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.

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.

3 Out 1 In

Three pieces of legislation affecting dogs will be repealed in October 2018 and a new piece of legislation will be introduced covering the licensing of activities involving animals: specifically in the case of companion dogs, all types of boarding and breeding. The requirements for the provisions made for dogs being boarded are more detailed than previously and are explicit regarding permissions for day care and overnight boarding. The provision which allowed one additional dog to be boarded with an owner’s own dog without requiring licensing has thankfully been rescinded.

Main points for overnight boarding include:

  • Dogs may only be boarded in a home
  • Boarded dogs must have direct access to a private, non-communal, secure and hazard-free external area and there must be at least two secure physical barriers between any dog and any entrance to or exit from it
  • Dogs from different households may only be boarded at the same time with the written consent of every owner
  • Each dog must be provided with its own designated room where it can, if necessary, be kept separate from other dogs
  • Any equipment that a dog is likely to be in contact with and any toy provided must not pose a risk of pain, suffering, disease or distress to the dog and must be correctly used
  • Dogs which on the advice of a veterinarian cannot be exercised must be provided with alternative forms of mental stimulation
  • If any person aged under 16 years resides at the home, there must be procedures in place to regulate the interactions between the dogs and that person.

Main points for day care boarding include:

  • No dog may be kept on the premises overnight
  • There must be an area where any dog can avoid seeing other dogs and people if it so chooses
  • All dogs must be screened before being admitted to the premises to ensure that they are not afraid, anxious or stressed in the presence of other dogs or people and do not pose a danger to other dogs or staff
  • Any journeys in a vehicle must be planned to minimise the time dogs spend in the vehicle.

Frankly, I know of very few people boarding dogs currently in their home who would be compliant with the new legislation and, in the case of the immediate area where I live, not one is boarding legally anyway. Abuses that I know of include the women who “boards” dogs overnight in her car which is not even always parked outside her house or the woman who let two dogs run out of an open door, one of which was immediately killed by a devastated, dog-owning driver through no fault of his own. The obligation to provide a designated room for each dog should severely limit numbers which is no bad thing. The prohibition on causing pain and suffering by the use of equipment is interesting and could potentially stop the use of a variety of common restraints. It is particularly good news that there are restrictions on contact between boarding dogs and under 16s.

It would have been useful to have had specific provisions for dogs taken away from the home area such as to farms etc which became more common when parks began to restrict the number of dogs that could be walked at any given time. Sadly, very, very few people dealing with dogs recognise signs of fear, anxiety and stress and often miss the subtle signals that dogs show. The restriction on time spent in vehicles is a bit vague, but at least it could include the provision for demonstrating that there is a written plan.

The legislation covering breeding is more straightforward, but there are still potential difficulties in enactment. It states that “A puppy may only be shown to a prospective purchaser if it is together with its biological mother.” However, the only way to prove that would be to undertake a DNA test and wait for the results. How that could occur in practice and who would pay for it remains to be seen. Licensed breeders “must implement and be able to demonstrate use of a documented socialisation and habituation programme for the puppies” which means that potential owners can request to see it.

There are two major provisions of the breeding section of the regulations that could have an explosive impact if fully enacted. The prohibition on mating any bitch that has had two litters delivered by caesarean section could severely limit the number of dogs bred that are unable to give birth naturally, although again, it is not easy to see how it will be policed.

But the one section that made me really sit up and take notice is this:

“No dog may be kept for breeding if it can reasonably be expected, on the basis of its genotype, phenotype or state of health that breeding from it could have a detrimental effect on its health or welfare or the health or welfare of its offspring.”

That may well be the golden key to preventing the horrors that have been perpetuated for far too long on brachycephalic and achondroplastic dogs. We can only hope.

In the end, as with all legislation, it remains to be seen what resources are put into policing it.

Proposed Ban on Puppy Sales

DEFRA are calling for responses to a consultation on banning third party sales of puppies. Click on the link to have your say.

If enacted, it could be possible that the commercial sale of puppies and possibly kittens and other animals would no longer be legal from pet shops. Currently, pet shops can apply to their local authority for a licence to sell puppies and are subject (in theory at least), to regular inspection.

However, even if pet shops are capable of providing suitable conditions from which to house and sell puppies which is extremely doubtful, they can only guarantee a regular supply of puppies from mass breeding. As the BBC TV documentary The Dog Factory proved, some of these outlets are a boon for puppy farmers, including those masquerading and even functioning as regular breeders.

This sounds like an excellent proposition, but the only way to prevent it from being just another statute amongst the 50+ laws that deal with dogs in the UK is for considerable resources to be put into enforcing and policing it. That seems highly unlikely in the current climate of severe local authority cuts.

Read the full response from CReDO here…

Scotland Sees Sense – Now Come On England

After an outcry when Scotland effectively considered creating a “qualification” in administering electric shocks to dogs in the name of training, MSPs have backtracked and Scotland has issued draft guidance with the aim of advising against the use of shock collars.

Whilst an outright ban would have been preferable, this is still good news for the approximately 820,000 dogs in Scotland and the approximately 590,000 dogs in Wales that are already protected by a ban. The approximately 7.5 million dogs in England and the six counties of Northern Ireland are still waiting.

Of course, even a UK ban would on be the tip of the iceberg in preventing punishment being meted out to dogs on a daily basis by ignorant owners and “trainers”. It would be a great start though.

Sentience and Sensibility

It is probably fair to say that those who voted to leave Europe had absolutely no idea of the implications of their actions and, let’s face it, those who voted to remain probably didn’t in any detail either. Well, the pigeons are coming home to roost thick and fast now.

As far as the EU Withdrawal Bill is concerned, those pigeons are designated as not being sentient. An amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill to transfer the EU protocol on animal sentience into UK law was defeated by 313 votes to 295 in a Parliamentary vote and MPs have argued that both farm and domestic animals are covered by existing legislation, some of which goes beyond EU protocols. There has been widespread outcry from various quarters to this decision, but it easy to have a knee-jerk reaction as we well know, otherwise we would not be in this position in the first place.

The existence and degree of sentience across the animal kingdom is a long way from being fully understood, let alone agreed upon, but few would dispute its existence in the major species that could be affected by the UK’s decision to drop the designation from its legislation. Michael Gove has hinted that specific UK legislation may be tigtened, including a promise to crack down on puppy farming.

At the end of the day, all the legislation in the world cannot protect animals from harm unless it is policed and prosecuted where breaches occur. Many of the more than 50 statutes that supposedly protect dogs alone are routinely breached and that includes statutes that could prevent puppy farming. Let’s face it, the Kennel Club did nothing when one of its members, a prominent breeder and show competitor was exposed as a puppy farmer and it continues to register puppy farmned dogs. If the organisation that purports to care about the welfare of all dogs does nothing, there is little hope in a climate of austerity and maximising profits for the few that much will be done. Whatever government is in office in the near future will have its hands full coping wityh the effects of leaving the EU; puppy farming will only become a priority if it is seen as being politically expedient or as a smokescreen for “burying bad news”.

Out of Office – Not Out of Order

The Guardian reported today that a university admininstrator in La Sapienza University, Rome has set a legal precedent in Italy by successfuly obtaining paid leave to look after a dog that was due to undergo surgery. She was initially refused permission by her HR department in spite of explaining that she lived on her own and could not delegate the care of her dog. The Italian Anti-vivisection League took up her case and discovered that there is legal precedent that could have made the owner criminally liable for lack of care of her dog had she been unable to facilitate the surgery and post-operative recovery. Her employer finally accepted proof from the owner’s veterinary surgeon and granted the paid leave.

The Italian Anti-vivisection League has hailed it as a victory for recognition that companion animals “are in all respects family components” and hope that it might result in an amendement to the Civil Code.

In the UK, enlightened employers and medical staff are recognising the value of companion animals and, given that 25% of the population own at least one dog and 26% at least one cat, similar recognition could affect a sizeable proportion of the population. Parents have an enormous amount of legislation supporting paid leave, numerous other benefits and financial incentives, yet just 18.9% of the population is under 15 years old. It could also be argued that the same principles apply here and that the AWA 2006 would be breached were an employee unable to care for a companion animal sufficiently.

Italy has a long way to go in respect of other aspects of canine welfare, not least their no-kill shelter policy that condemns many dogs to a life of misery and facilitates the dumping of unwanted animals. However, in terms of human rights, today’s news should be hailed as a victory.