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.

Stop Importing Feral Dogs Before It Is Too Late

Well-meaning people all over the developed world are importing feral dogs from other countries, sometimes their near neighbours (continental Europe to the UK for instance) in the mistaken assumption that the dogs will have a better life as companion animals. No doubt that is true for some of them, but it is also true that very many are given no support in adjusting to a life for which they are not epigenetically conditioned and suffer long-term by becoming the classic boomerang dog, just being utterly miserable or eventually being euthanised anyway.

For every “heartwarming” story of a successful rescue (at least on the terms of the owners), there may be untold numbers of dogs who would have been much better off being left to fend for themselves in the way that 80% of the world’s dogs do. There has, quite rightly, been a furore over the way that dogs are treated when prepared for the meat trade in Asia, especially Korea. Although dogs have been raised for centuries as food animals, major annual festivals can result in companion animals being stolen and kept in extremely poor conditions leading up to and including slaughter. Quite apart from the fact that the way dogs are treated in countries that import these dogs leaves much to be desired, there is now a major risk of the spread of disease that affects humans and other animals and that could have devastating consequences.

The Bark recently reported on one such case.

A consignment of dogs was imported from South Korea into Western Canada last autumn to save them from being used in the meat trade. One dog was infected with the Asia-1 strain of canine distemper virus (CDV) which had not been reported previously in North America. It was 2 weeks before the dog showed any signs of being ill, during which time it could have not only come into contact with other dogs, including those shipped in the same consignment, but could have risked infecting wild animals with a strain to which they have no resistance. The dog was so ill that it was euthanised.

Dr. Edward Dubovi, Director of the virology laboratory at the Cornell University Animal Health Diagnostic Centre where the new strain was isolated and a Professor of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences Director summed it up when he stated that “Well-meaning people are trying to save animals, but when you move animals, you move their infectious disease. If this particular Asia-1 strain got out into the wildlife population, then it’s here forever, because you can’t get rid of it once it hits wildlife.”

It is not yet known whether the Asia-1 strain of the canine distemper virus has been contained. Dr Dubovi added “There’s probably a whole host of others things we haven’t tested for. If we aren’t looking for it, we aren’t going to find it until it’s too late.

A canine influenza virus first appeared in the Chicago area in 2015 and was also traced back to rescued Korean dogs. A recent canine influenza outbreak cost US dog owners $75 million for diagnostic testing and vaccinations, not to mention the effects on their dogs.

There is also serious concern that dogs imported from countries with lax attitudes to antibiotic use help to spread the extent of antibiotic resistance in humans and animals. Owners who then go on to feed raw food contribute even more to the spread of potentially lethal pathogens. Approximately 75% of new and emerging disease strains are zoonotic and could be transferred to humans.

Don’t think that it can’t happen closer to home. Canine distemper is similar to the measles virus and we have seen recently how serious measles outbreaks can be . Canine distemper killed thousands of seals in the Caspian Sea in 2000 and caused several fatal epidemics in jackals, African wild dogs and foxes within the Serengeti–Mara ecosystem of East Africa. A closely related virus then emerged abruptly in the lion population of the Serengeti National Park, resulting in a fatal neurological disease that resembled epilepsy; the lions that died also had encephalitis and pneumonia. The epidemic spread north to lions in the Maasai Mara National reserve, Kenya and affected an unknown number of hyenas, bat-eared foxes and leopards. It has re-emerged in Belgian wildlife, including badgers and foxes.

Between 20% and 50% of infected dogs die. CDV re-emerged in Finland in 1990 after a 16-year absence. 41% of the affected dogs had been vaccinated and 30% died. An estimated 5,000 dogs in total were affected. CDV can be transmitted to humans through direct contact with infected animals, their body fluids or faeces but the risk is low. CDV is already being imported in puppy farmed dogs and others and the increase in unvaccinated dogs risk spreading it.

A similar story is true of canine parvo-virus; an outbreak in the autumn of 2018 spread across the UK and is again being brought in on puppy farmed and other imported dogs.

These are just two examples but there are many more, including outbreaks of diseases not previously known in the UK such as “Alabama rot” (cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy) and babesiosis, spread through infected ticks.

By all means campaign for better welfare for dogs all over the world but leave them where they are, for the sake of all animals.