Spiral of Death

The delays in getting Sydney’s revived tram system up and running have gone on long enough to become the stuff of legend in New South Wales, but the development has thrown up a new problem in addition to the disruption of the seemingly never-ending construction phase: leptospirosis.

Leptospira bacteria can cause disease in humans and dogs which can be fatal. Leptospirosis is zoonotic so can be transferred between humans and dogs, but it is difficult to confirm transmission because the same serovars affect dogs as humans. Only three species of leptospira had been isolated until 1987 when sub-classification identified 19 species and 240-260 pathogenic serovars. Serovars can adapt to their local environment and, to some extent, their identification may vary according to the methodology used. Dogs in Europe are commonly exposed to the Icterohaemorrhagiae serogroups which are transmitted via infected rat urine whereas in Australia, the main vectors were usually other forms of wildlife. It seems that now however, the disruption to the local rat population caused by the building of the tram system in Sydney has enabled the bacterium to spread to the local dog population. The most commonly seen rats in Australia are the Black Rat (Rattus rattus) and the Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) . Both were introduced from ships arriving from Europe and Asia. The two native species, the Bush Rat (Rattus fuscipes) and the Water Rat, also known as a rabe or rakali (Hydromys chrysogaster) are unlikely to be seen in urban or suburban areas. People and other animals can become ill when the urine from and infected rat is present in water or soil that is then ingested or enters the body through a cut. It can also be spread though contact with infected blood or tissue.

Wood mice, bank voles, house mice and yellow necked mice can also carry the disease and, in common with rats, do not become ill. Rats living in confined, damp spaces such as sewers are more likely to be infected so it is thought that urban rodents are more likely to spread the disease.

So far, seven dogs have died in Sydney within 48-72 hours of being diagnosed, two of which had played in a park that had been flooded due to construction works.

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) does not class the leptospirosis vaccine as being core so it is not recommended in all circumstances or geographical locations in spite of the fact that the World Health Organisation (WHO) classify it as the most widespread zoonotic disease in the world. It is not a notifiable disease in the UK. Dogs had therefore not been vaccinated as routine in new South Wales become none had ever been reported as being infected. However, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) considers that leptospirosis is a core annual vaccine for dogs in the UK because they are at risk of contact with rodents and contaminated water and soil, especially in rural areas. The most common vaccines work against two serovars and there are three and four serovar versions available. Wet and warm conditions increase the chances of survival of the bacteria once they enter soil or water.

There has been some controversy spread in social media about the Lepto 4 vaccine but, although more common than in Lepto 2, adverse reactions are still extremely rare. The incidence of adverse reactions for all L2 vaccine products is 0.015% and for L4 0.069%. That means that fewer than 2 and fewer than 7 suspected adverse reactions were reported for each vaccine respectively in every 10,000 vaccines sold. Some were later found not to be attributable to the Lepto vaccination or could not be classified. Even if reactions are extremely minor (a little swelling at the injection site for a short period, for instance), it will be reported as an adverse reaction. That is not to say that worse reactions do not occur and can sometimes be fatal but, as with all vaccines, the risk of becoming very ill and dying from the disease is also very real and mostly far greater than the chance of an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

The morbidity rate for humans is one in every million in England and Wales and the mortality rate is up to 5%. Many people become infected due to prolonged contact with infected water or soil due to their occupation; the high profile case of the death of Olympic gold medallist Andy Holmes when leptospirosis resulted in multiple organ failure following a fall into a river during a rowing event shows how hazardous rivers can be. This is aggravated in times of flooding but also drought as shrinking areas of water concentrate the number of bacteria present.

Under-diagnosis, often due to differential diagnosis and self-limiting strains in the early stages, and the lack of obligation to report means that estimating the prevalence in the dog population is difficult so there are no available figures to date. Prevention still remains the best option. Dogs living near or with regular contact with water or woodland are most at risk. 14.61% of the 89 vets surveyed in the study mentioned above reported diagnosing leptospiris within the previous 12 months in n=13 dogs, 8 of which died either as a result or via euthanasia. All were under 10 years old. Only one of the dogs in the confirmed cases had been vaccinated but had not received a booster within the recommended 12 month period. Additionally, the practices that reported a lower general level of vaccination also reported higher rates of leptospirosis.

Some owners will vaccinate and then titre test their dogs to assess the level of antibodies still present before deciding whether to undertake booster vaccinations. This is not suitable for leptospirosis because the correlation between antibody levels and protection is poor and the antibodies do not persist for very long. Protection is advised as being valid for twelve months. It is not known whether natural infection results in life-long immunity. Vets will make decisions regarding the most suitable leptospiral vaccination regime by taking into account the knowledge of serovars in circulation locally, the ability of the available vaccines to provide effective coverage against the relevant serogroups, weather, flooding and environmental risks, the lifestyle of the dog, travel plans that may risk exposure to leptospirosis and public health considerations. However, a thesis written in 2014 found that only 60% of dogs attending vets had been given a vaccination. leptospirosis can be misdiagnosed in the early stages and, by the time that signs are unequivocal, mortality rate is likely to be high. Some serovars can be highly contagious. Infected humans can shed bacteria for up to a year after becoming infected and leptospira can cause abortions in cattle, sheep and pigs.

Signs of infection include:

  • High fever (which can then drop)
  • Gastroenteritis with vomiting and diarrhoea which may include blood
  • Jaundice
  • Dark urine
  • Marked dehydration
  • Congestion of the mucous membranes
  • Lethargy
  • Acute renal failure
  • Death.

Bacteria and other organisns are engaged in a constant “arms race” and there is always the risk that a new strain may appear and prove fatal. Even when dogs have been vaccinated, access to potential sources of exposure should be reduced by ensuring that dogs avoid drinking from, wading or swimming in fresh or stagnant water and marshland. Leptospirosis dies when exposed to bright sunlight and in temperatures above 20ºC (68°F), so dogs should definitely be kept away from stagnant water in shady areas. Rodent populations can be controlled by not discarding food or food-related litter or feeding wildlife. your dog may not become ill or die if he is infected but another dog or human might.

Don’t take the risk for yourself or others: vaccinate.

Food For Thought

Yet another recall of raw dog food occurred at the end of last month due to high levels of salmonella present in frozen raw beef, tripe and turkey produced by a Welsh company Homeland By Products Ltd.

As the FSA note on their website, “Salmonella is a bacterium that can cause illness in humans and animals. The product could therefore carry a potential risk, because of the presence of salmonella, either through direct handling of the pet food, or indirectly, for example from pet feeding bowls, utensils or contact with the faeces of animals. In humans, symptoms caused by salmonella usually include fever, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. Infected animals may not necessarily display signs of illness, but symptoms can include diarrhoea.

The products listed have a use by date of May 2021 so could potentially be in circulation and use for another two years.

Earlier this year, Avondale Pet Foods recalled its Just Natural Chicken and Tripe raw food; eight weeks before that, The Raw Food Factory recalled tripe and pork products. Both companies released foods with unacceptable levels of salmonella.

It is impossible to tell how many people – or animals – could have become ill because of their exposure to salmonella, but anyone who is young, old, ill or immuno-compromised is at risk.

Most raw food proponents will use the word “natural” at some point to convince owners that their diet is better than foods that have been treated to kill pathogens. In the sense that the potentially deadly bacteria that they can harbour are “natural”, then they are indeed offering a “natural” diet.

However, feeding principally raw meat to dogs is no more a natural diet for them than forcing them to be vegetarian – or worse – vegan.

There is plenty of evidence to attest to the unsuitability and danger of feeding raw foods to dogs and cats and equally plenty to explain how most dogs have evolved to eat starch precisely because they co-evolved with humans as they made the transition from hunter gatherers to farmers. That transition incidentally, led to a decline “…in oral health, increased spread of pathogens, infectious disease and zoonoses, as well as a variety of ailments which have been linked to nutritional deficiencies and increased physical stress on the human body”. Dogs may have fared rather better, not least because food became more plentiful and easier to digest after cooking and other processes undertaken by the humans from whom dogs scavenged.

A new study of dogs that lived alongside humans in Bronze Age Spain in 3,000 -2,000 BCE concluded that “The long journey of dogs in the company of humans is evidenced by a diet that for millennia was a proxy to that of humans, usually reflecting the same general trend in the proportion of animal and plant foodstuffs.”

In other words, humans and dogs were omnivorous. Four sites in the region were studied, one of which contained a skeleton of a wolf which, when analysed, showed that the wolf alone had eaten a diet high in meat: “…the diet of the dogs…was not particularly rich in animal protein, as would be expected in a wild carnivore. In fact, the wolf at Can Roqueta does reach a characteristic carnivore offset…All the dogs at Minferri …probably had an omnivorous diet, perhaps including leftover food.”

So what are we to conclude?

Dogs are not wolves. Neither dogs nor wolves are obligate carnivores (unlike cats). Dogs have evolved for millennia to eat the same sort of diet as the humans alongside which they lived and still live. This is still true of the 80% of the world’s dogs that are feral.

The remaining 20% can benefit from developments in canine nutrition which mean that commercially available processed foods are easy to feed, easy to store and have contributed to increasing longevity in companion dogs. Of the estimated 47% of companion dogs in the UK that are overweight or obese, the vast majority are fed poor quality food, sometimes the same poor quality food that their owners are eating, and, again like their owners, simply eat far too much.

That cannot be blamed on the food.

The potential to make not only your dog ill, but anyone who comes into contact with the pathogens that are being shed, can be.

Blood, Treats and Cheers

Friday, June 14th is World Blood Donor Day. Nearly half a million people in the UK have registered as blood donors, but, less commonly known, so have 6,000 dogs. The humans represent approximately 3% of the population, but dogs are lagging behind with less than 1% of the UK canine population registered.

Why not help to boost the numbers and celebrate by registering your dog as a donor? The Pet Blood Bank UK is run as a voluntary scheme, just like its human equivalent. Your dog can help to save up to four other dog’s lives with each donation in five easy steps. Your dog can make up to six donations per year, potentially helping twenty four others dogs.

You can register any dog that:

  • Has a good temperament
  • Is happy to undergo basic veterinary procedures
  • Is fit and healthy
  • Is between 1 and 8 years of age
  • Weighs more than 25kg
  • Is fully vaccinated
  • Has never travelled abroad
  • Is not taking any medication.

Find out where the nearest participating veterinary practice is or, if you live in the Midlands, you can liaise with the new mobile unit. Alternatively, find out more about the procedure.

Act Now For Access

In September 2018, Bedford Estates, on behalf of the landowner, the Duke of Bedford, required that all dogs using Aspley Woods should be kept on-lead at all times, backtracking on a 2011 requirement that dogs should be kept under control.

This means that 800 acres the woods are now largely denied to dogs for off-lead exercise, with the only off-lead areas being access to a few public rights of way (marked in red on this image). The estate initially erected signs stating that the woods are subject to a Dog Control Order which is not the case. Bedford Estates states that the about-turn is required for “consistency of policy” across their estates. Given that the estate properties include most of Bloomsbury and Russell Square in central London, Woburn Abbey and Woburn Deer Park and a golf course, consistency is hardly possible, even if it were desirable.

The current Duke of Bedford. Andrew Ian Henry Russell is heir to two family companies as well as Woburn Abbey and grounds valued at £150 million. His extensive art collection includes 24 Canalettos and paintings by Canal which alone are valued at £450 million. Not content with riches beyond most people’s wildest dreams, the estate sucks in a £50,000 annual subsidy from Milton Keynes and Central Bedfordshire Councils for funding access and conservation via The Greensand Trust. Milton Keynes council has proposed severe budget cuts for the forthcoming financial year including ceasing funding to the Citizens Advice Service and Community Action MK and cutting the funds to the YMCA and Age UK Milton Keynes. The latter would lose £300,000 which currently funds luncheon clubs and home visiting services. Central Bedfordshire Council have pledge to make £14.8 million of “efficiencies” in addition to the £43 million cuts implemented between 2015 and 2018. Yet both councils are still prepared to subsidise an aristocrat who is wealthier than the queen.

The only possible “justification” for this is for providing public access to estate lands; which is now being curtailed for dog walkers.

The ban brings to an end generations of access for off-lead walking in Apsley woods. It adds to traffic nuisance as locals drive their dogs to more welcoming areas and may mean that the additional journey time involved leads to shorter walks for the dogs. Many businesses that benefit from trade garnered from people walking dogs, whether they be local regulars or visitors. off-lead dog walking in attractive areas providing other dog-friendly facilities is a major draw. Owners can take turns to look after a dog in a dog-friendly cafe or on an off-lead walk while the other looks round a stately home. A good day out is had by all and the estate maximises its revenue. Win-win all round. Given than approximately 25% of people in the UK own a dog, restricting access cuts off a large source of potential revenue at time when few businesses can guarantee to thrive. Uncertainty over the situation with PETS passports may already have led to fewer dog owners deciding to take a holiday abroad with their dog; providing more opportunities for an interesting “staycation” would seem to be a no-brainer.

Locals feel that a ban on off-lead dogs is virtually unenforceable across 800 acres with multiple entrances. Just two rangers patrol the area and would be far better off spending their time in conservation work. Local dog-walkers have produced and publicised a code of conduct and have offered to mobilise volunteers to support the rangers in policing it. They have also proposed a zoning arrangement, which is common in other estates, and which would provide dog-free areas for other users and also ensure that cyclists do not menace dogs.

Bedford Estates has ignored the proposals and is unwilling to revert to the access agreement signed previously requiring that dogs must be under control when off-lead.

Please sign the petition so that dog owners can continue to enjoy facilities to which they, after all, contribute as tax payers.

Keep up to date with the campaign progress: a threat to one is a threat to all. You may never visit Apsley woods but once this sort of discirminatory precedent is set, it spreads and can have a massive impact on canine welfare. Tomorrow it may be your favourite dog-walking area under threat.

Thanks to Mike Daly of Aspley Off Lead.

Virtual Vets – Any Virtue In It?

I received an invitation to undertake a survey for an online veterinary service last week. I suppose that it was inevitable that someone would set this sort of service up but I have grave doubts about the possible effects.

This particular service was based in Scandinavia. Their website it extremely simple and the “meet some of our vets” section simply has three images of the vets who are listed as being “licensed” but have no biographical details or qualifications accompanying the images. I am not for a moment doubting that they are qualified, but I do wonder how much synergy there is between, for instance, this particular part of Scandinavia and the UK in terms of regulations and practice. Even if there is uniformity of approach in the way that vets are trained, there are inevitable differences in practice, not least because the dog-owning cultures vary widely between rural and urban, for instance, never mind between countries.

As an example, the population of the whole of Sweden is just 2 million more than the population of London for a start, with a population density of 57 inhabitants per square mile as opposed to 3,900 per square mile in London. The estimated total population of dogs in Sweden is just over 800,000: less than on tenth of the population of dogs in the UK. It stands to reason that there is likely to be more homogeneity in the way that dogs are treated and the way that any problems with dogs that arise are dealt with than is possible in the UK. Although neutering in Sweden, is exempt from the legal prohibition on the removal of body parts that has existed since 1988, it is prohibited in Norway unless a vet decrees that an established, specific clinical condition requires it and, in practice, it seems to be largely confined to hypersexual behaviours. Serious behavioural problems may be considered as acceptable grounds, but only on a case by case basis. This is not without controversy but again, with a comparatively small population of animals and people and a fraction of the density that exists in most of the UK. Neutering is just one very obvious example of where different approaches may occur and may lead to unintentional miscommunication and assumptions being made by both parties.

It is not clear, for instance, whether the vets will actually provide a diagnosis or just advice on whether further treatment should be sought. A lot of that process for vets though, is tactile. By the time that an owner feels that something is wrong with their dog, it is usually time to make an appointment anyway, or at least a telephone call. If it is the case that an odd lump or bump is worrying, what is to stop an owner sending a picture to their own vet and then making a telephone call or popping in to see a nurse without paying a consultation fee? Needless to say, the vets will also have no access to the previous history which will have a huge bearing on a diagnosis.

I am concerned that, having spent a fee getting advice online, owners may feel that they have “seen” a vet and not pay for additional help, even if it is advised. Compliance is shockingly poor and can be as low as 36% in some cases. Medications are often not administered or administered incorrectly and owners can delay seeing a vet due to worries about the cost and if their animal dislikes travelling, being in the surgery or being handled. Even when given unequivocal, face-to face advice that an animal needs further treatment, some owners prevaricate and often delay bring in the animal in. It is those owners that I fear may be lulled into a false sense of security by an online “consultation”.

The latest fad, for instance, is for administering cannabinoids to “treat” pain and even seizures. More than 100 cannabinoids have been identified in cannabis. The best known is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive properties of which provide the “high”. How many owners know the difference between tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the cannabidiol (CBD) that is the active ingredient in cannabis oils? An oral dose of 3g/kg of the dog’s bodyweight of THC can be lethal in dogs. An online consultation combined with folk lore about such substances could result in a dead dog. How many owners are going to ensure that over the counter products, often bought online, are what they say they are and administer them in a “safe” dose when we know that compliance under veterinary supervision is often poor? There are no formal studies on the use of CBD in dogs or scientific data supporting beneficial effects of CBD use in dogs.

We would do better to educate owners to make daily checks for parasites, grass seeds etc, abnormalities and changes, in recognising discomfort and pain in their animals and in not administering over the counter human treatments which, in addition to being potentially harmful, is also illegal. It is easy to see that online “consultations” could tempt some owners into doing this to save money or if access to their vet is difficult for whatever reason.

Your Not-So-Flexible-Friend

The BBC news website carried a story today that was shocking, not because it carried a story of a handler being injured seriously by a retractable lead but because she was the 31st person to have required hand surgery in the last 16 months in Cornwall alone.

Yes, you read that correctly. In 2018 30 people required surgery to their hand after being injured by a retractable lead in just one English county. Cornwall has a winter population of approximately 536,000 which can swell to 850,000 in the summer. It is probably not unreasonable to assume that the relatively high number of injuries might be due to summer visitors not feeling that they have adequate recall when their dog is in an exciting, unfamiliar environment and using flexible leads to compensate. I have asked the British Society for Surgery of the Hand who collated the figures, if they can provide statistics for the whole country.

In the meantime, it is better that a dog is not off-lead if recall isn’t reliable. No one can achieve 100% reliability, but the injuries would all be preventable by owners undertaking effective, non-aversive training and using loose lead walking and long lines when being off-lead is not possible.

We’re still waiting for a ban on shock collars to be added to the AWA. Whilst stopping handlers from electrocuting dogs must take precedent, it is high time that the welfare considerations to dogs and handlers were taken into consideration and these wretched leads are also banned from sale and use.

In the meantime, it behoves enlightened owners and trainers to explain why they are a dangerous menace before any more people suffer life-changing injuries.

‘Til Death Us Do Unite

News has just broken of a vet in the US state of Virginia euthanising a “healthy” shi tzu so that it could be cremated with its former owner.

Such convenience euthanising is not uncommon; vets frequently talk of a “Christmas cull” where animals are put down earlier than perhaps they might otherwise have been in order not to be an inconvenience over the holiday period. Perhaps, in the scheme of things, this is not too awful if the animal was on its last legs anyway and the owners were not prepared to undertake intensive hours of care that would be required to see it through a few more days and maybe weeks or put it through the stress of a hectic holiday.

However, owners also deliberately buy dogs that, whilst technically “healthy” in that they are not suffering from disease, are suffering because of their deliberately distorted bodies. I have personal experience of owners who insisted on a miniature dachshund being euthanised because they were moving abroad to an apartment with stairs that a dog with such an elongated back and a history of spinal problems couldn’t manage several times a day. They didn’t see why anyone else should have “their” dog and eventually the vet acceded because she felt that the alternative was for the dog to die at the hands of a vet that she didn’t know in unfamiliar surroundings. The unnecessary death of that lively 7 year old dog still haunts me, but not as much as the idea that such a dog was bred in the first place, her ridiculously out of proportion back and stunted legs making it pretty much inevitable that she would suffer.

No doubt such owners professed (and believed) time and time again that they love their animals.

Funny kind of love.

Perhaps this is what is meant by the saying that love is blind.

State law in Virginia was powerless to intervene in the case if the shih tzu because dogs are regarded as being chattels. This is also true in the UK. Whilst this is better than regarding them as having rights which they clearly do not possess, it does not go far enough in ensuring that owners do not ignore their moral responsibilities. Sentiment lies at the root of trying to impose “rights” upon animals as if they were humans capable of arguing their case in court. Sentiment and vanity lies as the root of insisting on the death of a dog because you think that it is so attached to you that it won’t cope with another owner after your death or – even worse – just because you don’t like the thought of another owner bonding with your dog after your death.

This is also yet another case of not giving dogs credit for being dogs. Yes, it causes a stabbing pang of jealousy and a deflation of the ego to realise that the dog with which you have an immensely close bond will, in all probability, cope without you, but shouldn’t that be a tribute to your ability to raise a resilient dog? To think otherwise is the equivalent of expecting a human to commit suicide on the death of their partner. Sati, the practice of women immolating themselves following their husbands’ death, wasn’t abolished in Nepal until 1920. In India, although it was officially abolished under the Raj in 1863, a further act had to be passed in 1988, widening the criminalisation of support or “glorification” of the practice. I hope that the fact that this legislation is so recent is shocking. I hope too, that the death of this shih tzu is equally as shocking, albeit one that is considerably more humane. No one is saying that your dog will not go through a period of difficulty, perhaps even akin to mourning, when adjusting to your death, but you have a moral responsibility to ensure that your dog can cope with all eventualities in life and even, in the event that you pre-decease your dog.

Dogs (and all animals) need a hell of a lot less “love” and a hell of a lot more “empathy”.

Then perhaps we wouldn’t place vets in a position of killing perfectly healthy animals, or for that matter, coping with the deformities imposed on them by the warped aesthetics of breeders and owners.

I Love Lucy

Much has been made in the press in the last couple of days about the passing of the so-called “Lucy’s Law”, with headlines trumpeting that puppy farming has now been banned.

Except that it hasn’t.

As anti-puppy farming campaign C.A.R.I.A.D state, this latest legislation just has the potential to cut off part of the supply chain, because what it actually prohibits is the sale of puppies and kittens via third parties. The only sales that will now be legal are those made directly by the breeder, subject of course to other legislation such as licensing and the sale of animals at the permitted age.

All well and good but in many ways, it changes nothing, other than making it a fraction harder for puppy farmers and back street breeders to organise their supply chain.

  • It is already illegal to import or sell puppies under 8 weeks old
  • It is already illegal to important puppies that are not suitably vaccinated with the appropriate accompanying documentation
  • It is already illegal to falsify paperwork, including PET passports, health records and pedigrees
  • It is already illegal to sell puppies when they have not been seen with their mother
  • It is already illegal to sell puppies without providing a socialisation plan

So what?

Puppies are still being imported in huge numbers, sold under age and/or with fraudulent or no paperwork, sold without a socialisation plan and sold when presented without their mother, either on their own, because the sellers claim that the bitch died or when they use a substitute bitch.

The percentage of owners that are aware of the existence of the AWA 2006, never mind their responsibilities under just this piece of legislation is small and has been decreasing since 2011.

Go out onto any street and count how many dogs are off lead alongside a road. Some of them wil have no collar either and, even if they have, it may not have a legal tag attached. Some will not be microchipped and of those that are, some will not have kept the database up to date. Many will be boarded in establishments without licences, many will have bought form breeders without licences.

All of this is illegal.

Very little is actually done about it though, because there are no resources made available to educate the public or to police the legislation.

Much of the legislation is confusing, even for professionals, and there is evidence to suggest that practitioners are not interpreting or implementing the legislation consistently.

Far too much is left to local authority discretion. DEFRA noted in <a href=”https://www.local.gov.uk/guidance-dog-control-and-welfare-police-and-local-authorities” target=”_blank”>a 2017 report</a> that “Reference was made to a lack of certainty in some areas over the split of responsibility between police and local authorities with respect to dog control issues. Varying degrees of enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 or engagement on dog control between local authorities was highlighted as an issue. Resourcing was identified as a challenge against a background of a high number of cases.”

Licence fees and fines vary widely, leaving both responsible practitioners and miscreants at the mercy of a post code lottery.

It is in this context that “Lucy’s Law” needs to be seen, because tragically, there are going to be very many more dogs that continue to suffer as Lucy did unless a radical shakeup is made of the welfare priorities for local and national government.

The Kennel Club need to actually dedicate themselves “to protecting and promoting the health and welfare of all dogs” by not continuing to register puppy-farmed dogs, expelling members such as Eric Hale, actually doing something radical to stop in-breeding  (commissioning studies is all well and good but any idiot can tell the KC why so many German Shepherds can’t walk properly or brachycephalic dogs breathe) and the stop supporting the breeding of thousands of dogs with appalling conformations.

Puppy farming could be ended overnight without the need for legislation and the consequent expense of policing it because all it needs is for people to:

  • Stop buying puppy-farmed dogs
  • Stop taking in dogs because they pity them and thinking that they are rescuing them rather than leaving space for the next one
  • Stop expecting to be able to buy dogs off-the-shelf
  • Stop buying dogs from websites such as Pets4Homes and Gumtree
  • Stop buying dogs from back street breeders
  • Stop buying dogs from breeders without having checked and cross-checked their licensing status.

Breed-specific Legislation Must Go

A 9 year old was left alone with a dog in a confined space in Cornwall last weekend with fatal consequences – and in all likelihood may be fatal for the dog too. The dog was not a banned breed.
Could the dog be truly said to have been dangerously out of control or was it just reacting from provocation and fear? Investigations are continuing, but maybe we will never know.

Last Thursday, at the other end of the UK in Glasgow, a Lakeland terrier attacked a six-week-old. It is in hospital. The dog was taken by a relative to be euthanised. Again, we do not know how this dog had been treated up until the point that it bit or whether the owners had taken any measures to accustom the dog to having a child in the house or to prevent access. It was a terrier – hardly surprising that it found squalling arousing.

Neil Parish MP, the chair of the EFRA select committee called for a full-scale review of existing legislation and voiced misgivings about the efficacy of breed-specific legislation last October following an 81% increase in hospitalisations for dog bites in the dozen years leading up to 2017. The Sunday Times undertook an FoI request and found that less than a third of dogs involved in attacks over the past 15 months belonged to one of the four proscribed breeds. A similar FoI request found that in 2017, Surrey police seized 6 dogs under the DDA. 3 were subsequently placed on the exempt register and 1 on the interim exemption register, 1 was released as not being of a proscribed “breed” and 1 was euthanised. Kennel costs amounted to £19,700 or £3,283.33 per dog. What a monumental waste of resources.

Meanwhile, an FoI request to Kent police revealed that in 2016, 745 offences were recorded where a person was fund to be in charge of a that was dog dangerously out of control and that caused injury. This represents a 46-fold increase since 2011. 2 additional offences involved an assistance dog.

Last week, a short walk from where I live, a dog imported from Croatia attacked and killed another dog and bit the owner who intervened. The dog had been in the country for just five weeks but was being walked off lead in a small green space that is also open to the road. It had been imported to give it “a better life” according to the subsequent police report. The owner left the scene but was traced.

Hard to see how this dog’s life has been improved; in fact, the chances are that it will be summarily ended, through no fault of anyone but the “rescue” and the owners.

It also was not a proscribed breed.

Unless we introduce education, legislation and sufficient resources to make both effective, the catalogue of incidents will only increase and more and more dogs will pay the ultimate price.

Leave Boot Camp To The Army

An increasing number of services are being offered to dog owners that effectively mean that they contract out most of their ownership.

At work all day?
Hire a dog walker.

Can’t be asked to clean or groom your own dog?
Hire a groomer.

Got no recall?
Stick a GPS on your dog.

Suddenly find that what seemed cute in a puppy is a serious nuisance in an adult dog?
Send your dog away to boot camp.

Dogs are expensive so most owners will need to work and some will hire a dog walker or day care. This still leaves 24% of dogs in the UK (2.1 million dogs) alone for more than five hours on a typical weekday. At the moment, dog walkers are unregulated. How many owners check that their walker is even competent, let alone insured? How many owners putting their dog in day care have checked that the day care provider is complying with the law? How many don’t want to know because all they care about is the convenience? Even when day care providers and walkers have been proven to be abusing dogs and causing injury and even death, owners are loath to prosecute.

Owners profess to love their dog but many can’t be bothered to wield a grooming brush. At best, dogs are hosed down frequently putting their skin and coat at risk. At worst they are left until the owner can’t stand it anymore and then taken to a groomer. Groomers are not regulated by legislation and again, few owners will bother to find out if they have any professional credentials such as membership of the British Dog Groomers’ Association or hold a City & Guilds Certificate for Dog Grooming. Handling techniques are frequently aversive and far too many groomers are shaving coats that should never be cut.

Few owners know how to identify signs of stress in their dogs and monitoring a dog using a camera or sticking a GPS tracker on its collar are no substitute for human company, proper consideration of welfare or only letting a dog off lead when it is safe and the dog has reliable recall. Plonking a treat or a ball dispenser down for five hours is not a solution either.

In 2018, only 20% of dogs ever attended a training course with 3% of those dropping out before the course was complete. Again owners don’t always check that trainers are registered with professional bodies and that is not always a guarantee that the trainer is abiding by the guidelines. Two trainers in my area, both of whom who have been members of the APDT for decades, use aversive methods on dogs and, for that matter, are pretty rude to owners.

78% of owners state that they would like to change at least one behaviour displayed by their dog. 26% complained about pulling on the lead, 25% of dogs are afraid of fireworks, 22% jump up at people, 6% show aggression to other pets and 4% aggression towards people.

Many of these owners are choosing to send their dogs away to residential training. Owners learn nothing and dogs don’t get to work with the person with whom they live. “Trainers” are laughing all the way to the bank. There are no guarantees that decent welfare standards will apply: the designation “boot camp” says it all. It is possible to teach owners an awful lot over the course of a week or two. Three 1-5 minutes sessions a day for their dog, conducted using the right techniques can work wonders very quickly when backed up with a consistent approach in a variety of circumstances. Training without owners being present can never offer that.

It is not possible to assess how many dogs suffer and how much, some by just being wrenched from all they know and handled by strangers. No doubt many owners are delighted by what they see as a quiet dog when the dog is actually traumatised. A short while later, the unwanted behaviours will return and maybe in even more extreme forms.

Sometimes it ends in downright tragedy. An owner in California was awarded $60,000 when her German Shepherd died when at a remote “training” facility. The dog died from hyperthermia – he overheated. Other dogs in the facility were later found to have been deprived of food, water and adequate shelter. The location was not where the German Shepherd’s owner had been told the dog would be trained. The “trainer” declined to appear in court or answer the complaint, but stated that he plans to appeal against the judgement and that he is not to blame for the dog’s death in spite of being found guilty of eight counts of animal cruelty.

Even if the owner gets some financial redress – and the judge made an award that took into account the distress as well as the monetary value of the dog – nothing will bring her dog back or ameliorate the animals’ suffering.

Last year, a London-based “trainer” won a case in the High Court when an owner complained that her dog’s behaviour had worsened after being “put through a two-week intensive boot camp” at a cost of £2,800. The judge ruled that “To suggest that, after 14 days, any previous behavioural issues would be, as it were, permanently gone forever is unreal. That would ignore the fact that we are not dealing with a machine here, but a puppy. Puppies behave in particular ways and training is always intended to achieve certain results, but those results are not guaranteed”.

It’s a pity that the judge did not go on to add that it is the owners that need educating – the dogs will follow.

The 71 year old owner had complained that her puppy was “out of control” and running riot in her one-bedroomed flat, biting and jumping up at her owner. Sounds like a normal puppy to me and one that needed a lot more stimulation than was provided by the sound of it.

Neither trainer nor owner come out of this well, although both are clearly sufficiently wealthy to have pursued the case as far as the High Court. What a pity the money was not spent on educating the owner to train the dog herself alongside a suitably qualified trainer. It is not recorded whether the unrealistic owner re-homed her dog.