2011: My Doggy Round-up of the Year

Well it’s certainly been another interesting year in the world of dogs and once again for many reasons; there’s been great progress made in some areas of welfare but we seem to have gone backwards or stayed the same in others.

Earlier in the year we had Crufts – the world’s biggest dog show – and a real public showcase of how great dogs are and the positive impact they make on all our lives on so many levels.

From the pedigree judging rings to the assistance dog displays, educational Discover Dogs area to all the charity trade stands; Crufts is so much more than a shiny Best in Show trophy and rosette these days. Exhibitors and dog enthusiasts, owners and more importantly potential owners all shuffle together shoulder to shoulder, between all five massive halls, and all for the love of dogs.

Crufts also ensures that dogs are guaranteed to appear on our screens for a few days every year winning an ever increasing competition for transmission space, and providing invaluable canine education and discussion on our TVs amongst the seemingly endless reality TV programmes and samey comedy panel shows.

But there’s one thing I still don’t understand – and I’m really not having a go here – but why are there still dog rehoming charities whose primary role surely is to rehome their rescue dogs – boycotting not only Crufts but also Discover Dogs in November, i.e. the two biggest events in the year attracting by far the largest footfall of potential dog owners under one roof at which to make the biggest impact?

Surely they’d want to be there, all happy and branded up to the eyeballs engaging with dog lovers, handing out literature and promoting rescue dog adoption? I’m sure there’s a good enough reason so perhaps someone could explain it to me, as I feel sad for all those dogs awaiting rehoming, some trapped behind bars for months/years slowly going stir crazy, even being put to sleep, when every avenue of trying to rehome them clearly hasn’t been exploited.

Also hasn’t this recent media attack of pedigree dogs been done quite recently? A repeated news story that most will agree has already had its desired effect on the powers that be to review breed standards (all written in conjunction with leading members of the UK veterinary profession) for the better, which will obviously take years to see any evidence of change.

Remember guys, dogs can biologically only have maximum of two litters per year and with welfare groups (quite rightly) calling for less breeding it’s going to take even longer to see results so why waste money and valuable column inches/web pages repeating such a recent PR-hungry onslaught? There will always be a demand for pedigree breeds of dog for a vast number of reasons so shouldn’t the angle be to promote responsible breeding?

Furthermore by slagging pedigree dogs off again so publically the potential dog owner out there that isn’t in the know (i.e. leafing through the Friday Ad, browsing Gumtree, or walking past his local pet shop) will now be even more easily persuaded by cruel puppy farmers/dealers/adverts and pet shops that pedigree dogs are bad, unhealthy, and that they’ll be much better off buying a cross bred ‘designer’ dog like a maltipoo, cockerpoo, cavapoo instead, i.e. offspring bred in their tens of thousands without any health or temperament tests and then sold on unsocialised and riddled with disease to gullible well-meaning public, potentially needing thousands of pounds worth of treatment, either medically, surgically, behaviourally or all of the above.

Surely a national PR campaign should be targeting irresponsible breeding, i.e. puppy farmers, and point the public towards choosing a dog from rescue shelters, breed rescue, or insisting on seeing the pup with its mum, rather than attacking responsible breeders and as a result driving them into the money-grabbing arms of the irresponsible puppy farm and backyard breeders who are, by the way, excellent at sales and marketing patter so I’m pretty sure this campaign against pedigree dogs would be their best Christmas present yet. Surely the potential for this campaign to backfire massively was obvious but yet still went ahead anyway?

Most of you who know of me will be aware of my anti-puppy farming campaign called Pup Aid. This campaign continues to go from strength to strength every year and successfully educates the public in its path.

Pup Aid’s simple mission statement is to educate by raising awareness of how to choose a dog using music and celebrities to tap into the minds of the mass tabloid demographic that are influenced by TV personalities and the glittery handbag dog owners.

This year’s Pup Aid event in Brighton was extremely successful with thousands of people attending and some big-name celebrities lending their support. Next year’s Pup Aid will be even bigger and better again so watch this space. We also raised a few thousand pounds for rescue dogs whilst raising awareness and I thank my fab team for all their hard unpaid work and total commitment to helping dogs. I also urge all you dog lovers out there to organise similar awareness day events in your area help spread the word.

Above: Pup Aid 2011 (left to right) Patsy Palmer, myself, Jasmine Harman, Louise Harris.

As well as tackling puppy farming from the consumer angle using my media profile I’ve also been busy in Parliament lobbying MPs to raise awareness, stop the sale of puppies in pet shops, as well as being involved in other dog welfare matters including compulsory microchipping.

This really can’t happen soon enough and will mean invaluable traceability to not only puppies and breeders, but also ‘dangerous dogs’, and strays locked up in council pounds that could easily be reunited with their worried owners. Dog friendly MPs I’m working closely with include Helen Grant MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Neil Parish MP and Simon Kirby MP so, once again, watch this space.

We really need the banning of pups sold in pet shops for a number of reasons. Most importantly to help stop puppy farming but nowadays it’s just such an archaic way of selling animals and cannot in any way be justified.

After all what responsible breeder would ever give up her pups to homes and owners they’d never met, interviewed or inspected, or indeed allow their pups to undergo the worst environment during the pup’s golden socialisation period – stuck in a shop behind glass being gawped at by cooing strangers?

We should be following in the States’ footsteps and be holding successful rescue dog adoption days in pet shops and even boycotting buying anything from shops selling puppies.

We can all actively do something to help this dreadful situation that thousands of puppies find themselves in day-in day-out not to mention their poor mothers and fathers stuck in horrific conditions hundreds of miles away in a dark and dingy puppy farm.

Money-making alternatives to selling puppies in pet shops include offering popular services like microchipping, grooming, agility, training, doggy social clubs, non-anaesthetic teeth cleaning, canine massage as well as the more obvious food, bedding, leads and collars, etc; all humane ways to make money and a great way for pet shops to show their clients how much they care about pets – by simply not selling them in the first place.

Sadly towards the end of the year anti-puppy farm campaigners were dealt a double blow.

Firstly the transmission of an ITV primetime show called Super Tiny Animals that shamelessly promoted toy miniature breeds of animals, including dogs, and portrayed them as toys. Just before Christmas. Nice one ITV. Bizarrely I was involved with the show and invited by their production company to be filmed (for free) half a day of serious ‘talking head’ interview to be threaded through the programme discussing irresponsible breeding and promoting animal rescue. Conveniently this was dropped at the last minute giving animals no hope at all.

Three days later, and still well in the run-up to Christmas, a few Manchester United players were photographed by a popular local paper posing with cute fluffy puppies outside a notorious pet shop in Manchester. Now these guys aren’t doing anything wrong as such, but the ramifications and sheer destructive impact on dogs’ lives of their fans’ reaction to seeing their idols promoting buying pet shop pups, i.e. puppy farming, will send a shiver down anyone-in-the-know’s spine, and surely condemn thousands more breeding bitches, stud dogs and puppies to more lives of utter misery, pain and suffering.

Perhaps these players also heard that pedigree dogs were ‘bad’ so asked to be papped holding these ‘designer’ pet shop crossbreeds. See what I mean about the potential for backfiring?

There is also so much canine confusion coming out of Wales – the hotbed of puppy farming in the UK. As well as Welsh animal shelters constantly reminding us of their surplus of unwanted pets, we’re made repeatedly aware of even more massive commercial dog breeding establishments in remote parts of Wales being given planning permission and breeding licences with insufficient numbers of members of staff constantly churning out sick puppies to solely supply pet shops, dealers, etc.

These completely legal puppy farms will never be closed down even though the Welsh Assembly keeps making us feel like they care and that dog welfare is paramount.

In fact, local councillors are so proud of these new business ventures that they actively promote them as role models for other fresh business start-ups. Well, last time I looked at a map, Carmarthenshire was in Wales so please Welsh Assembly – communicate with your member constituencies and councils, and prove to all us dog lovers that you really do care by doing something constructive about this complete and utter mess!

One of the most effective ways to end puppy farming is to educate and stop the demand, and in order to achieve this we all need to work together and pool our skills. Bit like in that famous scene in Gladiator when they lock their shields in the Coliseum and go on to win the battle against all the odds.

We’ve all got our strengths; whether it’s PR, marketing, databases, press contacts, advertising budget, Facebook friends/fans or Twitter followers; and surely if we all joined together and ‘locked our (individual) shields’ we could achieve so much more for our country’s dogs and alot quicker too?

Enough with all the politics and name calling; put your handbags away and let’s just get on with sorting out the real problems rather than all this childish one-upmanship. After all it’s the public that have the responsibility and power to change things now by curbing the demand but they desperately need direction and education – not a bunch of squabbling welfare groups repeatedly churning out mixed messages with the resulting public confusion helping to further line the pockets of puppy farmers and thus ironically and sickeningly increasing animal suffering in the process.

Finally, and on a more positive note, I’d like to thank charities and welfare groups The Mayhew, Oldies Club, Be Puppy Farm Aware, Stop Puppy Farming End Cruelty, Labrador Retriever Rescue South England for all their support this year, and extra special thanks to my Pup Aid team of Stuart, Milton, Annabel and Rebecca – you guys are awesome. I’d also like to give special thanks to Debbie Connolly, Karen Wild, Dougal’s Den, Specsavers, The Kennel Club, Our Dogs, Vet Times, Pet Drugs Online, Pet Plan UK, Pet Plan US, Geoff at ICN, Ebury Publishing, Random House Children’s Publishing and my lovely agent Debbie.

As well as working most days as a vet which I adore, my personal highlights of 2011 include of course Pup Aid 2011, my first book Vet On Call being published, speaking in Parliament for dog welfare, giving seminars at Discover Dogs, judging fun charity dog shows for The Mayhew, Labrador Retriever Rescue, attending the Dogs Trust Honours, hosting the Love Pets Show in Peterborough, presenting an award at Hearing Dogs Awards and being flown to LA as a guest of Pet Plan US to attend the Humane Society of United States Genesis Awards promoting animal welfare in the media, helping the homeless’ dogs with Crisis UK at Christmas, and generally meeting some fab like-minded people who genuinely want to help dogs.

Looking forward into 2012 I hope you’ll all join me once again in supporting Pup Aid, as well as checking out my new children’s book Pets in Need (age 7+ and available from Feb 2nd) and of course my new iPhone/iPad app for dog lovers Canine Care. There are also a few exciting doggy-related TV projects that I’ll tell you about further down the line.

So why not keep up to date with all my goings on right here on my website, follow me on Twitter, and join my Facebook Page, and let’s all work together to help the UK’s dogs as they’ve never needed us more than now.

Thank you for all your support and Happy New Year to you and your dogs!

Marc x

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