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.
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.
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).
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.
In just under 2 weeks’ time, the halls of the NEC Birmingham will echo with the sound of barking as almost 22,000 dogs compete in obedience and agility championships and battle for the title of Best in Show. Crufts has been a major event in the canine enthusiast’s calendar for 126 years, and although it rarely passes without some form of Kennel Club controversy, those four days towards the beginning of March are always a great excuse to talk non-stop about all things dog (although when do us dog lovers ever need an excuse?)
Whether you’re thinking about visiting the world’s biggest dog show for the first time or already have your tickets sorted and are looking for a few tips on how to make the most out of your day, here is a selection of ideas based on my past experiences of being a visitor to the show. Enjoy Crufts!
It’s not all about the judging! Watching a line-up of dogs being carefully inspected by a judge may be the first thing that springs to mind when someone mentions a dog show, but there is so much more to Crufts than the rings. Five halls of the NEC are transformed into doggy shopping heaven, with hundreds of trade stands selling everything from grooming equipment to KONGs, clothing for both dogs and humans, dog beds and collars and everything in between. There will also be the opportunity to support charities such as Birmingham Dogs Home and Guide Dogs. Fans of canine cartoons will be excited to hear that Rupert Fawcett (‘Off the Leash’) will have his own trade stand (Hall 5, stand 23) and will be available to sign books between 11am and 3pm on every day of the show. Don’t forget to nab as many free dog food samples as possible! When the exhaustion sets in from plodding round the enormous halls, there is the Main Arena (otherwise known as the Genting Arena) with a programme packed full of dog sports and displays for you to enjoy while you take a break. If you fancy something more ‘hands on’ there is the Discover Dogs area where you can talk to the owners of over 200 different breeds, pick up some information leaflets and of course have a bit of a cuddle with some friendly pooches. Discover Dogs is always a hit and can become quite crowded, particularly around the popular breeds, but it’s a great opportunity to get some advice from the people who really know their dogs.
Plan your day carefully – you don’t want to miss any great displays or competitions. Timetables for the Main Arena, Good Citizen Dog Scheme Ring and Young Kennel Club Ring are all available on the official Crufts website now, so head on over there and plan your other activities around anything that you want to catch (printing off your own timetable is also a cheaper alternative to buying a programme on the day). My personal favourite is flyball – the atmosphere of the finals is incredible! The display from the dog unit at West Midlands Police is another highlight, and the team return year after year to give a demonstration of their amazing canine crime fighters. You don’t need an extra ticket to watch the group judging at the end of each day (apart from Best in Show on Sunday), so if you’re still around in the evening be sure to head to the Main Arena to see which breed wins the title of best in group.
‘Human food’ at Crufts is quite expensive, so you may want to take a packed lunch (although I can thoroughly recommend the hot pork baps on sale!). Don’t expect to easily find a comfortable and dog-free place to sit down as seats within the food area are limited – be prepared to sit on the floor or take your food into the arena with you. There are food outlets such as Subway within the NEC, but if you fancy something a little more classy there are various restaurants at the nearby Resorts World complex. Talking of expense, don’t forget that Crufts offers a discount off the entry price for students so make sure that you take your student ID with you!
Be respectful of any dogs that you encounter. Be mindful that they may be tired, and the show dogs on their benches are likely to be enjoying a well-earned rest. Talk to owners before you make a beeline for their dogs. You might come across flustered entrants rushing through the halls – they might be hurrying to their class or to get their dogs back to their benches so try not to obstruct them. As already mentioned, Discover Dogs is the best opportunity for photo opportunities and cuddles, with all of those dogs just waiting to be fussed over!
Crufts is very child friendly, with free admission for children under 12. Check out the Young Kennel Club (YKC), open to dog lovers between the ages of 6 and 24. The group has its own dedicated ring in Hall 3, where you can watch top young handlers compete. The ‘Safe and Sound’ display held in the Good Citizen Dog Scheme Ring is also a great way of teaching children how to interact safely with dogs. Finally, no Crufts visit would be complete without attempting to win a giant dog! There is usually a stand within the halls where you can either buy a toy dog or try to find a winning ticket and take one home for a couple of pounds. Speaking from experience, carrying a (remarkably realistic) giant Great Dane on your back around five halls is not much fun, so it’s probably best to leave that bit until nearer the end of the day…
If you’re a champion for Staffies then be sure to catch the East Anglian Staffordshire Bull Terrier Display Team – their agility antics take place this year in the Main Arena on Thursday morning. It’s always great fun and very rewarding to watch these dogs and their passionate owners laugh in the face of stereotypes as they have an absolute blast, hurtling around the agility course at top speed. Paul O’ Grady joined the display as a special guest a few years back – who knows whether another celebrity will put in an appearance this time? Either way, it’s a fantastic endorsement for the breed and is not to be missed.
Best in Show requires a separate ticket to general entry, so unless you are lucky enough to have one of these, you won’t be able to gain access to the arena on Sunday after 3:30pm, when the Working and Pastoral groups will be judged before the stage is set for the crowning of Best in Show. Not to worry – you will be able to watch Best in Show live on television. The coverage starts at 6pm on Channel 4. The rest of Crufts is also televised on both Channel 4 and More4. For full TV schedules please click here.
If you’re unable to visit Crufts this time, don’t forget that you can catch the events from the Main Arena live in your living room! The livestream will run throughout the four days and can be accessed via the official Crufts website and YouTube channel. This is also handy if you want to watch something which takes place on a different day to the one you attend. All of the events are then usually loaded separately onto YouTube.
Crufts takes place between the 9th and 12th March at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. For official information, please visit the Crufts website.