Fanning Flames

As flames spread across Washington and Minnesota, an incident that occurred in Central Park, NYC last week has, understandably, become overshadowed.

Amy Cooper was walking her dog off lead in The Ramble, an area of Central Park where dogs are required to be on lead. A minor rule infringement you may think.

I have been walking a dog in an area controlled by a PSPO – dogs are also required to be on lead and it is a criminal offence to refuse to put a dog on lead here when requested to do so. That request was posted in a notice on all gates. Most were torn down and only one or two other walkers obeyed.

So why does it matter?

Well, needless to say, very few owners have good recall and, at a time when we are all supposed to be keeping at least 6ft away from each other, out of control dogs necessitate owners getting close. This is annoying at any time but could now be life-threatening.

How we react though, is all-important. Amy Cooper was so determined that she was not going to put her dog on lead that she made a false and racially-biased claim to the police. The birdwatcher who had reminded her of her obligation filmed the entire, shocking incident.

Not only is her false allegation shocking, she is so focused on demanding that the birdwatcher stop filming that she pays no attention to her dog. The poor dog is dragged by the throat, suspended at waist level and paddles frantically with his hind feet until he collapses at her feet.

This dog came from a shelter. She “rescued” it.

It remains to be seen whether any legal action will be taken against Amy Cooper, but she has now lost her job – and her dog.

More to the point, just because an owner was too arrogant to obey the rules of the park, this poor dog had to suffer being choked and no doubt frightened, and now has to cope with the whole re-homing process again.

Think on that next time you think that you too are above the law.

When Will People Learn?

There are two avoidable incidents that regularly crop up with depressing predictability: someone will die trying to get their dog out of water (the dog often extricates itself) and someone will die because they walked their dog between a cow and her calf.

It is the latter that has hit the headlines today: one person dead and the other airlifted out with injuries and now facing life without a partner.

Farmers have a duty of care to anyone who may access a public right of way on their land but it behoves all people, and especially those with dogs, not to put themselves at risk in the first place.

Regardless of demands for “rights to roam”, land is a farmer’s livelihood and the territory of the animals grazing it. Whilst it can be difficult to find areas to walk dogs on or off lead in the country, avoiding fields where there are livestock with young is better than taking risks and possibly putting those who come to the rescue at risk too.

Dutch Courage

pug face measurement At last some real action on brachycephalic dog welfare. Pedigree Dogs Exposed has circulated the news that the Dutch Kennel Club will no longer issue full pedigree certificates to extreme brachycephalic breeds unless an independent veterinary check confirms that at least one parent has a muzzle of the required length. This refers in turn to legislation that introduced six new breeding criteria in March 2019 and stipulated standards for eye conformation, nostril stenosis, abnormal breathing, excess skin folds and that muzzle length must be at least one third the length of the dog’s head, with the aim to breed towards half the length of the head.

Predictably, breed clubs, with one notable exception, were outraged. All the usual eugenic protests surfaced including that from the Pug Breed Council in the UK that accused the Dutch KC of “being happy to see the demise of historic breeds that have existed for hundreds of years.” They are wilfully oblivious to the fact that these comparatively modern dog breeds have not existed in the current extreme forms for more than a handful of decades. The Pug Breed Council added that “The Dutch government’s decision is “beyond our comprehension.”

It is truly beyond my comprehension how anyone purporting to be concerned for the welfare of dogs could perpetuate the misery and suffering in dogs that so many of these breeders are producing. Breed clubs and Kennel Clubs perpetually lay the blame for poor breeding at the feet of back-street breeders and puppy farmers whilst not apparently recognising that they are at the top of this rotten tree, strutting their stuff with what the RSPCA’s then chief vet Mark Evans called in 2008 “a parade of mutants”.

Legislation forbidding breeding that compromises welfare has existed in the Netherlands since 2014 and in the UK since 2006, strengthened by the new licensing legislation that came into effect in 2018. Little if anything has changed though.

The Dutch KC is planning a separate registry for dogs that do not meet their criteria and another registry for outcrosses bred with the aim of improving the phenotype. Dogs on those registers can be tracked but will not be accepted on to the stud book or into the show ring.

About time too.

Maybe we will one day be able to see dogs that again represent a truly proud heritage. Dogs that can mate, breathe, eat and regulate their body temperature properly. Dogs that can play and sleep without collapsing. The Dutch Kennel Club seems to be taking the first steps towards that day. Let us hope that where they lead, others will follow – and that many other breeds suffering from exaggerated conformation will be brought into consideration.

Maybe one day humans will realise that these hideous neotenised, snorting animals with infected skin and grossly shortened lives are not grateful for the “care” that owners lavish upon them and, above all, that there is nothing cute about misery.

The following breeds are affected by the legislation in the Netherlands:

  • Affenpinscher
  • Boston Terrier
  • Bulldog
  • French Bulldog
  • Griffon Belge
  • Griffon Bruxellois
  • Japanese Chin
  • King Charles Spaniel
  • Pekingese
  • Petit Brabancon
  • Pug
  • Shih Tzu.

Sniffing Out Trouble

Dogs evolved as dogs precisely because of their relationship with humans. Man made dog and dog helped man.

Although the “jobs” that dogs undertake have changed radically in recent years, man and dog are still as thick as thieves and greater understanding of the science behind the relationship has enabled us to communicate and fathom dogs in a way that was undreamed of.

Anecdotal accounts of dogs being able to detect malignant tumours in humans led to dogs being trained to detect all sorts of volatile compounds that cause illness in man.

Now a study is underway in which six dogs are being trained to see if they can detect the SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID 19. The charity Medical Detection Dogs are working in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University, with the aim that dogs could help to provide a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis, perhaps as soon as in 6 weeks.

MDD has already trained dogs to detect various cancers, Parkinson’s disease, bacterial infections and malaria.  Dogs are also able to detect subtle changes in skin temperature, so could potentially indicate if someone has a fever.

Trained dogs could be deployed to identify incoming infected travellers or be deployed in other public spaces to help with tracking and tracing infection as the lockdown is eased.

Pariah!

Indian pariah dog It is understandable in the current situation that research is published quickly and, of necessity, before peer review. Creditably, it is also often made available via Creative Commons licensing.

One such paper has been picked up by various media today suggesting that feral dogs rather than pangolins could have been a vector for the SARS-COV-2 virus.

Approximately 80% of the world’s dogs are feral, living alongside but not formally with, humans with varying degrees of tolerance on the part of the latter. One such group of dogs is a landrace dog on the Indian sub-continent. Taking their name from the Pariah tribe of Madras, a derivation of the Anglo-Indian word pye or paë and the Hindi pāhī meaning ‘outsider’, the term has become synonymous with all outcasts particularly those who are ostracised. Just as the very word “dog” is used as an insult, so the poor pariahs.

Feral dogs can and do transmit zoonotic diseases, notably rabies, but academics have already poured scorn on the suggestion that they have been responsible for humans contracting COVID-19.

The consensus appears to be that conclusion have been drawn from weak and erroneous evidence based on the suggestion that feral dogs ate infected bats and were them presumably eaten by humans as it has already been proven that dogs do not become symptomatic even in the rare event that they have become infected and that they do to transmit the virus easily.

As Professor James Wood, Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine and researcher in infection dynamics and control of diseases at the University of Cambridge, said:

“I find it difficult to understand how the author has been able to conclude anything from this study, or to hypothesise much, let alone that the virus causing COVID19 may have evolved through dogs.  There is far too much inference and far too little direct data.  I do not see anything in this paper to support this supposition and am concerned that this paper has been published in this journal.  I do not believe that any dog owners should be concerned as a result of this work.”

No Parking

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to bite in the UK with what seems like the beginning of the wave of infections, many dog owners must be very worried about how they will keep their dogs exercised and happy over the coming days and weeks, and perhaps months.

Not every dog owner has a garden and many have very small spaces, perhaps not even with grass. The National Trust, Royal Parks and many local authority parks have already closed gated green spaces and some car parks.

Government advice at time of writing is that one outing a day is permitted to exercise, including walking dogs.

It should be obvious that ensuring one’s own safety as well as that of other people is of the utmost urgency, but the behaviour of many people over the last weekend beggared belief.

Please remember the importance of keeping your dog mentally stimulated and, whilst physical activity outdoors may be limited, keep up and even enhance your training regime, play brain games and keep your dog challenged mentally.

Keep your distance from other people while out walking and take bio-security precautions if you are helping with a dog belonging to someone who is symptomatic or ill.

Keep well, keep safe, keep stimulated!

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 was dangerously out of control.

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:

12% have not registered with a vet
24% have not neutered
37% have not vaccinated
40% have not followed up with boosters
33% have not de-wormed – some of the 67% that have will have used largely ineffective over the counter products
22% have not de-flead- again, some of those who have will have use effective products
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 nothing has the PDSA labelled companion animals the “silent victims of poverty”.