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Fortunately, many people recognise the sentiments for the offensive drivel that they are: the video was withdrawn from a show in Vancouver in 2007 after local protesters requested modifications.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

FSA Warn Against Raw Chicken – Again

Yet again the FSA has been obliged to issue a warning against eating raw and undercooked chicken. The latest warning was prompted by a chef who was promoting chicken sashimi and who stated that “…if birds have been free range, kept in quality conditions and processed in a clean environment, there’s not so much to worry about”.

Not much other than campylobacter, salmonella and e coli that is. The FSA state yet again that “All raw chicken is unsafe to eat” regardless of the conditions in which the birds have been kept. They add that, in humans, eating raw or undercooked chicken can result in “Symptoms [that] include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and fever. In some cases, these bugs can lead to serious conditions”.

In an update on October 19th, 2017, the FSA published their annual results, and, although levels of campylobacter have continued to fall in tested chickens, between 46.7% and 67.3% of chickens tested positive. the high-level campylobacter prevalence among the top nine most popular retailers surveyed was 5.6%. That means for every 100 chickens purchased, at least five are likely to have very high levels of contamination. Smaller retailers and butchers had a significantly higher prevalence at 17.1%. This is especially significant as people who feed raw diets are more likely to shop at independent retailers, presuming that the food will be “healthier”.

Dogs have different digestive systems to humans; they have a shorter digestive tract and a higher stomach acidity. This means that, if otherwise healthy, they are less susceptible to the pathogens present in raw chicken as bacteria do not stay in the dog’s body for as long as they do in a human. The bacteria have less time to multiply to dangerous levels and dogs are generally better able to cope with the toxins that the bacteria produce which is the cause of illness in humans and dogs. Whilst healthy dogs might be able to cope with the pathogens that they shed when fed a raw diet, young, old or sick dogs will be less resilient and all of the humans with which they come in contact will also be exposed.

A peer-reviewed paper published in April 2017 noted that the cats in the study shed pathogens as a result of eating a raw diet “for months” and concluded “The practice of feeding raw meat to dogs and cats may increase the potential transmission risk of meat-borne pathogens to people. Pet owners, especially individuals at increased risk for infectious diseases (small children, old people and immunocompromised individuals), should be aware of the safety risks of feeding RMBDs”[raw, meat-based diets]. Of course the transmission of pathogens from handling the food and the dog or cat will not only affect people in the household. Dogs and outdoor cats have the potential to come into contact with vulnerable people every day as well as other animals.
Charity Burns By Your Side is the most recent organisation to exclude dogs from their volunteer scheme if they are fed a raw diet.

There is a lot of anecdotal support that can be found online from supporters of raw diets but, not only is there no peer-reviewed evidence to back it up, a growing body of a veterinary organisations and scientists are finding that such diets are harmful because they lack essential nutrients and can cause damage when digested and excreted.
There is another worrying factor that is not immediately obvious for some owners who feed raw. There is evidence to suggest that such owners are also less likely to use prophylactic health care such as vaccination and treatments that prevent parasitic infestation because they do not trust veterinary advice.

The serious contamination of pet food with illegally imported melamine in 2007 still has repercussions, although food in the UK was not affected. Marion Nestle’s Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine provides the only independent account of this scandal. Anyone contemplating feeding raw because they do not trust commercial dog food should read it. Similarly, scares about the dangers of human vaccines abound, even though disproven and have spread to companion animals.

The wide availability of NHS services means that most people in the UK are not used to paying for healthcare at point of use. Many are therefore shocked at the cost of veterinary treatment and accuse vets of profiteering, having no idea of the actual cost to the vet, and ignoring the fact that, if vets do not make a profit, they will go out of business. They are similarly inclined to accuse pharmaceutical companies of advising over-vaccination. Again, this is illogical: no vet would ethically or professionally administer a drug that was not necessary. In fact they could be prosecuted if they did.

Not vaccinating puts your dog and every other dog at risk from dying of parvo-virus, leptospirosis, canine parainfluenza, distemper and hepatitis. Not worming your dog puts other dogs and humans at risk of picking up tapeworms, lungworm and toxocariasis amongst others.
Some of these diseases such as parvo virus and distemper were rare due to mass immunisation in the 1970s and later, but are now on the increase fuelled in part by the number of illegally imported dogs. This, combined with irresponsible owners not vaccinating their dogs reduces the herd immunity conveyed when the majority of dogs are protected, so the danger of catching a potentially fatal disease is increased for each unvaccinated dog.

The evidence is plain. Don’t feed raw , vaccinate your dog and treat it for fleas and ticks. It is your responsibility to your dog, every other dog and your community.

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.

Accessible and Safe – Not Much To Ask

The ability to exercise dogs in open spaces has come under increasing threat from restrictive by-laws in recent years and several campaigns have sought to protect long-used access. However, in addition, a new threat was brought home to me this weekend when a dog was killed by an event organiser in a local park.

Many parks and open spaces that were run by councils for the general benefit of the public have been privatised and are now run by large companies such as Mitie, Carillion and Amey that have fingers in several pies. There are approximately 27,000 public parks in the UK, although it is difficult to arrive at an exact figure as many councils do not have accurate records and planning guidelines no longer define public parks. Most are owned by local authorities, although there are “royal” parks in London such as Hyde park, Bushey park and Richmond Park that are owned by the crown and run by a government agency. Some parks were deliberately created in the early 19thC in an attempt to prevent Chartists from holding “monster” rallies and some, including the “royal” parks, were hunting grounds. Many parks were created when philanthropists bequeathed them in perpetuity for the benefit of local people. The latter is true of the park where the dog was killed and should be protected by a set of covenants that attempted to restrict building and other uses to ensure that the public would always have free access.

Parks had traditionally been funded by local authorities with support from community groups that volunteer and raise funds. There are approximately 5,000 such organisations across the UK generating about £30M annually. A Heritage Lottery Fund report found that 86% of parks had revenues cut in the three years prior to the study. Almost half of councils are planning to dispose of some of their green spaces with 19% considering outright disposal of parks. Many more are selling off sections of parks for development and/or running multiple, intrusive events, claiming that the revenue generated will fund upkeep.

The park where the dog was killed occupies 186 acres of land and includes Grade II listed buildings and many extraordinary plant and tree specimens. It is a much valued resource for local dog walkers and is one of the few parks in the area not to impose on-lead restrictions. Since it was gifted to the public in 1926, it was run jointly by two local authorities who spent much of the last 35 years or so passing the buck in a perpetual rally that resulted in the buildings going to wrack and ruin, the planting being overgrown and the tress neglected – sometimes dangerously so. Recent lottery funding has seen huge improvements being made to some of the buildings, but staffing levels remain low and some planting has been ripped up to save on maintenance costs. Management of the park will be handed over to a so called “Community Interest” Company (CIC) which, in the council’s own words “provides freedom for the park to operate in a commercial manner”. This has included winning a successful licence to run multiple commercial events including sound systems, alcohol and vehicles all year round and increased the finishing time from 21.00 hrs to 23.00 hrs. Up to 10,000 people would be licensed to attend for the larger events and in total, events are allowed to be held for 28 days every year. This of course does not include the setting up and striking of events which typically occupies several days either side of public access. In spite of 109 written objections and opposition at the hearing, which ran for four hours until nearly midnight, permission was granted in full.

Opposition to the event at the weekend had run for many years as it was clearly seen by many to be breaking the covenants on the use of the park. The original owners had sold off adjacent land after World War I resulting in the park being fringed by housing and local residents were (rightly) worried about the levels of disruption. Permission was however granted and the organisers began to set up for the 2017 last week. The event occupies the old polo grounds and was not segregated from the public during set up. Fencing was erected on the day of the event to prevent revellers from accessing the existing café and the staff member there was in turn prevented from accessing the lavatory which was subsequently damaged. It could be deduced from these actions that the fencing was there primarily to protect revenues rather than people.

Complaints had been made by several park users about the speed at which vehicles were traversing the park. Great care has been taken during the building works to ensure that plant and other vehicles travel within the 5mph limit and plant is accompanied by a supervising pedestrian. No such care was taken by the event organisers and, in spite of being warned by park staff, one of their member ran into a dog. The dog subsequently died of its injuries.

The increasing use of parks for commercial events not only deprives the users for whom it was intended of facilities, it further restricts the ability for dog owners to exercise their dogs in a relaxed environment. Parks, towpaths and pavements are already major hazards for pedestrians and dogs due to illegal and reckless cycling. Even if dogs are safe and segregated, few will want to access parks whilst amplified sound is being blasted out and hordes of people are crowding the spaces.

This should be a spur to all to redouble their efforts to save and preserve open spaces as havens of peace and quiet in an increasingly tumultuous world. A dog should never again been sacrificed to commercial gain just by engaging in natural and essential behaviour.