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.

Prevention or Prosecution?

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill had a first reading in the House of Commons (without debate) and is currently awaiting a date for a second reading. The Bill is part of recent DEFRA initiatives regarding animal welfare, including the introduction of the latest licensing regulations. The Bill proposes to increase the maximum custodial sentence for people convicted of cruelty from the current paltry six months to up to five years.

Whilst this is to be welcomed, the EFRA Committee made additional recommendations that have not been implemented, including that the RSPCA should no longer act as a prosecutor of first resort. The RSPCA slid into this unusual role because animal welfare prosecutions are largely private (not brought by public bodies such as the Crown or Crown Prosecution Services). The EFRA Committee concluded in 2016 that the RSPCA should “withdraw from acting as a prosecutor of first resort where there are statutory bodies with a duty to carry out this role. We are not convinced by its arguments that it is in a better position than the CPS to prosecute animal welfare cases”.

There are plenty of members of the public who are not convinced either.

Horrific cases of cruelty surface periodically and should soon be able to attract appropriate custodial sentences when prosecuted, the daily misery meted out to dogs goes unrecognised by the very people who are genuinely appalled at extreme cases. So many dogs spend their lives subdued under head collars, harnesses that rub, collars that choke and then are shouted at constantly by owners who don’t even recognise that they are doing it. They are rarely allowed time to sniff, eliminate and play without being dragged away or stopped for just behaving like dogs. Meanwhile owners profess to be their parents and ooze sentiment, thinking that the cowed resentment they get back is “unconditional love”.

So many of these problems could be solved by appropriate, fear-free training. As the adage says, “Properly trained, a human can be a dog’s best friend”.

Meanwhile, the improvements to legislation should be applauded but we desperately need resources to be put into educating owners and preventing problems from occurring in the first place.

‘Til Death Us Do Unite

News has just broken of a vet in the US state of Virginia euthanising a “healthy” shi tzu so that it could be cremated with its former owner.

Such convenience euthanising is not uncommon; vets frequently talk of a “Christmas cull” where animals are put down earlier than perhaps they might otherwise have been in order not to be an inconvenience over the holiday period. Perhaps, in the scheme of things, this is not too awful if the animal was on its last legs anyway and the owners were not prepared to undertake intensive hours of care that would be required to see it through a few more days and maybe weeks or put it through the stress of a hectic holiday.

However, owners also deliberately buy dogs that, whilst technically “healthy” in that they are not suffering from disease, are suffering because of their deliberately distorted bodies. I have personal experience of owners who insisted on a miniature dachshund being euthanised because they were moving abroad to an apartment with stairs that a dog with such an elongated back and a history of spinal problems couldn’t manage several times a day. They didn’t see why anyone else should have “their” dog and eventually the vet acceded because she felt that the alternative was for the dog to die at the hands of a vet that she didn’t know in unfamiliar surroundings. The unnecessary death of that lively 7 year old dog still haunts me, but not as much as the idea that such a dog was bred in the first place, her ridiculously out of proportion back and stunted legs making it pretty much inevitable that she would suffer.

No doubt such owners professed (and believed) time and time again that they love their animals.

Funny kind of love.

Perhaps this is what is meant by the saying that love is blind.

State law in Virginia was powerless to intervene in the case if the shih tzu because dogs are regarded as being chattels. This is also true in the UK. Whilst this is better than regarding them as having rights which they clearly do not possess, it does not go far enough in ensuring that owners do not ignore their moral responsibilities. Sentiment lies at the root of trying to impose “rights” upon animals as if they were humans capable of arguing their case in court. Sentiment and vanity lies as the root of insisting on the death of a dog because you think that it is so attached to you that it won’t cope with another owner after your death or – even worse – just because you don’t like the thought of another owner bonding with your dog after your death.

This is also yet another case of not giving dogs credit for being dogs. Yes, it causes a stabbing pang of jealousy and a deflation of the ego to realise that the dog with which you have an immensely close bond will, in all probability, cope without you, but shouldn’t that be a tribute to your ability to raise a resilient dog? To think otherwise is the equivalent of expecting a human to commit suicide on the death of their partner. Sati, the practice of women immolating themselves following their husbands’ death, wasn’t abolished in Nepal until 1920. In India, although it was officially abolished under the Raj in 1863, a further act had to be passed in 1988, widening the criminalisation of support or “glorification” of the practice. I hope that the fact that this legislation is so recent is shocking. I hope too, that the death of this shih tzu is equally as shocking, albeit one that is considerably more humane. No one is saying that your dog will not go through a period of difficulty, perhaps even akin to mourning, when adjusting to your death, but you have a moral responsibility to ensure that your dog can cope with all eventualities in life and even, in the event that you pre-decease your dog.

Dogs (and all animals) need a hell of a lot less “love” and a hell of a lot more “empathy”.

Then perhaps we wouldn’t place vets in a position of killing perfectly healthy animals, or for that matter, coping with the deformities imposed on them by the warped aesthetics of breeders and owners.

I Love Lucy

Much has been made in the press in the last couple of days about the passing of the so-called “Lucy’s Law”, with headlines trumpeting that puppy farming has now been banned.

Except that it hasn’t.

As anti-puppy farming campaign C.A.R.I.A.D state, this latest legislation just has the potential to cut off part of the supply chain, because what it actually prohibits is the sale of puppies and kittens via third parties. The only sales that will now be legal are those made directly by the breeder, subject of course to other legislation such as licensing and the sale of animals at the permitted age.

All well and good but in many ways, it changes nothing, other than making it a fraction harder for puppy farmers and back street breeders to organise their supply chain.

  • It is already illegal to import or sell puppies under 8 weeks old
  • It is already illegal to important puppies that are not suitably vaccinated with the appropriate accompanying documentation
  • It is already illegal to falsify paperwork, including PET passports, health records and pedigrees
  • It is already illegal to sell puppies when they have not been seen with their mother
  • It is already illegal to sell puppies without providing a socialisation plan

So what?

Puppies are still being imported in huge numbers, sold under age and/or with fraudulent or no paperwork, sold without a socialisation plan and sold when presented without their mother, either on their own, because the sellers claim that the bitch died or when they use a substitute bitch.

The percentage of owners that are aware of the existence of the AWA 2006, never mind their responsibilities under just this piece of legislation is small and has been decreasing since 2011.

Go out onto any street and count how many dogs are off lead alongside a road. Some of them wil have no collar either and, even if they have, it may not have a legal tag attached. Some will not be microchipped and of those that are, some will not have kept the database up to date. Many will be boarded in establishments without licences, many will have bought form breeders without licences.

All of this is illegal.

Very little is actually done about it though, because there are no resources made available to educate the public or to police the legislation.

Much of the legislation is confusing, even for professionals, and there is evidence to suggest that practitioners are not interpreting or implementing the legislation consistently.

Far too much is left to local authority discretion. DEFRA noted in <a href=”https://www.local.gov.uk/guidance-dog-control-and-welfare-police-and-local-authorities” target=”_blank”>a 2017 report</a> that “Reference was made to a lack of certainty in some areas over the split of responsibility between police and local authorities with respect to dog control issues. Varying degrees of enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 or engagement on dog control between local authorities was highlighted as an issue. Resourcing was identified as a challenge against a background of a high number of cases.”

Licence fees and fines vary widely, leaving both responsible practitioners and miscreants at the mercy of a post code lottery.

It is in this context that “Lucy’s Law” needs to be seen, because tragically, there are going to be very many more dogs that continue to suffer as Lucy did unless a radical shakeup is made of the welfare priorities for local and national government.

The Kennel Club need to actually dedicate themselves “to protecting and promoting the health and welfare of all dogs” by not continuing to register puppy-farmed dogs, expelling members such as Eric Hale, actually doing something radical to stop in-breeding  (commissioning studies is all well and good but any idiot can tell the KC why so many German Shepherds can’t walk properly or brachycephalic dogs breathe) and the stop supporting the breeding of thousands of dogs with appalling conformations.

Puppy farming could be ended overnight without the need for legislation and the consequent expense of policing it because all it needs is for people to:

  • Stop buying puppy-farmed dogs
  • Stop taking in dogs because they pity them and thinking that they are rescuing them rather than leaving space for the next one
  • Stop expecting to be able to buy dogs off-the-shelf
  • Stop buying dogs from websites such as Pets4Homes and Gumtree
  • Stop buying dogs from back street breeders
  • Stop buying dogs from breeders without having checked and cross-checked their licensing status.

Breed-specific Legislation Must Go

A 9 year old was left alone with a dog in a confined space in Cornwall last weekend with fatal consequences – and in all likelihood may be fatal for the dog too. The dog was not a banned breed.
Could the dog be truly said to have been dangerously out of control or was it just reacting from provocation and fear? Investigations are continuing, but maybe we will never know.

Last Thursday, at the other end of the UK in Glasgow, a Lakeland terrier attacked a six-week-old. It is in hospital. The dog was taken by a relative to be euthanised. Again, we do not know how this dog had been treated up until the point that it bit or whether the owners had taken any measures to accustom the dog to having a child in the house or to prevent access. It was a terrier – hardly surprising that it found squalling arousing.

Neil Parish MP, the chair of the EFRA select committee called for a full-scale review of existing legislation and voiced misgivings about the efficacy of breed-specific legislation last October following an 81% increase in hospitalisations for dog bites in the dozen years leading up to 2017. The Sunday Times undertook an FoI request and found that less than a third of dogs involved in attacks over the past 15 months belonged to one of the four proscribed breeds. A similar FoI request found that in 2017, Surrey police seized 6 dogs under the DDA. 3 were subsequently placed on the exempt register and 1 on the interim exemption register, 1 was released as not being of a proscribed “breed” and 1 was euthanised. Kennel costs amounted to £19,700 or £3,283.33 per dog. What a monumental waste of resources.

Meanwhile, an FoI request to Kent police revealed that in 2016, 745 offences were recorded where a person was fund to be in charge of a that was dog dangerously out of control and that caused injury. This represents a 46-fold increase since 2011. 2 additional offences involved an assistance dog.

Last week, a short walk from where I live, a dog imported from Croatia attacked and killed another dog and bit the owner who intervened. The dog had been in the country for just five weeks but was being walked off lead in a small green space that is also open to the road. It had been imported to give it “a better life” according to the subsequent police report. The owner left the scene but was traced.

Hard to see how this dog’s life has been improved; in fact, the chances are that it will be summarily ended, through no fault of anyone but the “rescue” and the owners.

It also was not a proscribed breed.

Unless we introduce education, legislation and sufficient resources to make both effective, the catalogue of incidents will only increase and more and more dogs will pay the ultimate price.

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.

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.