Action Plan for Animal Welfare

UK Government Action Plan for Animals DEFRA launched an Action Plan for Animal Welfare last month detailing many reforms that affect companion animals in addition to farm and working animals. Briefly:

  • The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act will increase the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years from June 29th, 2021
  • Legislation will be drafted to introduce a new system of penalty notices for animal cruelty
  • The number of dogs, cats and ferrets that can be moved under non-commercial travel rules will be reduced
  • The minimum age that dogs can be moved or imported commercially into Great Britain will be increased
  • Restrictions will be placed on the movement of pregnant dogs into Great Britain
  • It will be an offence to import docks with cropped ears or docked tails or other cosmetic procedure that impacts on welfare
  • A taskforce has been established to crack down on theft
  • Microchipping will be compulsory for cats and a review will be undertaken of current microchip database systems, including consideration of making it compulsory for vets to scan microchips before euthanasia
  • Pursue the licensing of animal sanctuaries, rescue and rehoming centres
  • Ban remote controlled electronic training collars (‘e-collars’)
  • Consider further protections for racing greyhounds
  • Review the dangerous dogs legislation.

There is much that is laudable in this plan but, as ever, it will only be effective if backed by sufficient resources.

‘Til Divorce Do Us Part

A dog is for life not just for the honeymoon? Throughout the decades from ten to fifty years of marriage, an average of a third will end in divorce. Cohabitation appears to lead to a greater chance of splitting up later in the relationship.

Many more couples are deciding not to reproduce which can mean that dogs and other companion animals become substitutes. Of course, many people get dogs because they want to live with a dog and, if they don’t want children anyway, have nothing to substitute. However, lots of companion animals are ending up being the subject of disputes when relationships collapse. A 2019 survey undertaken on behalf of insurers Direct Line found that 28,500 divorce cases a year involves custody of a companion animal, an average of 90 per day.

This causes huge problems because, of course companion animals are regarded in law as chattels but require as much care and consideration, as human offspring. Sensible couples are discussing such possibilities before they live together and can now avail themselves of a legal agreement. Divorce lawyers Lloyd Platt & Co have collaborated with the Blue Cross to produce pro-forma documents in an attempt to reduce the number of animals that are surrendered for re-homing as well as to reduce the amount of acrimony caused by fighting over care.

There are two forms available; a simple Deed of Agreement that sets out who will take ownership in the event of a break-up and a more detailed Pet Nup. The Deed of Agreement can be used by anyone with joint care of a companion animal, for instance siblings or friends and considers designated ownership, responsibility for care and financial obligations. It also requires regular review. The Pre Nup goes into more details including who will be registered on the microchip database, who will be legally responsible in the event of any breeches of the law, rights for selling on or otherwise disposing of the animal to a third party, default ownership in the event of lack of compliance with the agreement, finances, including vet fees, holiday arrangements, breeding, accommodation (for instance landlord’s consent) and changes to or ending of the agreement.

Neither agreement overrides the law regarding companion animals, but Lloyd Platt believe that there is no reason why it should not be enforceable and at least indicates the intentions of the parties involved. Considering such an agreement also means that the subject is raised in advance – prepare for the worst, expect the best!

Speaking In Code

dog and cow Natural England and Natural Resources Wales launched a new countryside code on the inauspicious date of April 1st, 2021.

The Countryside Code guidelines were first issued in 1951 and last updated a decade ago. There have always been problems with litter, fly tipping, livestock being harmed and damage to agricultural land and levels have been increasing in recent years. Covid-19 restrictions have seen horrific examples of fly tipping and littering and the increase in the number of new and irresponsible dog owners has probably, in part, been responsible for the increase in incidents of harm inflicted on livestock.

With this in mind, what are the priorities of the new code?

“New advice for people to ‘be nice, say hello, share the space’ as well as ‘enjoy your visit, have fun, make a memory’”

“A refreshed tone of voice, creating a guide for the public rather than a list of rules – recognising the significant health and wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature.”

It is difficult to know whether to cry or scream.

The countryside is not a giant theme park laid out for the pleasure of ramblers and casual visitors. It is the place that grows and rears our food, balances our climate, manages a balanced population of wildlife. It is the place where those custodians live and work, often extremely precariously. What would people think if they invaded towns and cities deposited manure in gardens, savaged pets and then went away again having demanded their right of access?

While those responsible for litter, fly-tipping and dog attacks on livestock are busy boosting their health and well being and making jolly memories of their incursion into the countryside, they leave the cost in time, effort and money of clearing up after them. That willingly continue to get worse until someone with considerably more sense and knowledge of the problems is allowed to create a proper revision and implementation of the Code.

Broken Wings

flying seagull Radio 4 aired a tribute to the director Peter Brook this morning that contained an interesting parable, pertinent to dogs.

Actor Glenda Jackson describes a scene from Brook’s 1966 production of the play US, an examination of the Vietnam War which had then been raging for 11 years.

The parable describes an English woman who is visiting Spain. She witnesses some boys tormenting a seagull which has a broken wing and tries to wrest it from them. When they resist, she pays them 10 pesetas for it and takes it back to her hotel to attempt to repair its wing. Sometime later, there is a knock at her door and she opens it to be confronted by a group of boys, each holding a seagull with a broken wing, demanding that they be paid too.

Her actions are motivated by a desire to do good, but cause far more harm because she makes no attempt to understand the antecedents that lead to the consequences. She does not even possess the necessary skills to heal the first seagull’s trauma.

Are we not doing the same when we import street dogs and expect them to settle in suburban homes?

In all honesty, the importation of such dogs is simply a case of supply and demand and the insistence from owners that they obtain a dog as soon as they want one. Rescues have made it extremely difficult for many potentially excellent owners to obtain a dog and there is now a massive culture of virtue signalling in taking in a previously unwanted dog.

The level of trauma in those dogs is only recorded in the individual cases where owners do obtain professional help and – more importantly – it has done nothing to stop more and more dogs from being dumped on the streets to join the indigenous feral dogs nor has it had any effect on animal cruelty in their home countries.

Anyone can set up a “rescue” but, while there will always be legitimate reasons for dogs to find new homes, how many are just fuelling the dumping and puppy farming by providing an easy outlet?

Uber Alles

A landmark ruling in the USA holds out a ray of hope for the many people in the UK who are regularly refused access to hire vehicles when accompanied by their assistance dog.

Ride-share company Uber has been obliged to pay out $1.1M in compensation after a blind woman was repeatedly refused access by its drivers and even stranded short of her destination. Ultimately, she was sacked from employment following multiple cancelled rides. Uber used the same excuse that it has made in attempts to elude responsibilities towards its employees by claiming that the company itself is not able because the drivers are contractors. This was rightly rejected by an independent arbiter, the second time that Uber has been rebuked for such violations.

It is of course too late to repair the damage once appointments have been missed and jobs lost, but hopefully this ruling may serve as a warning to all drivers that they cannot use the excuse of anti-canine prejudice to run roughshod over the law.

Paws For Thought

It is common for dogs to be refused access on the grounds of poor hygiene even when this is illegal. A survey by Guide Dogs found that 75% of assistance dog owners had been refused access to a restaurant, shop or taxi. 33% of assistance dog owners surveyed were refused entry to a minicab or taxi because the driver claimed an allergy but did not hold a valid medical exemption certificate. 20% of assistance dog owners surveyed said that a minicab or taxi arrived but the driver drove off without even speaking to them.

Owners of non-assistance dogs have experienced similar problems with access being refused unreasonably and often due to ignorance and prejudice.

So it is helpful that a new study from the Utrecht University found that 72% of dog paws were negative for Enterobacteriaceae compared to 42% of handlers’ shoe soles. They also had significantly lower bacterial counts. C. difficile, a concerning source of hospital-acquired infection, was found on the soles of one assistance dog user. 81% of the assistance dog users in the study had been denied access with their current dog once or several times for reasons of hygiene.

The study authors concluded “The general hygiene of dogs’ paws is far better than that of shoe soles…Thus, hygiene measures to reduce any contamination due to dog paws do not seem necessary.”

Stop The Crop

Puppy undergoing ear cropping The cropping of dog’s ears is illegal in the UK but, like many other pieces of legislation, it does not stop this horrific multilation from occurring.

The RSPCA has announced a 621% increase in cases since 2015, with 101 cases being reported in 2020 alone. Of course, it is not possible to know how many cases are not reported and it is all too easy to claim that the dog was cropped in a country where it is still legal and then imported. The RSPCA also believe that dogs are being sent abroad to undergo the procedure before being re-imported.

A recent petition to the government requesting that the import of crop-earned dogs be banned garnered 45,161 signatures and the government has stated that it is investigating instigating legislation under world trading rules. There is also a current petition asking for the ban on the import of ear cropping kits which are readily available to buy online.

It goes without saying that this painful and harmful procedure done purely to boost the warped vanity of the owner damages dogs but the harm goes far beyond the immediate pain and possibility of complications. Ears are cropped when the puppy is a few weeks old, well within the vital socialisation period. Such a traumatic experience effectively imprints fear of humans into dogs who then may become very difficult to rehabilitate in later life.

Importing so-called “rescue” dogs has become a major trend in recent years, not least to satisfy the demand for “off the shelf” dogs. There is also an alarming tendency for owners to outcompete each other in virtue signalling, not helped by the number of articles published by dog-owning journalists vilifying people for buying from legitimate, licensed breeders or by those given a platform to tout “rescue” dogs as a cure-all for their anxieties. All of these aspects, together with the Instagram culture of “celebrities” posing with mutilated dogs and dogs with appalling conformation contribute to the danger that cropped ears will join all the other horrors inflicted upon dogs theatre normalised not least because of their ubiquity.

The British Veterinary Association commented “It also seems that in the arms race that is fashion, dogs have moved from being something you might acquire with a certain appearance to make a statement about yourself, to something you might surgically disfigure to enhance your image and status within a peer group.”

Quite.

Masked Menace

Discarded face mask and sock removed from Cockerpoo's gut The domestic dog is an obligate scavenger. The food discarded by humans has played a vital rôle in the domestication of the dog and most dogs in the world continue to live by scavenging from rubbish dumps with some eating scrap food supplied by humans.

Like so many natural behaviours, this can become a maladaption once dogs live in urban environment with their food served up when humans decide that it should be. Dealing with a dog that cannot resist scavenging can be stressful for handlers and even prove fatal for dogs.

Covid-19 has brought many additional stresses into our lives and for dog owners that has meant dealing with the extra burden of discarded face masks and gloves. It wasn’t long into the first lockdown 12 months ago that the first detritus stared appearing on pavements and in parks and that has escalated, along with a horrendous increase in fly-tipping in urban and rural areas.

Puppies explore everything with their mouths but age is no barrier to dogs ingesting unsuitable items. Socks and underwear are favourites because dogs are attracted to the scent that human bodies leave on them. Some American vets even have a competition for the most bizarre object removed from their patients. They of course were the lucky ones that survived.

Riccardo Minelli from Abington Park Veterinary Group in Northampton has provided a video of the procedure that he performed when removing a face mask and a sock from a 3 year old Cockerpoo that was one of the lucky ones.

Don’t let your dog add to the statistics: keep objects out of reach, get help from a qualified, non-aversive trainer to teach your dog to leave discarded objects and food alone when on walks and of course, dispose of PPE responsibly.

Lucy’s Loophole

Lucy's Law posterThe so-called Lucy’s Law which banned the third party sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops from April 6th, 2020 was greeted with some scepticism by canine professionals as being unlikely to have much impact on puppy farming.

The dubious sale of puppies and kittens had already largely been via websites and social media and now it seems that the puppy farmers have found a loophole enabling them to shift their animals via pet shops anyway.

A 2019 amendment to the 2018 Regulations permitted breeders to sell puppies under a pet sales licence instead of a breeders licence if a dog was bred “overseas” and thus not under the jurisdiction of English welfare legislation. DEFRA stated that this was to ensure compliance with European Union Directives and World Trade Organisation rules.

Private Eye magazine has highlighted the continuing problem of puppy farming in the six counties of Ireland and in Eire where thousands of puppy farmed dogs are being shipped to England for sale in premises owned by the very same puppy farmers who have managed to obtain 5 star ratings as licensed breeders in their English premises.

Business as usual – unless of course the source of the problem is dealt with, namely the people who buy these dogs in the first place.

A Priti Pickle

Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced that she will investigate the current spate of dog thefts and “go after” the thieves. Iain Duncan Smith has also waded in caller for tougher sentences for thefts of companion animals.

As argued previously here, there are dangers hidden in what might seem like a reasonable approach. If animals are treated as different to other forms of property, it could be the thin end of the wedge to legislating that they have “rights”, something that only a human can have. Biologists have historically described non-human animals by trying to define attributes and behaviours that are supposedly uniquely human. We are frequently finding that this is not the case as presupposed in several areas, but rights are different. Only a human can fight for rights and defend them. It is a vital distinction that humans should have legal responsibilities towards animals but that the animals themselves cannot have rights that they are incapable of comprehending or upholding.

The solution would be to treat animals as a special sort of chattel in the law; in other words, to recognise the difference between a sentient possession and a non-sentient one.

Patel stated “I’m not going to say a new law is on the way, I’m not going to promise something that not’s going to be delivered but I am looking at this right now.”

If the current statutes concerning dogs are anything to go by, “not going to be delivered” is the norm. The fact remains that owners are ignorant of the laws and even when informed, often carry on breaking them as they know that the chances of being caught are virtually non-existent.

It is easy for politicians to appeal to sentiment to gain a few positive headlines, but the fact remains that a great deal of dog theft could be prevented by owners not leaving dogs unattended, training good recall and actually paying attention to their dogs when out. Not buying dogs from puppy farms and back street breeders, often via web sites, and exercising due diligence before purchase would result in the market for stolen dogs evaporating.

…and in the meantime, if you want a Priti Pawtel dog or cat toy, contact Pet Hates Toys.