1.05.2012

Thankfully, I’ve never had to call the RSPCA before, but today I did and can honestly say I was shocked at how unhelpful they were.

For a few weeks now, a local dog is clearly being left outside in all weathers – not all the time, but certainly for hours and hours at a time. The poor thing howls and howls and it is heart-wrenching. Howling in misery is not a sign of a happy dog. Either it hates being left and is having some acute separation anxiety or is just unutterably unhappy to be exposed to the elements. Either way, as it started up again this morning, in the pouring rain I decided to call the RSPCA.

Firstly, I got a recorded message saying my details would be taken and if I didn’t want to hear from them again about their ‘activities’ I must say so to the operator I was going to be put through to. So, my call was answered and the operator asked me my full name and full address details, which I happily gave. She then asked what the issue was, and a rough approximation of the call follows here:

Me: There is a local dog howling constantly – it sounds miserable and it is happening a lot.
Op: What is the condition of the dog and does it have access to food and water?
Me: I don’t know because I can’t say exactly where the dog is. I can give a rough approximation of say four or five houses but I can’t see into their garden.
Op: We can’t do anything until we know the condition of the dog and whether it has access to food and water.
Me: Well, other than climbing over several fences into somebody else’s property I can’t find that out but it is howling.. can you hear it? (I hold the phone and she confirms she can hear it.)
Op: We can’t do anything until we know the condition of the dog and whether it has access to food and water.
Me: Well, how would you suggest I find out the condition of the dog?
Op: You will have to go round your neighbours asking. We are a charity and we don’t have the resources unless we know the condition of the dog and whether it has access to food and water.
Me: You just keep saying the same thing.. we aren’t doing anything about this poor dog..
Op: We can’t do anything until we know the condition of the dog and whether it has access to food and water.

At this point, I gave up. She did suggest that I phone my local council who were in fact, very helpful. But that’s not the point really. The operator could hear this miserable dog, knew that me finding it involved trespassing because I’d told her, and was utterly unwilling to be the slightest bit helpful. It’s a very far cry from the RSPCA we are presented with on TV who leap out at the slightest opportunity to rescue a tangled duck or pop up for air time on Crufts. I’ll bet money on it that within the week they’ll be ringing me asking for a donation – because they have all my details, and because the conversation was so baffling and frustrating, I completely forgot to say please don’t send me information.

Compare this to a local animal charity run by a man in his late sixties who manages to get just enough donations to maintain a van containing all manner of animal rescue equipment and will come out at any time, day or night to help with an injured wild animal. He rarely deals with domesticated animals because there is literally only him and his wife who operate this service. The last time I saw him, he and the local council animal welfare officer were digging out a dog that had got completely wedged down a hole in Greenwich Park with their bare hands. They got him out after two hours, alive and dirty.

I know where my money is going. In fact, now I think about it, I don’t really know of anyone who has actually managed to get the RSPCA out.

18.03.2012

Please do tweet your support for Marc Abraham’s anti-puppy farming campaign #Wheresmum. TV Vet Marc urges anyone not to buy a puppy if you can’t see the mum.

You need to ask yourself some questions if:

- when you go and visit a puppy, you are fobbed off with an excuse about where the mum is, such as she is at the vet, has run away etc. Chances are that actually she is lying alone in some horrible battery style farm miles from where her puppies are in a bare cell with her puppies gone desperately trying to stop her body making milk for the taken puppies, who will undoubtedly have been taken well before they or she is ready. The next thing that will happen to her is that she is mated and the whole ritual starts again.

- you’re considering buying a puppy from a pet shop or garden centre. It’s not like you don’t know that it’s suspect so let your conscience do the talking and no matter how cute, how needy those puppies look, don’t buy them. And yes, that’s hard.

- you’re considering buying a puppy online. No, no and no.

- the puppy owner offers to deliver the puppy.

Every time someone does any of the above, they’re feeding the hands of the puppy farmers, who just go ahead and breed more puppies. You’re creating a demand for puppies whose mothers are treated intolerably. And, it’s not like there is any redeeming feature, because even the puppies are likely to be sick when you get them or have genetic abnormalities (because you can bet your money that there is no breeding selection at mating time; your dog may well have been mating over and over with its father or brother and this affects the health of the puppies).

The only way to stamp out puppy farming is to stop buying puppies from anywhere other than a registered KK breeder, somewhere you can see the mum and puppies and they are in a normal ‘home’ environment or to get a puppy from a registered charity.

So, seems like a simple thing, right? But thousands of people don’t get the message. Ultimately, you have to take the long view on it and stop creating demand. There’s nothing commendable about puppy farms; not one single thing, but the people who run them very fiercely protect their right to bring ill puppies from abused dogs into the world. There’s huge profit in it. And, believe you me, they’ll go to any lengths to keep on doing it. Which is why Marc is pretty brave in spearheading this campaign. Although the practice is outlawed in Ireland and regulations are in place or coming in place in the UK, there simply isn’t anyone to police them so chances are, puppy farms will just keep on churning out puppies. Personally, I’d like to see several squads in place whose sole job is to extinguish the practice; it’s all very well to bring in laws and regulations but with nobody to check whether they are implemented, they might as well not have been banned in the first place.

Apart from sticking to the hard and fast rules outlined above about buying puppies, the other thing you can do is tell everyone you know. And ask them to tell everyone they know and so on. And, keep on tweeting support to Marc at @marcthevet using #wheresmum.

January 2012

I walk in Greenwich park every day with my dogs and last week I got chatting to a couple who were proudly walking a – there is no other way to say it – very odd looking dog, so I stopped to ask what breed it was. Turns out to be the most poodle looking Cockapoo (mix of Cocker Spaniel and Poodle) that I’ve ever seen, but as we chatted, they revealed she was a rescue dog. And, they’d seen some full poodles on the same site that they spotted her. So, of course, as soon as I got home, I did that thing that I’ve been avoiding doing since I became a dog owner in order not to have my heart strings tugged into owning ten dogs, and clicked onto the rescue site. And saw Emily. Emily is an ex-puppy farm dog, aged around five years, with a black coat and a gorgeous white strip down her chest – unusual for a poodle. Everything about her just clicked for me and I knew this was my dog!
After a bit of form filling on the charity site, asking what her daily routine would be (that was a bit of a stumper I must say, because other than regular feeding and walking times, my dogs don’t have routines, per se) and where we lived, etc, I had a call from the lady at the charity. She wanted to know if I knew about puppy farm dogs. I said I had some knowledge (a little bit garnered from various newspaper articles) but was used to the breed, used to dogs and had a special interest in dog training. I looked at Emily’s picture about ten times that day and each day after tried to imagine her sitting in my kitchen with my other dogs, coming on walks, playing in the garden to kind of get my head used to her being there.
I spoke to her (very lovely) foster carer, where she was placed before she was fully re-homed. She mentioned that Emily was resistant to walking on a lead For her, it was just too alien and sent her into huge distress every time they tried. But, she said that Emily was gaining in confidence and she’d make a great pet.
All was going well until the night before we were due to pick Emily up. I’d bought her a comfy basket, a feeding bowl, a harness (thinking maybe she would be more accepting of that rather than a collar) and some blankets. We had a very late home-check by another lady from the charity. Actually, she put the fear of god into me because I had totally underestimated how needy Emily actually is. And, I learned that her name isn’t Emily – puppy farm dogs don’t have names of course, because they’re just breeding stock, like cows or sheep. The charity had just got to E in the alphabet again when giving them names for the website. That night, I didn’t sleep. If ever there was a reality check, it was that visit. I’ll call the charity home checker Anne. Anne looked over the garden which to my mind is fully secure, but she saw several places that Emily could potentially run from. Puppy farm dogs have an innate desire to return to the only place they’ve ever known, no matter how awful, and are notorious for trying to escape. Their instincts are totally different from domesticated dogs and in essence, in adopting one, you are taking a wild dog that has been caged all its life. A puppy farm dog has no concept whatsoever of living with a family, in a domestic situation. Anything other than their day in, day out routine of lying in a cage surrounded by other cages with dogs, is totally alien to them. So, the sound of boiling a kettle could make them run, the feel of the wind in their fur could make them run, they’ve never used stairs, they’ve never heard a TV or radio. Any family noise you can think of from the oven timer to the sound of the hoover is cause for alarm and terror.
On the basis, I think, that our house was too busy, and we were so near a main road, the charity said that while they were very happy to home a dog with us, Emily wasn’t the right dog and we couldn’t have her. I sort of knew I’d bitten off more than I could chew as Emily’s story gradually emerged during our week of waiting. The charity told me that the RSPCA had been watching the breeder (a woman), who was licensed for 10 dogs, but had let the number climb to 68. And, she was virtually the sole carer for all these dogs who (unlike some) all ran around together in a large barn. Most had never seen daylight. There was no heating, of course, although in summer, 68 dogs with no outside area to go to the loo.. well, imagine. The RSPCA persuaded her to give some up, but she didn’t want them to go to the RSPCA as they don’t operate a no-kill policy as many charities do. The RSCPA are in the unenviable position of not being able to look after the huge numbers of dogs that are sent to them, and inevitably some are put down. But this lady, having bred the life almost out of poor Emily (who came riddled with rotten, painful teeth and an ear-infection that had certainly been there years rather than months) didn’t want her put to sleep. So, that’s how the charity who do operate a no-kill policy ended up with Emily and several other dogs from the same place. So, let’s review that. A woman who allowed her dogs to get so filthy the dirt from urine and faeces was literally caked all over them (Emily had already been given five baths by the foster carer and still had dirt ingrained in her skin), who bred them relentlessly and gave the absolute minimum in care to the point their teeth were hanging out of their heads and their ears permanently damaged through infection, and who paid no mind to their intense pain, suddenly had a conscience? I’ll never know why their lives suddenly became important.
Puppy farm dogs breed and that’s pretty well all they do. They’re basically puppy making machines. A female dog can breed twice a year, and so without fail, they are either feeding their puppies until they’re all taken away and sold or they are pregnant. And there is nothing more to their lives than that. My dogs thrive on praise and affection. They have silly toys to play with, we talk to them, we let them snuggle up on the sofa with us (though we have a no sleeping in the same room as us policy!), we love walking them, we take them to the vet regularly and ensure they’re clean, healthy and happy. Puppy farm dogs have nothing but their most basic animal instincts and meagre food and water to get by on. Emily is a shell of a dog. With no loving input, no training, no play and no stimulation, all there is left is a little dog who is quite simply petrified all the time. Interestingly, there used to be a video of a puppy farm on the charity site, but they had to take it down because the puppy farmers were refusing to release puppies to them because they were drawing attention to the conditions they’d been kept in. So, not ashamed or anything.
On the plus, she is free from pain for the first time in years, she has been neutered by the charity so she never has to have puppies again, she is in a warm and loving foster family who are working closely with her. Even though we aren’t the right family for Emily, she’s opened my eyes once and for all to the hideous practice of puppy farming. Once you’ve seen it, you never, ever forget. So, if you can bear to, please take a look on YouTube – there are several videos that outline that absolute horror, and please follow @marcthevet on Twitter and check his website, www.marcthevet.com. He’s a vet and anti-puppy farm campaigner dedicated to making a real difference from the top via legislation. It’s only by campaigning and bringing our attention to what’s going on behind closed doors. If you see a puppy farm petition, sign it. If you hear of a campaign, get behind it. And never, ever buy a puppy from the Pets section of free papers or from a pet shop. The only way puppy farms will ever stop is if the public stop buying their dogs.