Dog-gone

chalk drawings of dogs The latest figures released by insurer Direct Line report that dog thefts in England and Wales fell by 23% in 2019 (approximately 600 fewer dogs being stolen than in 2018).

However, there has also been a reported 65% increase in the number of dogs reported to charity DogLost as being stolen between March 23rd and June 1st, 2020 as the Covid-19 lockdown began. There also seem to have been clusters of thefts, notably in East Anglia where thieves are reported to have left chalk marks to identify houses with dogs. Although this has not been confirmed, it was also reported in 2018 in Scotland.

Whether chalk marks are being used or not, it is certain that dogs are stolen every day, mostly for re-sale or for use as breeding dogs in puppy farms. Direct Line report that just 22% of stolen dogs were returned to their owners in 2019 and this number seems to be falling.

The honest truth is that owners want dogs in hurry and will buy from websites and other dubious sources without making any checks. Although a campaign was instigated to get vets to check chips after the daughter of the late Bruce Forsyth had two dogs stolen. However, vets have a primary duty to care for dogs, not to act as an unpaid police force. There are simply too few resources put into Dog Wardens to police even the microchipping law systematically and effectively.

There are simple precautions that can be taken to prevent theft:

  • Do not leave dogs unattended in cars or outside shops
  • Train good recall and pay attention to your dog when out on walks
  • Do not leave dogs unattended in gardens or kennels
  • Keep your microchip database up to date.

Qui eripuit canis, qui eripuit?

St Bernard Rescue Dog A story broke today that a St Bernard dog, a breed famed for mountain rescue, herself needed rescuing from Scafell Pike.

The tone of the articles was relatively light-hearted but the operation required 16 members of the Wasdale Mountain Rescue team to administer pain relief then carry a dog weighing 55kg for five hours over rough terrain, including negotiating a waterfall.

The dog is 4 years old. Young for most breeds but in the giant breeds with a life-expectancy that rarely breeches double figures, middle aged. A 2014 UKKC breed health survey of 65 St Bernards with a median age of 3 years found that the majority of the dogs were affected by at least one condition. There were 77 incidents of conditions overall, with a median age of onset of just 18 months. Hip dysplasia was the third most commonly reported problem. Reportedly, the dog taken off Scafell Pike was showing signs of pain and refusing to walk. Hardly surprising.

There are often people who risk rescuers’ lives by going into potentially dangerous environments unprepared, but subjecting such a dog to England’s highest mountain beggars belief.

It wasn’t always like this of course. St Bernard dogs have not been used for mountain rescue since 1955, not least because crossing with Newfoundlands in the mid-19thC and closed stud books made them unfit for purpose. The dogs in the image on the right were the St Bernards of 1929. Tragic hardly covers it.

Dogs Still On The Menu

Chinese dog It seems that China is still refusing to learn the lessons of the dangers of wet markets in spite of the global SAR-COV-2 pandemic which has seen recent additional outbreaks in Beijing and elsewhere.

The Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in Yulin has begun again this year, with an estimated 1,000 dogs being eaten daily over the ten-day celebration. Cat meat is also on the menu. Whilst dogs have been raised for food in China for at least 400 years, the Yulin festival only began in 2009 when it could hardly be argued that they are a necessary source of protein. Dog-meat eating is surrounded by superstitions such as eating the meat during the summer months brings luck and good health and that dog meat can ward off diseases and heighten men’s sexual performance.

Sechzuan province has taken a lead by re-classifying dogs and cats as companion animals rather than livestock, but clearly this has not spread to Guangxi province, let alone elsewhere. Up to 20 million dogs are killed and eaten annually across China even though

Whilst there is nothing wrong per se with eating dog meat, the sheer numbers slaughtered have led to many companion animals being seized and, more to the point, the conditions under which the dogs are kept and then killed are appalling. Of course, there is the additional chance that this will cause the spread of zoonotic diseases as the whole world know knows to its cost.

Fanning Flames

As flames spread across Washington and Minnesota, an incident that occurred in Central Park, NYC last week has, understandably, become overshadowed.

Amy Cooper was walking her dog off lead in The Ramble, an area of Central Park where dogs are required to be on lead. A minor rule infringement you may think.

I have been walking a dog in an area controlled by a PSPO – dogs are also required to be on lead and it is a criminal offence to refuse to put a dog on lead here when requested to do so. That request was posted in a notice on all gates. Most were torn down and only one or two other walkers obeyed.

So why does it matter?

Well, needless to say, very few owners have good recall and, at a time when we are all supposed to be keeping at least 6ft away from each other, out of control dogs necessitate owners getting close. This is annoying at any time but could now be life-threatening.

How we react though, is all-important. Amy Cooper was so determined that she was not going to put her dog on lead that she made a false and racially-biased claim to the police. The birdwatcher who had reminded her of her obligation filmed the entire, shocking incident.

Not only is her false allegation shocking, she is so focused on demanding that the birdwatcher stop filming that she pays no attention to her dog. The poor dog is dragged by the throat, suspended at waist level and paddles frantically with his hind feet until he collapses at her feet.

This dog came from a shelter. She “rescued” it.

It remains to be seen whether any legal action will be taken against Amy Cooper, but she has now lost her job – and her dog.

More to the point, just because an owner was too arrogant to obey the rules of the park, this poor dog had to suffer being choked and no doubt frightened, and now has to cope with the whole re-homing process again.

Think on that next time you think that you too are above the law.

When Will People Learn?

There are two avoidable incidents that regularly crop up with depressing predictability: someone will die trying to get their dog out of water (the dog often extricates itself) and someone will die because they walked their dog between a cow and her calf.

It is the latter that has hit the headlines today: one person dead and the other airlifted out with injuries and now facing life without a partner.

Farmers have a duty of care to anyone who may access a public right of way on their land but it behoves all people, and especially those with dogs, not to put themselves at risk in the first place.

Regardless of demands for “rights to roam”, land is a farmer’s livelihood and the territory of the animals grazing it. Whilst it can be difficult to find areas to walk dogs on or off lead in the country, avoiding fields where there are livestock with young is better than taking risks and possibly putting those who come to the rescue at risk too.

Sniffing Out Trouble

Dogs evolved as dogs precisely because of their relationship with humans. Man made dog and dog helped man.

Although the “jobs” that dogs undertake have changed radically in recent years, man and dog are still as thick as thieves and greater understanding of the science behind the relationship has enabled us to communicate and fathom dogs in a way that was undreamed of.

Anecdotal accounts of dogs being able to detect malignant tumours in humans led to dogs being trained to detect all sorts of volatile compounds that cause illness in man.

Now a study is underway in which six dogs are being trained to see if they can detect the SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID 19. The charity Medical Detection Dogs are working in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University, with the aim that dogs could help to provide a rapid, non-invasive diagnosis, perhaps as soon as in 6 weeks.

MDD has already trained dogs to detect various cancers, Parkinson’s disease, bacterial infections and malaria.  Dogs are also able to detect subtle changes in skin temperature, so could potentially indicate if someone has a fever.

Trained dogs could be deployed to identify incoming infected travellers or be deployed in other public spaces to help with tracking and tracing infection as the lockdown is eased.

Pariah!

Indian pariah dog It is understandable in the current situation that research is published quickly and, of necessity, before peer review. Creditably, it is also often made available via Creative Commons licensing.

One such paper has been picked up by various media today suggesting that feral dogs rather than pangolins could have been a vector for the SARS-COV-2 virus.

Approximately 80% of the world’s dogs are feral, living alongside but not formally with, humans with varying degrees of tolerance on the part of the latter. One such group of dogs is a landrace dog on the Indian sub-continent. Taking their name from the Pariah tribe of Madras, a derivation of the Anglo-Indian word pye or paë and the Hindi pāhī meaning ‘outsider’, the term has become synonymous with all outcasts particularly those who are ostracised. Just as the very word “dog” is used as an insult, so the poor pariahs.

Feral dogs can and do transmit zoonotic diseases, notably rabies, but academics have already poured scorn on the suggestion that they have been responsible for humans contracting COVID-19.

The consensus appears to be that conclusion have been drawn from weak and erroneous evidence based on the suggestion that feral dogs ate infected bats and were them presumably eaten by humans as it has already been proven that dogs do not become symptomatic even in the rare event that they have become infected and that they do to transmit the virus easily.

As Professor James Wood, Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine and researcher in infection dynamics and control of diseases at the University of Cambridge, said:

“I find it difficult to understand how the author has been able to conclude anything from this study, or to hypothesise much, let alone that the virus causing COVID19 may have evolved through dogs.  There is far too much inference and far too little direct data.  I do not see anything in this paper to support this supposition and am concerned that this paper has been published in this journal.  I do not believe that any dog owners should be concerned as a result of this work.”

Fouling Their Own Territory

The final line up at Crufts was one of the most depressing that we have seen in a while. Puffed up and preened, the poor Old English sheepdog was as far away from guarding sheep as he could be, although at least he has an in-breeding coefficient of 0%. The Irish Setter has an in-breeding coefficient of 16.2%, 2.7% higher than the breed average; the miniature poodle 11.7%, a whopping 6.8% higher than the breed average, and the BIS winner, the wire haired dachsund 10.8%, also 6.8% higher than the breed average.

Even without this close level of in-breeding, deciding that out of approximately 20,000 entries, that an achondroplastic dog with a ridiculously elongated back is the best example of a dog makes me despair. The fact that this dog also needed to eliminate in the ring was also hardly edifying from a welfare perspective.

The BVA President Daniella dos Santos said “We’re concerned that seeing a dachshund crowned top dog at Crufts could lead to a further rise in their popularity and related increase in the health issues that can unfortunately affect these and other long and low breeds.”

However, this horse has possibly already bolted: as with other deformed phenotypes, dachsunds, and in particular miniature dachshunds have gained in popularity and seem to be almost as ubiquitous as pugs and French bulldogs, not least in the popular media.

How ironic that Vitality UK, a life insurance company, has chosen a miniature dachshund to promote their product. The BVA note that “…all six varieties of dachshunds– Standard Long-, Smooth-, and Wire-haired, and their miniature versions– [are] at risk of serious spinal and neurological issues which usually require surgery to fix. These problems may not be immediately obvious, but often cause them life-long discomfort and may need costly treatment”.

The most common problem is Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) which causes early degenerative changes in the discs that act as “shock absorbers” for the spine making them prone to herniate and calcify and resulting in the spinal cord compressing.

This is extremely painful for dogs and they may yelp, show a hunched back with the head down, shiver, pant, refuse to move or be unable to jump or negotiate stairs. It progresses to difficulty in walking with poor control of the hind limbs and ultimately, complete paralysis. Severely affected dogs have a paralysed bladder and may be unable to urinate and/or dribble urine. Completely paralysed dogs have no bladder function and lose the ability to feel pain.

Dachshunds are 10-12 times more likely to suffer from IVDD than other dog breeds. At least 20% of all dachshunds will show clinical signs of this disease. The median age of onset of disease is between 5-7 years, with the Standard and Miniature Smooth Haired and the Miniature Wire Haired having the highest prevalence.

Even if the BIS winner is not affected, how does promoting this type of extreme physical distortion promote canine health?

Going Viral

dog in face mask

Update: March 29th: The Pomeranian dog in Hong Kong that tested positive for Covid-19 tested negative again and was allowed to go home on March 8th. The dog died on March 16th. However, the owner refused to allow a post mortem examination so no cause of death could be confirmed. The dog was 17 years old.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has stated that “There is no evidence that dogs play a role in the spread of this human disease or that they become sick.”

The media has been awash with articles about Covid-19 and the emergent coronavirus in the last few weeks. It is perhaps not surprising that dogs are now featuring in media stories given how many dogs are living in close quarters with humans worldwide.

In fact, humans are more likely to pass on MRSA to their dogs or pick up various zoonoses, including via feeding raw food.

At the moment, it is not possible to tell how infections of coronavirus will progress, but there is a certain amount of hype and panic because bad news sells media advertising. In perspective, approximately 3,000 have died as a result of contracting Covid-19: seasonal influenza is estimated to kill between 100 and 200 times as many humans annually.

The latest sensational headline concerns a dog in Hong Kong that has tested as “weak positive” for coronovarius following infection of his owner.

Mass culling of dogs already occurs in response to rabies outbreaks, in spite of the fact that it is ineffective in curbing the disease. It would be horrific if dogs were to suffer because of panic over this current disease outbreak. Let us hope that common sense prevails; after all, the dog is likely to have inhaled virus shed by his owner as it seems highly unlikely that Covid-19 could have jumped species so quickly.

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.