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.

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.

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.

Animal Wrongs

RSPCA logo There are not many signs of hope in 2021 so far but some good news was announced by the Countryside Alliance today concerning the RSPCA.

The RSPCA has been a toxic brand for many years. It is hard to find any people responsible for animal welfare that has a good word to say for them and the Charity Commission has been obliged to investigate their governance after several exposés. Membership declined and the board of governors became dysfunctional and politically influenced by the so-called animal rights movement. £330,000 of supporters’ money was spent in unsuccessfully trying to prosecute just two members of the Heythrop Hunt as just one example of scandalous behaviour. There was a glimmer of hope RSPCA To Prioritise Animal Welfare At Last in 2016 when yet another CEO, Jeremy Cooper, acknowledged that the charity had become “too adversarial” and will now be “a lot less political”. He was swiftly sent packing by the board as punishment. By 2018, the Charity Commission had placed the RSPCA in special measures which have now been eased.

It is to be hoped that the RSPCA may return to its original remit to improve animal welfare because, goodness knows, there is still a great deal of need out there.

Passing Out

Dog travel kit and passport At the 11th hour, it has been announced that the UK will be a Part 2 Listed Country within the Pet Passport Scheme.

In brief, current EU pet passports issued in GB will not be valid for travel to the EU or the six counties of northern Ireland from January 1st, 2021.
Dogs, cats and ferrets travelling to the EU or the six counties of northern Ireland for the first time after that date will require an Animal Health Certificate (AHC) instead of a pet passport and must be microchipped (compulsory for dogs in the UK anyway), older than 12 weeks and vaccinated against rabies. Travel is not permitted within 21 days after the primary rabies vaccination. Thereafter, booster vaccinations will be required for further travel. Details must be completed in the passport and must be completely accurate, otherwise travel will not be permitted.

Tapeworm treatment must be given no less than 24 hours and no more than 120 hours (5 days) before arrival and recorded in the passport if entering another country before travelling to Finland, Ireland, Malta or Norway. This is not required if travelling directly from the UK. The treatment must contain praziquantel or an equivalent proven to be effective against Echinococcus multilocularis.

The immediate implications for travel are that it will require considerably more planning. This may mean that owners will chose not to undertake casual travel such as short holidays which can only be of benefit to their animals. It may also have a positive impact in reducing the diseases that are transmitted and imported.

A 2019 study found that 89% of dogs imported to the UK, often so-called “rescue” dogs, were illicitly imported using a Pet Passport rather than via the required Balai Directive. 14.8% of the dogs in the study that were tested for the zoonosis Leishmaniasis were positive; just one example of the risks to humans and other animals from imported dogs.

There is also a possibility that it may reduce the number of puppy farmed dogs being imported, but of course that pre-supposes that sufficient resources are being implemented into border force controls.

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.


FDOTUS (First Dogs Of The United States)

Joe Biden's dogs Dogs are going to be back in the White House and the world can breathe a sigh of relief. Donald Trump was the first president since 1849 not to have a dog.

Even Richard Nixon had a dog.

More than half the population of the USA has a dog and dogs have even united (albeit briefly), Democrats and Republicans when a loose dog was rescued from traffic by placard-waving demonstrators. “See?” one woman said as she walked from the scene. “All of America doesn’t hate each other.”

Well maybe not, but it took a little, scared dog to provoke the unity.

Gundog Theft Awareness Week 2020

Spaniel working to the gun October 31st marks the start of Gundog Theft Awareness Week 2020. According to the Countryside Alliance, 3,500 dogs were reported as stolen during the shooting season in 2014, but it is not just a problem for working dog owners.

Some 50,000 dogs are reported to insurance companies as being lost every year and half of those reported as being stolen are gun dogs. Insurers Direct Line report that cocker spaniel thefts rose by 93% and crossbreed thefts by 42% in 2019.

The DogLost charity found that there has been a 65% increase in dog thefts during lockdown when compared to the same period last year.

Only 22% of dogs reported as stolen in 2019 were returned to their owners. There is no obligation on any authority to scan dogs, and dogs sold online and via fake “rescues” could be stolen, often to order to accommodate the latest fads and the massive demand for dogs. Fewer than 5% of cases of dog theft result in a conviction. Dogs are being stolen from kennels, gardens, cars, when left tied up in public and when they are out of sight of handlers in parks.

Don’t add to the statistics. Never leave your dog unattended when outdoors, secure kennels and add security measures such as CCTV and alarms and use a long line while you are training reliable recall.

Wanted Alive Or Dead – Red Squirrels

Red squirrel There are no doubt many of us who have dogs who might be interested in the job of squirrel hunter, but they have been pipped to the post by a spaniel called Rufus.

Humans have enlisted the help of dog’s scenting ability in conservation for many years and now, a spaniel in the six counties of northern Ireland is searching for red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris). In spite of their name, native red squirrels are no longer common in the UK, having been ousted by the American grey (Sciurus carolinensis) which was introduced as an exotic in the 19thC. Grey squirrels are not affected by the squirrelpox virus that is fatal to the red squirrel and they also outcompete the red squirrels for food, having a broader palate.

Rufus locates squirrels so that they can be examined for signs of pox, enabling the disease to be tracked. A 2018 study showed that improvements in pine marten populations have assisted the red squirrel population, not least because grey squirrels form part of the pine marten diet.

A few more dogs like Rufus in addition to a managed marten population could help the return of a much loved native breed.