets do not have the livelihood of owners to consider when treating animals but instead need to cope with the huge emotional toll of illness and euthanasia as well as the joys of new animals and routine checks, often in busy, pressured environments and less than ideal facilities.

All this takes a toll. The veterinary profession has frequently had the highest rate of suicides amongst monitored professions in the UK, with women often being affected disproportionately. The US is no different.

We may not be able to influence the economy directly but we can all play a part in making vets’ lives’ easier by recognising that they operate in a commercial environment and that we need to pay a fair rate for the privilege of owning animals and for access to the increasingly sophisticated facilities that they offer. Their motivation is not to rip owners off and, when they offer you the best treatment available, it is because they also want the best for you and your animal.

Let’s us do two things to honour the life of Sophia Yin:

Co-operate with our companion animals instead of coercing them

Make sure that we do nothing to contribute, even in a tiny way, to anything that would make another vet even contemplate suicide.

Perhaps there is a third thing: find out about Vetlife and how they support veterinary professionals and their families when depression and suicide strike and maybe consider making a donation.

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.

Yet Another Raw Food Recall

In the dying days of 2018, the FSA announced yet another recall of commercially prepared raw food due to the presence of dangerously high levels of salmonella.

The aptly-named “Just Natural” range highlights, however unintentionally, that pathogens are just as naturally occuring as nutrients in raw food. The company has been forced to admit that the dangers posed include handling and serving raw food and cleaning of utensils and feed bowls when pathogens can be spread widely. This is of course in addition to the pathogens shed and spread by animals consuming raw food. Cross-contamination of foods and surfaces can also happen if raw food is not stored or defrosted separately and if hands are not washed thoroughly. Even then, the risks will always be much higher than with cooked food and extend well beyond the household in which the products are used.

Keeping Your Dog Secure Is Not Just For Christmas

Dog theft has been on the increase for some time with thieves understanding exactly the amount of blackmail they can levy for the emotional distress suffered by owners.

DogLost has just circulated an alert about a scam that has seen 70 incidents reported to police across the country and that seems to be prevalent in Mersyside. Of course, it is imopssible to know how many incidents have not been reported, not least because drastic cuts to policing throughout the country make reporting difficult and make people feel as if it is not worth reporting anything if they think that no effective action will be taken.

The Insurance Emporium examined reported dog thefts between 2015 and 2017 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, finding a general rise of 2% in England and wales and a drop of 25% in Northern Ireland. The most commonly stolen dogs in 2017 were:

  • Staffordshire bull terriers
  • Crossbreeds
  • French bulldogs
  • Chihuahuas
  • Jack Russell terriers.

Yorkshire and the north-west of England had by far the highest incidences of recent dog theft in England and Wales, perhaps reflecting relative poverty as well as the distribution of dog ownership across the country. Wales had by far the lowest, again reflecting the relative distribution of population and dog ownership. West Midlands police recorded a 24% fall in reported thefts between 2016 and 2017, while the East Midlands force reported a 43% rise. Again, this only reflects the thefts that were reported, not necessarily the prevalence.

The Campaign group Pet Theft Awareness are calling for relatively minor changes to existing legislation to assist in preventing theft and in making the offence more serious, which could also lead to tougher sanctions on conviction.

Many vets will automatically scan patients and owners can and should ask for chips to be checked as they can fail or migrate, although this is rare. However, the resistance of the BVA amongst others to making this compulsory is not unfounded. It is not reasonable to expect vets to take on the duties that should be undertaken by dog wardens because it blurs the line between clinical care and policing and could place the vet in a position of expending a great deal of (unpaid) time if an animal is indeed suspected of being illegally imported or stolen.

It is important therefore, that we continue to put pressure on government at all levels to make adequate provision for supporting existing legislation with adequate resources, not least the new requirements introduced in October.

As ever, the best remedy is prevention:

  • Keep your microchip details up to date (this is a legal obligation)
  • Make sure that you have a correctly inscribed tag on your dog’s collar and that your dog always wears a collar and tag when out (this is a legal obligation unless you have a dog that is working by herding, hunting or picking up game)
  • Neuter unless you have a very good reason not to so that your dog is less attractive to potential puppy farmers
    (clinical, showing etc)
  • Be on your guard if asked about the cost of your dog or the gender and tell the enquirer that your dog is neutered
  • Train for reliable recall and reinforce periodically
  • Supervise your dog as much as possible and ensure that doors, fences and gates are secure by checking regularly for damage and keeping your dog in sight during building works or if doors could be left open by visitors
  • Don’t leave your dog unattended in a garden even if in a kennel
  • Don’t leave your dog unattended in public, including in a car.

Take responsibility for keeping your dog safe and secure – and not just at Christmas.

If the worst happens and your dog is stolen, report it to police and to DogLost and do not be tempted to pay a ransom or accede to another demand such as collecting the dog. If your dog is insured, you may find that your insurers will cover the cost of publicity and some even provide templates. You can also take out enhanced cover from some microchip companies that provide this service.

Raw Food Recall Alert

There have been two recalls on raw petfood in recent months, one because of high levels of salmonella and the other because the feed manufacturer had not complied with the legal requirement for inspection. meanwhile, advocates of raw feeding continue to spread supporting anecdotes that have no basis in proven, peer-reviewed fact.

Myth 1: Raw food is the “natural” diet of the domestic dog

Fact: There is overwhelming evidence that domestic dogs evolved by scavenging around human settlements. As most humans changed from being nomadic hunter-gatherers to being settled farmers, dogs evolved to accommodate the change in diet and became capable of digesting more starch. This capability varies from breed to breed, even today, so that northern breeds have fewer starch receptors than, for instance, sight hounds that developed in the fertile crescent. Dogs “natural” diet is whatever man throws away or deigns to feed, possibly supplemented by a small game. This is abundently evident in the 80% of the world’s dogs that live in feral groups.

Myth 2: Raw food is frozen which is sufficient kill pathogens

Fact: Not all raw food fed to domestic dogs is frozen and not all frozen food is free of dangers including helminths (parasitic worms), protozoans (causing giardiasis, toxoplasmosis, cryptosporidiosis and leishmaniasis etc), bacteria, viruses and prions. All however are destroyed by the high temperatures used when commercial cooked foods are prepared. Cooking also makes food more digestible and bio-available. As to the latter, just because it’s present, it doesn’t mean that dog’s body can utilise it.

A recent study in the US found that 20-35% of raw poultry and 80% of raw food diets for dogs tested positive for salmonella and 30% of stool samples from raw-fed dogs tested positive for salmonella. Raw food diets have also tested positive for E. coli and Yersinia enterocolitica (bacteria that may cause gastrointestinal upset). Otherwise healthy dogs may be able to cope with ingestion of these bacteria, but very young, old, or immunocompromised dogs may not be able to do so. Further, the faeces continually contaminate the environment, putting other animals and people at risk.

Myth 3: Raw food is healthier than cooked or commercial food

Fact: Study after study has shown that raw diets are often deficient in calcium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc and can contain excessively high vitamin D levels. Homemade diets are particularly likely to result in medium-long term malnutrition. Whilst some adult dogs can cope with calcium and phosphorus imbalances, they may affect the strength of the bones of growing dogs. Ironically, many owners say that they feed raw because of allergies, but zinc deficiencies may cause skin disorders. It would be interesting to see how many owners of dogs suffering from allergies researched the breed and the likelihood of their dog suffering allergies due to in-breeding before becoming an owner. High quality, commercially prepared complete diets are balanced nutritionally and contain all required trace elements in bio-available forms. This is without even considering the risk that raw diets pose to animal and human health.

Chicken is a popular choice of food for raw feeders, some even feeding chicken wings. Chicken in the Uk has high levels of contamination with campylobacter. The Food Standards Agency has been so concerned about this that it has been running a campaign in conjunction with major supermarket chains and has succeeded in diminishing contamination. However, the FSA stated that this is not the case with chicken sourced from independent butchers, where high levels of contamination are likely to prevail.

Myth 4: Raw diets are better for oral health

Fact: Studies in wild dogs have found that 41% had periodontitis, although only 2% had dental tartar: teeth may appear cleaner but gums may not be healthier. Wild dogs live far shorter lives than domestic dogs who may have to endure painful and harmful damage to teeth and gums for many years if not cared for properly. Bones also chip and crack teeth.

Myth 5: Feeding raw bones is “natural” and safe

Fact: Many owners believe that feeding raw bones is safer than feeding cooked bones, but there is no evidence to support this view. Domestic dogs simply don’t have the power in their jaws to crush uncooked bones and are not likely to be fed hide and hair. Wild dogs possess a protective mechanism that enables undigested hair and hide to wrap around bone fragments as they are excreted and in any case, crush bones far more efficiently and completely.

Moreover, farm animals are reared intensively and quickly causing their bones to be brittle. Chickens often suffer fractures because of rapid growth that does not enable bones to develop fully and because they are bred to have large amounts of muscle which adds further strain. Bones are therefore much more likely to shatter and create potentially lethal shards.

Bones get stuck in the stomach and intestine. If they perforate the gut, consequential infection can be fatal and, at the very least, agonising. Bones get stuck in the oesophagus preventing the dog from breathing which, even if the dog survives, can lead to permanent blindness from hypoxia.

Raw bones are covered in pathogens: if left out, those pathogens will multiply. Although healthy dogs have quite good protection against food that would definitely fell a human, young, old and otherwise compromised dogs can become very ill indeed.

Myth 5: All additives are bad: processing is bad

Fact: Additives in good quality commercial, cooked food ensure that essential trace elements are bio-available and present in the right amounts if fed according to guidelines. This is vital for growing dogs and throughout life. Processing occurs at high temperatures which ensures that pathogens are largely eliminated and increases the shelf life of products. This makes good quality food easily available to all owners with minimal input required other than feeding and storing correctly. Processing (cooking) makes food more digestible; it does not destroy essential digestive enzymes. Processing (shaping) makes food available in small pellets which can be fed gradually and used to assist training and bonding when fed by hand.

Christmas – Chaos or Calm

For many people, celebrating holidays means a major change of routine, whether it is a hectic social whirl or just a chance to unwind. However, it is easy to underestimate how unsettling that can be for dogs.

Security, safety and routine are the bedrock for dogs; they have no way of knowing whether changes to their usual habits are only going to last for a few days or whether their live will always be chaotic. Even without the added risk of ingesting foreign objects or toxic human foods, Christmas holidays can result in sensitive dogs having stress-induced gastric problems and exhibiting unwanted behaviours. It is all too easy to spend far less time with dogs or over-exercise them when on holiday.

A small amount of time taken to ensure that as much of the usual routine as possible is retained over the holidays can make the dofference between a miserable time for you and your dogs or a welcome break.

  • Don’t feed additional or different food
  • Keep exercise levels the same and try to keep to a similar timetable as usual
  • Ensure that your dog can choose to go to a space where he can be alone and away from noise, but monitor him periodically
  • Don’t introduce other companion animals without allowing plenty of time before hand to see if they will be compatible and to make alternative arrangements if not
  • Ensure that exits will be secure and that you know where your dog is at all times
  • Don’t overwhelm your dog with toys and treats – one new toy and the usual amount of treats is suffient: save the surplus for the rest of the year
  • Make sure that guests comply.

Let’s make sure that no vet needs to be called out for the lack of a little forethought and make sure that your dog has a happy holiday too.

RSPCA Censured Officially Yet Again

The standard of corporate governance at the RSPCA remains in question as further problems in the management of the organisation come to light. The RSPCA went two years without a permanent chief executive after Gavin Grant left in 2014 having secured a 45% pay rise when compared to his predecessor. The appointment of Jeremy Cooper in 2016 seemed to hold out great promise as he recognised why the RSPCA is held in such low esteem amongst animal professionals and the general public and he stated, “We are going to be a lot less political. It doesn’t mean we won’t stand up for animals. But we are not a political organisation.” The fact that he remained in post for barely a year in spite of having attempted to impliment a five year strategy for the RSPCA speaks volumes for an organisation that clearly has no intention of mending its ways.

Chris Sherwood was appointed chief executive in August this year against a background of criticism in parliament dating back to 2013 for bringing private prosecutions rather than referring alleged offences to the Crown Prosecution Service and for spending £330,000 in a private prosecutions of the Cheshire, Cheshire Forest and the Ledbury Hunts which, unsurprisingly, did not result in convictions.

Quite apart from views on hunting or badger culls, the general public make generous donations to the RSPCA in the expection that they will investigate cases of genuine animal cruelty. In 2017, the RSPCA received 1,331 calls relating to 4,616 horses and ponies and by their own admission said that “…cases relating to horses were a “crisis” which showed no sign of abating. the same could be said of individual cases of cruelty, never mind the every day casual cruelty meted out to companion animals that goes on day after day. the RSPCA wanted the AWA 2006 and proclaimed it as a triumph. How many of the 40% of people whose dogs are overweight or obese have been prosecuted for over-feeding which is a clear breach of the Act? How many peopl ehave been prosecuted for mis-housing and mis-feeding cats and rabbits and causing suffering? The RSPCA received £143.5M in donations in 2016, £11.5M was in the form of legacies. In the same year, the Information Commissioner’s Office levied fines of £20,000 for breaches of the Data Protection Act 1988 in their fundraising practices following 503 complaints about its practices. The RSPCA blamed it on a “coding change” to their database.

Now the Charity Commission has issued an official warning to the RSPCA after finding that the chair, vice-chair, treasurer and deputy treasurer mis-managed the process of agreeing a very large pay-off to its former acting chief executive, Michael Ward, who was forced to step into the breach when Jeremy Cooper left and that they “…failed to act with reasonable care and skill in relation to the negotiation with the former acting chief executive”.

Chris Sherwood, formerly chief executive of the charity Relate, accepted the poisoned chalice of RSPCA CEO: he may well find that his marriage guidance skills come in handy with his own board. The official warning concludes that members of the council should receive formal training in corporate governance and must ensure that the council adheres to the charity’s code of conduct. They are required to commission an independent report on the processes followed in recruiting and appointing a new chief executive; that will make interesting reading.

Since the passing of the Charities Act 2016, only five official warnings have been issued by the regulator who stated that, in the case of the RSPCA, the level of engagement was “…concerning considering the Charity’s size and importance” and that the “unusually high turnover” of chief executives combined with significant periods of time when the RSPCA was without a substantive chief executive in post were additional matters for concern.

The RSPCA responded that they were confident that they were “heading the right direction” as a “modern charity”. As it happens, I have had reason to have personal experience of the RSPCA in recent weeks and it does nothing to lead me to think that anything has changed.

Meanwhile, as ever, it is always the animals that suffer. Fat cats take payouts whilst barely making in dent in the number of fat cats, beaten dogs, starved horses and any other number of suffering animals.

The Impossible Dream

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.