Fouling Their Own Territory

The final line up at Crufts was one of the most depressing that we have seen in a while. Puffed up and preened, the poor Old English sheepdog was as far away from guarding sheep as he could be, although at least he has an in-breeding coefficient of 0%. The Irish Setter has an in-breeding coefficient of 16.2%, 2.7% higher than the breed average; the miniature poodle 11.7%, a whopping 6.8% higher than the breed average, and the BIS winner, the wire haired dachsund 10.8%, also 6.8% higher than the breed average.

Even without this close level of in-breeding, deciding that out of approximately 20,000 entries, that an achondroplastic dog with a ridiculously elongated back is the best example of a dog makes me despair. The fact that this dog also needed to eliminate in the ring was also hardly edifying from a welfare perspective.

The BVA President Daniella dos Santos said “We’re concerned that seeing a dachshund crowned top dog at Crufts could lead to a further rise in their popularity and related increase in the health issues that can unfortunately affect these and other long and low breeds.”

However, this horse has possibly already bolted: as with other deformed phenotypes, dachsunds, and in particular miniature dachshunds have gained in popularity and seem to be almost as ubiquitous as pugs and French bulldogs, not least in the popular media.

How ironic that Vitality UK, a life insurance company, has chosen a miniature dachshund to promote their product. The BVA note that “…all six varieties of dachshunds– Standard Long-, Smooth-, and Wire-haired, and their miniature versions– [are] at risk of serious spinal and neurological issues which usually require surgery to fix. These problems may not be immediately obvious, but often cause them life-long discomfort and may need costly treatment”.

The most common problem is Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) which causes early degenerative changes in the discs that act as “shock absorbers” for the spine making them prone to herniate and calcify and resulting in the spinal cord compressing.

This is extremely painful for dogs and they may yelp, show a hunched back with the head down, shiver, pant, refuse to move or be unable to jump or negotiate stairs. It progresses to difficulty in walking with poor control of the hind limbs and ultimately, complete paralysis. Severely affected dogs have a paralysed bladder and may be unable to urinate and/or dribble urine. Completely paralysed dogs have no bladder function and lose the ability to feel pain.

Dachshunds are 10-12 times more likely to suffer from IVDD than other dog breeds. At least 20% of all dachshunds will show clinical signs of this disease. The median age of onset of disease is between 5-7 years, with the Standard and Miniature Smooth Haired and the Miniature Wire Haired having the highest prevalence.

Even if the BIS winner is not affected, how does promoting this type of extreme physical distortion promote canine health?

Going Viral

dog in face mask

Update: March 29th: The Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong that tested positive for Covid-19 tested negative again and was allowed to go home on March 8th. The dog died on March 16th. However, the owner refused to allow a post mortem examination so no cause of death could be confirmed. The dog was 17 years old.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has stated that “There is no evidence that dogs play a role in the spread of this human disease or that they become sick.”

The media has been awash with articles about Covid-19 and the emergent coronavirus in the last few weeks. It is perhaps not surprising that dogs are now featuring in media stories given how many dogs are living in close quarters with humans worldwide.

In fact, humans are more likely to pass on MRSA to their dogs or pick up various zoonoses, including via feeding raw food.

At the moment, it is not possible to tell how infections of coronavirus will progress, but there is a certain amount of hype and panic because bad news sells media advertising. In perspective, approximately 3,000 have died as a result of contracting Covid-19: seasonal influenza is estimated to kill between 100 and 200 times as many humans annually.

The latest sensational headline concerns a dog in Hong Kong that has tested as “weak positive” for coronovarius following infection of his owner.

Mass culling of dogs already occurs in response to rabies outbreaks, in spite of the fact that it is ineffective in curbing the disease. It would be horrific if dogs were to suffer because of panic over this current disease outbreak. Let us hope that common sense prevails; after all, the dog is likely to have inhaled virus shed by his owner as it seems highly unlikely that Covid-19 could have jumped species so quickly.

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.

£8, 743 Or A Basket? – You Choose

A seemingly random choice, but one that was all too real for the dog owner prosecuted when a postal worker lost two fingers delivering a card to her address.

No amount of money can make up for the pain, shock and permanent disability suffered by the postal worker and all because the owner couldn’t be bothered to fix a basket to her door and then train her dog not to react.

The Communication Workers Union reported 2,484 dog attacks on postmen and women in the UK in 2019 – a 9% increase compared with 2018 and resulting in 47 attacks every week. 82% of injuries occurred at the front door or in a garden.

It is a simple matter to isolate a dog before opening a door or to fix a basket to catch the post. After all, the dog that bit the postal worker’s fingers is also now at risk from being put down if any other incident occurs through no fault of its own and the owner has a criminal record for having a dog that ws dangerously out of control.

Home Alone

dog with headphones The media has been awash with items about podcasts for dogs and gadgets to monitor dogs that are left on their own for long periods.

Marketers are aware that pet ownership is big business; more than a quarter of the UK population owns a dog and/or cat and that rises to over half in the US. Mobile telephone ownership has reached saturation point in many parts of the world and automatic upgrading has slowed, so now the emphasis is on selling connectivity to the “internet of things”.

If the thought that all this interconnectivity potentially enables your every movement to be tracked too and that even your refrigerator could be used to spy on your whereabouts, this cannot under any circumstances be the right thing for canine welfare.

No amount of “algorithmically curated playlists” can make up for quality human company for most of the day. No treat dispensing or ball throwing machine can deliver as much fun as an interactive game between dog and human. Dogs will soon habituate to any noise provided for them, even if they pay it any attention in the first place. A dog with true separation disorder is just as likely to tear his nails out trying to dig through the door whether a podcast is playing or not.

If you find yourself considering whether to buy one of these gadgets, work out the purchase price, running and disposal costs and replacement price at end of life and spend the money on buying some training so that you can recall your dog reliably and pay a trainer to provide quality input while you are out. If you contemplate leaving your dog alone all day while you are at work, then please don’t get a dog. You could always volunteer at a rescue at the weekend instead.

The Value Of Everything

Companion animals are big business. With approximately 26% of the population owning a dog and/or a cat, feed, veterinary care and accessories alone make a large contribution to the economy. A puppy can easily cost a four figure sum, regardless of provenance; in fact, the more dubious the breeder, the likelier that the price demanded will be high.

Legally, animals are regarded as either wild, chattels or livestock. This effects any value placed on them in the event of an insurance claim or similar legal redress. This makes sense in that, whatever the emotional attachment, animals clearly do not have the capability of representing themselves in any judicial proceeding. However, it of course does not take into account the emotional value that the animal holds for humans.

Whilst this also applies to farm animals, it is the impact of valuation on companion animals that is most likely to change, if the lead taken in the USA is anything to go by. Half of the population in the USA owns at least one dog, compared to just over a quarter of the UK population. Companion dogs have been increasingly commodified in recent years and Americans spent ten times as much on companion animals than on legal marijuana and more than twice as much as on pizza.

Much of this is to be regretted, with many people breeding, buying and owning dogs as they might any other consumable, and consequential effects on canine welfare. However, the other side of that coin is that dogs are paradoxically becoming valued in an emotional sense that goes beyond their legal designation as chattels without attributing anthropomorphic “rights”.

Academics Simon F Header, Deven Carlson, Hank Jenkins Smith and Joe Ripberger used a formula, previously devised for valuing human life and calculated that the value of a companion dog is $10,000 (£7,500). A similar calculation has valued a human life at $10M (£75M). This is considerably more than the “price of a replacement” sum that could be granted in law in any compensation claim.

Of course, emotionally our canine companions are priceless and it is uncomfortable for many to consider their dog in monetary terms. In some instances, setting a so-called shadow price on the life of a dog at least takes into account that emotional value and means that in cases of negligence for instance, a much fairer level of compensation can be sought. It remains to be seen if the judiciary or professional bodies in the UK will follow the USA’s lead, but it is surely only a matter of time.

The Silent Victims of Poverty

Years of austerity take their toll on companion animals as well as humans.

Successive PAW Reports from the PDSA have shown that most owners grossly underestimate the cost of keeping a pet, with 62% of dog owners having unrealistic expectations. 16% of them purchased a dog because their children demanded it.

Of the people in the lowest third of national income levels:
82% have not registered their animal with a vet
12% have not registered with a vet
24% have not neutered
37% have not vaccinated
40% have not followed up with boosters
33% have no de-wormed
22% have not de-flead
61% are not insured.

Food banks are now being opened up to provide pet food. Owners may compromise on the quality of diet provided because they do not want to pay more or because of the need to budget. Either way, dogs may be being fed a poor diet, which of course makes it more likely that they may become unwell, leading to requirements for further expenditure.

Not for noting has the PDSA have labelled companion animals the “silent victims of poverty”.

Ban The Bang

As the nights close in, the inevitable countdown to “firework season” begins for many animals owners, not to mention an increasing number of people such as those with cognitive decline or PTSD who are just as confused and/or distressed.

In spite of several attempts to persuade the UK government to ban the public sale of fireworks, they refuse to take a lead and change the current, unworkable legislation regarding fireworks.

So, it’s good to hear that the supermarket Sainsbury’s has taken a lead and decided not to sell fireworks in its stores. Now, whilst it’s perfectly possible that the decision is entirely commercial, the effect is that it removes the option from a major retailer and, given the support shown on Sainsbury’s Twitter account from a variety of sources, will provide positive publicity for the retailer to boot.

It may well be that other retailers decide to follow Sainsbury’s lead which can only be beneficial to all who dread having to cope with the trauma, the workers in emergency services who do not have to risk their own safety or people who just want a decent night’s sleep.

In the meantime, there is much that can be done to mitigate the effects of fireworks so that cosy dark nights and autumn colours can become enjoyable again. Contact a qualified, registered behaviourist for advice.

Banking On It

Assistance dog using ATM Increasingly local authorities, transport companies and businesses are removing payment options and attempting to force people to connect to the internet via computer or mobile telephone. This is frequently done in the name of convenience, but it is pretty one-sided and has everything to do with cutting jobs and costs and nothing to do with providing good service.

Whilst 95% of UK households own a mobile telephone, the 5%, representing nearly 3.5 million people. The Office for National Statistics found that, in 2018, 8.4% of adults had never used the internet and 7% of those that had were victims of online fraud. 33% of people who did not undertake online shopping cited security problems as the reason.

Meanwhile, bank closures continue apace as do closures of ATMs. More than 3,000 banks representing one third of UK branches have closed since 2015 and others have reduced their hours. Coupled with poor or non-existent public transport in rural areas, this has the potential to leave the most disadvantaged in society unable to access their own money.

So what has this got to do with dogs?

Service dogs are often trained to assist with using ATMs, but the design needs to incorporate a ledge on which the dog can rest his paws and there needs to be plenty of room behind. Even where ATMs still exist, they may not therefore, be accessible.

Time to take the banks to task and stop the rot, for everyone’s sake.

Going To Extremes

Whilst the world seems to be becoming increasingly stressful for humans and dogs, it seems that some people can’t get enough of an adrenalin rush. So-called extreme sports have attracted sufficient attention in recent years to be a magnet for advertising and now, it seems, dogs are being hauled along for the ride too.

There is no doubt that one of the best things about living with a social animal such as a dog is that so many activities can be shared. Many dogs would benefit from being included in far more of their owner’s life instead of being shunted off to dog walkers, kennels or left on their own. Many more would benefit from the stimulation of sharing in an activity, competitive or otherwise. The Campaign for Responsible Dog Ownership actively promotes inclusion and better access for dogs in many walks of life (no pun intended).

However, canine welfare must always be paramount and the inclusion of dogs in activities such as surfing and paragliding needs to be seriously questioned. There is perhaps some justification for strapping a service dog to a parachute, but even there, we should be making some serious decisions about whether we should involve animals in our internecine wars for as the Animals In War Memorial states “They had no choice”.

Owners are notoriously poor at detecting stress in their companion animals. Whilst some dogs may actually enjoy the activity to which they are being subjected, if only because it is social, others undoubtedly do not or may be prone to harm by being, for instance, exposed to a great deal of salt water or indeed, mechanical injury. Just take a look at this dog. If I saw the image as it appears at the top of this post, I would be pretty sure that this is not a happy dog. His eyes are wide and fixed, his commissure is tight and his body is rigid with tension. However, context is all. The dog with al teeth bared and wide open mouth may, after all, just be about to catch a toy, however fierce it looks. …and the context – oh yes, this poor dog has just been strapped to a man who has jumped out of a plane and is now plummeting to earth without any opportunity to do otherwise. I can promise that I for one would look far less sanguine under the same circumstances. There are some advantages to possessing a mind that functions mainly in the present.

Dogs are been taken into the skies to satisfy their owners desire for one-upmanship as they post a bragging image on social media too. Many companies offer flights above popular tourist spots, but helicopter tour company FlyNYON not only promote “open door” flights where tourists are encouraged to hang out (literally) and take photographs, they are allowed to subject their dogs to the same danger. the Company’s website has a small notice about their charitable donation to a canine shelter but does not mention anywhere what the policy is on dogs. Maybe that is thanks to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer who has wisely spoken out against this policy and who, along with Senator Robert Menendez, has requested that the Federal Aviation Administration should intervene and prohibit humans and dogs from flying under these circumstances.

There have been four fatal crashes of non-military helicopters in the US so far this year, with one in the Grand Canyon and in New York City resulting in the deaths of ten tourists. At least when humans take to the skies, they can weigh up the likelihood of harm and make their decision, but their dog cannot.

By all means, let us share our lives where appropriate with our dogs, but let us remember that they are dogs, not furry humans and leave them behind if thrill-seeking is the aim.