Our Dogs Newspaper March 2009 Review

“What ever happened to white dog poo?” happens to be one of the commonest questions I’m constantly asked down my local – and rather ironically – dog-friendly pub.

There seem to be many online explanations to this question ranging from the faecal calcium-content from a predominantly bone-rich diet to the high-pitched frequency of 80s pop music but I’m sure a major factor was the fact that it was never ever picked up and instead just left around on the grass for ages to dry out?

My point of this intro (bare with me) is ‘change’, and there doesn’t seem to have ever been a time quite like the present in our canine world that sums this up.

Dog poo is nearly always picked up by responsible dog-owners who either bin it in special council-provided poo-bins or even take their dog’s mess home to disposed of it; ideas that would have been so ludicrous back in the 80s that on production of a portable ‘Poopod’ in public you probably would’ve been put in a Wicker man and burned alive.

There were two major events for me this month that signified great change – both Crufts and ITV’s Tonight programme ‘Pets Undercover’ – and it’s clear how our country’s pet-industry’s crumbly-white attitudes are now slowly being replaced by a slightly damp patch of healthy lush green grass.

Pet-owners attitudes are changing fast. Greater access to pet-information than ever before – some true, most false – means the health and welfare of our nation’s pampered pets is being discussed more than ever, still in our parks and dog shows, and now massively on online chat forums and varying forms of social media, like Facebook.

And like it or not this ‘power of the mob’ is having a huge everlasting effect on all our dogs’ wellbeing and their further generations. With a rapidly growing need for complete transparency across every industry the end result must be to strive for fairness, and in our case that means fairness to our lovely dogs.

Crufts 2009 for me illustrated that perfectly, a true celebration of ‘the dog’ and by so many walks of life too; and with four whole days jam-packed with canine craziness it’s hard to know where to start but I’ll pick out some personal highlights just in case you were busy showing your Schipperke or walking your Weimaraner.

We’ll start with when I had the pleasure of meeting the brave ‘Tali’ and ‘Helmand’ dogs from Nowzad Dogs – a volunteer-run charity started in Southern Afghanistan with the generous support of fellow dog-owners; bravely helping those dogs and other animals with no hope or anybody to care for them in one of the most dangerous places on earth.

Every penny donated goes directly to helping these dogs (and cats and other animals) through welfare, education and support so I urge you all to find out more about this fascinating and inspirational charity at www.nowzaddogs.co.uk.

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(Above) Meeting ‘Helmand’ on the Nowzad Dogs stand

Another Crufts highlight was my S.O.F.A (Speaking out for Animals) school-group who arrived from Norwich on the Saturday to collect more signatures for their 7700+ petition for compulsory microchipping in the UK.

I say ‘my’ as I’m their patron and really couldn’t be prouder of what these girls have achieved over such a short amount of time and all for the welfare of dogs.

I was glad to hang out with them around the Petlog, Vets Get Scanning and Dog Theft Action stands, and once again encourage you all to learn more about all the great work they’re doing at their shiny brand-new website www.speaking-out-for-animals.co.uk.

Over the last few months I’ve become pretty chummy (which was lucky because our stands were back to back!) with the dudes from Yumega – the canine skin wonder-supplement.

So I was proud to be asked to ‘pop next door’ and help them launch their National Skin Health Survey in response to the massive surge in canine (and feline) skin enquiries they’ve received recently.

According to Yumega, the potentially harmful combination of climatic conditions, as well as centrally-heated environments and most significantly diet has had the greatest impact on skin and coat health but the extent of the effect on our nation’s pets is actually unknown.

The National Skin Health Survey will help to reveal the true scale of the problem, many of which are thought to be suffering in silence. So please take part in their free online survey by answering a few simple questions at www.petskinhealth.org.uk, and every owner taking part will also have the chance to win some bottles of Yumega omega 3 & 6 supplements.

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John Howie (Yumega MD), a Weimaraner, and I launch Yumega’s National Skin Health Survey at Crufts.

I was also invited along to the Bella Moss Foundation (BMF) stand; this year once again promoting infection control (including MRSA) in front of a rather snazzy stand generously supplied by veterinary materials suppliers Millpledge.

Jill Moss continues to do an extraordinary job of educating Joe Public and the higher echelons of veterinary academia alike with her unrelenting passion for animal (and human) welfare; yet another perfect example of change working effectively and for the animal’s benefit.

I also joined Peter Purves (BMF Patron) and some old bloke named Vince (fellow BMF vice patron) on the Our Dogs stand for a Bella Moss Foundation group photo (pictured).

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(Above) Some old bloke called Vince, Peter Purves and me on the Our Dogs stand at Crufts.

Between all the running around the NEC like a mentalist giving interviews promoting Crufts, writing the Kennel Club’s daily blog and of course my own ‘Funky half hour’ every day on the Our Dogs stand I was lucky enough to be able to chill out at my own ThePet.net stand which was soon to become a haven for tired kids (and dogs!) who just wanted to relax on our funky bean bags and watch a movie.

We were privileged on the Thursday to be joined on the stand by Angela Dent and Vanessa Waddon (pictured), representatives of Hope Rescue (www.hoperescue.org.uk), a unique rescue centre based in South Wales differing from the rest by acting as a coordinator for other rescue centres around the UK.

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(Above) Yours truly, with Angela Dent and Vanessa Waddon (Hope Rescue) and my business partner Andy Seel on our ThePet.net stand at Crufts.

We were launching our ‘Year of the Rescue Pet’ as ThePet.net continues to grow and showcases the most value-for-money pet-businesses out there – driving more business towards them thus resulting in less abandonment and hopefully more pets rescued.

A special thanks my dear Ann Webb (who won the veteran’s heat at last years’ Wag & Bone Show with her 12-year-od dog Katie) and everyone who came over and said “Hello”, as well as adding your own pet-businesses onto ThePet.net.

We were also publicizing next month’s first-ever ThePet.net Awards which are now really hotting-up; and don’t forget the doggy categories of Favourite Dog Breeder, Groomer, Dog-friendly Pub and Caravan Park too so why not add your favourite business right now for free at www.ThePet.net?

The winners will be announced at next month’s Ultimate Pet Show on Bank Holiday Monday 4th May; and for those of you who are really embracing the new digital media revolution you can now follow ThePet.net on twitter at www.twitter.com/thepetnet and we’ll of course follow you right back!

Just walking around Crufts gives you a sense of pride; knowing you’re surrounded by every aspect of our present and future canine world. I loved the agility, the flyball, the Discover Dogs area and assistance dogs but most of all the charities and rescues that were in attendance.

I truly believe that the humans in charge of dog rescue charities have a duty to rehome as many of their inmates as possible at any chance; so I’m still struggling to comprehend why some chose to ignore this most-golden of opportunities to interact with a 145,000-strong targeted dog-loving footfall and try to rehome their dogs; after-all surely that’s their main priority. Isn’t that why the public donate so much money to them?

And when did politics actually become more important than the animals themselves, waiting behind these ‘rescue’ centre’s own bars that sadly now must wait even longer for possible adoption?

So for me personally Crufts 2009 represented change, and celebrated a togetherness that was felt by all present, most keen to move into the future and work together with the dog’s welfare being paramount.

Educating the public on where to get a dog, which dog and how to look after it properly; as well as pushing forward with the Kennel Club’s Accredited Breeders Scheme and improved Breed Standards will eventually lead to happy healthier dogs and with any luck the end of our country’s barbaric puppy farming industry too.

Finally after a very busy four days at Crufts, Best in Show was set-up rather movingly by the Friends for Life presentation and Mary Ray’s breathtaking Riverdance demonstration which, if you didn’t catch it, is available for all to view on YouTube and I really recommend you do.

The second part of my month started on Monday 16th March at approximately 8pm on ITV1. For those of you who missed it (you can catch it on my YouTube channel www.youtube.com/marcthevet) I was asked to be the veterinary contributor on the Tonight programme ‘Pets Undercover’, a primetime current affairs show exploring the veterinary industry and the minority of unscrupulous vets out there who are exploiting pets, owners and insurance companies by performing unnecessary tests and procedures on our nation’s pets.

An investigative programme like that was never going to go unnoticed and it seems to have ignited a discussion within the veterinary profession as well as the general public increasing widespread awareness of what appears to be a growing problem.

On the programme I made it clear that the “majority of vets are giving excellent service and value for money and it’s the minority who are tarring the rest of the profession with the same brush and causing loss in owner-confidence”, and I meant it.

We humans (vets, breeders, whatever) have a huge responsibility to look after and respect as best we can the animals we chose to domesticate; and alongside the majority of vets, nurses and vet receptionists in this country most regular readers of this column will have noticed how much I also enjoy promoting responsible pet ownership as much as possible.

My point is that there are so many of us do-gooders who positively promoting pet-ownership that it greatly concerns me the minority who do not appear to have the animal’s optimum welfare as their primary motivation.

Using a ‘mystery shopper’ type of model – a method commonly used nowadays in every business to greatly improve customer service – the Tonight programme showed that there is huge variation in attitudes about pets brought into various veterinary practices even within a very small geographical area.

Awareness and education around the varying levels of quality of care and advice handed out to pet owners was addressed, and those PR/marketing-aware vets out there have already seized the opportunity to use the show as a clever business tool, reinforcing to their clients that they are not driven by bonus incentive schemes, and how they are part of the majority who continue to proudly put the pet first and give us excellent value for money.

The veterinary industry is a service industry. People come to us for a service because they trust us, we give it to them as best we can and if they like the experience we’re providing they will repeat it – hopefully without hesitation or any need for doubt.

It’s this ‘experience’ that is of most interest as (and I’m sure made much worse by the current credit crunch) there is just too much evidence out there now of pets and owners being taken for a ride, which will in turn lead to a reduction in pets treated, bought or adopted, declining pet numbers and a dangerous downward spiral for us all.

It’s important to protect our pet industry from those practicing vets, breeders or any pet-related business who continue to exploit dogs and give us all bad reputations; and I was privileged to have been asked to voice that opinion, for the sake of the animals and the good-guys out there who continue day-in day-out to proudly put ‘pet before profit’, and the longevity of this country’s passionate pet-owning population in our brand-aware consumer-driven society.

By informing the viewer that there is in fact a choice available to them will enable the owner to seek out a vet that’s right for them and their pet and continue to enhance their pet-owning experience rather than destroy it and risk that animal never being examined again or even being dumped instead.

Seeking second opinions from garages for any car maintenance or repair-work and builders for any home improvements are commonplace and commonsensical.

There are too many non-treated and abandoned pets nowadays for this matter to be just overlooked and it’s them I feel most sorry for.

We all know that every vet has their own way of examining, treating and charging for every type of pet condition; but the point that needs to be stressed and awareness raised is that there’s a fine line between recommending further tests and work-ups that are completely justified and well-communicated to the owner, and taking advantage of a stressed pet-owner for a cut of increased overall company profit through overselling goods and services.

So it’s up to all of us in any pet-related business to be aware of the current consumer climate and need for transparency when dealing with pets and their owners.

After all it’s not the total bill that’s ever the problem, it’s whether the amount charged is seen as being ‘worth it’ and the pet’s welfare has been paramount throughout.

Those of us UK dog-lovers fortunate enough to be under that NEC roof last month and beyond putting animal welfare first at all times, must ensure that we all have dogs to care for, fairly treat and look after well into all of our futures.

So let’s continue to clear away those ancient white dog poo attitudes of old and instead carry on making way for this clean and exciting healthy fresh green grass era of change!

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