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.

A Right Old Dog’s Dinner

It was inevitable that Brexit would cause a great deal of disruption, not least to the ease of travelling with dogs, cats and ferrets.

Some of this may be beneficial, especially if it deters people from taking dogs on short holidays, thus risking harm to them and other by importing parasites and diseases. It may also slow the illegal import of dogs, especially feral dogs, that should be imported using the Balai directive – or not imported at all. If fewer dogs are taken from the streets to supply owners in the UK, perhaps there will be more incentive to prevent overbreeding and dumping in their home countries and to improve the conditions under which they live as feral dogs.

No doubt people will still wish to travel with companion animals and, of course, people need to travel with assistance dogs and the aggressive stance on Brexit taken by the incumbent government has now revealed an unexpected angle: it is much harder to cross EU borders with animal feed and amounts are severely limited.

No more than 2 kg of a prescription diet may be imported and then only if it is intended for the animal accompanying the passenger, does not require refrigeration, is a packaged proprietary brand products for direct sale to the consumer and that the packaging is unbroken unless in current use.

Even if travellers use a well-known brand, it may not be readily available in the destination country and changing to a local production addition to the stresses of travelling may cause gastrointestinal upset. Not good for the dog and not much fun for a holiday either.

It remains to be sen how this will pan out, but it is likely that, as travel opens up, a fair few people will get caught at the border and left without food.

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.

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.

Deal Or No Deal

Border Control Dover As the Brexit negotiations reach fever pitch just days before the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and the six counties of northern Ireland)* is due to leave the EU, it is still not clear what arrangements will be made with regard to the Pet Passport Scheme.

There are three possibilities for the Pet Passport on January 1st: Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) could either join the countries that are unlisted, listed in Part 1 or listed in Part 2. If Great Britain is unlisted, and current Pet Passports will be invalid from January 1st, 2021. This would require owners of dogs, cats and ferrets to prepare at least four months in advance of travel, as happened when the scheme was first introduced in the UK. Listing under Part 1 or 2 would ease some of those restrictions.

Brexit is also likely to have other implications for dogs (and other animals) regardless of the political deal that may or may not be negotiated in the next 23 days. A great deal of companion animal feed ingredients are imported, mainly from Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Germany and China. Problems with the flow of goods may cause supply problems at least in the short term. There are potentially going to be similar problems with some veterinary medicines and other essential supplies, and it is expected that prices will inevitably rise.

A £705m funding package to help manage Britain’s borders was announced in July and there is the possibility that it might stem the tide of canine imports, both from puppy farms and of European street dogs. The Mediterranean, Ireland, Lithuania and Hungary have been major sources of poorly bred and feral dogs to supply the demand for instant pets. Many of those dogs are imported illegally using the Pet Passport Scheme rather than under the Balai Directive 92/65/EEC which imposes additional requirements regarding welfare and traceability. Dogs must come from a registered holding, undergo a clinical examination by a vet accompanied by the appropriate health certificates and notice of shipment to the Animal and Plant Health Agency. Their destination must be declared to enable follow up checks.

Whether sufficient resources will be put into place to prevent puppy smuggling remains to be seen but it could well be one of the few advantages to the political mess in which the UK has been plunged.


China Plates

Chinese dog What we now designate as the territories of China are one of the areas where dogs self-evolved at least 15,000 years ago giving the world Asiastic dogs such as the Chow Chow and Shar Pei. The Chinese are not the only people in the word to take a utilitarian approach to dogs and they have served as many purposes in China over millennia as they have elsewhere – including being a source of food.

However, China has been undergoing rapid social change in recent decades with a wealthier population that is far more open to influence from the rest of the world than ever before.

This has had an effect on companion dog ownership as in all other areas of life, but the attitudes of the authorities have not caught up with the desire for many Chinese dog owners to see their dogs as family members. As in the rest of the world, dog ownership is big business; one indication of changing attitudes to dogs.

Bejing mandated that keeping dogs as companions was forbidden as recently as the 1980s and the effects of the horrific Cultural Revolution meant that keeping animals as companions was regarded as unacceptably bourgeois. All this is changing and, although just 5.7% of households owned a dog in 2019 (10% of the comparable number in the USA), the number is rising and it amounts to approximately 1.36 million dogs. China is also responsible for 20% of the world’s feral dog population.

Tensions between authorities and owners are still evident and, although some areas are bringing in welfare regulations and compulsory microchipping, Yunnan province, notorious for its new annual dog meat festival, mandated on November 13th that dogs must be kept indoors at all times in order to “promote civilised dog-raising habits”. Shanghai, Qingdao and Chengdu have strict one-dog per household policies and Huangshi bans the breeding of dogs larger than 17″ high – that’s about the height of a terrier.

Dog owners, many young, single and female, are not taking this lying down in spite of the fact that the mandate states that, after fining the owner for two violations, dogs will be seized and euthanised if the rules are violated three times. Social media has helped to promote the backlash so let us hope that the emphasis will be on education and responsible dog ownership rather than on causing greater welfare problems and death for dogs.

Cycling Menace Must Be Policed

Illegal and anti-social cycling has been an increasing problem as cyclists and cycling have been privileged by an influential cycling lobby and local authorities keen to be seen to be “doing something” about transport in towns and cities whilst simultaneously cutting mass public transport and making it less and less affordable.

This has only been exacerbated but cuts in policing and the restrictions imposed by Covid-19. For many pedestrians, life has becomes a misery of daily near-misses and worse. Dogs have not been exempt either, many becoming very fearful as a succession of illegal scooters, hoverboards, skateboards, roller skates and cyclists zooms past on pavements an so-called “shared” spaces. Four dogs were killed in one year by illegal cyclists in Kensington Gardens with two more being injured seriously.

Now, in nearby Acton Park, a cyclist, breaking park by-laws which prohibit cycling, has the audacity to sue the dog owner whose dog he hit. He is claiming £50,000 as reparation for hitting a dog that was playing with a ball in a park which he alleges was therefore not under control. It beggars belief.

Bicycles have been considered as road vehicles under law since the Taylor vs Goodwin judgement in 1879.

It’s high time that cyclists were solely confined to riding on roads and punished severely for breaking the law, enabling pedestrians and dog walkers to reclaim parks gardens, towpaths and other places that have become stressful and hazardous to use. Skateboards, hoverboards, scooters and such like should be returned to the playground where they belong and anyone who wishes to continue to play with them beyond childhood should do so away from the grown ups who simply want to be able to walk in peace and security.

Walking The Dog

Samoyed being walked As many canine professionals anticipate a spate of abandoned “lockdown” animals with schools, colleges and workplaces re-opening, news from Europe heralds new legislation in an attempt to improve welfare.

Germany is introducing a bill that, if passed would be implemented on a state-wide basis including the following provisions:

  • Dogs must be walked twice a day for a minimum of one hour in total
  • Dogs must not be chained for long periods of time
  • Dogs must not be left alone for an entire day
  • Breeders will be restricted to a maximum of three litters at any given time
  • Puppies will have to spend a minimum of four hours a day in human company
  • Ear and tail docking will be prohibited for show dogs
  • Show dogs must display “species appropriate” behaviour.

All very admirable, but the agriculture ministry has already stated that it is very unlikely that individual dog owners will be policed and that an emphasis will be placed on welfare in kennels. Even if Germany puts considerably more resources into this legislation once passed than we have in the UK with similar legislation, it seems unlikely to make substantial difference.

Meanwhile, France is also anticipating a worsening of the situation that sees between 100,000 and 200,000 companion animals being abandoned annually. 60% of abandonments happen during summer holidays. In the last annual Dogs Trust Stray survey, 69,621 stray dogs were handled by local authorities in the UK, an increase of 13,578 on the previous year.

Toulouse MP Corinne Vignon has introduced a bill in he French parliament aiming to make it harder to buy companion animals and to facilitate tracing owners who mistreat or abandon them. It includes provision making identification mandatory an raise the minimum age limit for purchase
The bill would introduce compulsory tagging, as well as raise the minimum age limit of buyers. The bill has cross-party support and is expected to be passed before the endow the year.

France has clearer legislation than the UK when it comes to breeding and selling dogs. All matings have to be declared, with dogs either registered as pedigrees with the French KC or as “types”. It is possible to register a pedigree dog after puppyhood with confirmation from an expert judge and proof of testing for heritable diseases and sociability, behaviour or aptitude. However, breed registers have been closed for several breeds, including the following since 1978: German and Belgian shepherds, Dobermann pinschers, boxers, fox terriers, dachshunds, springer, cocker and American spaniels and poodles.

It remains to be seen if legislation in either country will stem the tide of back street breeders, puppy farms and illegal imports and sales. For the sake of dogs everywhere, let us hope that a solution is found soon.

Read The Licence Or Just Tick The Box?

Licence check box The RSPCA has been detailing cases of abuse and calling for licensing of dog walkers and trainers. All very admirable but it does not go far enough and will not address the issues of concern.

An opportunity was missed with the revision of licensing legislation in October 2018 when behaviourists trainers, groomers and walkers could have been licensed, but in practice little has changed anyway.

Not only were no resources put into publicising and policing those changes, dogs are being bred and boarded in their millions with little or no regard to the law. Few owners are aware that licensing is required and many don’t care when they are alerted, preferring a quick, easy purchase and a convenient, cheap option for outsourcing the care of their dog.

Licences are administered by local authorities, all of which are cash-strapped and under-resourced.

The truth is, most people want instant gratification and are not prepared to exercise due diligence when purchasing a dog let alone wait for a lengthy period for a dog from a responsible breeder. Many fashionable crosses would never be bred by responsible breeders because of poor health implications. Those breeders remain unlicensed and of course have much lower costs than licensed breeders whilst charging up to 5 times as much per dog sold. Far too many people outsource most of the care of their dog to walkers and boarders and few undertake any training or just attend a brief puppy course. Those who are prepared to pay a suitable fee for a qualified professional are few and far between so there will always be a market for unlicensed, unqualified breeders, trainers, groomers and dog walkers.

Some professional bodies allow “grandfather rights” and take in members without the requirement of being assessed. Until that issue is addressed, trainers for instance, may still have the kudos of the letters after their name without needing to prove that they abide by the codes of conduct.

There are more than 50 statues in the UK that mention dogs. It only takes a short walk along any busy street or park to see how many of those are being broken with impunity. One more will make little difference unless a significant amount is spent in owner education and policing. That is not likely to happen any time soon, so simply adding more legislation could actually provide a cover for the very abuse that it is trying to prevent as well as adding yet another financial burden on properly accredited professionals.