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.
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.
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.
With its associations of childhood memories, be it the familiar warmth of a favourite winter coat, the sickly-yet-oh so sweet taste of toffee apples or the excitement of a local bonfire, many of us look forward to firework season. Many of us, that is, except dog owners.
Over the next month or so (long gone are the days when fireworks were limited to Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve), the nation’s pets will be subjected to the loud bangs, flashes and whistles of the prettiest of explosives. Of course, not all dogs suffer from firework phobia. But for those that do, it’s a tough time for both them and their owners, who often feel powerless to help their panicked pets. You only have to type ‘dogs and fireworks’ into Twitter to see the many frustrated cries of dog owners in real-time (“Cheers to the person letting off fireworks, got two terrified dogs now”, “Please no more fireworks, my dogs won’t stop barking at them”, “Dogs are going mad cos of fireworks, driving me nuts”) – and it’s not even the 5th of November yet.
Imagine finding yourself in the middle of a thunderstorm. Yet you don’t have any prior experience of a thunderstorm – and nobody has told you about what they involve. Oh, and on top of all that, your hearing is exceptionally sensitive. To you, the sky has suddenly started making horrendously loud noises, and the bright forks illuminating the area in front of you seem to come from all directions and without warning. You’re also in the middle of a field with nowhere to hide. Yikes. Now can you see why so many dogs are scared of fireworks? They have no idea what they are or when the next batch of rockets is going to be released, and are often cooped up in a room with no safe hiding place. So how can we make it easier for them?
Dog behaviourists often recommend ‘desensitising’ your dog to the noise of fireworks well before the nights draw in, using a low level sounds CD; although for dogs that are already noise-sensitive, this technique would need to be carefully controlled in case it actually made the fear worse. Keeping the curtains closed and the television on to mask the noise is also likely to help, and the use of Adaptil pheromone diffusers or ‘Thundershirts‘ are other popular techniques. Creating a hiding place such as a ‘den’ where your dog can retreat to is important, and will be a lot easier if the dog is already crate trained. What dog could resist a cosy crate full of familiar blankets and a delicious stuffed Kong?
Sadly there is another element to the ‘dogs vs fireworks’ dilemma – dogs bolting out of fear and becoming lost. This Daily Mirror article with its bizarre ‘dog runs away from fireworks and goes clubbing’ headline (no, really), shows just one instance of a family pet fleeing from fireworks, but its obvious humorous tone makes light of a serious topic. According to Petlog statistics, the 5th November 2012 saw a 40% increase in the number of reports of lost or found animals. How many dogs will find themselves separated from their owners this year due to firework misery? Already one young collie has been reported missing after allegedly being spooked by fireworks. If your dog needs to go outside when fireworks are being let off, it’s advisable to keep him on a lead – even in your own garden. Make sure your dog is microchipped and wearing an identification tag, just in case the worst happens.
Restrictions on the sale of fireworks is something which most pet owners would probably like to see, yet it seems unlikely that any drastic changes will be made to the law. For now, it’s up to us to keep our dogs safe and happy during fireworks season in order to keep both them – and ourselves – sane.
Update: The collie (which jumped a gate after being spooked by a nearby firework display) has now been reunited with its owner.
The Pug is one of the oldest surviving dog breeds, thought to have originated in China around 700 BC, although records suggest that dogs of a similar appearance to the breed we know today existed as early as 500 BC. Queen Victoria loved pugs and played a significant role in establishing the breed in Europe, placing the little wrinkled dogs firmly in the hearts of Victorian dog enthusiasts. Pugs belonging to royalty were treated as such and would be seen riding at the front of the carriage in clothes matching those of their masters.
However, not everyone shared the Queen’s passion for pugs. The author Taplin wrote that they were “applicable to no sport” and “appropriated to no useful purpose”. The name ‘pug’ itself was defined as a nickname for ‘monkey’ in the 1700s, a time when keeping marmosets as pets was not uncommon. Although it is still perfectly legal to own a primate in the UK, our now extensive knowledge and understanding of animal welfare means that our attitude towards animals has changed dramatically. With the obvious implications of keeping such an animal in the unsuitable, alien environment that is our homes, most of us wouldn’t think twice about owning a monkey. So why are pugs, one of the unhealthiest dog breeds, still as popular as they were under Queen Victoria’s rule?
It is not difficult to answer this question. Pug faces adorn endless lines of cushions, bags, T-shirts, pyjamas, onesies and phone cases. The pug craze is highlighted in the media, with photographs of various celebrities holding their pets splashed across newspapers. On the internet, sites such as tumblr’s ‘Pugs in Clothes’ support the attitude that it is acceptable to treat pugs as an accessory rather than a living, (just about) breathing creature. Pugs are cute, and the current trend and apparent necessity for all things pug is a far cry from the days when the breed could only be owned by emperors, with illegal ownership punishable by death!
A pug in a Starbucks outfit taken from the site ‘Pugs Dressed as Things’.
Instead of addressing the health issues within the breed, such as the obvious breathing difficulties and proptosis (a medical emergency involving the eye popping out of its socket, usually caused by holding the neck too tightly but can also be the result of play), unscrupulous breeders continue to produce litter after litter of pugs. Breeding dogs in order to meet public demand is nothing new; following the release of the 101 Dalmatians movie in 1996, people with little knowledge of the high-energy and often demanding breed were able to ‘cash in’ on the Dalmatian’s popularity, with many dogs unsuitable for life as a family pet produced as a result. Sites such as Pets for Homes and Gumtree are an ideal outlet for such breeders, making it easier than ever for anyone to purchase an animal without any real consideration. Indeed, if live meerkats were as readily available as their fluffy toy counterparts, it is likely that we would be overrun with them too.
If pugs are ‘on trend’ in the eyes of the public, it is true that Staffordshire Bull Terriers and other such breeds are also ‘fashionable’ amongst certain members of society. You only have to look at the music charts and there is the artist ‘Pitbull’, who chose his stage name based solely upon the breed’s notoriety. If Labradors were to become the ‘devil dogs’ of 2014, would we suddenly see an increase in youths parading down the street and lurking on street corners with ‘Marley’? It is true that breeds such as the Akita and Dogue De Bordeaux have seen an increase in popularity in the last few years, while the German Shepherd and Rottweiler, once favourite targets for the media’s dangerous dog campaigns in the 80s and 90s, have appeared to return to more responsible owners.
If gang members require a dog that will intimidate others, it has to be a breed that has the ability to strike fear into the hearts of the public – one that they have seen in the news. Would they be less inclined to choose the Akita, complete with its fluffy coat and curly tail, for use as a status dog without attacks featuring the breed shown in the media?
Just as pugs are widely available, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Staffie crosses can be found in every classified ad section and are often sold via a ‘mate of a mate’, and, in comparison to other breeds mentioned, are usually highly affordable. Those who want a dog bred for aggressive tendencies are unlikely to approach a Kennel Club registered breeder, and they have no reason to do so. Statistics shown in the February 2014 issue of Your Dog magazine show that Staffordshire Bull Terriers are the most stolen dog breed in Britain, and many pet charities are currently working to raise awareness of the dangers of leaving a dog tied up outside a shop. From a financial perspective, there is no point in producing dogs that nobody wants, and with these statistics proving exactly what sort of people are after a Stafford, the market for ‘weapon dogs’ is as large as ever. Unfortunately it is always the dog that pays the price for becoming either ‘useless’ or unfashionable, a statement that any rescue centre full of poorly-socialised and neglected Staffords would support.
Until the image of the Stafford is changed, the future for the breed remains the same. The great work of the East Anglian Staffordshire Bull Terrier Display Team, who perform in the main arena at Crufts, is just one example of how media stories can be weakened and opinions changed by showing a breed in a positive light.
As for the Pug, it is likely that in a year or so the novelty items embellished with a pug face will be met with the same exasperated sighs that the once admirable and now arguably overused ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ merchandise generates. In an ideal world, Staffords would become the new pug and, instead of an increase in breeding, the thousands in rescue would be adopted as a result.
At least Staffords can be played with without the risk of proptosis.