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.

No Parking

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to bite in the UK with what seems like the beginning of the wave of infections, many dog owners must be very worried about how they will keep their dogs exercised and happy over the coming days and weeks, and perhaps months.

Not every dog owner has a garden and many have very small spaces, perhaps not even with grass. The National Trust, Royal Parks and many local authority parks have already closed gated green spaces and some car parks.

Government advice at time of writing is that one outing a day is permitted to exercise, including walking dogs.

It should be obvious that ensuring one’s own safety as well as that of other people is of the utmost urgency, but the behaviour of many people over the last weekend beggared belief.

Please remember the importance of keeping your dog mentally stimulated and, whilst physical activity outdoors may be limited, keep up and even enhance your training regime, play brain games and keep your dog challenged mentally.

Keep your distance from other people while out walking and take bio-security precautions if you are helping with a dog belonging to someone who is symptomatic or ill.

Keep well, keep safe, keep stimulated!

Larking In The Park

dog park There has been much fuss recently over a New York Times article pointing out the negative impact of dog parks which has now been picked up the BBC in their Radio 4 consumer programme You and Yours for two days running.

The situation in many US states is rather different to that pertaining in the UK where, in spite of access problems in some areas, restrictions on dogs are not quite so widespread. Michigan and Pennsylvania have state-wide “leash laws” that require owners to keep dogs on leads when off their one premises, although challenges have been raised via case law in Pennsylvania where the intent of the law was clarified to be about prevention of roaming other then preventing off-lead exercise.
Several other states prohibit dogs from being off-lead in public parks which had led to the development of the “dog park”: an enclosed area where dogs are permitted off lead. Many mandate that dogs are kept on lead in areas inhabited by livestock or wildlife.

As in the UK, dog-friendly areas vary greatly from small, sterile, parasite-ridden spaces to reasonably large areas. Urban owners are often far better served by varied dog-friendly areas to let their dogs run the owners in the countryside and the density of the dog population is higher.

As ever, the real problem is that owners do not understand their dog’s requirements for stimulation and training and far too many owners purchase dogs and then outsource their care to unqualified, incompetent walkers. The chaos that this has caused in many parks with large numbers of out of control dogs causing havoc and often being abused by their handlers led to many local authorities imposing restrictions on the number of dogs that can be walked at any one time. This in turn led to walkers going out in pairs or groups and further problems led to bans.

Many dogs are now taken out of town, with farmers hiring out fields. Far from solving problems, they continue even further away from owners and are also a poor use of agricultural land.

So are “dog parks” bad?

Well, quality off-lead stimulation and exercise is always good even if the space in which it occurs is not ideal, but how much better would it be if owners would refrain from getting a dog when they don’t have enough time or the inclination to undertake the majority of their care, if dog walkers where trained and regulated and if dogs were so well-adjusted and trained that they could be taken anywhere without fear of incident.

2020 Foresight – A Wish List For The Year

puppy in gift box 2019 saw some legal advances for dogs with the addition of mandatory licensing for breeders and boarders but no additional resources were made available to publicise and police it so it remains largely ineffective. Much still remains to be done, not least legislation that was not drafted but not passed. The ban on third party puppy and kitten sales (aka Lucy’s Law) is due to come into force in April, but, although welcome, will have limited effects on the puppy trade.

So here is my wish list for dogs for 2020:

  • Additions to the AWA 2006 to criminalise aversive training techniques including the use of shock and citronella collars
  • Mandatory licensing of behaviourists, trainers, groomers and walkers, including requirements for qualifications and insurance
  • Mandatory domestic passports for dogs to include origin, microchip details and health records with a compulsory section for declaration of intention to breed, including health checks and countersigned by a vet
  • Limitations on the breeding of brachycephalic and achondroplastic dogs, with all such breeders requiring mandatory additional oversight
  • Removal of severely affected breeds from the UKKC CC qualifications until major health improvements are endemic
  • Sufficient injection resources to police existing and future legislation and for education of canine professionals and the general public
  • Mandatory employment of sufficient dog wardens in every local authority
  • Mandatory restriction of firework use to licensed professionals only with an obligation to use quiet fireworks and a period of public notification in advance of displays where permission is granted
  • Much more implementation of existing law with owners being prosecuted for dogs off lead on roads, obesity and neglect including long periods with dogs left alone on a regular basis.

Happy New Year and here’s hoping.

Prevention or Prosecution?

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill had a first reading in the House of Commons (without debate) and is currently awaiting a date for a second reading. The Bill is part of recent DEFRA initiatives regarding animal welfare, including the introduction of the latest licensing regulations. The Bill proposes to increase the maximum custodial sentence for people convicted of cruelty from the current paltry six months to up to five years.

Whilst this is to be welcomed, the EFRA Committee made additional recommendations that have not been implemented, including that the RSPCA should no longer act as a prosecutor of first resort. The RSPCA slid into this unusual role because animal welfare prosecutions are largely private (not brought by public bodies such as the Crown or Crown Prosecution Services). The EFRA Committee concluded in 2016 that the RSPCA should “withdraw from acting as a prosecutor of first resort where there are statutory bodies with a duty to carry out this role. We are not convinced by its arguments that it is in a better position than the CPS to prosecute animal welfare cases”.

There are plenty of members of the public who are not convinced either.

Horrific cases of cruelty surface periodically and should soon be able to attract appropriate custodial sentences when prosecuted, the daily misery meted out to dogs goes unrecognised by the very people who are genuinely appalled at extreme cases. So many dogs spend their lives subdued under head collars, harnesses that rub, collars that choke and then are shouted at constantly by owners who don’t even recognise that they are doing it. They are rarely allowed time to sniff, eliminate and play without being dragged away or stopped for just behaving like dogs. Meanwhile owners profess to be their parents and ooze sentiment, thinking that the cowed resentment they get back is “unconditional love”.

So many of these problems could be solved by appropriate, fear-free training. As the adage says, “Properly trained, a human can be a dog’s best friend”.

Meanwhile, the improvements to legislation should be applauded but we desperately need resources to be put into educating owners and preventing problems from occurring in the first place.

‘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.