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.

Fighting Dogs – Cruelty or Art?

The Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan is about to run an exhibition called Art and China after 1989: Theatre of the World. It is a multi-media exhibition that was to include a seven minute video of a “performance” entitled “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other” by Huang Yong Ping that had been staged in a museum in Beijing in 2003. A (distressing) five and a half minute version is available here.

Following multiple protests, the museum has removed this and two other works featuring live animals, not because they acknowledge the abuse inflicted on the dogs, but because they felt threatened. They stated: “Although these works have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe, and the United States, the Guggenheim regrets that explicit and repeated threats of violence have made our decision necessary.” They add “Contrary to some reports, no fighting occurred in the original performance and the presentation at the Guggenheim is in video format only; it is not a live event”.

That’s OK then, according to the Guggenheim.

Morally, if this is acceptable then so are snuff movies, images of paedophilia and any other kind of abuse that people inflict on others.

The Guggenheim statement continues “Reflecting the artistic and political context of its time and place, Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other is an intentionally challenging and provocative artwork that seeks to examine and critique systems of power and control…We recognise that the work may be upsetting. The curators of the exhibition hope that viewers will consider why the artists produced it and what they may be saying about the social conditions of globalisation and the complex nature of the world we share”.

Fortunately, many people recognise the sentiments for the offensive drivel that they are: the video was withdrawn from a show in Vancouver in 2007 after local protesters requested modifications.

There is nothing artistic about encouraging voyeurism, sadism and cruelty. Power and control is being exercised by the people who force the dogs into this position. They are clearly distressed and are being pushed to the limits of their endurance. It is unlikely that an ethics committee would permit this in the pursuit of research. There do not appear to be any vets in attendance.

It is not that abuse like this and far worse does not occur elsewhere, but that right-minded people sanction its public display in the name of art. What is sickening is that the people who acceded to this cannot recognise the abuse that they are perpetrating. I am not a congenital idiot, so I can work out that there are problems with the social conditions created by globalisation and the complex world that “we share” without abusing animals.

I suggest that those who have the choice protest directly to the Guggenheim and boycott the exhibition.

Of course the abused dogs had no choice.

Devil Dog or Poetic Justice?

Most sensible people would dismiss the notion that bull breeds, Rotties and whatever the fashionable bad dog of the moment is are “devil dogs”, but would many realise that it is more than bad handling and breeding that might cause a dog to be a killer?

Last March a Staffie killed its owner by crushing his larynx in front of a BBC documentary crew. The incident wasn’t filmed. An inquest has just been held into the owner’s death where it emerged that the dog had probably ingested crack cocaine.

Drug addicts will stop at nothing to get their fix – just look at the number of smokers desperate to light up as soon as they get off the tube or sucking down as much of their carcinogens as possible before they get to work (whilst forcing anyone passing to partake). A quick internet search will reveal that dogs have been deliberately maimed so that people addicted to Tramadol can get a veterinary prescription. Some feed drugs to their dogs so that they are not discovered if they think that they will be raided. Some think it funny to watch the suffering of their dog as the drugs take hold – this includes people who give their dogs alcohol. Some people discard drugs in public places so that dogs die when they inhale or ingest them. I have personally known of two dogs die horrible deaths in this way.

Behaviourist Patricia McConnell describes in her excellent book The Other End of the Leash how one of the most frightening dogs that she has ever come across behaves when given toys. Yes, that’s not a typo: when given toys. The dog’s terrifying, out of control aggression provoked by objects that should evoke joy was caused by his previous owner force feeding him drugs. His new owner had done everything that she could to rehabilitate him but he was beyond help and had to be euthanised.

Major, the poor dog that killed his owner, will suffer the same fate as his neurological damage is probably far too great to make him safe.

Some may say that his owner received poetic justice, but I can find no poetry in this horrific tale and the hundreds like it. Humans take drugs of their own free will. Dogs never do.

Herosim Or Horror?

I received the latest blogpost from the excellent Jemima Harrison at Pedigree Dogs Exposed today. It links to a video showing a person identified as Jodie Marsh attempting to revive an unconscious bulldog. Apparently, this woman is a “UK media personality, glamour [sic] model and bodybuilder”. Ms Marsh states that this poor dog collapses approximately six times a year – not surprisingly because humans have bred her to have a skull that is too small and squashed to contain her facial tissue which blocks her airway when she is asleep. Humans that buy dogs in this condition perpetuate the misery and legitimise the practice of breeding extreme brachycephalic dogs.

As Jemima notes, Ms Marsh is not even performing CPR correctly. She has also publicly deterred people from seeking corrective surgery for their animals.

Whilst I may have never heard of her, this woman clearly has a public profile and thus may influence more ignorant people to mimic her in buying dogs such as this and in literally mis-treating them when they inevitably fall victim to their misshapen bodies. Apparently some of her fans have hailed her as heroic. What a sad indictment of our society that people find heroism in pummelling a lifeless dog for minutes half a dozen times a year. Yet again, evidence gives lie to the sentiment that we are “a nation of animal lovers”. That would only be true if this had never been possible in the first place. We could even make up for lost time by wielding the power of the Veterinary Surgeons Act and the AWA.

A Valediction for John Noakes

It is with mixed feelings that I heard of the death of television presenter John Noakes. His final years had been blighted by Alzheimer’s disease and he narrowly escaped death when he wandered from home in the summer of 2015. The pain of realising that this complex, intelligent man, so full of life on screen, had been transformed by the ravages of the illness was visceral for those of us who only knew his work persona as well as those who were his friends and family.

In so many ways this marks the passing of an era; not just because those of us who grew up watching him on Blue Peter are now well into middle age, but because the creative environment that enabled him to shine on television is long gone. His colleagues on Blue Peter providing inspiration and leadership for a generation as well as enabling those of us who did not have pets at home to experience what it was like to own tortoises, cats and, of course dogs, even if it was vicariously.

Although his first official companion canine was Patch, son of the unforgettable Petra, it is Shep with which he will forever be associated. Although officially “property” of the BBC, one suspects that Shep may have been the dog of a lifetime for John Noakes; Shep was gifted to him when he left the programme in 1978. Contractual restrictions to which John Noakes did not agree meant that they did not live together for Shep’s remaining nine years, although Shep appeared in
Go With Noakes which overlaped his time at Blue Peter and ended in 1980.

What is striking looking at still images and videos of John Noakes with Shep is the bond between the two. Even when a still puppy, they had clearly established a strong rapport.

Television is a very different place today. Blue Peter is screened on a specialist channel as the medium has fragmented and, tragically, Television Centre and the Blue Peter garden were sold to property developers in 2013. Although the outer fabric of the building is Grade II listed, it will never be more than an empty shell, a sad monument to the greed that has trampled over the creativity and idealism that allowed the likes of John Noakes to flourish.

Man Bites Dog

Last year, an American bulldog dog killed a three year old. Although fatalities from dog attacks are still extremely rare, incidents such as this still crop up a few times a year and of course attract far more attention than the 1,700 people killed in traffic accidents or the 78,000 deaths directly attributable to smoking that occurred over the same period.

The owner of the American bulldog has just been given a 12 month custodial sentence, suspended for two years. She was also disqualified from owning a dog for 10 years and ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work.

The dog of course was euthanised.

So how will this punishment help? It certainly won’t bring the dog back. It won’t prevent other people and other dogs from ending up in the same position, not to mention the 7,000 or so people who will still be bitten by dogs and require hospital treatment in any given year.

In theory, this woman and others like her could just go out and get another dog in 2027 and nothing will have been done to educate her in responsible dog ownership. Her community service is likely to entail removing graffiti, clearing litter or decorating public buildings. How much more beneficial if she spent those 100 hours – equal only to two weeks work – learning about dogs.

The causes of such attacks are usually depressingly similar. Bad breeding, lack of socialisation, bad handling, lack of stimulation and exercise, lack of training, poor diet.

The owners often live in similar depravation. It is hardly surprising that most of the people who get bitten and even killed by dogs are relatively poor; the impoverishment being as much social as financial. Just as the status dogs of the relatively wealthy often comprise gun dogs that suggest the landed estate, the dogs of the poor are usually musclebound hulks providing the illusion of power that is lacking for people with minimal education, poor job prospects and limited opportunities. There’s also the chance that they will protect you from the loan shark or the drug dealer or the gang member.

Wealthy people just give their dogs away when they can no longer cope with their lack of training and socialisation or dump them on the dog minder for most of their lives. The poor compound their errors until, every so often, the dog, through no fault of its own, kills someone.

Bad Hair Day

I was sent a link to a news article yesterday regarding a couple whose “beloved” Samoyed had been shaved by a dog groomer.

As with everything else in the canine world, grooming is unregulated. It should come as no surprise that these groomers had no idea of the importance of the double coat in protecting against heat and cold or the consequences of clipping it off. I was pursued by a judge at a companion show who was also a groomer. She kept insisting that my Sibe needed a trim. I withdrew him from the ring and complained to the organiser after she also handled him really roughly – another common factor in dog grooming. I met a couple at another show who had not only shaved the guard hairs off their Sibe but were parading her round in full sun. Her coat had hardened and become like sharp straw.

The blame ultimately lies with the owners for buying a double-coated dog that they are then too lazy to acclimatise to being groomed. How “beloved” is a dog if you cannot even be bothered to keep its coat groomed? The groomer should of course have assessed the dog on arrival and recommended that the dog be sedated by a vet who could then remove the tangles. The owners should then have been reported under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and placed under RSPCA supervision to ensure that they maintained their grooming regime under threat of losing their dog.

That’ll be the day.

Grooming a dog is an important part of care and of bonding between owner and dog. It should be done at least daily as well as checks for lumps, ticks, grass seeds and any other abnormality. Buying a dog with a complex coat that humans have bred to need a lot of attention, not bothering to care for it then dumping the dog on a groomer who is not likely to acclimatise it gradually to being handled and groomed is not acceptable. The time to obtain advice about how to handle and groom a dog is before buying.

As with puppy farming, we need to stop treating owners as victims and put the blame – and the resources for education- squarely where it lies.

Cows Can Kill

A farmer based near Bradford on Avon has been prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive after two elderly brothers were attacked and injured while walking their dogs on lead on a public foot path. The man who survived suffered multiple rib fractures, a punctured lung and contusions. The incident was the fourth in five years involving injuries to members of the public caused by this farmer’s cattle; he was given a 12 month prison sentence, suspended for 2 years, and ordered to pay costs of £30,000.

18 members of the public were killed by cattle between April 2000 and March 2015. Most of the incidents involved cows with calves and people with dogs. Cattle can attack the walkers because they perceive a risk to their calves from the dogs. Farmers and landowners have a legal duty to assess the risks from livestock to people using any rights of way on their land and they must take all reasonable precautions to prevent injury.

Wherever possible, farmers are advised to avoid keeping cows with calves in fields with public footpaths or to erect temporary fencing to keep cattle, walkers and dogs apart.

Dog owners also have a responsibility to act safely around livestock. Even if there is a right of way, it is much safer to avoid walking past cattle and calves. Backtracking and suggesting to the farmer that the situation is unsafe is a much better option than adding to the statistics of fatalities, human or dog. Dogs should always be on lead near livestock, however reliable they may seem. If you are charged by cattle DROP THE LEAD and seek safety. Your dog will look after himself and you are unlikely to be able to protect him or avoid injury to yourself when faced by an angry cow. It does not matter if you are in area that is designated as being on-lead only by a PSPO; your safety and even your life may be at stake.

Please also remember to worm your dog with a comprehensive, prescription-only (VPOM) wormer. Speak to your vet about the best option. Unwormed dogs can risk spreading diseases such as neosporosis which can cause cattle to abort calves and sarcocystosis which has a similar effect in sheep. Dogs can pick up both infections by eating raw meat (including from carcasses) and placental or foetal material from infected stock. Not all infected animals show signs of illness so it is another reason not to feed a raw diet as it is not possible to be certain that uncooked meat fed to dogs will not be contaminated.

All dog waste should be removed from grazing land and disposed of responsibly so that cross-infection cannot occur between dogs, sheep and cattle.

Walking through farm land is a privilege, and both landowners, farmers and dog walkers have a responsibility to ensure that it is a safe activity for all concerned.

RSPCA – How Is Your Generosity Treated?

rspca You don’t have to look far in the dog world and beyond to come across horrendous cases of cruelty, never mind the daily grind of neglect and abuse inflicted upon dogs and other animals. The RSPCA state that they receive calls to their cruelty line in England and Wales on average every 30 seconds, totalling 1,118,495 calls in 2015. They investigate more than 140,000 complaints of cruelty and neglect annually. So when you drop money into the collecting tin for the RSPCA, purchase something in one of their shops or attend a fundraising event on their behalf, where do you expect your money to go?

The RSPCA state that 82p in every £1 donated is spent on animal welfare, 1p on governance and 17p on fundraising and that £10 could provide a day’s boarding for a horse, £25 PPE for an inspector and £50 van equipment. Not surprisingly, they do not produce a breakdown for external barristers fees which have been recorded as being £800 – £1,200 per day in their prosecution against the Heythrop Hunt. In spite of having their own legal department, the RSPCA chose to engage Mr Carter-Manning QC who submitted costs of £73,310.80. His assistants added another £90,000 to the bill. This represents approximately 244 hours of the QC’s time which he spent watching amateur video footage. The four charges that were eventually brought against hunt staff are regarded as being so minor that they are classified as “non-recordable”. The remaining charges were dropped. In previous situations when the RSPCA has lost a case, defendants’ costs have been borne by the taxpayer. In addition, the RSPCA admiited to euthanasing 3,400 animals for non-clinical reasons in 2011 in spite of having an official no kill policy.

The RSPCA must already have marked 2016 down as being an annus horribilis following a submission to a Parliamentary committee by the National Police Chiefs Council which recommended that animal welfare prosecutions should be carried out by “a single agency, preferably a statutory body funded by Government”. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has also questioned whether it is appropriate for the RSPCA to bring forward private prosecutions when it is also involved in campaigning and fundraising. Owen Paterson, Secretary of State, warned the RSPCA to be “wary” of muddling charity and politics. The charity regulator further ordered the RSPCA to conduct an inquiry into their organisation and structure using independent auditors. RSPCA inspectors were banned from rehoming animals unless an indepdent vet attests to have personally seen evidence of suffering following over-zealous actions against pet owners. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, animal welfare groups have the power to investigate cases, but the decision to prosecute lies with the state.

Much of the impetus behind the recommendations follows aggressive persecution of hunts, including the Heythrop. Their case cost the RSPCA £325,000 as opposed to the average cost of £2,500 per case. Other cases such as that against Cattistock Hunt in March have collapsed and, in the Cattistock case, the RSPCA withdrew all its “evidence”. The cost to charity to take the case and similar cases that far has not been revealed. Persecuting hunt staff is therefore regarded as being 100 times more important than any of the cruelty cases that they use to tug at your heart – and purse- strings.

When new CEO Jeremy Cooper took over in spring this year, it seemed that the RSPCA might extricate themselves from the mire into which they have been wallowing since following an aggressive anti-field sport agenda in the mid 1970s. He apologised for the charity becoming “too political” and referenced both hunting and the government badger cull that aims to eradicate TB in cattle. He was forced to eat his words almost immediately by the RSPCA’s governing body.

Just when it seemed that it could not get any worse, shocking revelations have been made by the Information Commissioner, responsible for dealing with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 amongst other legislation.

The RSPCA has been fined £25,000 on the RSPCA (and the British Heart Foundation £18,000) for “wealth screening” donors. The RSPCA has paid “wealth management” companies since 2010 to trace and target new or lapsed donors illegally and pursue them for more donations by piecing together personal information obtained from other sources and trading personal details with other charities. Donors were not informed of the charity’s practices and so had not opportunity to consent or object to their use of personal data. The Information Commissioner stated “The millions of people who give their time and money to benefit good causes will be saddened to learn that their generosity wasn’t enough”. Indeed. They might also consider it a massive betrayal of trust. The RSPCA confirmed that the practice has now ended but disagreed with the Information Commissioner’s conclusions and may appeal against the decision – no doubt spending even more money on legal fees.

Whilst the RSPCA are not alone amongst charities of pursuing aggressive and even it seems illegal practices, they are one of the few that exist to help dogs and other animals. Surely the thousands of abused animals that they are supposed to protect deserve to benefit from their not-inconsiderable funds more than lawyers?