Our Dogs column – Crufts Special & Feb 09 Review

Hello and welcome to Crufts – easily the World’s Greatest Dog Show! And if you’re not here yet, then I’m sure you’re on your way, probably armed with a precious pedigree pooch or two, or maybe just coming to look around and perhaps do a little shopping for your four-legged loved one.

Whether you’ve attended Crufts every year since a child or you’re in fact a first-timer, there’s really nothing quite like this annual fest of canine craziness.

If, like me, you’re here for the whole four days, I bet you’re also wondering if you’ll still even get the chance to see everything you’d like to see; so I thought I’d start off this rather special Crufts issue with some highlights of a few choice events taking place during the show (in chronological order):

Thursday 5th March, 1pm, Stand 10, Hall 3: Come along and say Hi to my Vizsla-loving business partner Andy and me, and help celebrate our very own web-venture www.ThePet.net ‘Year of the Rescue Pet’ with representatives of our nominated organization Hope Rescue (www.hoperescue.org.uk) who work slightly differently to other rescues by acting as a point of co-ordination between dog pounds and rescue shelters.

We’ll be raising funds to help save dogs from death row. Readers of my column will know only too well that I’m passionate about increasing awareness of the current over-crowding in our many devoted rescue shelters (including pedigree breeds) and to encourage the public to come forward and adopt a rescue-dog.

Our ThePet.net Stand will also have something for the younger dog-fans too as we’ll be showing Sony Pictures Animation’s much-awaited latest movie, Open Season 2, starring Mr Weenie the Dachshund and a Poodle named Fifi.

So if your family could do with a bit of a break – your are feet are hurting and your kids are tired – why not bring them along to our stand, watch the movie for a bit, and chill out on our funky beanbags?

We’ll also be offering you and your dog the chance to win a holiday in a dog-friendly Cotswolds cottage. So why not come over and say Hi, would be really lovely to meet you all (there’s also a free doggy gift for everyone that signs up to ThePet.net at Crufts!)

Thursday 5th March, 2.30pm Stand 8, Hall 3: Lintbells, makers of canine-wonder-supplement Yumega are launching the first National Skin Health Survey in response to the recent surge in canine skin enquiries they have received, and revealing the true scale of the problems affecting our nation’s pets; many of which are thought to be suffering in silence.

So why not come by and ask any questions about dog’s skin problems and visit www.petskinhealth.org.uk to just answer a few quick questions that will help the skins of thousands of dogs!

Friday 5th March, 11am Stand 90, Hall 5: Learn the proper way to bandage your dog’s wounds with Our Dogs’ Vince Hogan, myself and the Bella Moss Foundation (www.thebellamossfoundation.com), who’ve teamed-up with leading veterinary product manufacturers Millpledge (www.millpledge.com) to teach you the latest hand-hygiene and cleaning methods designed to protect your children and dogs from harmful bugs.

Friday 6th March, 11.30am Stand 174, Hall 4: Paw Plunger (www.pawplunger.co.uk), the innovative way of cleaning your dog’s mucky paws, will be presenting a cheque to its chosen charity Pets As Therapy (www.petsastherapy.org).

Registered Pets As Therapy (PAT) dogs, such as Paw Plunger’s own Bearded Collie – Arty – visit nursing homes and hospitals to provide comfort and companionship to people who may be missing their own pets. The charity is now in its 25th year and the demand for PAT dogs is now greater than ever.

Friday 6th March, 12.30pm Stand 58, Hall 2: Why not come and meet Fudge, the assistance dog from the charity Support Dogs (www.support-dogs.org.uk) responsible for giving seriously disabled and wheelchair-bound Alan Checkley a new lease of life?

Three-year-old Fudge is an English Springer Spaniel chosen and trained by the Support Dogs specifically for Alan’s needs, became a fully-fledged assistance dog last November and soon settled into his new role – taught to assist and support his disabled owner with his day-to-day tasks so Alan can begin to lead a fuller and more independent life.

Saturday 7th March, 10.30am Stand 50, Hall 1: Watch rescue Saluki-cross Support Dog patron ‘Saba’ – who plays the role of ‘Skipper’ on CBeebies’ Green Balloon Club – presented with the first of a new Equafleece (www.equafleece.co.uk) design in practical canine fleecewear.

Saturday 7th March, 11am Stand 108, Hall 2: Launching a nationwide campaign to find ‘Britain’s Smartest Dog’, internationally renowned Animal Psychologist, Founder of The Company of Animals (www.companyofanimals.co.uk), and all-round nice guy Dr Roger Mugford, will be hosting an ‘Assistance Dog Charity Challenge’ to show just how clever assistance dogs really are.

Dogs and handlers from Dogs for the Disabled, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, Support Dogs and Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs will all be going head-to-head – should be a lot of fun.

Saturday 7th March, 4pm Stands 4, 6 and 8, Hall 2:  The fantastic Speaking Out For Animals (SOFA) group (of which I am their extremely proud patron!!) from Thorpe House School in Norwich will be presented with a microchip scanner by chipping charities Dog Theft Action (www.dogtheftaction.com), Petlog (www.petlog.org.uk) and Vets Get Scanning (www.vetsgetscanning.co.uk).

SOFA and I are campaigning for compulsory microchipping in the UK to help prevent dogs getting lost, stolen or straying and even have an online petition (www.gopetition.com/petitions/compulsory-microchipping-of-dogs). To read more about what SOFA and I got upto at the House of Commons this month see below. 

Sunday 8th March, 5pm Stand 70, Hall 3: Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs (www.cancerdogs.co.uk) founder Claire Guest will be presented with a cheque from Samsung (www.samsung.com) who support its work training cancer detection dogs and hypo-alert dogs for diabetics.

Cancer and Bio-detection Dogs is an extremely forward-thinking charity that utilizes dogs’ natural instincts and incredible sense of smell to make a difference to the human world. The work they do within the medical profession offers the potential to provide earlier diagnosis of cancer and therefore earlier commencement of treatment with a greater chance of achieving success.

Other stands to check out are my good friends, those funky hand-made dog-collar makers Holly & Lil (Stand 12, Hall 2; www.hollyandlil.co.uk) – as featured a fortnight ago on the Friday Night with Jonathan Ross show; as well as über-cool dog nutritional supplement dudes Pooch & Mutt (Stand 80, Hall 4; www.poochandmutt.com).

I’ll be easy to spot running around the NEC in my trademark blue scrubs; and also check out my ‘Buying a Puppy’ article in the official Crufts show guide, read my Crufts blog every day (www.crufts.org.uk) and tune into my twice daily interviews on Crufts FM and my ‘Funky Half-hour’ on the Our Dogs Stand 80 in Hall 2 between 10.30 and 11 o’clock on Thursday and Friday as well… Phew!

I’d also like to tell you about a rather interesting programme that’s going to be on all your televisions next Monday 16th March. It’s called Pets Undercover and it’s one of the popular ‘Tonight’ series at 8pm on ITV1.

It’s all about vet bills and how they can be one of the biggest costs in keeping your pet – and investigates whether they do actually need to be so high? Regular Tonight Presenter Jonathan Maitland, accompanied by his beautiful Border Collie cross Springer Monty  investigate whether some vets are actually overcharging and even recommending unnecessary procedures to pet owners.

I helped Jonathan and the Tonight team to make this programme last month, and I must say, the results of the cost of medical procedures and medications they got when Monty, Mickey the cat and Rupert the rabbit were taken to only 4 different vet practices where absolutely staggering and definitely worth watching, as some vets were prepared to recommend expensive treatment that in my professional opinion was completely unnecessary.
The programme even meets one devoted pet-owner that has paid £15,000 for treatments for her sick Rottweiler (only £4,000 of which was covered by pet insurance) and reveals how she is paying a 250% mark-up on medication sold to her by her vet.
The programme also interviews the victims of a vet (and the nurse that testified against him) who was struck off after being found guilty of five charges of disgraceful professional conduct.

He attempted to make false insurance claims, charged pet owners for work he never did, and evidence emerged of poor treatment –  but in May last year, the same vet was reinstated and can now practice again.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has the job of regulating vets – and although they can’t dictate what vets charge – they can step in if they consider vet bills to be excessive; so the programme asks whether the Royal College is doing enough with the powers it has and if there should be more regulation in the industry.

Hmmm… should be very interesting indeed!

Elsewhere in the last month I’ve also been preparing for the first-ever ThePet.net Awards, created in order to honour those dog-friendly businesses that continuously offer the very best for your pet.

ThePet.net is inviting every passionate pet-owner to please nominate his or her favourite pet-related business in order to help others. In this tough financial climate there’s really never been a more important time for pet lovers to share this information about pet experiences and to help each other find the most fairly-priced pet services out there.

As ThePet.net continues its commitment to the ‘Year of the Rescue Pet’ (see above), the Awards are a fun way of highlighting the fact there are numerous pet businesses out there that are still proudly putting ‘pets before profit’.

We hope the awareness raised by the Awards will help to reduce pet abandonment and increase rescue pet adoptions.

Why not enter a business you know into the awards and help drive more business to those deserving pet-related businesses that proudly put your pet first, offering great value-for-money and fantastic customer service?

Voting is free and if your own personal favourite pet-friendly business isn’t yet listed on ThePet.net, then you can just as easily add them too! ThePet.net Awards 2009 will be presented at this year’s Ultimate Pet Show, 2-4th May at the Birmingham NEC.

ThePet.net 2009 Award categories include Favourite Dog Breeder, Trainer, Groomer, Pet-Friendly Pub or Restaurant, Pet Friendly Hotel or B&B, Vet, Boarding Kennels, Pet Shop, Caravan Site or Holiday Park, Holiday Cottage, and Dog-walker/Pet-sitter.

And I would like to say a massive thank you to all our supporters including Open for Dogs, Our Dogs Newspaper, Burgess Pet Care, Yumega, Company of Animals, petprescription.co.uk, Pooch & Mutt, Holly & Lil, Paw Plunger, Furminator, and Equafleece.

So to vote, find out more about ‘Year of the Rescue Pet’, check out ThePet.net’s ‘10 Top Money Saving Tips’ to help you and your pet through credit crunch, or even to find recommendations of pet services in your area, visit www.ThePet.net today.

A few weeks back, my February started with yet another meeting at the House of Commons, hosted by Martin Horwood MP (Lib/Dem for Cheltenham). This time I was proudly wearing my patron’s hat for the Speaking Out For Animals (SOFA) group of schoolgirls from the Thorpe House School in Norwich.

As well as four representatives from SOFA – Bethan, Roseannagh, Molly and Carissa – we were also joined by their matriarchal teacher Sue Cole, Debbie Matthews (www.vetsgetscanning.co.uk) and a host of MPs (including Roger Gale MP) and even more prominent and influential characters from our canine world (see picture).

We all very constructively spoke about the benefits of microchipping and how reunification of dogs would save local councils thousands of pounds spent annually on keeping stray dogs that are waiting to be rehomed.

The fantastic result of the meeting was the promised drawing-up of an Early Day Motion – what an amazing achievement for a small group of school pupils – I’m so proud of them!

Another great club that has got me involved in their canine activities is the Oldies Club – a dog rescue charity, run solely by volunteers, that specializes in rescuing and rehoming older dogs.

This month I’ll be helping to judge (alongside Brian Blessed and lovely Victoria Stilwell!) the ‘Woof Factor’, a celebration of older dogs with a unique fundraising photo competition just for those veterans aged 7 years plus; and they don’t necessarily need to be rescue dogs to enter either.

The competition’s only just started and will close on 29th March at 9pm, so for more details of prizes and how to enter please visit www.oldies.org.uk (find link for Woof Factor under ‘Latest Posts’ on the bottom left).

More good vibes occurred stateside too as the First Family finally announced their chosen breed of dog. Michelle Obama revealed that the pooch chosen to move into the White House (and which could easily become the most sought-after breed in the world) is the Portuguese Water Dog (PWD) – and the even better news is that they would like it to be a rescue-dog too!

As I’m sure you’re all aware PWDs are similar in appearance to poodles, and were originally bred to herd fish into fisherman’s nets, to retrieve lost tackle or broken nets, and to act as couriers from ship to ship or ship to shore.

They are a fairly rare-breed (there are only 44 here at Crufts), but their non-shedding qualities have made them more popular in recent years, and of course therefore ideal for daughter Malia, aged 10, who now famously suffers from dog-hair allergies.

My only hope is that this new and exciting ‘celebrity breed’ doesn’t follow in the paw-steps of Paris Hilton’s Chihuahua ‘Tinkerbell’ and is not taken advantage of by the thousands of illegal puppy mills/farms and unscrupulous breeders across the US/UK who will undoubtedly try to cash-in on this relatively unknown breed’s expected sudden exponential rise in popularity; by over-producing with no regard for the breeding bitches, stud dogs or indeed puppy’s health (P.S. Did you manage to see the excellent Rogue Traders episode on Puppy Farming a few weeks back?)

If you’re unfamiliar with the PWD or would like more information about the breed then find them in the Working Group section in Discover Dogs in Hall 3.

Oh and well done of course to the Obamas for getting a rescue dog – let’s hope that sets off a worldwide trend!!

And finally this month I just wanted to write a little note thanking the lovely Wendy Richard for her time and company at last November’s Discover Dogs Event at Earl’s Court. I met her and her partner John briefly upstairs in the VIP area and we all shared a lovely conversation about dogs – especially Cairn Terriers – and of course Eastenders (of which I am a fan!).

As we’re all more than aware, Wendy has always been a regular at Crufts too, and massive supporter and promoter of both dog-ownership and animal-welfare issues too, and her presence in the canine (and of course human) world will be greatly missed. My thoughts go out to all her family and friends.

Enjoy Crufts everyone – and your dogs!

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