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.

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.

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.

Treacherous Thames – Canine Casualties on the Tideway

When most people think of lifeboats they have images of dark and stormy nights, Grace Darling battling huge waves and dramatic launches from seaside slipways. It may be surprising then, to realise that the busiest lifeboat station in the UK is on the river Thames at Tower Bridge, with the other three Thames stations at Chiswick, Gravesend and Teddington being the next busiest. The Thames has had its own lifeboats since 2001 when a safety enquiry following the Marchioness disaster saw the establishment of Tower Bridge station. Uniquely, the Thames stations are manned permanently and vessels are required to be afloat within 90 seconds of being notified of an incident. Chiswick has 3 E-class inshore boats that were designed specifically for the conditions on the Thames: the Chelsea Pensioner (E-003), the Joan and Kenneth Bellamy (E-006) and Dougie and Donna B (E-008). E-class boats are the fastest vessels in service with the RNLI and can reach up to 95% of casualties between Canvey Island and Teddington within 15 minutes.

The Thames is a dangerous place. The tide can rise and fall up to 24ft twice a day and hide all sorts of submerged hazards as well as create treacherous currents and dangerous mud. The average water temperature is 12C (54F); cold water shock can occur at any temperature below 15C (59F). 34 people died in the river between 2000 and 2014. It doesn’t help that charming riverside pubs can create not-at-all-charming drunks who either fall in or think that they are invincible and can swim in all conditions.

Chiswick came into operation in January 2012. Up until the end of 2017, crews had attended 3,328 incidents and rescued 1,707 people, some of whom would otherwise have died.

The dangers aren’t just faced by humans but by dogs too. Involuntary ingestion of river water and the dangers of being infected by leptospirosis (Weill’s disease) can kill dogs and humans. Even the strongest swimmers can and do get swept away by the tide and can get trapped in a variety of hazards by unexpected currents that may not be visible from the bank. Already this year, the Chiswick station, operating between Richmond half lock and Battersea, has been called out for the seventh time to rescue a dog. Crews have also had to rescue handlers who try to retrieve dogs from the water and, as with the seashore, can be in greater danger than the dog that they are trying to bring in. Even if dogs don’t enter the water voluntarily, they can and do fall in not least when banks are slippery with weed and mud (and that’s the polite description, at least until the Thames Tideway becomes operational).

This is what happened when two dogs and their handlers got into difficulty on the Thames this summer.

There were a total of 132 lifeboat launches to dog walking incidents in 2015, with 119 handlers being rescued.

Don’t let yourself or your dog add to the statistics. Respect the water, keep your dog on the lead and/or get a canine lifejacket*. Don’t let your dog swim in the Thames or other tidal waters and make sure that there is no danger from algal blooms and similar in running or still water.

Never go in after your dog.

If your dog does get into difficulties, call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard and keep yourself safe and, if necessary, warm.

Chiswick lifeboat station costs £495,000 per annum to run. The RNLI is completely independent of government and relies on volunteers and fundraising to operate. You can support Chiswick or any other part of the RNLI by taking part in a regular event such as SOS day at the end of January or National Lifeboat day in May or local events or by making a purchase from the RNLI shop* . Drop some change or even notes, into a tin. Even a small donation can help with the annual running costs.

Most of all, you can help by keeping yourself and your dog safe around water.

* CreDO and DogsNet.org do not take responsibility for products advertised on or purchased from third party websites.

Shocking Stance of CA – Literally

It was with horror that I read the news release from the Countryside Alliance which supports the use of shock collars and makes erroneous connections between the type of electric fencing used to confine cats and dogs with that used to confine livestock.

Comments from Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the CA include stating that the issue does “not seem like an issue to die in a ditch about” and that the motive behind the proposal to ban shock collars in England is for “the sake of a few headlines and tweets”. he then goes on to suggest that it could lead to “more cats and dogs being euthanased and placed in danger”. He then erroneously equates shock collars and electic boundary fences used in conjunction with shock collars with electric fences widely used to protect livestock.

The CA could take a lead in promoting non-adversive training which many of its members use to train dogs for the field, but instead is now allying itself with the animal abuse which many of its detractors have accused it (erroneously) in the past.

It is not too late for the CA to admit that they are in the wrong here. If you feel strongly and/or train your dog for the field using non-aversive methods, contact them today.

The consultation on the proposed ban on electonic shock collars closes on April 27th, 2018 so there is still time to have your say.

Click here to read the response from CReDO and DogsNet.

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore Irgo

In an update to yesterday’s post, it appears that United Airlines has made another serious error this week when transporting a dog.

A 10 year old German Shepherd should have been travelling with his owners on a 1,641 mile internal flight from Oregon to Kansas. Upon landing, the owners were handed a Great Dane. Irgo the German Shepherd had instead been taken on a 5,026 mile international flight to Japan.

Flying is a stressful event for all animals, let alone an elderly dog and a giant dog. The German Shepherd faced a flight of 6,219 miles to get to Kansas.

United, perhaps well aware of the adverse publicity and exposure of its multiple failures where carrying animals is concerned, flew both bogs back to their intended locations on private charter planes with dedicated handlers.

Death By Airline

It has been widely reported in the world’s media that a United Airlines employee insisted that a dog, travelling in an approved carrier, be stowed in an overhead locker where it subsequently died.

Federal standards for the transportation of animals are set by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, a division of the US Department of Agriculture, which are based on the US Animal Welfare Act (7 USC § 2131). Specific regulations exist to cater for species requirements. The US Department of Transportation has required airlines to report losses, injuries and deaths of companion animals in transit both on internal and external flights operated by a US carrier since May 2015 and makes statistic public. In 2017, United Airlines transported 138,178 animals and reported 18 deaths and 13 injuries to animals in its care. Furthermore, Title 14, Section 234.13 of the Code of Federal Regulations
requires the US Department of Transportation to “work with air carriers to improve the training of employees with respect to the air transport of animals and the notification of passengers of the conditions under which the air transport of animals is conducted”. Two notices were issued to carriers at the beginning and end of 2015 to remind them of their obligations.

Between May 2005 and December 2017, 274 dogs, 54 cats, 7 birds, 3 chinchillas, 5 guinea pigs, 3 rabbits, 2 geckos, 1 monkey, 1 rat, 1 ferret, 1 snake, 1 pig and 3 unidentified animals have died when in the care of US airlines. A further 190 dogs and 16 cats were injured and 39 cats, 13 dogs and 2 birds went missing. 3 of the lost dogs and 1 of the lost cats were reported to have been recovered subsequently. 1 of the lost cats and 5 of the injured dogs subsequently died and 1 of the injured dogs was euthanised.

There is considerable variation in the carriers who take animals and in the numbers transported, but Delta Airlines has a similar poor record with 84 deaths, 33 injuries and 15 losses in the same period. American Airlines reported 57 deaths, 11 injuries and 5 losses, Continental Airlines 49 deaths, 16 injuries and 4 losses and Alaska Airlines 43 deaths, 67 injuries and 5 losses. The remaining 16 carriers reported an average of 30 deaths ranging from (none to 16), 30 injuries ranging from (none to 7) and 19 losses ranging from (none to 5).

The USDA has sanctioned various air carriers for violations of the Animal Welfare Act which include:

Allowing animals to suffer from hyperthermia and hypothermia causing injury and death
Accepting inadequate encloses for transportation causing injuries and loss
Causing death by inadequate ventilation
Causing injury and death by inadequate supervision including causing injury and death by dehydration and starvation
Causing death by crushing an enclosure and death by poor loading techniques and improper handling.

In addition:
Staff placed a dog’s enclosure on an elevated baggage claim conveyor belt
32 out of 106 dogs and 2 cats died and 52 other animals were injured when all but one dog were being shipped by dealers due to inadequate ventilation
50 dogs in a shipment of 81 died and 31 were injured due to inadequate ventilation. 6 of the 31 were later euthanised.

There were also frequent violations of the requirement to carry adequate documentation regarding animal care, specifically food and water, and of requirements to check that enclosures were adequate before permitting transportation.

Statistically of course, the number is extremely small, but each one represents an animal for which airline staff had a duty of care and of course, an animal to which a human was strongly attached enough to pay a not inconsiderable sum for its travel expecting that it would be safe.

In the case of the dog that died on the latest United Airlines flight, the airline has accepted responsibility and acknowledged that the flight attendant was not following accepted protocol. It beggars belief however, that the member of staff did not take further advice having realised that this was not a suitable way for a living animal to travel. In addition, all concerned, including the owner, ignored the dog’s distressed cries. Given that it has been reported to have been a French bulldog puppy, it would in all likelihood have had compromised breathing and poor ability to regulate body temperature.

In many ways, this is a direct consequence of designating dogs as “toy” types and “teacup dogs” and treating them no differently to accessories to be bred, bought, sold and handled as if they were handbags and shoes.

Waiting for the Wolf

It never ceases to amaze me how incorrect information sticks like glue and correct information seems to slide off the consciousness like oil off metal. An erroneous study from the 1940s is deeply etched into the collective psyche so that the myth of the alpha dog is still current and still causes dogs to be abused. Studies that are almost as old that form the basis for non-aversive training of all sorts of animals – including dogs and humans – still have not trickled down to the far corners of the murkier aspects of the dog world.

Some aspects of the origin of the domestic dog are still controversial but one thing we have known for a while: the dog domesticated itself probably approximately 15,000 – 30,000 years ago, possibly in China, then in the Arctic, then in the fertile crescent.

The great Charles Darwin knew that domestication caused outwards changes in plants and animals; he wrote two volumes on the subject. However, it was the unprecedented longitudinal study of silver foxes by Dimitri Konstantinovich Belayev that proved that, in essence, selecting for tameness alone produced foxes that began to resemble collies more and more with each succeeding generation. Floppy ears, piebald coats, smaller skulls (and brains), shorter muzzles and curly tails all came along for free.

Now new research has shown that this occurs in mice too and one of the indicators of tameness was the appearance of white hairs in the coat. Unlike the silver fox fur experiment, the researchers were not intervening in the way that the mice lived their lives other than to release the initial population of 12 mice into an uninhabited barn where they would come into contact with humans. The mice were free to come and go as they pleased through specially constructed “mouse doors” that provided protection from predators and access to freely available food. In just a few generations, the mice became more and more habituated to humans, even running over their feet, and white hairs appeared in their coats, whilst their heads became smaller.

This study is important for dogs because it provides further proof that dogs initially self-domesticated. Along with genetic evidence that points to a now extinct mega fauna wolf as the progenitor of the dog on the hearth, it further removes dogs from the myth that early man tamed wolf cubs until they evolved into a dog. Experiment after experiment has always failed to produce tame wolves: they always revert to the wild, although they can be socialised.

So, as it bears repeating until finally the myths are scotched for ever:

  • No dog on the planet is related directly to any wolf on the planet
  • 13 basal “breeds” of dog evolved without intervention from man but no modern dog can be traced back directly to these evolutions
  • Dogs do not live in packs, although they, like wolves and humans, are social animals
  • Dogs to not breed in alpha and beta pairings because, unlike wolves, they are fertile all year round
  • Dogs do have distinct personalities that may favour one type of behaviour in the majority of circumstances
  • The way that a dog behaves is not just down to genetics and inherited temperament but varies with many environmental factors.

Repeat after me: “DOGS ARE NOT PROTO-WOLVES. DOGS ARE NOT SEEKING TO DOMINATE YOU – OR ANYTHING ELSE – FOR THEIR ENTIRE LIVES. DOGS DO NOT NEED TO BE PUNISHED.”

Once you really, truly believe this, distribute the information to as many dog-punishers as possible and remember that mice helped you to get there.

Kung Hei Fat Choy

Today marks the start of the lunar new year as celebrated across Asia and the diaspora. The lunar new year marked the start of preparations for a new growing season and is based on the moon’s orbit around the earth rather than the western calendar that is calculated according to the earth’s orbit around the sun. Chinese New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice.

Legend tells that the Chinese new year traditions started because villagers drove out the marauding Nian using firecrackers and red lanterns as his winter hunger caused him to eat livestock and villagers. The Jade Emperor, the first Chinese deity, sent an immortal being into man’s world to select twelve guards for his palace. The animals set off towards the Heavenly Gate, determined to be chosen. Rat got up very early but had to stop at a river. He noticed Ox about to cross the river and hitched a ride on Ox’s ear to win first place. The Year of the Rat starts the 12 and 60 year cycle. Tiger and Rabbit came third and fourth. Good-looking Dragon and crafty Snake came next. Kind and modest Horse and Goat followed with Monkey tailing behind. Lastly, Rooster, Dog and Pig became the guards of the Heavenly Gate, the coming 11th in the race because he frolicked along the way due to his playful nature. According to the Chinese horoscope and the Taoist tradition, each animal is either yin or yang. Each in turn is mitigated by fire, earth, metal, wood or water. 2018 is the year of the yang earth dog. The Hour of the Dog is 19.00 to 21.00 and the dog is associated with the ninth lunar month.

There are many myths and legends involving dogs in Chinese culture and various ethnic groups claim to have had a divine dog as a forebear and dogs accompanied and assisted various legendary heroes. Several peoples preserve a myth that a dog provided humans with the first grain seeds, thus enabling the seasonal cycle of planting, harvesting and replanting. The black dog is also a metaphor for a meteor and is thought to eat the sun or moon during an eclipse. In northern China, paper images of dogs were thrown into water during the Duanwu Festival celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month to drive away evil spirits. Paper dogs were also used to protect the dead.

Although not proven conclusively, it is thought that the dog may have first evolved as a domestic animal in China, followed by two major evolutions of the northern basal breeds and then those from the fertile crescent. The Shar Pei and Chow Chow are some of the earliest dogs to have evolved from a now extinct mega-fauna wolf in Asia.

Dogs have mixed cultural associations in China and are, of course still used as a food animal; dog meat restaurants exist in most major cities. As China becomes a wealthier nation, there has been a steep rise in the number of dogs kept solely as companion animals with has been reported that overzealous enforcers confiscate and kill large dogs that have been deemed to have been owned illegally. There are no national welfare or anti-cruelty laws and consequently no prosecutions for mistreatment. Mass culls of dogs still take place when an rabies outbreak occurs. Before we rush to condemn these practices, we should remember that animal welfare legislation covering both companion and food animals in the UK does not prevent suffering and that much legislation is simply not policed or enforced where dogs are concerned. Rabies is largely limited to some bats in Scotland, although of course, all that can change with illegal imports continuing in huge numbers below the radar.

So 2018 is the Year of the Dog. Caution in financial dealings is advised by the CLSA Feng Shui Index. Others predict (not surprisingly) a year of social change and many uprisings throughout the world, but apparently it is worse when the dog year is a Yang Metal year.

Whether you have any truck with these beliefs or not, Happy New (Dog) Year to all and here is my wish list for dogs in 2018:

  • Vastly more resources put into educating owners to improve all aspects of welfare
  • Actual policing and enforcing of all statutes involving dogs
  • The introduction of compulsory domestic passports with mandatory neutering, vaccination and effective worming added to mandatory chipping unless certified as contra-indiciated by a registered veterinary surgeon
  • The cessation of sales of dogs (and all live animals) via websites such as eBay, Gumtree and Pets4Homes
  • The effective policing of canine imports and a ban on importing “rescue” dogs.

What’s on your list?

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.