Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Don't Buy the Lies

With just a week, before Christmas settles upon us and presents await opening in homes across the UK, I've been reflecting on the mixed emotions this time of year brings for those of us who care deeply about what is going on in animal welfare. In particular, the plight of the country's dogs, and, the powerful role played by businesses and marketing in this.

Last week I wrote here about the RSPCA's campaign to encourage people not to buy pets as presents, at any time of year, but especially now. People are often shocked to learn that it is still legal for puppies and kittens to be sold in retail outlets, to them, and me, it's a cruel, arcane way for them to be kept and sold. And of course, for those who look beyond the puppies, they know the parent dogs supplying the trade are kept in poor conditions. Yet, the wider perception of it being equally unacceptable to sell other animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs etc, is not yet as keenly felt and shops that don't sell puppies and kittens, readily trade in other living, sentient beings. And, the Christmas trade in those is brisk. All good for the Christmas trading figures.

In September, just ahead of the parliamentary debate which sought to bring in line, the situation that growing numbers of the public assume is already in place - for it to be illegal to sell puppies and kittens in shops and garden centres - while campaigners and individuals were contacting their MPs to ensure their voices were heard and the ban brought in, the trade association for the pet industry, the Pet Industry Federation lobbied MPs against bringing in such a ban.It didn't surprise me particularly, having closely followed how the pet trade behaves in other countries when tighter legislation is debated, or enacted. But, what did surprise, and disappoint, was the response from the UK's largest chain of pet shops, a business that has hundreds of stores across the country, and supports the work of rescues and charities, Pets At Home. I was shocked that they refused to join the thousands of individuals who were calling for a ban on shops selling puppies and kittens. I couldn't understand this and I was not alone in my confusion.

In my naivety their high profile support of animal shelters, their sponsorship of TV programs such as the popular, Paul O'Grady's Battersea Dogs Home Series, their close support of the animal charity Support Adoption for Pets, their fundraising drives, and, their choice not to sell puppies and kittens all led me to assume they would wholeheartedly, unequivocally support a ban that would prevent other shops from doing so. After all, they, like anyone involved in the pet industry, must know that the conditions the breeding dogs and cats are confined in to supply the shops are not pleasant, presumably that is one reason they choose not to participate themselves.

Yet, when the Pet Industry Federation lobbied against the ban, Pets At Home as members of the PIF backed them, releasing this somewhat contradictory statement:

So, wholehearted support for the end of puppy farming, but no support from them for a ban that would have closed off one of the outlets for the factory farmed puppies. The outlet, that's just perfectly made for impulsive buys of puppies and kittens; the very shopping behaviour that at this time of year is rife and which brings puppies and kittens into homes as presents - many of which won't still be there in a few months time but will be in the very rehoming centres that benefit from donations and support from Pets At Home.

Puppy farming campaigners and welfare groups all recognise that shops are just one outlet and the internet and classifieds that Pets At Home refer to are equally important areas to legislate in. But, where compassionate campaigners and companies like Pets At Home differ is that the status quo is not acceptable while legislators tackle that area. The pet shop ban could easily have been put in place. Instead, the status quo remains. Puppy farmed stock continues to be sold in shops, not in Pets At Home of course, but their lack of support for a ban didn't help to stop others from doing so; which means there are plenty of shops and garden centres this Christmas stocking puppies and kittens. As well, of course, as the internet and classifieds.

This time of year it is all about shopping and those businesses with effective marketing strategies do particularly well. I'm as prone to falling for marketing ploys as the next person, after all, I believed that Pets At Home cared about rescues, and rehoming centres. I would still like to believe this, but sadly I don't. Many people never look far behind what they are being told. But, I was shocked into seeing what may lie behind the gloss as I tried to understand how a company that seems to do decent amounts for animal welfare charities, could not support the easiest and most obvious way to bring about changes in the puppy and kitten business. I found this from C.A.R.I.A.D enlightening for a start.

I've spent the past few months thinking about this and getting over the disappointment at their support of the status quo for puppy and kitten sales in shops and what this reveals to me about a company that I have thought had good ethical principles. I've watched with frustration as those who remain unaware that Pets At Home think it's ok for other shops to carry on selling puppies and kittens, praise the company's support for rescues. Rescue charities that really do benefit from the fundraising and donations that Pets At Home enable. I want those charities not to accept donations or support from a company that appears to have double standards - on the one hand supporting them, on the other opposing a ban on shops trading in puppies and kittens, which, in turn supports the puppy farming industry. Yet, how could these charities not accept the help? How can I expect desperate charities and rescues who rely heavily on any help they are offered to turn that down? They can't, of course they can't, I don't expect that of them. But I do want them to know that while Pets At Home help them on one hand, they outright refused to help bring in a ban on shops selling puppies and kittens earlier in the year.

Pets at Home may be compassionate towards animals and it could be pure philanthropy that leads them to sponsor high profile TV programmes about Battersea Dogs Home, fundraise and support those who do so much to pick up the pieces in rescue, BUT it could just as easily be about financial bottom lines, sales and market share. The status quo suits any business that trades in animals, even if not in puppies and kittens, remember this.  And the marketing works, I for one, once believed they cared.So, when Pets At Home pop up on the Christmas adverts sponsoring the Christmas edition of Paul O'Grady's Show about Battersea Cats and Dogs Home, remember to think a little harder about what might be behind this.

I want shoppers to be informed about where to spend their money if they wish to shop with a conscience and donate directly to rescues. And this is what I say on social media. I say the truth and I urge people to think about where they spend their money. And Pets At Home don't appear to like me and other campaigners from stating the facts as they block more and more of us on Twitter who speak up. I am blocked from interacting with a company that gives the clear impression it seems to care about the same issues I do. Funny that. I, and others who are not cowed by the might of big business and the tactics used in efforts to keep us quiet will continue to urge shoppers to use their moral conscience, to look behind what we are told - and sold. I don't buy the lies.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Dogs Are Not Presents

In recent weeks, campaigners against puppy farming and commercially driven dog breeding have been upping their efforts to convince the buying public not to buy pets at this time of year. Those, like me, who spend time understanding the true extent and problems that are inherent in the modern market in puppies know that puppy farmers cash in at this time of year on the glut of impulsive shopping that goes on. The online pet selling sites are overflowing with generic pictures of cute looking puppies with the "designer" breeds in particular abundance. The dealers and breeders are pulling out the stops to get the cute and cuddly sales pitch just right to maximise their profits. It's all about selling at Christmas - and buying of course. Actually, the sales pitch is easy, as many puppy buyers are not exactly discerning: convenience rules. Speaking of which the unregulated world of online petsale sites and poorly regulated pet shops and garden centres are mightily convenient places for dealers to sell their stock to. They really do have it terribly easy. Unlike the dogs they have producing their stock for them. Oh no, there's no Christmas cheer and jolly tidings of joy for dogs like Susie-Belle, enslaved by the industry that is far from cute and warm-hearted.

In my efforts to contribute to raising and spreading awareness of why buying a pet at this time of year is a bad idea, one thing has struck me: people will often not see the larger picture, the background to campaigns like the excellent #NotAPresent one launched this year by the RSPCA. A defensiveness can be detected from people that may have bought a dog as a present which has proven successful all round; the dog is loved, still, by the family for whom it was bought. It's a frequent refrain on social media and understandable in some ways, but what I don't get is why those people then also get cross with those of us trying to stop puppy farmers profiteering at this time of year by telling the other side of their, fortunately for their dog, happy story. For, the happy endings are swamped by the miserable reality of impulsive present shopping of puppies, that later get discarded. To those who don't agree with me that the idea of people buying puppies as presents is bad, I say, look at the reality all around us in society, understand what shopping habits the buying public display, the commercial influences and marketing ploys that people are prey to, and then tell me that buying a pet as a present is a good idea:
  • Survey after survey in recent years show around half the presents bought for Christmas are returned, sold on, donated or thrown away soon after festivities are over. We live in a society that does not treat the giving and receiving of gifts as something to treasure. It's not the deep and meaningful gesture it once was. Why should it be expected, or assumed that buying and giving pets as presents be any different?
  • Every year in the days and weeks after Christmas rescue centres see hundreds of dogs being given up as unwelcome presents. This is a fact. Not an assumption. If those people had taken heed of campaigns not to buy puppies as presents, this would not happen. So, for every pet that is kept and enjoyed, there are many others who are not. Fact.
  • Rescue centres in the run-up to Christmas see people giving up their older dogs, so they can get a new, cute, younger version as a present "for the kids for Christmas".This happens. Every day, somewhere. How is buying a puppy as a present to replace the "old" dog who now languishes in a shelter, or has been killed to make room for the influx of dumped post-Christmas puppies, a good idea?
  • Buying a puppy should take planning; a relationship with a good breeder should have been established and that breeder will not be wanting to send home a puppy to a busy, hectic, Christmas-excitement-fuelled home. If the breeder does not take that into account, they are selling a product and thinking of the sale. And only that. Is that the best way to bring home a companion that will live a long life as a loved family member? Not an item that may well become tiresome, or costly, once the novelty of the present has faded.
These are my key reasons for hating the idea of puppies as presents, at any time of year, but especially Christmas when all common-sense seems to disappear in people's shopping behaviour. It's why I back the RSPCA's campaign and believe that when it comes to ending abusive breeding, selling and buying of puppies, individual stories, of how a puppy bought as a gift is a happy success, cannot replace the urgent need for campaigns to reach the people who are fuelling the problem trade in badly and xcessively, bred puppies.

I also think that the Dogs Trust campaign slogan "A dog is for life not just for Christmas" really needs to be updated to bring it in line with the modern approach to buying - and dumping - presents at ANY time of year. A dog is for life. And not a present.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Bad timing Dotty, but when is it ever not?

Dotty is 3 or 4 months old and she is going blind. She has aggressive cataracts that are rapidly robbing her of sight and with that, the pleasure of life. As her world plunges ever closer into darkness, the future for Dotty as a young, active, otherwise healthy collie is dismal. While many dogs can, and do live happy lives in safe homes without their sight, they are inevitably different to what they would be if their eyes functioned.  Owners must be prepared and able to adapt around their needs and such owners are not in abundance when it comes to taking into their homes a collie puppy; a dog hardwired to enjoy a busy, intelligent and physically active life. So, for Dotty, her future without sight is, at best uncertain.

Fortunately, she has found her way into the safe, secure world at DBARC - the rescue centre that Susie-Belle also arrived into foster care with. As readers know, I have huge respect for the work that DBARC do and the case of Dotty has shown me once again just how remarkable their dedication is to do the right thing, even when that is hard.Dotty was being given away by her owner on a website free as she was going blind, her fate might have been awful if a kind rescuer hadn't spotted her and got her to DBARC.

They have had Dotty assessed by the same opthalmologist specialist that operated on Susie-Belle's cataracts and he will be able to operate on Dotty's eyes when they have grown a little more and all going well, her sight will be restored. This is terrific news but it comes with a painful reality check. DBARC need to raise £5000 for Dotty to have the operation and have a future with sight and full activity ahead of her. That is a lot of money for a small rescue to raise in a short period of time. And it needs to be raised quickly as Dotty's sight is being stolen by the day by the aggressive cataracts.

I sat last night and imagined what her world is like right now after I'd watched this video clip of her:


...and what it will be like shortly as her sight disappears. Imagine how confusing that is going to be for such a young dog who is learning everything as she goes as it already is. Just as she's now learning the pure joy of spotting and chasing the ball, she soon won't be seeing it, that game will no longer be hers to enjoy. I know it can be adapted for a blind dog, but this is a puppy who will benefit from consistency as she learns about enjoying life to the full. As her sight fades, she won't understand what the heck is going on around her from one minute to the next. Certainly she will adapt, but, DBARC don't just want her to cope with a compromised life if they can do something about it. They want her to have the fullest, least affected life that she can. This is what DBARC excel at - doing the utmost to offer dogs the best life ahead of them, not just a life that may be better than an alternative fate.

So they have launched a fundraising campaign to raise the £5000. An enormous sum of money for one dog. And at a time of year when people are spending on other things with Christmas and all its demands nowadays. Bad timing Dotty. But, this is the hard reality of rescue-work - the needs of the animals are there, whether convenient or not. Dotty's sight is disappearing now, it may be gone by Christmas day. She needs the money raised and surgery secured, Christmas or no Christmas. DBARC have many fantastic and generous supporters and donations started coming in as soon as they launched the appeal. You can donate HERE. Additional things are being done to raise the money where people are in with a chance of getting something that might help their Christmas plans:

  • I am running a book give-away where one signed, pawtographed and dedicated book will be given to the name pulled out of the basket. A £2 donation gets your name in the basket. Book Giveaway
  • Zoe, whose Bella received cataract surgery whilst in DBARC care and accomplished volunteer fundraiser came up with the idea of some Christmas cards for Dotty. We were more than happy for Susie-Belle to be the star of the cards. A £6 donation and Dotty will send a pack of 10 cards: Dotty Loves Christmas - Cards 
Currently, DBARC have raised just over half the total required. So, while this is truly fantastic, there is still a long way to go and not a lot of time. We will be going along next Sunday, the 30th November to the Wokingham Winter Carnival and will be doing our bit to gather some donations, sell some Susie-Belle/Dotty cards.

I spoke on local BBC Radio Berkshire on Friday, and managed to talk a bit about puppy farming as well as Dotty's sight appeal and the tough demands of animal rescue work. Every little thing we can all do to let people know just how hard life can be for animals that find themselves in rescue, we must do, and Dotty's appeal illustrates this clearly. So, although the time of year is a hard one to ask for money from people to help one blind dog, there is never an easy time and Dotty didn't choose it.

Please consider donating, getting some Susie-Belle cards, or entering the book give away - £2 will make a difference to Dotty. Every penny gets her closer to the surgery and future filled with sight.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The market in puppies is a dismal one for the dogs

It's been an interesting week since Discover Dogs and I've had to do a lot of thinking and grappling with strong emotions raised by seeing the current dismal situation for dogs.

After last weekend and the good, positive feelings I came away from Discover Dogs with, by Tuesday I'd come back down to earth and the tough reality of the harsh world of dog rescue. I regularly follow and watch online the work of a whole lot of rescue centres, from small independents, to the big, well known, well funded organisations. Over time, and through a lot of background research, I've formed my own opinions of those who do great work, others are a little mediocre but talk the good talk, others say little but do loads; there are those that may have started well but that I think now have lost their way and finally, a few that are definitely not a place I would go near and probably never were. So, on any day, my time spent online can lift my spirits and dash them the next, but it is my choice to look into this world of rescue. Unlike the dogs who find themselves there, no choice, no options, dependent on the humans who control their lives, for good or bad.

I was sent a link to a small, excellent rescue that had a couple of three year old sisters looking for a new home. One is partially sighted and they must be rehomed together as she relies on her sister. Now, I don't know what the circumstances are behind the dogs finding themselves in rescue - in this case they are in a foster home, at least that will be less stressful for them than suddenly finding themselves in a kennel - but it made me think about all the breeding dogs that I know with health issues, including blindness, which would have passed to their puppies and what a precarious future dogs like this face. Not everyone would be willing to provide the right care and home for a dog that goes blind, many dogs would find themselves given up on. The principle that a dog is a family member for the full extent of their lifetime, come what may is just not a principle that too many who buy puppies adhere to in our society nowadays. If it was harder to buy puppies, if they were not available as impulse buys in petshops, or online, would it make people think long and hard about what the lifetime of a dog may bring. I think it would.

Then, on the same rescue site, I saw a cute puppy, I was drawn to the picture as he is a schnauzer-poodle cross - 12 weeks old when he was given to rescue. Discarded a few weeks after being bought because he barks. Because he behaves like a dog. Like a puppy. Not like a toy, or even a trained adult dog. This was the case that really made me angry. But he is just one puppy among the thousands of dogs who find themselves given up on. What on earth do people think a puppy is going to do? He must have been an impulse buy. And he, through absolutely no fault, just because he is a puppy, was looking for a new home (he's found it now) before he was four months old. I won't write here what the real words were that went through my head earlier in the week, I will leave you to imagine them.

This is the modern world of dog ownership, dog buying and discarding. It must be better for the dogs. We cannot allow a world to be the norm where dogs are subject to such fickle human behaviour. It has to be much harder to breed, sell and buy puppies. We all have a role to play, through demanding better laws, enforcement of those we have, accountability of the authorities who have the responsibility, through educating those who want a dog in their life....there is so much we all can and must be doing. Dogs are currently victims of a shallow, selfish society that is not one I fit into. I want it to be so much better for the dogs and will continue to try to make it so. And not go mad with frustration along the way.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Susie-Belle - ambassador for abused breeding dogs at Discover Dogs

Susie-Belle and I spent Saturday in London at Discover Dogs. This event is a huge one held annually, hosted by the Kennel Club and it's open to all members of the public interested in dogs. There are over 200 breeds of dogs there so people can find out more about the breeds, meet them in person, talk to those who understand the breed, which should mean that dogs can be chosen that best suit lifestyles and homes.

I went along to help out on the C.A.R.I.A.D puppy farming awareness stand and Susie-Belle, naturally, accompanied me. It is for her and all dogs like her, that are unfortunate to find themselves in abusive breeding situations, that I campaign and I couldn't have left her at home. Although I will admit to almost doing so when I thought I'd have to get the train, I couldn't see her coping with that without the comfort of her sister Renae to draw upon. 

She did brilliantly all day, although it was a tiring experience, mainly because she didn't get her usual morning nap and after lunch snooze. We wandered round the stalls - and there was a lot of shopping to be done, although I refrained from splashing out - and met some great people interested in dog welfare.

It was a real pleasure to meet the founder of CARIAD, Linda Goodman, and spend the day with her. She is truly an inspiration to me. Her dedication to ending puppy farming is complete and in my early days of discovering all there is to know about this subject, I kept coming across her name, work and writings. It was lovely to see a genuinely compassionate person behind the words.


Marc Abraham, founder of Pup Aid was also there, judging the various classes in the dog show that was a big part of the event. More importantly (to me) he came and gave support to CARIAD and arranged Susie-Belle's invitation. It's great to see the cooperation and thorough collaboration now amongst the various campaigners and groups, our voices are joining, getting louder and will soon be impossible for the authorities, legislators and public to ignore. It is only by all organisations working together that things will improve for the dogs and this now happening; Marc is a great person to bring all of us together so that the whole nasty puppy breeding and selling business will one day be brought to its knees.

On my wanderings round the show, I made sure I said hello to Wylie. He was rescued from the streets of Afghanistan, and his story is told in the lovely book, Wylie: the brave street dog who never gave up written by Pen Farthing, founder of Nowzad. It always feel so special to me when Susie-Belle meets other dogs who have known the terrible kind of suffering that man can inflict and yet, now, are enjoying their lives being loved as they always should have been. I like to imagine, and that can only be what it is, my imagination, that they have a kindred understanding. I do think dogs function on levels we can never understand and who knows what they communicate between themselves - they don't need words.


 We signed a few copies of our book during the day and several people came along wanting to meet Susie-Belle. It's always so pleasing to know that the book has touched people, and helped them to share the story, which spreads awareness.


 Throughout the day on the CARIAD stand, many people stopped by and shared their own stories of either buying puppies from doubtful sources, or, how they have given homes to abused, breeding dogs. On one level it was heartening to hear that more awareness is out there, but equally, it's deeply frustrating that the scale of the problem doesn't seem to be shrinking, in fact it's growing. People don't seem to make the final connections between the puppies they see for sale in garden centres, in shops and the parent dogs they don't see, the ones being kept in misery to supply the trade, that thrives, by them mistakenly "saving" the puppy that they buy. It is this connection that needs to be made clearer, we need to speak louder about this. I know for some, it's not desirable to make someone feel bad about buying a puppy that they think they have saved from the shop, saved from the sad place. But, it is only by us saying this must not be done, this is not saving the dogs, it is continuing the market in misery for parent dogs, that this will end. The market needs to be less lucrative, the prices for the dogs need to drop and drop as they don't sell. This is where change will happen in the absence of effective legislation.

Speaking of which, Marc will soon be posting a blog about what Pup Aid is doing behind the scenes and how we can all take part and help drive forward with real pressure on the politicians to act to end puppy farming. To hear Marc speak on this, listen to the podcast here.

It was a great day, meeting lots of great people. I came away feeling strengthened to continue the fight, the campaign and to get on and finish writing the next book. Anything that will help to make people see what lies behind the cute puppies, is worth doing.


Monday, 3 November 2014

Discover Dogs - London

This weekend I'm headed to London to Discover Dogs - it's an event where the public can meet plenty of different breeds of dogs, learn all about them and their needs and of course shop.
I've never been before, but am looking forward to it as I'm helping out on the C.A.R.I.A.D stand, and will be talking to visitors about puppy farming and raising awareness of all the commercial breeding world entails.

Not only will it be good to be at the event with dedicated campaigners, it will also be great to catch up with friends who will be there too.

If you're there, do make sure to stop by the C.A.R.I.A.D stand and send people over to us. The more people we get to talk to, the more awareness raising happens. I'll be there all day Saturday, but C.A.R.I.A.D will be there Sunday too.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Dog By Dog Documentary

A few months ago I stumbled across a trailer for a documentary being made in the US. Immediately I was grabbed by the potential impact the film, "Dog By Dog", will have on the dog breeding industry; not only in the US, but across the world in countries where dogs are abusively bred to supply the huge commercial puppy markets.

As I watched the trailer, I saw that what will make this film different to others that have gone before is the uncovering of the corporations and big players that lie behind the scenes, making big sums of money from dogs suffering. The networks, the powerful lobbies, the authorities, all are keeping the industry thriving and the dogs suffering. This documentary will reveal it all. I hope that when the buying public see that the puppy breeding business is not one driven by any love of dogs, as sellers and breeders often like to trot out when asked, but by money, pure and simple money, it will make enough people shift their thinking to realise that enough is enough. People often won't watch films showing animals suffering and I understand that; but a film like this, that will expose who and what is causing them to suffer: the suited individuals, the ones who turn from the suffering they cause and look at their balance sheets instead will have a powerful impact on viewers.

The pet selling industry will not want this film seen; from the smallest to the biggest, the players involved will hate to have the web of falsehoods, the gloss, the cute marketing ploys they use revealed. And it won't just be in the US that this film will shake the rotten apples from their tree of deception and cruelty. The same issues blight the UK, Australia, Canada and other countries where corporations and individuals use the breeding of dogs to line their pockets. Business is about bottom lines. Not compassion and animal welfare, let alone such things as love and care. The commercial puppy business is no different and this film will expose that.

To see the trailer that is currently available, visit here. The film is currently in the final stages of raising the last money needed to complete it and it will be released sometime in 2015 in the US. I am hoping it will be available elsewhere and will keep everyone posted. I am proud to be a supporter of what I consider will be a game-changer of a film.