April Review – Our Dogs Column

I’ve recently been wondering when I was next going to hear those seven immortal words “Dog who looks most like his owner”…

The start of this years’ fun dog show season was only days away when the phone rang with a call from the organizers of the Normand Park Dog Show in West London asking me to help judge their first-ever foray into the world of novelty canine Saturday afternoon fun.

Organized jointly by Hammersmith & Fulham’s Borough’s Parks Service and the North Fulham New Deal for Communities (NDC), this local dog show was aimed to promote responsible dog ownership to the masses and it certainly achieved that and on so many levels.

These days, individual town council attitudes towards dogs and their ownership vary greatly across the UK from borough to borough.

I’ve recently been in frantic email correspondence with representatives of the desperate dog-loving rural Devon community of Ottery St Mary whose town council’s proposed Dog Control Orders intend on banning all dogs from public places. And it seems to be happening more and more around the country.

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Ottery Dogs Supporters Group

But here in über-urban Normand Park, just along from Earls Court and surrounded on three sides by intimidating drab and population-dense concrete towers, Ottery St Mary’s town council’s dog-unfriendly attitude couldn’t be more further away than those tranquil West Country parks and football pitches are that will shortly sadly all be dog-free.

For more information about the now-famous Ottery Dogs Campaign Group (pictured), visit their website at www.webjam.com/ottery_dogs.

But here in London amongst the ‘Pit Bull-types’, Staffies and a whole host of inbetweeners, as well as a wide variety of other pedigree dogs and cross-breeds alike was an almost overwhelming feeling of dog-friendliness and positive attitudes towards responsible ownership.

Joining me in the judging ring was Dog Borstal’s very charming Rob Alleyne (who was so generous and approachable with his free dog-training advice to all present all day long) and Mayor of Hammersmith & Fulham Andrew Johnson (pictured).

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Me, Sarah Johnston (Green Dog Walkers), Andrew Johnson (Mayor of Hammersmith & Fulham)

As well as the hundreds of excited first-timer dog-showers that turned up on the day, there were also stands offering free microchipping (dog theft being the new and easy target crime) and representatives from various animal charities including the Mayhew Animal Rescue Home; as well as clever-little-poo-bin-on-your-lead-makers Poopod (pictured) and the Green Dog Walkers (GDW), on hand to encourage owners to pick up and properly dispose of their dog’s poo.

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Me, Sue and Molly with Poopods!

“The Green Who..?” I hear you bark?

Well so did I until one of the GDW themselves, the very enthusiastic Sarah Johnston, explained all about this newest revolution of responsible dog-owners, all started by a small group of volunteers that have recently been working alongside a very dog-friendly Falkirk Town Council.

You see the GDW act as a middle-man between the public and the council ensuring both sides are happy and keeping their local public places clean and tidy by ‘taking the pledge’ to pick up poo, give out poo-bags and ensure poo-bins are emptied frequently.

With their eye-catching stylish bright-green GDW-branded armbands and badges, these passionate dog walkers have a much-fresher air of ‘the future’ about them and are certainly ones to watch in 2009.
 
Indeed with the seemingly growing local government anti-dog attitudes shown across our green and pleasant land, the GDW intend to roll-out their environmentally sound ideas across the UK so we may actually have a chance of salvaging these public spaces for our dogs to enjoy well into the future after all.

Indeed post-Best in Show (awarded to a Border Collie in case you were wondering), my fellow judge Councillor Johnson informed me “We are a dog-loving borough proudly promoting responsible dog ownership.

Events like this highlight how many positives dogs bring to owners in our community whilst raising awareness that dogs must be socially acceptable.

“They need to be trained and under control at all times. Owners should also know that not cleaning up after your dog is not only socially unacceptable; it is an offence that ultimately gives your dog a bad name.

“We have teamed up with a new movement called Green Dog Walkers, through whom we aim to continue our education, explaining to owners that by not cleaning up and acting irresponsibly, they are simply making the lives of other fellow dog owners very difficult.
 
“Daily we receive hundreds of complaints from non-dog owners about dog mess and discarded poo bags. So our aim is to engage with Green Dog Walkers and encourage all our dog owning residents to take their pledge and act responsibly”.

Local dog shows like this one at Normand Park are always the key draw as owners will always love to show off their dogs. The number of people attending despite a horrendous weather forecast underlined that there is a gap in the market for more local community dog events with the local dog world only too keen to support them!

This inaugural event represented a really fun and simple day for everyone, all about dogs and dog ownership, which equates to a free family day out and an opportunity for a ‘community’ gathering; proving hugely educational and beneficial to all the dogs, owners and non-owners living in Hammersmith & Fulham.

Next year I’d like to see them expand the dog show slightly by adding a couple more classes – even run an ‘exemption show’ under Kennel Club rules and regulations, and pave a much-needed way for the KC to get more involved and connect with our less affluent local communities.

This is always very popular with owners bringing out their competitive spirit and the Good Citizen Dog Scheme awards give a structure to a training program that everyone can get involved with at any of the bronze, silver, or gold levels. Involvement would bring in nicely the training and behaviour aspect to this whole responsible ownership vibe that was so evident here.

Elsewhere in April I’ve been vetting again, this time at the Bushy Park Road Vets in Teddington, Middlesex. What a lovely practice this is or ‘proper’ practice as I like to call it.

So traditional and computer-less, they still have their proud patient paper card system in place and their priority is simply to just get the animal better at the best cost to the owner. This attitude would explain why some clients have been bonded for over 25 years and often just pop-in with or without their pets just for a chat with the nurses and receptionists.

And after all the recent uproar from an angry minority of vets after ITV’s Pets Undercover Tonight Programme was aired, this place truly sums up what I mean about a practice ‘getting it right’ by putting the pet first, leaving the owner with a positive experience so they are keen to get their pet treated again and again without any hesitation or doubting of the vets intentions.

With separate dog and cat waiting areas and very warm and welcoming front-of-house attitude, it’s clear why this practice isn’t suffering in the recession, and deservedly-so.

In one morning consulting session, I met a lovely German Pinscher who’d previously taken part in Discover Dogs as well as examining a Basset puppy brought from, yes you’ve guessed it, a pet shop, complete with fake pedigree papers and unsigned ‘contract’ which included the chilling line ‘It is highly unlikely that you will be able to return your puppy’.

A stark double-reminder of the massive amount of work we all still need to do to in working together to educating the puppy-buying public and promoting responsible dog breeding in the UK.

Way over at the other end of the canine age-scale, I was totally thrilled in April to be invited to be the proud Patron of ‘Oldies Club’ after judging their online photo competition ‘Woof Factor’.

We all know older dogs lose their homes for a whole host of different reasons; most of them having nothing to do with any problems these poor dogs have, but rather with those of the individual or family giving them up for adoption.

Common reasons for abandonment include the death or illness of their owner, lack of time available devoted to pet, change in work schedule, new baby, moving to a place where pets are not allowed, allergies, lifestyle changes and even a prospective spouse not liking pets.

Older pets appreciate and deserve life-long happiness and quickly learn how their unconditional love makes sure they keep getting lots more of that special care and attention. Already socialized, older dogs understand what being a pack member means, how to get along with humans, (in most cases) other dogs, and even cats too.

Older pets make particularly good companions for the elderly. In addition to the obvious health advantages such as lowering blood pressure and stress levels, the adoption of an older pet will provide invaluable friendship, help combat loneliness, increase recovery rates after surgery or illness and require much less exercise.

For more information about Oldies Club including their fantastic fostering projects, Sponsor Dogs, Overlooked Oldies as well as fundraising events and online forum ‘The Refuge’, please visit www.oldies.org.uk.

This Bank Holiday weekend I’m up in Birmingham at the first-ever Ultimate Pet Show and on Bank Holiday Monday will be revealing the winners of ThePet.net Awards 2009 including of course Favourite Dog Breeder.

To see who the public have chosen and who’s won the other categories (including Favourite Dog Trainer, Groomer and Dog-friendly Pub) please visit www.ThePet.net. I’ll have the results for you in next month’s column too. If you are in the area and are struggling to entertain bored irritable kids then why not pop along and say hi?

As well as presenting ThePet.net Awards on Ban Holiday Monday, I’m also giving a lecture every day on ‘Choosing a Pet’, and helping to judge the Most Talented Pet Competition too; for more information and to buy tickets online, visit www.ultimatepetshow.co.uk.

My next fun dog show judging duties are later on this month on Saturday 23rd May in Plumpton, Sussex when I help out local charity Lowland Search and Rescue Dogs (Sussex).

When people think of Search Dogs they usually think of an injured climber on a remote mountain or some lost hikers in a desolate area of the Yorkshire moors.  But what of the Alzheimer’s sufferer who has walked out of their home into the countryside, or the despondent who disappears somewhere out on the South Downs?

The Sussex Branch of Lowland Search and Rescue Dogs was formed in March 2003 to support the Police in the search and location of missing, vulnerable people throughout both East and West Sussex, 24 hours a day.

All their dogs begin life as pets and have then gone on to becoming operational working Search and Rescue dogs which takes each individual dog approximately 18 months to train. 

The public and their sponsors play a big part in their success, and without them Lowland Search and Rescue Dogs could not continue to do their invaluable work.  For more information visit www.lsdogs-sx.org.uk

And finally, for those of you out there keeping-up with our current social media revolution, then you’ll be over-the-moon to know that you can now ‘follow me’ at www.twitter.com/marcthevet where I will of course in true twitterati-style follow you straight back!

See you all next month, when I’ll have details of two exciting brand-new campaigns to help promote responsible dog ownership.

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Louisa and Jess (Ottery Dogs)

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