Stick up for Staffies – But help end BSL for good too

 

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The Staffordshire Bull Terrier, officially recognised by the Kennel Club in 1935 and described by the organisation as being a “wonderful family pet”, is one of the most popular breeds of dog in Britain. Long before our streets were flooded with French Bulldogs, the ever-lovable Staffie was there, providing fun and frolics for those lucky enough to share their home with one of these dogs. And despite the current trend of owning any crossbreed whose name ends in ‘-poo’, the Staffie is still a favourite choice for many.

So perhaps it is not surprising that over 160,000 UK residents have signed an online petition calling on the Government to protect the Staffordshire Bull Terrier from the horrors that is breed specific legislation (or Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991). The petition was created in response to the submission made by controversial animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to the EFRA inquiry into the Dangerous Dogs Act. Within their submission, PETA stated that not only did they believe that breed specific legislation should remain in place in the UK, but Staffies and American Bulldogs should be added to the legislation too, causing mass outrage and disbelief.

Many were shocked that an organisation set up to allegedly protect animals could support such a discriminatory and infamously knee-jerk law, but this is not PETA’s debut performance when it comes to supporting BSL. PETA do not oppose breed-specific laws, on the basis that such legislation ‘protects’ Pit Bull types from abuse. Could such a large organisation truly be naïve enough to believe that dog abusers would think twice about their actions simply because a dog features on a list of banned breeds? Despite what PETA believe, BSL does not prevent dog breeding either, otherwise there would not be more Pit Bull types in the country now than ever before. However, they didn’t stop there. Within their submission, PETA detailed various dog attacks, using sensationalist language which wouldn’t look out of place in a tabloid newspaper, and also quoted a report which compares Pit Bull types to Leopards.

The online petition rejecting PETA’s suggestion of adding Staffies to the Dangerous Dogs Act is due to be debated in parliament tomorrow, Monday 16th July. However, since PETA have no authority to call for such a ban on Staffies or American Bulldogs (and such a suggestion was unlikely to ever have been taken seriously by the Government, who maintain that it has no plans to add Staffies to the list of banned breeds), is it possible that this was a futile petition which has detracted much-needed attention from the inquiry itself? We can’t blame those who signed the petition – indeed, I was one of them, signing in the heat of the moment, at the peak of my rage towards PETA, while choosing to share details on the Dangerous Dogs Act inquiry instead. No, we can’t blame the thousands of dog lovers sticking up for Staffies. We just need them to be as willing to help the Staffie’s taller cousins (including the poor American Bulldog – where was their mention in the petition?).

According to the ‘publications’ page for the inquiry, just over 400 written submissions were received in total, from both major organisations and ordinary members of the public. Although this number may not truly reflect the amount of submissions received, it is clearly a very poor show in comparison to the masses of signatures on the Staffie petition. Perhaps if Staffies were mentioned in the inquiry more people would have been interested in making a submission. Or perhaps it is just simply easier to enter your name and email address for a petition (the inquiry on the other hand involved following a set of strict guidelines). As with so many causes, sadly it seems that unless we can ‘do our bit’ within the space of one minute and then return to watching the football, mindlessly scrolling through Twitter or making a cup of tea, it’s too much of an effort.

Luckily, we now have a petition too. Recently set up by Born Innocent in an attempt to get breed specific legislation as a whole debated in Parliament, this petition is for all dogs and is the only official Government petition asking for an end to BSL.

Please sign it and share widely.

Remember that 2018 is the Year of the Dog – not just the Staffie. It’s time to end BSL and introduce breed-neutral laws in order to protect both the public and our dogs; a sentiment which is echoed by so many reputable animal charities, major canine organisations and leading veterinary bodies in the UK.

 

For more details on the EFRA inquiry, including access to published submissions, please click here.

 

Edit 16/07/18 – The debate regarding Staffordshire Bull Terriers which took place this afternoon at Westminster Hall can be viewed here. From the outset of the meeting it was reiterated that the Government had no intention of banning Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and some good points were made about the flaws and welfare implications of breed specific legislation, with the majority of speakers supporting a change in the law in order to prevent dogs of sound temperament being needlessly euthanised. We await the outcome of the full EFRA inquiry.

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Review: ‘Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun!’ (Hubble & Hattie, 2018)

Thanks to the indisputable growth of Instagram and Snapchat, together with our unwavering devotion to pursuing all things cute and canine (check out the ‘good boy’ hashtag if you don’t believe me – long gone are the days where pooch internet fame was reserved for the Shiba Inu alone), it’s difficult to pick up your smartphone without drowning in waves of Pugs in pirate outfits or Bulldogs in bikinis (yep, I just did a quick Google image search and was not disappointed). And whilst owners who dress up their dogs undoubtedly love their pets, it isn’t exactly… natural. Worse still are the supposedly ‘adorable’ photographs floating around of dogs being squeezed or sat on by the irritating smaller humans of the household, the whites of their eyes and stiffened posture apparently only visible to the experts who are left shaking their heads in disbelief that Mrs Bloggs yet again let her toddler climb on to the Bedlington’s back for a quick snap (of the photographic kind).

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And so the latest publication from ethical publishers Hubble and Hattie, ‘Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun!’, makes a refreshing and welcome change. The book contains 97 pages of full colour photographs (plus an extra ‘Meet the Cast’ chapter, taking it up to 112 pages in total), and there’s not an uncomfortable animal in sight. Images of Chihuahuas in teacups have been replaced with wonderful pictures which demonstrate the natural beauty and fun-loving spirit of our canine companions.

Author Cheryl Murphy, a professional photographer, was keen to capture this spirit, which is so often suppressed – how often do we truly let our dogs behave like dogs? Moreover, how often do we actually stop and appreciate the wonders of their body language and the incredible variation between breeds? Murphy states that the book is intended to be “a true celebration of what it is to be a dog“, with her images providing a window into those brief moments which are so often missed by distracted owners having a quick gossip with their fellow walkers, oblivious to the complex non-verbal communication happening right before their eyes.

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The photographs are organised into six chapters, such as ‘Making a Splash’, which includes some impressive water shots, and ‘On the Ball’ (quite a few of the dogs featured within the book are apparently ball crazy). Another feel-good aspect of the book is the obvious absence of overweight Labs – these are all clearly active animals who appear to be very happy not to have to settle for the couch potato lifestyle. Some readers will possibly be able to relate to the ‘messy’ pictures (why are the lightest of Golden Retrievers always the most determined to immerse themselves in giant muddy puddles?).

Each photograph is accompanied by an amusing caption. Admittedly, some are funnier than others, but who needs incredible jokes when the pictures speak for themselves? The ‘Meet the Cast’ chapter at the end of the book is a lovely touch, and it’s good to see that some of the stars are rescue dogs. The ‘cast’ descriptions are hilarious and likely to sound familiar to anyone owned by a dog; Margot the five month old Cockapoo had her owners trained in under three months and Charlie the Golden Retriever is a master underwear thief, while Diva the wolf hybrid clearly lives up to her name and generously allows her owner to occupy a corner of the bed.

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Being a Retriever owner for the last twenty years, it’s perhaps not surprising that Murphy’s book features a lot of Goldies. There’s definitely a distinct lack of bull breeds, unless you include little Cleo the Frenchie, but this is not intended to be a replacement for the Kennel Club’s Illustrated Breed Standards. My only true criticism is that the book is simply not long enough. The concept would lend itself well to a lengthier version with each chapter dedicated to an individual breed or even group; maybe showing the French Bulldog (now the UK’s most popular breed) as anything other than the perfectly pampered pooch would be the ideal antidote to any hashtag or celebrity craze. They are still dogs, after all.

In short, canine fans will enjoy ‘Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun!’, a book which achieves its aim of showcasing dogs behaving naturally, free of clothes and cues, and having great fun in the process.

And you can give me that over a Bulldog in a bikini any day.

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‘Dogs Just Wanna Have Fun! – Picture This: Dogs at Play’ by Cheryl Murphy

Hubble & Hattie, June 2018

ISBN: 978-1-787112-01-8

This book can be purchased directly from the publisher, Hubble & Hattie, at www.hubbleandhattie.com for £12.99 plus P&P.

Canine Aggression (Hubble & Hattie, 2018) – Book Review

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“Living with a dog who doesn’t like their own kind can be isolating.”

Anyone who has ever struggled with a dog exhibiting aggressive behavioural tendencies towards other dogs will be able to identify and empathise with the plight of author Tracey McLennan.

Canine Aggression – Rehabilitating an Aggressive Dog with Kindness and Compassion‘ tells the story of Calgacus, a brindle Bullmastiff named after a Celtic warrior. Calgacus shows signs of behavioural problems from an early age, with first-time dog owner Tracey finding herself lumbered with a deer-chasing, slobbery, over-enthusiastic and Spaniel-hating ‘bully’. Although at times it would undoubtedly have been very tempting to throw in the drool-soaked towel, instead Tracey and Calgacus embark on a learning journey together; but not before she has to replace two chewed sofas and four destroyed armchairs.

Things take a more sinister turn when Calgacus violently attacks a friend’s dog. This causes much anxiety for Tracey, who struggles to take Calgacus on walks and stops attending his usual training classes due to the apparent stress it causes him. After contacting a dog behaviourist for advice and receiving no response, Tracey attends a different training class on the recommendation of a veterinary nurse at her practice. Again, this is not a good outcome for the pair, with a rather bizarre reaction from the instructor after Calgacus slobbers on his trousers.

After initially dismissing the concept of ‘Tellington TTouch‘ after seeing it on a television programme, Tracey later revisits the method (consisting of a number of exercises, including massaging the dog’s skin in circular movements and agitating the joints between the vertebrae), in order to help Calgacus overcome his problems. Tracey believes that TTouch made a major difference to Calcagus’ behaviour, so much so that she trained to become a TTouch practitioner herself. She also begins to recognise calming signals in Calgacus when he encounters another dog, such as sniffing the grass, turning away his head or deliberately moving away, using the clicker method to reward such behaviour. Eventually, Calgacus arrives at the stage where he is ready to be reunited with Monty, the dog he so viciously attacked. The reunion is a success and Calgacus continues to make enormous progress.

“With some dogs, the behaviour that is so problematic for people is an attempt at communication…”

It is emphasised throughout the book that Tracey struggled not only with Calgacus’ behavioural problems, but also with sourcing useful and accurate information about how to deal with these problems. She notes that the UK dog training industry is unregulated, meaning that it is possible to end up with an instructor who may actually exacerbate the issue due to a lack of knowledge of how the canine brain works, and touches on the concept of ‘dominance theory’ which is now widely regarded as outdated and inaccurate. What is refreshing about the book is that Tracey is not ashamed to admit that she herself often got it wrong due to her own lack of experience (and would not recommend a Bullmastiff for a first-time dog owner). However, there is no questioning Tracey’s commitment to saving Calgacus from euthanasia, and it is surely a testament to their bond that Calgacus was transformed from a troubled Bullmastiff who could not be in the same room as other dogs to one who happily performed Heelwork to Music routines and passed with an A grade in Gundog-style retrieving.

‘Canine Aggression’ will be of interest to those dealing with aggressive or difficult dogs, whether that be in a rescue environment or at home. However, as Tracey points out, no two dogs are the same, so the path she chose with Calgacus may not be effective for every case – although the book does contain more general training information useful for all dog owners, such as an overview of operant conditioning and its potential pitfalls. Arguably, the book may have benefited from an alternative main title, such as ‘Saving Calgacus’, as its current name suggests that the book is a type of textbook resource or training guide, which it is not (although, as we learn, training manuals aren’t always helpful), and it is worth noting that Calgacus is not aggressive towards people. While there are some lovely photographs on the back cover, I would have liked to have seen some images of Calgacus and Tracey’s other dogs within the book itself in order to help break up the 35 short sections in which it is divided.

Overall, the book offers a touching and often very personal insight into Tracey and Calgacus’ journey, which prompts the reader to consider our often unrealistic expectations of dogs, the importance of treating them as individuals, and appreciate that helping a troubled animal sometimes requires a little creativity.

 

Book Information

‘Canine Aggression – Rehabilitating an Aggressive Dog with Kindness and Compassion’ (May 2018) 

ISBN: 978-1-787110-79-3 

This book can be purchased directly from the publisher, Hubble & Hattie, at www.hubbleandhattie.com for £14.99 plus P&P.

 

To read my review of another Hubble & Hattie publication, ‘Babies, Kids and Dogs’, please click here.

Crufts 2018 – Arena Guide

March is almost upon us, which can only mean one thing…

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Photo copyright Forthglade Natural Pet Food

…CRUFTS!

Over 150,000 dog lovers from across the globe are expected to descend on the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) across the four day period from Thursday 8th to Sunday 11th, enjoying all the highlights of the world’s biggest dog show. As regular visitors to Crufts will know, the event is so much more beyond the battle for the Best in Show title, with more than 550 trade stands, known as the “ultimate doggy shopping experience”, the Discover Dogs area with over 200 pedigree breeds to meet, and a variety of competitions covering everything from agility to obedience – all in addition to witnessing thousands of dogs competing for the ultimate title in the pedigree world.

Holding over 6,000 visitors, the arena (currently known as the ‘Genting Arena’) has been used at Crufts for displays, competitions, the all-important best of group judging and, of course, Best in Show, since 2007. The arena programme is a firm favourite with Crufts fans, and is now enjoyed by viewers worldwide since the introduction of the livestream.

So whether you’re gearing up for your first Crufts visit or are planning to settle down with a cup of tea and a friendly mutt on your lap to catch the agility live on YouTube, check out this guide to the unmissable arena action at Crufts 2018.

 

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Photo copyright Power Paws Agility

Crufts Classic 

Agility – Throughout the Show. Rescue Dog Agility – Day 2, 13:35

First demonstrated at Crufts in 1978, this fast-paced obstacle course has been a favourite of the Crufts visitor for 40 years. Watch top agility dogs of all shapes and sizes compete for first place as they face hurdles, tunnels, weaving poles, see-saws and more.

During last year’s rescue dog agility competition, Olly the Jack Russell caused mayhem when he decided that he fancied a different take on the course. The video of the Blue Cross terrier ‘going rogue’ in the arena went viral on the internet and has acquired over 11 million views. With Olly set to return to Crufts this year, there may well be even more canine carnage in store! Either way, be sure to join in with the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Crufts agility.

 

 

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Flyball excitement. Photo courtesy of Yours.co.uk

All-Action Highlight

Flyball – Throughout the Show. Final – Day 4, 13:20

Originating in California in the 1970s and making its debut at Crufts in 1990, flyball is arguably the most exciting dog sport on the planet. It involves two teams racing each other down a set of hurdles before triggering a pedal on the ‘flyball box’, releasing a tennis ball which the dog must carry back over the hurdles to rejoin his teammates. In typical relay fashion, each dog has to cross the finish line before the next dog can be released.

Nothing compares to the atmosphere of the arena during the flyball final. It’s loud, it’s fast, the crowd go wild, and invariably there are numerous teams sporting brightly dyed hair and pawprints on their faces. Not to be missed.

 

 

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Photo copyright Southern Golden Retriever Display Team

If you prefer a more relaxed pace…

Southern Golden Retriever Display Team – Day 3, 12:30; Day 4, 13:05

A must for Retriever fanatics, the Southern Golden Retriever Display Team first strutted their stuff at Crufts 2004 and have returned year after year with their heartwarming combination of obedience and music. Consisting of 16 Goldies, including rescues, the team trains throughout the year, whatever the weather. From their flawless arena displays it’s clear that their hard work always pays off. The team perform at shows up and down the country, including charity events, and have even appeared on Blue Peter.

 

 

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Mary Ray, a Crufts favourite. Photo courtesy of Zimbio

Fun-Filled Favourite

Heelwork to Music – Throughout the Show

In 1992, long before the advent of the TV talent show which introduced millions of viewers to the wonders of doggy dancing, Mary Ray, the UK’s leading expert on Heelwork to Music (HTM), performed at Crufts for the first time. Since then she has returned to the show each year, and her amazing routines are now an established part of the build up to Best in Show.

Throughout Crufts, visitors can experience the delights of HTM in the arena, including the finals of the ‘freestyle’ and freestyle international competitions. Expect incredible training, moving soundtracks and just the right amount of fancy dress.

 

 

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West Midlands Police Dogs at Crufts. Photo: @WMPdogs on Twitter

Canine Crime Fighters

West Midlands Police Dog Display – Day 1, 16:00; Day 3, 16:25; Day 4, 13:40

The West Midlands Police Dog Display is always a hit and definitely a personal favourite. As pointed out during last year’s show, this is not a display team – these dogs are the real deal and are all on active duty. It’s also a treat to see the upcoming ‘recruits’ in the form of the pups who are currently being looked after by volunteer puppy walkers.

If you’re visiting Crufts this year, don’t forget to visit the West Midlands Police stand in Hall 3 to get up close and personal with the team and to learn more about their heroic work.

 

 

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The E.A.S.B.T Display Team performing outside Hall 1. Photo courtesy of The Telegraph

Must See

East Anglian Staffordshire Bull Terrier Display Team – Day 1, 11:05

The East Anglian Staffordshire Bull Terrier (E.A.S.B.T.) Display Team are kicking off the first of the arena displays in style during Thursday morning. Showing just how brilliant the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is, previous displays have featured special guests including dog lover Paul O’ Grady. The dogs themselves seem to thoroughly enjoy hurtling round the agility course and entertaining the crowd.

This year’s display includes an appearance from TV dog trainer Sian Ryan along with members of the ‘StreetVet’ team who provide support for homeless pet owners. There’s even rumours of a World Cup theme…

 

 

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Digby, star of ITV’s This Morning. Photo copyright Dogs for Good

Celebrate 30 years of life-changing partnerships

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Formerly known as Dogs for the Disabled, Dogs for Good are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. The charity was the first in the UK to introduce assistance dogs for children with physical disabilities, and their work has been at the forefront of developing canine assistance for those with additional needs. Viewers of ITV’s This Morning may be familiar with Digby, a Dogs for Good puppy and future assistance dog who appears on the programme every week.

Providing three different services in the form of Assistance Dogs (to support those with physical disabilities and autism), Family Dogs (providing advice on how pet dogs can benefit the whole family) and Community Dogs (training activity and therapy dogs for work in schools and hospitals), Dogs for Good will be eager to showcase their amazing canines at Crufts 2018. For more information on the charity please visit them in Hall 3, stand 55a, or take a look at the Dogs for Good website.

 

 

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Wylie the Nowzad rescue dog – Scruffts winner 2014. Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail

If you’re rooting for the underdog…

Scruffts final – Day 3, 17:55

‘Scruffts’ is a dog show with a difference. Open to crossbreeds only, the grand final, otherwise known as the ‘Scruffts Family Crossbreed Dog of the Year’, takes place in the arena on Saturday evening. Over 1800 dogs have already battled it out for a place at Crufts in heats across the country with just six making it to the final, representing categories including Child’s Best Friend, Golden Oldie and Best Crossbreed Rescue.

Pictured above is Wylie, who won Scruffts back in 2014. Wylie is from Afghanistan and had suffered horrendous injuries before being rescued by the charity Nowzad. Since winning the competition Wylie found fame and there has even been a book published about his bravery.

 

 

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Britain’s Got Talent winner Ashleigh Butler started her career as a member of the Young Kennel Club and still competes at Crufts. Photo courtesy of DogCast Radio

Inspiring the next generation of handlers

International Junior Handling Competition – Day 3. Final – 17:35

For younger Crufts attendees who may be considering becoming involved in ringcraft training, the International Junior Handling competition is the ideal opportunity to be inspired. Young handlers from a variety of countries will be participating in the competition where they will be able to demonstrate not only their handling skills but also their rapport with dogs. Although the handlers will have chosen a breed, they will only have met the individual dog about an hour before entering the ring – a real test of their abilities.

For those aged 6-24 who want to learn more about the dog world, visit the Young Kennel Club (YKC) stand in Hall 3, stand 23.

 

 

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Best in Show winner 2006, Chance the Australian Shepherd. Photo courtesy of The Mirror

 Last but not least…

‘Best of Group’ Judging – Every evening 

If you’re still around in the evening and want to rest your aching feet before heading home, be sure to make your way to the arena to see which dog scoops the title of ‘Best in Group’ and goes through to compete for Best in Show. You could watch it on TV of course, but it’s never quite the same as witnessing the excitement first-hand as your favourite breed catches the eye of the judge.

Day 1: Working Group and Pastoral Group

Day 2: Terrier Group and Hound Group

Day 3: Toy Group and Utility Group

Day 4: Gundog Group (No access to the arena after 2pm without Best in Show tickets)

 

Whether you’re visiting the NEC this year or watching at home, sit back and enjoy the show!

Photocall For The Launch Of Crufts 2013

Photo courtesy of Mother Nature Network

 

Please note:

This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of Crufts events; for full arena timetables please see the ‘What’s On’ section of the Crufts website. All times listed are subject to change. There is no access to the arena from 2pm onwards on Sunday (Day 4) for those without Best in Show tickets.

I am not affiliated with Crufts and any opinions expressed here do not reflect those of the Kennel Club. For official event information please see the Crufts website.

All Aboard! Introducing #Dogbus, the missing link for rescue pets

It is a sad fact that many stray dogs who find themselves in local authority shelters, or ‘pounds’, face the prospect of euthanasia simply because they have nowhere to go. Rescue groups work tirelessly to save the dogs at risk of being put to sleep, yet many of these groups face practical issues. One such issue is a lack of transport which would allow them to safely transfer the dogs into rescue placements and foster homes. Here Bark! talks to Kristyn from ‘Dogbus’ who are raising money for a dedicated animal rescue transport service.

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Kristyn and Alan the Jug

Hi, Dogbus! Can you tell us about yourselves?

“Dogbus is based in Coventry, UK and is comprised solely of volunteers who give up their time to help us get the vehicle on the road. The team consists of Monica, Tiffany, Karlyn, Gaynor, Stef, Gail and myself, not forgetting all of our wonderful supporters on Twitter and Facebook, who all strive to help us reach our target and realise the dream of having a dedicated van providing transport for pets in need.”

How did the idea of a ‘dogbus’ come about?

“Our original charity, Ani-aid Rescue and Support, was founded back in 2011 after our attention was brought to a dog, Shilton (below left), who had been abandoned. She was found tied up and had been left with horrendous injuries, and needed an operation to amputate her leg. We managed to raise the funds for the operation, and, once she recovered, we successfully found a forever home for Shilton. Soon after, we were up and running as a small rescue, taking in pets needing help and those who were waiting to be rehomed, all funded through our own pockets. We helped dogs like Toby (below middle), who needed a double hip replacement, and Scarlett (below right), who is deaf, along with many others. Sadly, Ani-aid had to close due to a lack of funds and foster homes. It was such a hard decision to make as so many pets needed our help. We decided that we still had to help the animal rescue world, and realised that transport for rescue dogs was in great demand. And so the #Dogbus fundraiser was born.”

Why is a dedicated rescue transport service needed?

“Running a very small rescue, we were constantly stuck when it came to organising transport for pets, either to our care, to other rescues, or moving them to their forever homes. Strays only have seven days to be claimed in the UK, and if a rescue placement has not been found once this time is up, the animal can face death. ‘Pound pullers’ work so hard to find these animals rescue placements, but often hit problems when it comes to getting the animal to them, and first have to raise the funds to cover the high cost of private pet transport. Sometimes there can be multiple pets needing transport out of shelters, and with no way of moving them, it’s not always a happy outcome. If only there was a vehicle that could do the transport runs and carry all of them at the same time!”

What facilities will the Dogbus include?

“The Dogbus will be a dedicated van with kennels fitted inside, catering for up to six animals at a time. It will be comfortable enough to allow the safe transportation of pets from stray kennels to their rescue placements or on to their new home. Of course, with only one van on the road it will be working very hard! It will be run by our own volunteers or even by the volunteers at the various rescues.”

 

How is the fundraising campaign progressing so far?

“Our target is £12k, which would cover the initial cost of the van, kitting it out, pay for the insurance and get it up and running. To date we have raised £7,670 of this target. Running such a big fundraiser can be a challenge, especially as we currently don’t have a ‘product’ to show, just the idea of what the Dogbus will achieve when it becomes real. We spend a lot of time on social media updating our supporters on what we’re up to and how the fundraising is coming along.”

What sort of activities have you been involved in to raise awareness of the fundraiser?

“We have leaflets that we have been distributing in the local area to help raise the profile of our cause, and of course we have been utilising social media which is a great tool. We have been doing car boot sales and online auctions which are a vital part of our fundraising, with the car boot sales in particular really helping us to spread the message in our community. We are always on the road collecting furniture which we try to auction. We have such fantastic people supporting us and are very grateful to every single person who has donated in one way or another.”

We can’t finish the interview without mentioning the amazing Alan! Tell us more about him and the rest of the ‘doggy team’.

“Alan is the face of the #Dogbus fundraiser and has gained quite a following on Twitter! He is a four-year-old Jug (Jack Russell cross Pug), who even has his own hashtag, #Alanthejug. Along with his teammates Jake, Paddy, Rosie, Giggs, Neo and George, Alan helps to raise awareness of the #Dogbus appeal by sharing his daily activities and adventures. He is full of life and understands what it feels like to be a rescue dog, longing for a forever home. Like us, Alan wants every pet in stray kennels to be able to have the opportunity for a second chance.”

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#Alanthejug posing for a photo.

How can supporters help to raise money for the Dogbus?

“You can help us fundraise for our special cause by contacting us with your ideas. We’re open to anything (within reason!) and if we can help with any function or activity, we are very happy to provide support. We also have leaflets and donation pots which we can send out to you. And of course, we welcome all shares on social media as it helps to spread the word about what we are trying to achieve.”

Will you be recruiting more volunteers?

“Once the Dogbus is on the road, we will require dedicated volunteers to travel to the van and do the transport runs. The runs will be all over the UK so confident drivers are very welcome to apply. We hope to have teams consisting of two people who will do the transport run together, assisting each other with the safe transfer of the animals we help.

If this is something that you feel you could donate your time and energy to, we need you!”

For more information, please visit the Dogbus website.

Follow the progress of #Dogbus by joining them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @aniaid999

Contact the team via email: info@dogbus.co.uk or telephone: 07943040970

To donate, please visit www.paypal.me/dogbus or alternatively youcaring.com/dogbus

The Year of the Dog?

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The Chinese New Year is approaching in February. Will 2018 be lucky for dogs?

The end of 2017 saw hope on the horizon for animal welfare, particularly with regards to dogs. The Government promised new legislation which would increase sentences for animal cruelty, and, thanks to the success of the ‘Lucy’s Law’ campaign, DEFRA announced plans for tighter regulations surrounding the breeding and sale of puppies. The puppy farming campaign gathered momentum throughout the year before being officially launched in Parliament during December. Although there’s still a long way to go before we can expect to see the end of puppy farming in the UK, the success of Lucy’s Law to date is encouraging for all animal campaigners. And there’s more. In early December, ‘Finn’s Law’ was introduced to Parliament. Officially known as the Service Animals (Offences) Bill, which is set to have its second reading in February, Finn’s Law would make it an offence to attack service animals, including police and assistance dogs. The proposed legislation was inspired by the bravery of police dog Finn, a German Shepherd who suffered life-threatening injuries while on duty with his handler PC Dave Wardell. So far, the bill has received unanimous backing from MPs.

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Retired police dog Finn. Photo courtesy of finnslaw.com

Breed specific legislation took a major blow in 2017, with Montreal overturning their infamous Pit Bull ban which had been introduced a little over one year ago. Repealing BSL proved to be a key issue within Montreal’s election, with the newly elected party, Projet Montréal, promising to change the legislation and removing the anti-Pit Bull measures with immediate effect – a great victory for all end BSL campaigners and a huge relief for the Montreal SPCA and all bull breed owners in the area. Elsewhere, the city of Mansfield, Ohio, removed BSL from their dangerous dog laws, while over 130 people attended a city council meeting in Lakewood to protest against the breed-specific law which was passed in 2008. Back in April, the city of Payette, Idaho, also eradicated BSL, following on from other victories in Payette County and the city of Homedale. The state of Delaware enacted new anti-bias legislation which now prevents any of its municipalities from introducing any breed specific law.

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Photo courtesy of Patrick Stewart’s official Facebook page

Here in the UK, actor and dog lover Sir Patrick Stewart was keen to voice his disdain for the Dangerous Dogs Act after discovering that his foster Pit Bull would not be allowed to enter the country. Stewart was planning on giving Ginger, who was rescued from a US dog fighting ring, a permanent home in England, but instead was forced to make the decision to give her up. Ginger’s story was covered by national newspapers and shared all over social media, including a video published by popular animal page The Dodo, helping to raise awareness of the absurdity of BSL. Stewart is a proud supporter of LA-based dog rescue ‘Wags & Walks’ who rehome a variety of bully breeds and have a very clear anti-BSL stance. Meanwhile, the RSPCA’s #endBSL petition reached 85,000 signatures in September, and a report was published in the Irish Medical Journal which demonstrated how damaging BSL can be with regards to how members of the public perceive danger from individual dogs (with the study also concluding that there were no differences in the type of bite inflicted from legislated and non-legislated breeds).

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Born Innocent’s stand at Discover Dogs 2017

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A friendly visitor to the stand

2017 was certainly very busy for Born Innocent who celebrated their first birthday back in May and worked tirelessly to spread their end-BSL message throughout the year. In addition to attending conferences, meetings with the Law Commission, events in Parliament and various seminars, the team sent representatives to plenty of local dog shows and breed rescue events up and down the country. They even had a stand at Discover Dogs, where they were able to provide advice to owners of bully breeds and educate the public about BSL (with some individuals breaking down in tears when they learnt about the horrors of our current legislation). Another highlight of the year was having their research published in The Times, with mentions of the campaign group also appearing in K9 Magazine and Dogs Today. Professor John Cooper QC, patron of Born Innocent, received an ‘Unsung Hero’ award at DogFest for his dedication to improving animal welfare and for his work at Born Innocent – a proud moment for the whole team.

 So what’s next?

2018 could be the most crucial year yet for ensuring that BSL is consigned to history. Now more than ever we need everyone’s voices to be heard. With the Government finally taking real action for dogs, it seems that there has never been a better time to lobby against breed specific legislation. Born Innocent have no intention of slowing down in 2018 – empowered by their successes of last year, they are ready to continue their work on the front line to end breed specific legislation for good. Less than a week into the new year, the team already announced exciting news of a brand new partnership with the London Fire Brigade, teaming up to assist with their education programme for 13-14 year olds. Born Innocent will be focusing their workshops on dogs, taking a proactive approach to dog bite prevention and raising awareness of dog welfare.

Will this be the year that common sense finally prevails?

With the help of dog lovers, campaigners and celebrity supporters, 2018 truly could turn out to be the ‘Year of the Dog’.

 

 

To stay updated with Born Innocent’s latest news, follow them on Facebook and Twitter @borninnocentdda. Remember to share posts and help spread the word about the failings of breed specific legislation, using the hashtag #endBSL.

For details on how to contact your local MP and DEFRA regarding the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, please see Born Innocent’s guide here.

Helping people and pets: Spotlight on The Cinnamon Trust

I have recently started volunteering with The Cinnamon Trust. The charity was founded in 1985 by Mrs Averil Jarvis, and is the only specialist charity within the UK which assists elderly and terminally ill people with looking after their pets. This may be through providing a temporary foster home for an animal whose owner has had to spend time in hospital, or long-term fostering if an owner has passed away or has moved into residential accommodation which is not pet friendly. The Cinnamon Trust also has an established network of volunteers up and down the country who are on hand to help provide practical help for pet owners on a daily basis. Dog walking for housebound owners, or those who are otherwise unable to give their pet the exercise it needs, is the task most frequently required.

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I had come across The Cinnamon Trust many years ago after visiting their stand at Crufts. The Trust’s logo is instantly recognisable, the most striking part being the bold outline of ‘Cinnamon’, a tribute to Mrs Jarvis’ beloved Corgi whom the charity is named after. For a dog lover like myself, it made perfect sense to do some further research and look into signing up as a volunteer. After looking on the ‘volunteers’ section of the website and noticing that there was a dog local to me which needed walking, I downloaded the Trust’s registration form. The Trust also require three character references to be completed by anyone who has known you for at least five years, including one in a professional capacity. Overall, registration was a quick and easy process, and I was soon sent my volunteering pack, followed by my ID badge.

I was then sent details of my first case via email, and instructed to make contact with the owners to arrange an initial meeting to discuss arrangements, and more importantly to ensure that the dog was comfortable with me. On arrival at the house of Poppy the Jack Russell, it soon became apparent that ringing the doorbell was a futile exercise, as I was given a loud greeting at the door by not one but two enthusiastic dogs – Poppy herself and younger dog Eddie, an adorable Chihuahua and complete fuss-pot. As I was invited into the living room to sit down, any ‘first case’ nerves quickly disappeared as I was given a thorough sniffing by Poppy and an even more thorough licking by Eddie. As Poppy trotted off to fetch a ball which she promptly dropped at my feet, I inwardly breathed a sigh of relief – I’d been approved. Poppy was most indignant that her owner and I were trying to have a sensible conversation, and was insistent on playing ball for the whole time we sat chatting. For a ten year old dog she certainly wasn’t lacking in energy, in typical terrier style. She repeatedly lost her ball underneath the furniture, and perhaps somewhat inevitably I ended up on my hands and knees in the middle of the living room in an attempt to locate the missing toy, with Poppy barking impatiently and an excitable Eddie jumping on and off my back. It was brilliant.

As advised within the volunteering pack, I offered to take Poppy on a short trial walk to make sure that we were both comfortable with each other outside of the house. Although I had some bribery biscuits in my pocket just in case, I needn’t have worried as Poppy was soon trotting along quite happily at my side – in fact, she was raring to go, which came as a surprise to her owner who informed me that Poppy had previously refused to walk with a different person. We exchanged telephone numbers and arranged for Poppy’s first ‘proper’ walk to take place the following Monday.

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Playful Poppy

During our first walk we didn’t venture too far from home in case of any problems, but at least she wasn’t too big to carry back if she did dig her heels in. Although she was a little hesitant at first, with some encouragement and perseverance Poppy quickly became engaged in sniffing and agreed to walk with me down the road. As we passed through the village I noticed the bright red poppies which decorated the street and smiled to myself at how apt it was that I was walking a dog named Poppy around the time of Remembrance Day. Poppy didn’t bat an eyelid as we passed a couple of spaniels, and was almost racing ahead of me as we turned back for home. She certainly looked happy enough when I dropped her off, although that may have been the relief of being back with her ‘mum’, or a result of the dog biscuit she had taken from me, rather than the exercise!

By our third walk we had established an actual route, approximately half an hour’s walk which was plenty for Poppy. Initially she was very hesitant, but with the usual encouraging voice and reassurance she soon settled into the walk. Poppy attracted a lot of elderly admirers who all smiled at her as we passed them by. By the time we reached home I realised I had forgotten my usual biscuit supply, but luckily Poppy’s mum had some to hand and all was forgiven.

Now Poppy is eager to walk and strains at the lead as we first leave the house. A lump rose in my throat when her mum told me that Poppy gets very excited when she tells her that “Grace is coming today”. Even though I’ve only been volunteering for The Cinnamon Trust for a relatively short time, I have already gained so much from the experience and it is heart-warming to know that you’re making a difference to the lives of both dog and owner, even by giving up just an hour a week.  It truly is a ‘win-win-win’ concept, with the pet owner gaining peace of mind, the pet having its welfare needs met, and the volunteer receiving some extra exercise in the process. I would encourage anyone who is also passionate about animals to consider becoming a volunteer for the charity, in order to help The Cinnamon Trust continue to meet its primary objective:

“preserving the treasured relationship between owners and their pets”.

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“Let’s go!”

For more information on The Cinnamon Trust and the services that the charity offers, please click here.

To help The Cinnamon Trust continue with their vital work, please consider becoming a member of the Trust or giving a donation. Details can be found here. Thank you.

Photographs used with the kind permission of Poppy’s family.

Dr Ian Dunbar puts the dog ownership world to rights during UK visit

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Ian Dunbar

Last week, Dr Ian Dunbar, the world-famous veterinarian, animal behaviourist and author of multiple dog behaviour and training publications, voluntarily sent himself to Coventry – more specifically, Stoneleigh Park’s Kennel Club Building – for his stint of seminars made available to dog owners and professionals alike. Ian, who founded the Association of Pet Dog Trainers back in the 1990s, is no stranger to public speaking, hosting nearly 1500 seminars and workshops over the past 40 years. His final seminar of the week, titled ‘Behaviour Programs for Dog Professionals’, focused on five key areas which Ian believes are in urgent need of a shake up with regards to improving the lives of dogs: breeders; veterinarians; pet store retailers; rescue centres and trainers.

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Outside view of The Kennel Club Building, Stoneleigh Park

From the outset, Ian emphasised that it is dog breeders and rescue centres which require the most attention. One of his ‘top 12 tips for prospective puppy owners’ is to know how to select an ‘above average’ breeder. But what does this actually mean from a Dunbar perspective? In short, it means a breeder which will produce the ideal companion puppy. According to Ian, the puppy should be taught basic manners and actually be housetrained by the time it is ready to leave the breeder. More importantly, however, is that the puppy is socialised, right from the very beginning of its life. While alarm bells will most likely be triggered amongst prospective puppy buyers at the first sign of ill health within the litter, Ian says that the most important aspect, that is, the dog’s temperament and what the breeder has (or hasn’t) done in order to influence it, is often overlooked. The “early approach, later avoidance” tactic of addressing puppy socialisation (even during the neonatal period in the form of handling by various strangers) is, according to Ian, likely to reduce the likelihood of problems in later life. Indeed, as he points out, every dog surrendered to a shelter due to behavioural issues started out as a tiny puppy. If there’s no vibrant behaviour programme in place, Ian states that buyers should walk away and find an alternative breeder.

When it comes to rescue centres, Ian is adamant that it is simply not sufficient to confine a dog to a kennel and not do anything to make it more adoptable. The concept of ‘Open Paw’, co-founded by Ian and Kelly Dunbar in 2000, was explained during the seminar. Open Paw consists of an in-house training programme made possible through the help of volunteers, and lots of them; Ian’s ideal rescue centre contains more people than dogs. With Open Paw, the shelter environment is transformed from endless rows of kennels containing bored and frustrated dogs to one which is a lively, happy place regularly holding social events and spending plenty of time with individual dogs, working on their basic training and keeping them stimulated. Even ‘Level 1’ of the programme, which consists of throwing treats into the kennel (classical conditioning), can make a dog more desirable to potential owners by teaching them to sit quietly, make eye contact and generally look cute. The frequent follow ups following adoption, also performed by volunteers, are equally important for improving the chances of the dog securing a permanent home.

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Ian talks to the crowded Kennel Club building

Open Paw makes sense, which begs the question of why, almost eighteen years on from its inception, Ian is still having to stand in front of a crowded Kennel Club Building and explain the programme to a room full of dog lovers. Is the image of hundreds of volunteers flocking to assist their nearest shelter a complete fantasy? Well, if my local rescue kennels is anything to go by, not at all; there is actually a waiting list to become a voluntary dog walker at Birmingham Dogs Home. There are thousands of Animal Care, Animal Management and Animal-related degree students up and down the country who would relish the opportunity to gain their mandatory work experience hours quite literally playing with dogs in order to prepare them for life outside the four walls of the kennel block. The National Animal Welfare Trust (NAWT) was the first rescue organisation to implement the programme on UK shores, with excellent results – four out of the six dogs chosen for the programme were reserved within one week. The staff noticed a considerable change in the dogs’ behaviour, with the kennel block becoming a much quieter and calmer environment. The programme is now being used for both dogs and cats within NAWT’s centres. However, the Trust note that Open Paw is a costly project with its requirements for specialised training rooms and equipment. Perhaps Open Paw is itself in need of a few alterations in order to make the programme accessible to smaller rescue centres who simply do not have the money to spare.

In addition to training, another unique feature of Open Paw is the method of feeding for shelter dogs within the programme. All meals are served in Kongs in order to provide further mental stimulation and prevent boredom; during the talk Ian noted that the use of Kongs also helps to reprogram the dog’s brain by providing a reward for calm behaviour as the dog quietly lies down to work for their food. Indeed, the power of the mighty Kong received much praise throughout the seminar, as reflected in the mad rush to the dog toy stall at the back of the room at the beginning of each break (guilty as charged!).

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All hail the mighty Kong!

The final part of Ian’s shake up plan is his approach to owner education. From pet stores providing correct information about the puppy products they are selling (can you imagine receiving thorough guidance about the appropriate way to crate train?), to veterinary practices sending free eBooks to their clients, Ian says that the time has come to ditch the waffle and instead present new puppy owners with solid advice. He even provides the information himself, which can be accessed free of charge at the Dog Star Daily website and distributed by any organisation, including dog trainers, using their own logo and contact details. When it comes to improving the lives of our dogs, education is certainly the way to go, and it makes sense for the distributors of educational materials to be those who we see on a regular basis and those we trust most with our pets. In the age of the internet, there should be no excuse for ignorance when it comes to basic dog training and socialisation, and so many problems can be easily prevented just by getting it right with your puppy from the start. Ian firmly believes that organisations should be doing more in the way of distributing canine information amongst their clients, both in person and via email subscription lists, as owners cannot be blamed for being ‘irresponsible’ if they simply weren’t given the correct information in the first place.

And in order to start tackling the issue of problem dogs, this is certainly an idea which should be welcomed with open paws.

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The four day seminar was held at the Kennel Club Building in Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, and was organised by Dog and Bone. For more information on any similar upcoming events, please refer to the seminar section of their website.

“We’d saved his life once, only for him to potentially be killed for looking a certain way” – Interview with owner of an Exempted Pit Bull type

Four year old rescue dog Cooper was seized as a ‘Pit Bull type’ last year and held in police kennels for almost two months. Here his owner Rachael talks to Bark! about the impact that the ordeal had on the family and explains how Cooper is now adjusting to life as an exempted dog.

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Cooper on the day he was rescued.

Tell us about how you met Cooper.

“Cooper came into our lives quite unexpectedly! My husband, Mike, had recently retired from the armed forces following 23 years of service, which meant that he would be at home more often before starting his new career. One day, Mike called in at our veterinary practice to drop off a form for our elderly Westie while I was at work. When he arrived, everybody in the surgery was talking about a puppy that a man had just brought in off the street. The vet nurse asked Mike if he was interested in adopting a puppy and introduced him to a very skinny and poorly Cooper. Mike took a photograph of him and immediately dashed over to my work to show me. Did I want him? Of course I did! Later on we headed to the surgery together and Cooper was placed in my arms. It really was love at first sight. Sadly, the vet nurse broke the news that he had tested positive for parvovirus. With no owner to claim him, Cooper’s future looked bleak. As we talked about his chances of pulling through, I stared at the puppy on the table who could barely hold his head up and knew that we couldn’t just leave him in this state. We agreed to fund two days treatment and then we would re-evaluate the situation.

Although we had no idea if the puppy was going to make it, we dared to buy a collar and name tag, and told our two children, who were 16 and 22, that we may be having a new addition to the family. We anxiously phoned the surgery at regular intervals to check on his progress. After a few days, the vets decided that he was fit enough to come home with us, as long as we obeyed strict hygiene practices. At first he was very reluctant to eat or drink, but with the help of our two (somewhat unimpressed) terriers, he slowly learnt how to be a dog and began to settle into family life.”

What was life like with Cooper before he was seized?

“Cooper was a complete love bug. He loved nothing more than to cuddle up with us – we think he firmly believed that he was a small terrier as he would constantly attempt to sit on my knee. He adored everyone. He enjoyed puppy class, and even tried agility, which he took to like he did everything else in life – at 110 miles an hour! He seemed to want to know where we were at all times and was nowhere near as independent as our two terriers – he just wanted to be near us, which made him happy. As time went by he grew in confidence, and he loved the beach and swimming in the sea. He was generally just a fun puppy to be around and possibly the most loving dog we had ever owned. He had to have an operation to remove his tail to prevent infection, due to being diagnosed with ‘happy tail syndrome’, which basically meant that he was so happy that his continuous tail wagging frequently resulted in him making his tail bleed (leaving our house looking like a crime scene!). He quickly recovered from the operation and carried on with his usual lust for life.”

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Cuddly Cooper.

When did you first realise that there may be an issue with Cooper’s breed?

“On a number of occasions, people stopped us and asked about Cooper, and sometimes people would stare. In all fairness, he was stunning with his amber eyes and red nose, so we naively thought nothing of it. When he was about 12 months old, our daughter was offered a substantial amount of money for Cooper when she was out walking him. We brushed off any concerns and weren’t aware that there may be an ‘issue’ with Cooper until he was seized.”

Can you talk us through what happened when Cooper was taken from you?

“We had just returned home from a week at the coast where Cooper had done his usual thing of running at breakneck speed over the sands. Upon our return, his stomach had been a little unsettled (he occasionally suffered from an upset stomach due to his poor start in life), so Mike left the dog door open for him to let himself out. Unfortunately, Cooper escaped from the garden and was picked up by a member of the public and handed into the dog warden, who contacted the police. Cooper was visually identified as ‘type’ and taken to police kennels. I received a phone call from Mike who explained what had happened. We were both utterly devastated. We phoned the police and asked if we could take his bed, toys, and food, as we were concerned that a change of diet would be detrimental to his health. We were told that we couldn’t see him and they couldn’t tell us where he was. They said that if the food they gave him upset his stomach they would try something else.

I cried myself to sleep. I felt completely useless and had no idea what to do or who to speak to – we didn’t know anyone who had been through this before. Mike phoned a solicitor who gave us advice over the phone and stated that in their belief we weren’t a ‘high risk’ seizure and were unlikely to need legal representation, but they would willingly represent us should we need them.”

For how long was Cooper kept in kennels? Did you have any updates regarding his welfare?

“Cooper was seized on the 31st May and returned home to us on the 12th July. We phoned the police dog unit daily for updates, and initially our hopes were raised that Cooper would be considered to come home via the Interim Exemption Scheme [‘doggy bail’]. However, we were then told that they didn’t have the scheme in our area and probably never would.

I can’t begin to explain how we felt while Cooper was being held. I was beside myself with worry and needed to know that he was okay. He is a family pet who had never spent a night away from us, and I feared that he wouldn’t cope in kennels and would think that we didn’t want him anymore. The Dog Legislation Officer (DLO) assessed Cooper and came out to see us on the 13th June. He said that Cooper was fine and that he thought he was a good dog. After advising us to raise a few fence panels in the garden and taking photographs of his living area, the DLO was satisfied and said that he could see no reason why Cooper shouldn’t come home. Although this was a great relief, the toll on the family was immense, and we continued to have sleepless nights as the worry hung over us that we may be given a destruction order. My greatest fear was that Cooper would die alone. I couldn’t get away from the fact that we had saved his life once, only for him to potentially be killed for looking a certain way. The whole thing made no sense.”

Thank goodness that Cooper was able to return home. Can you give us a brief overview of the exemption process?

“When we finally got the court date, it couldn’t come quickly enough. The morning of 8th July, after a tense and sleepless night, we headed out for our first ever trip to court. The DLO met us outside and we chatted about Cooper and dogs in general. The moment in court came and went in the blink of an eye, and we were given a contingent destruction order, which meant that Cooper was going to be registered as an exempted Pit Bull type. We sent all the paperwork to DEFRA that day along with our fee, and headed out to celebrate with the family. As Cooper had already been castrated and microchipped prior to seizure, and we’d made the arrangements to have the third party liability insurance in place, we didn’t have to wait long for him to be released. We asked what size muzzle Cooper was being trained with and purchased a few of them. Once we knew for certain that Cooper was coming home, we put a post on social media to explain what had happened, and we received a lot of positive messages of support from our friends.

Cooper came home four days later.”

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Cooper wearing his muzzle in line with the exemption conditions.

Has Cooper’s behaviour changed since he was seized?

“When he first came home, Cooper was very quiet. He was hoarse when he barked and he was smelly and scurfy. His paws were pink and inflamed. We took him to the vets and he was given some medication as his glands were up in his neck, possibly from continuous crying and barking when he was caged. He was also given some foot scrub to reduce the inflammation which seemed to be an allergic response, and we were advised that once he was back on his own diet it should resolve quickly.

Initially, Cooper only left his bed for food and walks. He looked sad and shut down. He accepted our contact but wasn’t as loving and cuddly as he was prior to being seized. My mum described him as “dead behind the eyes”.  We wondered if he would ever return to being the Cooper we all knew and loved, or whether the experience had changed him for life. Gradually, he adjusted to being at home and became cuddly Cooper again, but he was a shadow of his former self in other ways. He developed separation anxiety and would bark, cry, howl and eat objects, including our leather sofa and anything else in his way, if we left him alone even for the shortest periods of time. His stomach issues increased significantly and he was diagnosed with colitis, which we were told is triggered by stress. On a few occasions he had some flare ups where he would pass pure blood. Our previously relaxed and balanced dog was now very anxious. He became reactive on the lead towards other dogs and also became nervous of strange noises.”

What adjustments have you had to make to help Cooper settle back into family life?

“We sent Cooper for training in a residential facility to help with his reactivity and anxiety. He returned to us obedient and slightly better, but was still reactive towards other dogs. Over time his anxiety increased significantly. I joined the ‘Reactive Dogs UK’ group and started following the care protocol which helped me to understand Cooper’s behaviour and which stimuli caused stress for him. I walked him in quieter places in order to start building up his confidence and reduce the triggers that he encountered. We then found a behaviourist who had a sensory environment and made an appointment to visit. Cooper now goes there on a regular basis. Upon their advice, we put Cooper back on a harness and use a lead which allows him to make choices for himself. This has increased his confidence as he isn’t forced to encounter anything he doesn’t want to, and we have found that his reactivity has decreased and he appears to be enjoying his walks again.

To help him further, we have changed Cooper’s food; we now feed him on a raw diet and he has no processed food or treats. This seems to have resolved his stomach issues completely and he has had no colitis flare ups at all since swapping his diet. We have also had a zoopharmacognosy session which allowed Cooper to self-select herbs and natural products that he may be deficient of. I was dubious at first but was amazed to find that everything he liked was used for the treatment of digestive conditions or for stress related issues. After the first session he slept for six hours straight! When we leave him on his own now, we leave some of the scents around the house which help him to relax. This may all seem a little crazy but we have chosen to rescue Cooper twice, and we owe it to him to do all we can to get him back on track.”

Have you noticed any negative reactions towards Cooper since he was ‘typed’ as a Pit Bull?

“Since one of the conditions of exemption is that Cooper must wear a muzzle at all times in a public place, there have been occasions where people have assumed that he is dangerous due to his muzzle. We have had people make comments and even pick their dogs up as we walk by, all because of how Cooper looks with his new unwanted accessory. Of course, these sort of reactions meant that he was getting less interaction with other dogs which initially increased his reactivity. We became reluctant to walk him and really took all the negative comments to heart.”

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Cooper’s message to the haters!

What advice would you give to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation with their own dog?

“For anyone else facing the same situation, my advice would be to remain calm and focused. Prepare a court pack of your own, including information from your vet, records of any training classes you have attended and witness testimonies from your dog trainer regarding both yourself and your dog’s character. Be aware that there are people with lots of opinions on social media, and everyone’s experiences are different, so don’t read them thinking that your’s will necessarily follow the same pattern as this isn’t always the case. Try to get some solid advice from those who really know or have experienced the process.

Be prepared for the fact that people may not view you or your dog in the same way, and hold your head high. Don’t be surprised if your dog has changed – after talking to others it is more common than you think – just make sure that you support your dog to help them settle again. Most importantly, follow the court order to keep your dog safe. It brought it home to me when someone pointed out that having a contingent destruction order means that Cooper will not be destroyed only if we abide by the court conditions at all times.

The most important thing that I have realised is that Cooper is still Cooper – just because he meets the measurements and was deemed to be type, he’s still the same loving dog he was prior to being seized. He just needed a little time to adapt.”

 

 

Bark! would like to offer a big thank you to Rachael and her family for telling Cooper’s story.

To help put an end to breed specific legislation in the UK, please support Born Innocent, a registered non-profit campaign group focused on enacting changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Further details can be found on the website and Facebook page.

To provide support for owners who have had their dog seized, please take a look at the fundraising page for Born Innocent’s sister group, ‘Putting Breed Specific Legislation to Sleep UK’. 100% of the money raised through auctions, raffles and ‘End BSL’ merchandise goes directly to help the dogs. Thank you.

 

Spread the word… BSL, we’re coming for you!

A year has now passed since the death of Francis, a stray Pit Bull type dog who had found his way to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Francis, by all accounts, was a friendly dog. Indeed, the Home itself released photographs of him, including one with a member of staff affectionately kissing his head, and also published an online video featuring Francis in order to bring the plight of all Pit Bull type dogs to the attention of the public. And it worked. According to newspaper reports, over 30,000 people signed a petition in the hope of giving Francis a reprieve. But there was no hope. On the 28th July 2016, Battersea announced that, in line with the current law, he had been euthanised. Francis, of course, was not the first victim, and definitely wasn’t the last. Within their statement, Battersea confirmed that 91 dogs within their care that were deemed by police to be of illegal ‘types’ were put down in 2015 alone. And those are the figures for just one rescue organisation.

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Francis. (Image copyright Lauren Hurley/PA Wire)

August 12th will mark 26 years since the Dangerous Dogs Act was enforced in Britain, another sad milestone in the history of breed specific legislation. Despite tremendous evidence to show that targeting individual breeds of dog in this manner does not improve public safety, along with pressure from animal charities, welfare organisations, campaign groups and simply concerned dog lovers (including over 70k signatures on the RSPCA’s #EndBSL petition), DEFRA have recently refused to engage in a review of the law, as put forward by the Law Commission.

Quite frankly, the notion that a country which prides itself on its equality and intolerance of discrimination can continue to uphold such a disgusting piece of legislation is nothing short of absurd. Throw our supposed ‘nation of dog lovers’ tagline into the mix and it becomes almost laughable. Dogs throughout the UK are being put to sleep simply because they look a certain way. There is nothing to justify this. Recent research has confirmed that there were no differences found between legislated and non-legislated breeds in terms of the medical treatment required following a bite from an individual dog. Yes, the ‘locking jaw’ phenomenon is a myth – Pit Bull types are undoubtedly powerful, but so are hundreds of other legal dogs found in homes up and down the country. This particular study, published in Ireland, also found that the very nature of breed specific legislation is problematic in terms of the influence it has over our perceptions of dogs since it generates a ‘false sense of security’; labelling certain types of dog as inherently dangerous means that they are likely to be perceived very differently to legal breeds, when in reality any dog has the capability to cause harm. Indeed, research has demonstrated that hospital admissions for dog attacks are actually on the increase – not exactly the desired result of the Dangerous Dogs Act when it was enacted in 1991.

For those who still believe that breed specific legislation is necessary, due to the ‘hooded youth with Pit Bull’ image, consider the fact that these types of dog actually became considerably more attractive as a status symbol once they became illegal, and there are now more so-called Pit Bulls on the streets than ever before. It is also worth noting that for the most part it is innocent family pets who fall victim to the law in its current format, with owners left distraught as their dog is taken away. Born Innocent confirms that women in their thirties and forties are those who frequently ask for help following the seizure of their pet. It is not just those who fit the ‘criminal’ stereotype who find themselves on the wrong side of the law, simply because they own a dog whose body measurements classify them as a ‘Pit Bull’.

Francis was just one of thousands. This is happening on a daily basis. There are currently hundreds of seized dogs confined to a kennel, awaiting their fate. And yet, for the most part, nothing is done about it. Except for the dedicated campaigners who are on the frontline, battling to save the lives of these dogs, everyone else remains relatively quiet. Where are the people who generated a Twitter frenzy when Theresa May announced her plan to bring fox hunting back? Where are those who to this day still reference the death of a gorilla (#RIPHarambe)? Why do we always hear about the welfare implications of the badger cull on the news but not about the well-being of the family pets who have been dragged away from their homes? Although there have been some high-profile cases, such as Francis, Stella, and Lennox to name a few, it seems that any public hype surrounding the appalling nature of the Dangerous Dogs Act quietly fades away along with the last breath of the dog in question. Is this because, as a nation, we are all secretly turning a blind eye to the horrors of breed specific legislation? To the heartbroken owners who realise too late that they’ve just signed their pet’s death warrant? To the rescue centres forced to euthanise healthy dogs which would make perfect family pets? To the kennel assistants who cry at night over dogs they are forbidden to touch? To the dogs themselves, locked in a cramped kennel, lonely and distressed? Or the condemned dog lying on the vet’s table, giving one last pathetic attempt at a tail wag, oblivious to the fact that she’s just been given a lethal injection?

It’s time we stopped looking the other way.

Write to your MP. Write to DEFRA. If you can, attend an anti-BSL rally. Support the owners of seized dogs by making a donation. But most importantly, spread the word about our flawed Dangerous Dogs Act. Let’s get this barbaric piece of legislation consigned to history.

 

For more information, please take a look at Born Innocent’s website and Facebook page.