When I received an email at the end of May which read:
“Marc, Puppy Mill Awareness Day will be taking place on September 19th in the States… Did you wanna do something in the UK..?”
I was on holiday in Spain and quietly chilling by the pool.
The phrase “Red rag to a bull” sprang to mind immediately, and not just because I was in Spain either, so after a few refreshing and brainstorming lengths of the azure-blue ‘piscina’, Brighton was set to hold it’s first Puppy Farm Awareness Day on September 19th 2009, it just didn’t know it yet.
September started with the annual sponsored walk to raise money for two excellent local charities: Sussex Pet Rescue & Cat Welfare Sussex of which I am their proud patron. The picturesque seaside walk itself is from Hove Lagoon to Brighton Pier and back, along the promenade – about 6 miles in total – and once again was very well-attended by over 300 local animal-lovers all keen to get involved and accompanied by their dogs. Some even dressed-up in fancy dress and a staggering £10,000 was collected on the day – congratulations guys!
The following weekend saw a Scruffts double-header as I was judging these prestigious heats on the Saturday at Paws in the Park in Kent, and then on Sunday at the Battersea Dogs Home Reunion.
Paws in the Park has got to be my favourite summer dog show. It’s hard to put into words what makes it so special but I guess the attitude and energy of the organizers is primarily responsible and seems to effortlessly filter down through the show into every stall holder, dog-owner and even down their leads to the dogs themselves.
We were also blessed with great weather, nice and sunny but not too hot for the dogs. As well as judging Scruffts and a great day out, I was very impressed by the standard of the ‘My Pet’s Got Talent’ final which I also judged and was won by a Labrador who could ‘read’ and not a Border collie as usual!
Battersea Reunion was another great day out held just around the corner from the Dogs Home in beautiful autumnal Battersea Park. It was my first time attending this event but what a celebration of rescue it turned out to be with a great atmosphere and a huge range of rescues from Borzoi’s to Miniature Dachshunds, Staffies to scruffy-looking crosses.
My day was complete when the organizers asked me to help judge one of their categories with Gavin and Stacey actress Joanna Page (below). It was also now less than a week away from my first very-own dog show in Brighton…
Now I’ve always admired dog show organizers who get it spot-on as these annual doggy days are often built on word-of-mouth reputation, which often decides a repeat performance the following year.
Events like Paws in the Park and Battersea Reunion are tried and tested, with stall-holders and general public eager to attend and make the event as successful as can be.
So I was obviously super-conscious that the first Puppy Farm Awareness Day in Brighton needed be a good ‘un.
But what I wasn’t prepared for in the months running-up to the event was the politics that I experienced from various charities, organizations and even potential stall holders who couldn’t be seen to work with others.
It reminded me (on a much smaller scale naturally) of this years’ whole Crufts debacle, where for example, some charities who’s sole mission is to rehome their dogs snubbed the year’s best chance of actually talking face-to-face with a massive potential rehoming dog-loving public and giving their canine inmates the best chances of a brand new life.
But this was Puppy Farm Awareness Day?
Surely the most important thing here is that us humans who, like it or not, are part of the same species that are causing all these bitches, stud dogs and puppies all the pain and the cruelty, forget our differences and join together as a unit to try and sort this mess that we’ve created out?
After all, do you really think a pup in excruciating pain at 6 weeks-old dying of parvovirus, or an abused breed bitch with a life-threatening pyometra after giving birth to her 14th litter really cares who is seen to exhibit next to whom as long as this dire situation is finally sorted once and for all?
Really made me think about who’s really in it for the welfare of the animals and not their own egos/reputations and thankfully the true animal loving businesses who desperately want change really shone through.
They came, they exhibited, they even sent prizes, and they helped what turned out to be an important ground-breaking day in our country’s animal welfare.
So special thanks to Puppy Farm Awareness Day show sponsors Eukanuba; and also to Reg & Ruby, Pet-ID, Sara Abbott, K9 Kitchen, Barkley’s Dog Emporium, The Dogs Products, Petographer, Spiffy Dog, Funky Mutts, PriceRightHome.com, Paw Plunger, Suzart, Absolutely Animals, White’s Dog Food, Byofresh, Treatment Rooms, Company of Animals, John Paul Pet, Lily’s Kitchen.
Also I’d like to thank the Kennel Club for all their help, support and letting me tap into their vast experience of show planning (thanks Sara!!), Master of Ceremonies Mr Danny Pike (BBC Radio Sussex), as well as all the charities that supported included Sussex Pet Rescue, Pro Dogs Direct, Dog’s Trust, PAT Dogs, and Vets Get Scanning.
The crowd was also treated to excellent and informative displays by both Canine Partners and Sussex Police Dogs as well.
Puppy Farm Awareness Day was for me, and still is, totally overwhelming – and on so many levels.
From that initial email only four months ago to seeing all the exhibitors, celebrities, political figures, charities, and of course the hundreds of owners with their dogs – come together and make some noise about puppy farming; concerned enough to be pro-active, raising awareness and create much-needed change.
Every time I looked up at the ring I was completely blown away. At one point Monty Python actress Carol Cleveland, Simon Cowell’s mum Julie, and Bruce Forsyth’s daughter Debbie were all busy conferring over the ‘Handsomest Dog’, when five minutes beforehand top models Liz Fuller and Jo-Emma Larvin were deciding who deserved the prestigious title of ‘Prettiest Bitch’.
Other highlights included actor David Spinx who played super-slob Keith Miller in EastEnders being reunited with his actual Irish Wolfhound screen-partner ‘Genghis’ (pictured) and then going on to judge ‘Laziest Dog’.
Political candidates Nancy Platts (Labour), Simon Kirby (Conservative) and Caroline Lucas (Green) all made their dog-judging debuts too and added a sense of even more importance to the day’s enjoyment and underlying campaigning theme.
As well as the fun aspects to the day, I was conscious to try and hit home to people’s minds and hearts what we were all actually there for on this beautifully sunny day on the coast, a million miles from the damp, diseased and depressing surroundings of a dilapidated Carmarthenshire puppy farm.
This was achieved at 2pm with the Parade of the Ex-breeding Bitches (pictured). Thanks to fantastic charity Pro Dogs Direct who proudly wear their heart on their sleeve, i.e. no politics; as recently rescued ex-breeding bitches up for rehoming were walked around the ring, many with their teats dragging along the grass, in front of everyone, and to a round of applause. I noticed some people crying, some were simply unable to speak. The message was hitting home. Puppy Farm Awareness Day was doing just that.
Another moving moment was the day’s über-special guest, ex-world champion boxer Michael Watson MBE arriving to judge ‘Best Boxer Dog’ (pictured). I’m sure most of you will know this already but for those who don’t, Michael was severely brain-damaged a few years ago in the ring with Chris Eubank.
His presence at Puppy Farm Awareness Day will never be forgotten by all who attended as he not only answered questions, signed autographs, thoroughly enjoyed himself and of course picked out the winner of a fair few boxer dogs (one of which his owners had travelled from South Wales just to see him).
I would also like to thank the Mayor of Brighton & Hove Ann Norman, proud owner of four Tibetan Terriers, also the live bands that came and played for free on the day; as well as the Speaking Out For Animals group (SOFA) who came all the way from Norwich to collect money in individually designed buckets. Sadly Keith Hall, who inspired the SOFA campaign, recently passed away – a real hero and true champion for animals that will be sorely missed by the animal-loving world.
In the couple of weeks since the event, there have already been many spin-off happenings including more contact with MPs expressing an interest and a growing support for another event next year. With such public support, I’m sure this issue can really become a high priority for MPs with a General Election coming up next Spring.
For those of you still unaware, www.ThePet.net is a free online resource where you can add your (or someone else’s) dog-friendly business, e.g. dog breeder, and tell your clients to add valuable feedback. This online presence will then strengthen a potential puppy-buyers trust in your service and make them much less likely to visit a pet shop or dodgy online deliver-to-your-door puppy dealer.
October is a complete change of scenery as I’m off to New York’s famous Bronx district to volunteer my veterinary services to The Toby Project, a non-profit organization working to end the killing of thousands of adoptable dogs and cats each year in New York City’s animal shelters.
The Toby Project is the only organization in New York City whose sole mission is to address pet overpopulation at its inception by preventing the births of unwanted dogs and cats. Their goal is to “spay/neuter the very animals that would otherwise directly perpetuate a vicious cycle of unwanted birth and unnecessary death, and make NYC a true ‘no-kill’ community.”
So I’ll catch up with you next month and tell you all about it, and don’t forget, for regular updates on all things funky, follow me at www.twitter.com/marcthevet.