Wednesday, 25 March 2015

If you close your eyes to suffering - are you part of the problem?

How this blog is evolving is very different to my initial vision back in January when it started. I wanted to create a place for celebration of Companion Animals and the joy they bring to our lives. 

But the more I write, the more I find that my involvement with companion animals goes a lot deeper – and whilst this blog will still be about the joy they bring, I suppose it has to be balanced with other real world issues regarding these animals that we hold so dear.

Please, please sign Animal Asia's petition

To get some clarification regarding my stance on animal welfare vs. animal rights, please do read this article – I know it’s important for some to have an understanding of this before giving any credence to the following article.


Image © Stop Yulin Dog & Cat Meat Festival

“Fancy some Golden Retriever for dinner, dear?”

Some things are so taboo that it’s hard for many of us to get out our head around. In this case, it’s the act of eating dogs and cats.

I am a vegetarian, but I ate meat for 40 years, and I enjoyed doing so too. In fairness, I can no more condemn the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese people for eating dog, than I can my partner and friends for eating chicken, pork, beef and lamb.

The Yulin Dog Meat Festival - China

This Festival is held every year during the Summer Solstice. 

Up to 10,000 dogs and 4,000 cats are eaten during the festivities.

As there are no animal welfare laws in China (apart from some safeguarding for some wildlife) there is absolutely no regard to where these dogs (and cats) come from, how they get there, or how they are killed.

Image © Stop Yulin Dog & Cat Meat Festival

This festival isn’t an ancient event celebrated throughout centuries. The Yulin Dog Meat Festival is an event that was created in very recent years to help tourism in the area, and its economic development.

Let’s get some perspective

To the Chinese, mostly those of the older generations – dogs weren’t pets. They were there to serve a purpose. To guard; and then, when needed, to eat.

But, as the country evolves and continues its modernisation, so do the people. In fact there’s an estimated 30 million dogs kept as pets in China now.

Our Western culture of course sees eating dog as horrific – how can anyone eat Man’s Best Friend?

It’s very easy for us to judge a whole nation as heartless and barbaric based on the activities of just a section of its society – and if I’m honest, those were my very thoughts before I learned more.

The more I read, the more horrified I was about the whole ‘tradition’. The more sickened I was about how these dogs are captured, transported and killed – and I learned about the many, many people doing all they can to stop it from happening.

Most of them Chinese.



Proponents argue that it is their right to eat dog meat (as others eat pork, beef and chicken, etc.) and, whilst it’s an alien concept to me, something so terrible I can hardly get my head around it – I can accept that argument. If at least there was no cruelty involved.

Thing is, the cruelty involved is in fact beyond many people’s comprehension. The sheer terror and torture these dogs and cats have to endure is indescribable.

And I can’t accept that.

Those who take part in the dog eating activities argue that the dogs (and cats) consumed are farmed on local land; much like we would farm cattle and sheep.

This isn’t true. Several sources claim that there are no dog farms in the local area at all.

“Culture is not an excuse for cruelty”

In order to fulfil the extreme numbers of dogs eaten, many are taken from the streets as strays. Often people’s pets are stolen. Sometimes the dogs are darted with poison, picked up and stuffed into cages too small to hold them. Many are driven for many hours, sometimes days from other provinces, in these cages. No water, and no food. Some suffocate. Some have their bones broken. Some don’t make the journey alive…

…and those are the lucky ones.


Image © Stop Yulin Dog & Cat Meat Festival

“Cruelty in China has reached unprecedented levels.”

When the dogs arrive at their destination – they are battered with sticks, skinned alive, boiled alive and made a spectacle of, before they are eaten. Why such cruelty? Because it is said that this kind of treatment makes for a better eating experience and is good for health.

No, you didn’t read that wrong.

The Yulin Government denies sanction of the festival. They say, as there are no laws to stop it happening, their hands are tied. They have however advised those who butcher the dogs not to do it in public, although this was only bought into force in 2013 after substantial pressure from animal welfarists.

So the dogs are tortured and killed behind closed doors in unlicensed and unregulated slaughterhouses.

Image © Stop Yulin Dog & Cat Meat Festival

I try to put myself in their shoes – the ones who want to keep the right to eat dog (and cat) meat.

Human Rights Vs. Animal Rights

China is a country where the government “justifies human rights abuses as necessary to preserve “social stability”. 

Did you know that results of a  recent survey showed only one in ten young people in China, when shown the ‘Man and the Tank image’ of the Tiananmen Square massacre recognised it? That’s not because of ignorance, it’s because of censorship. As far as the Chinese government is concerned, it didn’t happen.

So, the vast majority of a third of the current Chinese population who were born after 1989 have no idea about it, and older generations don’t speak about it either- seriously, no one wants to get locked up or worse for speaking about the past do they?

The internet is censored. Facebook, Twitter and Youtube is banned. They have their own social network, Weibo (please do read this article that explains about censorship on Weibo), where they can have opinions – but if the government doesn’t like those opinions, they’ll be deleted and the instigator can be jailed.

Imagine that for a moment.

Oppression creates indifference

As a result we might think many Chinese are apathetic to human/animal pain and suffering. When you are not permitted to shout about your own rights, how on earth can you shout for those of the animals?

But they do.


Image © Stop Yulin Dog & Cat Meat Festival

Many Chinese people are dedicated to the cause. Brave people putting themselves at risk to save these animals. The younger generations are also emerging. Many now have their own pets and are beginning to appreciate the very special relationship between man and dog and cat.

So, it’s important to make clear that The Yulin Festival and its horrors is not representative of the Chinese people as a whole. But, the consumption of dog meat is a large part of the local economy. And the Yulin locals are hell-bent on keeping their “tradition” alive.

There are even cases of dog traders abusing the animals in front of activists to extract more money from them. The activists don’t want to see the suffering, and of course buy the dogs off the traders for extortionate prices. It’s all a big money-spinning game to the traders, and heartache for the activists.

But the activists are gaining ground. They are impacting the dog meat market, and some traders last year reported that their sales were down.

Apart from the very obvious issues of extreme cruelty – because these dogs are strays, or stolen – none of them have been tested as ‘fit for human consumption.’ The instances of humans catching diseases such as rabies is a very real concern, in fact China has the 2nd highest rate of rabies infections in humans. Let’s not forget the poisons administered too during the catching of the dogs – all of that goes into the meat, and then into consumer.

Dogs destined for the Yulin market are supposed to have the necessary quarantine paperwork – but checks are only made at the main routes into the area - so traders are free to come and go as they please through the minor roads. Paperwork is very rarely checked stringently anyway; it’s all a bit of a farce.

The very real point of this though is that if all the dogs entering Yulin did have the necessary paperwork, they’d be very few getting through. The cost of the checks needed to receive the paperwork is around £35 per dog, more than the majority of traders can afford. If these regulations were more stringently enforced, less dogs would make it through and therefore, less cruelty endured.

There are two clear sides to the debate – those in China who want to see animal welfare legislation and those who don’t think it right that China take on, what is ostensibly a Western form of thought ‘that animals are sentient beings, can feel emotion and feel pain.’

A ridiculous, preposterous stance – but a stance it is.

Image © Stop Yulin Dog & Cat Meat Festival

Some feel that even with such legislation, it would be impossible to enforce given the widespread animal cruelty that happens in China.

But, everything begins with little steps doesn’t it?

Look at what Animals Asia reported today in fact. There's a rather big step already.

It's going to take a long time to stop the consumption of dog and cat meat in China - but it can be done.

Please, please help the campaign to stop the Yulin Dog and Cat Festival. You can support it via their Twitter page by using the hashtag #StopYulin2015, and find out more through their Facebook page

Help give the animals, and their humans in China a voice.



“A journey of a thousand miles starts with just one step.” ~ Laozi – Chinese Philosopher

Please, please sign Animal Asia's petition

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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Wednesday with Willow - Running Therapy

Hello Willowinas!

It's been a while. I'm still here. Peeing on carpets and annoying Harvey like any good little Sister would.

Actually, to be fair, I am peeing on carpets less and less these days. 

Things are good. I'm doing well. I still get scared of everything, but it's gone from a 10 to maybe a 7 now.

Mum reckons I'm a bit like a tightly wound spring and, because it's not safe to run free at the moment (in case I get spooked) it's difficult for me to get all this energy that messes with my brain-head out. I'm all of a dither, and I get the terrible wind up my bum at about 11pm when I have to run, and do several 'Circuits of Joy' of the house. I'd do more, but Mum's worried about the noise and the neighbours (ruins all my fun she does.)

So she asked if any of her running friends would be happy to run with me.

You see, when I run - like really fast, I forget all the scary. It goes, I don't know where...

As we've discussed before, Mum's not really built for athletics - unless of course it's the Cake Eating Olympics, she'd win that paws down.

But she's been trying. Love her. Running up and down the beach with me in an effort to give my spring a chance to unwind. It's somewhat embarrassing seeing her galumphing down the beach, but you know, 10/10 for effort Mum.

That's when my Auntie Liz stepped in. She said I could go running with her and her dogs.

This is Liz, me and Cocoa the Cocker just behind me - look at all my happy.

I didn't really know what was going on at first. I always walk and run with Mum so it was odd not being with her - I had to stop sometimes to check she was OK.


And - whilst I was busy doing all the running, Harvey took some time to collect stones for when, you know, we get the next stone shortage.

Look at my lovely Harvey

I enjoyed the running lots. But we reckon I needed about 2 more hours of solid sprinting to get all the aaarggghh out. 

There's nothing else for it - Mum's going to have to get her Sally Gunnell on and learn to run for longer than 2 minutes at a time. She's really looking forward to that she told me, with a Custard Cream in her gob.

Lots of you haven't seen me with all my happy before - that's because when I'm out I'm normally hiding. So this is me - the normal 'at home' me. The me without a care in the world.


I'm getting there.

BIG thanks to Lizzie for getting her feet wet for me.


Here's some other things about me - I'm quite famous don'tchaknow.

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Monday, 16 March 2015

Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare

I've obviously been living under a rock for the whole of my life – because it wasn't until recently, during an online debate regarding this article that the issue came up. I've written this I suppose as a reference source for when it comes up again and I can just link to it, it's simpler that way.

I have always had a deep love and respect for animals – and over the past ten years or so, that love has extended to me becoming what I would describe as an Animal Welfare Advocate.

In the article above, I said “Even one dog suffering is one dog too many.”

When the article was posted on a popular canine welfare Facebook Page that one phrase was interpreted by a few as “extremist”.

In fact I was bombarded with:

“"Even one dog suffering is one too many" is a noble sentiment, but it's also the mantra of organizations who would like to see the end of dog ownership, period.”

and

“I detect an ‘animal rights’ gist in it.”

and

“…seen nature lately? While we do not need to be cruel to our domestic animals, there are plenty of things that are routinely done that would most likely bother you - like docking, restraining for vaccination, clipping hooves/nails.... what does twig off your cruelty meter? Do you eat meat? Do you have a problem with a dog on a leash? What is your agenda?”

and

“…I don't like extremism and fairy-tale stupidity informing people on real world issues. This post smacked of an AR agenda and stupid idealism, and oh, guess what, the author is of that ilk.”

Woah! Slow down cowgirl!

I had never once made any real distinction between Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. Rather naïve of me I suppose – but, there’s never been a need. I didn't slot myself into any one category, and I’m far too busy actually getting on with it, to sit and worry about who is and isn't a militant. I’m just a person who gives a shit.

The issue has never arisen with my colleagues either, or my friends – and, as I am not a member of any activist organisation or network, I hadn't really thought about it. I just do what I do.

In that same conversation, I was asked if I am ‘Animal Rights’ – and my response is yes. Yes I am for animal rights - the rights of animals. That doesn't make me an Animal Rights Activist (per se)  I am neither a militant or saboteur  – but I am someone who doesn't want to see animals suffer and do a good deal of work to help lessen the suffering when I can (and happily do it, I’m not looking for praise - let’s just stop that train right there.)

The BBC (for wont of any other place to go) defines Animal Rights activists as those who:

“…believe that it is morally wrong to use or exploit animals in any way and that human beings should not do so.”

It defines Animal Welfarists as those who:

“…believe that it can be morally acceptable for human beings to use or exploit animals, as long as: the suffering of the animals is either eliminated or reduced to the minimum and there is no practicable way of achieving the same end without using animals.”

Well, for the purposes of clarification, I’m neither one nor the other.

I do not believe any animal should suffer for human gain –  but, I’m not opposed to us working with animals to achieve a goal, as long as that animal doesn't suffer.

Yes, that is an idealistic hope – and I’m very well aware it is not possible. But I’d rather set the bar high and work towards it.

However (let’s just run with this example) - had I been around in the First World War; whilst it would have broken my heart to see the horses to suffer as they did, I’m not naïve enough to believe that we would have gotten through that war without them.

I believe that yes, they had rights to be treated fairly, humanely, have shelter, and proper welfare in place – but, when the people weren't getting that either – then there was no hope was there? It sticks in my throat to say it, but of course the horses had to suffer – we needed them.

Do I condone it? Given a choice, no. Do I understand it was necessary? Yes.

And of course I don’t want to see the end of companion animals – what a ludicrous thought! Why on earth would I write a blog called ‘Pet Chronicles’ and claim that it celebrates them, if I thought that companion animals shouldn't be part of daily life?

Yes I do understand there are times when animals do suffer for human gain.

I am not an entire moron!

"Animal welfare celebrates the bond between animals and humans; animal rights wants to sever that bond." 

I think it's pretty clear where I stand on the subject.

So, if you’re here to figure out what my “agenda” is – I'm sorry to disappoint, but there really isn't one. I’m just not clever enough to play games. All I’d like is to see the end of cruelty – for all animals (humans included). I don’t really believe that is achievable, I might have idealist aspirations, but I most definitely live in the real world.
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Sunday, 15 March 2015

End Back Street Breeding - Black and White Sunday - Mother's Day

Today in the UK is Mother's Day - and I wish all you Mums a beautiful day.


I also want to highlight some other Mums who really need our help.

If these images pull you apart as much as they did me - please read on.

End Back Street Breeding

Did you know that around 70 pet shops in the UK still sell puppies? And it's estimated that 1.5 million out of the 9 million dogs in this country are most likely puppy farmed. 
Source: Kennel Club's 2014 PAW Survey.

Half of those who bought puppies never saw the breeding environment, and 41% never saw their new puppy with its Mum before purchasing. Meaning all of those people have no idea where their puppy actually came from.

If you have a puppy and you didn't see it with its Mum or where it was bred, it is possible your dog was puppy farmed - by not doing these things, you could have unwittingly supported back street breeding.

Unlicensed breeders are literally churning out puppies, with no care for their health or well-being to make a quick buck - and we really need to help stop this.

The Mothers live awful lives, often never seeing the light of day. No walking, running or playing on grass or with toys. No love. Many live in squalid and filthy conditions and are forced to produce litters over and over.


What can we do to help?

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home are urging us to contact our MP to ask them to:

1. Ban the sale of puppies under 8 weeks old
2. Introduce required breeding licenses for any household producing two or more litters of puppies per year (currently, the level is set at 5 litters)

You can do this by clicking here (it's just a few clicks, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home have made it a really easy, unfiddly process.)

If you're looking for a puppy to join your family:

- Look at your local rescue centres - there are many puppies and adult dogs, both pedigree and cross breed, looking for homes.

- If you feel you need a non-rescue puppy make sure you search for a reputable breeder. Do not use social media, classified ads, or adverts in shop windows.

- Research the breed that will suit your lifestyle and living conditions. There's a really good short questionnaire here to give you a starting point for research. Start here, then really do your research both online and off. Speak with breeders and other owners to see if it is the right breed for you.

- Be aware that some breeds suffer diseases and illnesses due to their breeding. A good place to learn more about possible issues is the Pedigree Dogs Exposed blog.

- Arrange a meeting with the breeder.

- Make sure you see the puppy with its Mum in the breeding environment.

- Make sure, when you collect your puppy, that it is at least 8 weeks old. It should have its eyes open, have teeth, and be of a general happy disposition. Don't rely on the seller telling you it is - if need be, get a second opinion. It is imperative that a puppy stays with its Mum for those eight weeks before going to its new home.

- Good breeders will insist that if there any problems whatsoever with your puppy, or if you are unable to keep it, that you immediately contact them. This is often written into the sales contract.

And then, love your puppy for always.

Happy Mother's Day to all Mums.

Click here to view more of Andrew McGibbon's beautiful animal photography.
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Thank you to Nola and Sugar for hosting this Blog Hop.





Saturday, 14 March 2015

Review - Anicura Shampoo & Conditioner for Dogs

Please note: All reviews on this blog are my personal opinion. I will always be 100% honest in my findings. I make no financial gain by writing this review.

Whilst Harvey really doesn't mind having a bath, it's probably on the lower end of the List of Things He LikesTo Do - but he needed one, badly: Fox poo, beach detritus, mud and other things he'd collected on his many journeys meant it was time.

This is the look he gave me throughout (can you hear them tiny violins?)


Anicura sent me some samples of their shampoo and conditioner - both are pitched for dogs who have scaly and itchy skin - whilst Harvey doesn't suffer from either, I liked that this formula is made up of natural ingredients and is perfectly OK to use as a general shampoo and conditioner - so we gave them a go:

With some gravy bone bribage Harvey let me know all was OK and we went ahead. 

The main thing I want when I'm bathing the dogs is that I can do it quickly with the least faffage possible.


My first impression was that the bottles are really sturdy. They're thicker and squatter than your average shampoo bottle, so they don't topple and fall into the bath/on the floor - a definite plus point, with no faffing with picking up bottles to get the product out; just put on bath side, pump and you're off. The nozzle is nice and big too which is a bonus.


Next thing was the smell. I'm rather a fan of natural flower oil scents and much prefer them to the clinical/synthetic aromas of other dog shampoos - if my dog is going to smell of anything other than dog, then natural smells'll do me.

The shampoo is very lavendery (said to soothe eczema, be antiseptic and anti-inflammatory). Other natural oils included are; Calendula (anti-bacterial, helps treat infections), Safflower (to condition), Sea Buckthorn (soothing, and gives the coat a shine) and Roman Chamomile (soothing and calming).

The cleansers used in it are derived from coconut oil which is well tolerated by sensitive skin types.


I like a bit of bubble when I shampoo the dogs - a good foam, which this shampoo doesn't give. But, this doesn't mean it's not doing the job - there is no evidence that more bubble = cleaner. In order for me to get the bubble I like, I did use more than was probably necessary.

After application, the product rinsed off beautifully.

On to the conditioner:


The conditioner soaked well into Harvey's curly coat, allowing me to massage him with smooth strokes which he just loves.

It has a more earthy smell with Tea Tree overtones and I was concerned at the use of the Tea Tree in the product.* However, after speaking with Anicura about my concerns, they provided me with more information regarding its concentration within the product, which is 0.2%. Suggested safe levels for products of this type is between 0.1 and 1% and has been found to be beneficial treating fungal infections, skin irritation and as a flea deterrent - many swear by its use for itchiness in dogs.

What I'd like to see included on the ingredients label of both products is the concentration levels of all oils used to help consumers make an informed decision and know they are purchasing a product that is safe to use on their pets.


The conditioner really did condition and I was able to remove most of Harvey's tangles using my fingers whilst rinsing it off.



And, when he dried off, his coat was the most well conditioned it has ever been (not just saying that!)  In fact, Harvey's groomer asked what I'd used, because the clippers "...went through his fur like a hot knife through butter." and she wanted to get some for her dogs.

In conclusion - I was really impressed with both products. Really liked the smell, loved the condition of Harvey's coat and the products have helped substantially with grooming.

You can find out more about Anicura here.

It's a 4 out of 5 star rating for Anicura Shampoo and Conditioner for Dogs.


*Please Note: Tea Tree oil should never been ingested and should only be applied to dogs as a highly diluted solution. Whilst it does have its benefits, Tea Tree toxicity in dogs can cause paralysis and can be fatal if not used correctly. If in doubt, always check with your vet.

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Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Aftermath

The response to Monday's post took me a little by surprise and I felt I must acknowledge some of the feedback I've received, and maybe clarify one or two points made (although I do believe I made my point quite clear over there without having to go back over it.) I'm, let's say, a little exasperated (OK, I'm proper annoyed) about some of the messages I've received (including one threat to be taken to court) So, I'm going to clarify, and then I'm not going to mention the event any more - because, let's just say, you can only bang your head against a brick wall so many times before damaging your brain.

Firstly, I stand by every word I said -  most importantly:

"Even one dog suffering is one dog too many."

Secondly: It wasn't a sweeping statement on all dog exhibitors, which I made very clear - because there are many wonderful dog exhibitors, and I know a lot of them personally and I know they are dedicated to their dogs - but it was a statement about those who clearly do not understand what an absolute privilege it is to own a dog.

Question (asked by several, in varying ways): "Surely you could find something good about the show to write about?"

No. I couldn't. I could not, as a dog lover, come home and sit here and write about other aspects of the show that didn't show cruelty, by turning a blind eye to what I did see and skirt around the issues I witnessed. What sort of person does that make me if I did? Had I not noticed the things I did, then maybe I might have enjoyed the agility, the flyball, the cani-cross, the Friends for Life final, the Scrufts presentation, etc (all the things I wanted to enjoy) and not feel that I'd spent a shed load of money on ferry fares, petrol, parking, food and refreshments, just to go and see [some] dogs get mistreated - something that is abhorrent to me.

However:

My post was not a slating of the Kennel Club. I still hold the opinion that I held before I went, and that is that the KC are doing some good work, like: Investing in research, being more inclusive of non-pedigree dogs, working with rescues, wanting to see changes in legislation about puppy farms, the acquisition of dogs from pet shops, proper and kind training, curbing testing on dogs - there's quite a list. That opinion hasn't changed at all - but, they've some issues to deal with when it comes to their annual dog show - and, as it is indeed their annual dog show, they have to take certain responsibility for what happens there.

My experience showed me that the faults weren't necessarily those of the KC itself, but that of some exhibitors there. (please, please see my use of the word 'some' and remember that I'm saying 'some' and not 'all' - they are very different words with very different meanings, and I really do feel that this was clear in the post, but evidently 'some' didn't think so)  The KC cannot be held responsible for an individual's actions towards their dog...but, they can impose strict rules, not guidelines, rules - proper real maccoy 'You're going to be disqualified and kicked out of the event if you don't abide by them.' kind of rules that are actively enforced by recognisable animal welfare officials circulating the halls, to make it crystal clear to all exhibitors (even though many do not need those rules, because they are essentially good and decent people who respect their animals) what kind of handling, behaviour and attitude is expected during the show.

Some of what I witnessed was archaic, stuck-in-a-rutt rot that needs to be addressed and whizzed into the 21st Century to embrace modern dog ownership. There is a real want in this country for an event that is a true celebration of dogs, not some over-chewed, regurgitated, outdated practise from the late 1800s. An event where we can celebrate our dogs, in all their glory, without [some] garrotting them with cheese-wire-esque leads, yanking them around when they don't 'comply', putting them in tiny crates for hours on end, leaving them alone on benches confused and miserable, making them do things they don't want to do, grooming over and over - all for the glory of a sodding silver cup and a title.

And yes, the KC have a long way to go with breeding standards (which is in fact a joint effort of the judges themselves, the breeders and the KC - so let's not keep passing the buck. Everyone involved has their part to play to make absolutely sure healthy and happy dogs are produced. The onus is on the breeders to ensure they are breeding for health and not looks, and then judges reporting properly any concerns and taking the breed standards set out seriously, and the KC needs to be seen to properly enforce all of that and continually review breed standards to ensure all is well) but, as I said, I'm no expert on this and am not experienced enough or have any qualifications to comment much about it (I plan to work on that) - apart from saying that I don't want to see dogs with so much saggy skin that they get sores in the folds and can't put one leg in front of the other effectively because of said saggy skin. I want to see dogs who can see and who are not in pain because their lashes are growing into their eyeballs - and I want to see dogs who don't struggle walking because someone somewhere said that that 'this' kind of breeding is better than, you know, the one that allows the DOG TO WALK PROPERLY for the whole of their lives. I don't want to see dogs struggling to breathe because their noses have been bred away, or dogs struggling to run because their backs have been bred too long and their legs too short. I don't want to see them kicking up overly long ears, or not be able to give birth naturally, or clean themselves properly because they can't reach their bits - FOR GOODNESS SAKES - and - I don't want to be called a troll when I plead for these humane things, because, by jimminy, if that's trolling, if I'm (and others like me) are really being accused of trolling by asking for a bit of common decency and respect for these animals when it comes to their breeding, then there really is no hope for any of us is there?

And, one last thing - if one more person shouts "You're ruining our sport." I might just poke my own eyeballs out with my own eyelashes: Dog. Showing. Is. Not. A. Sport. It's a hobby (the Kennel Club even says so), it's a pastime that a community of people do together - and it's supposed to be fun for all who participate (and that includes the dogs too.) Let's make that happen, eh?

If you want to come and shout at me some more - I'm over on Facebook and Twitter - or of course you can leave a comment below.

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Monday, 9 March 2015

Five things that made me sad about Crufts

EDIT 12/03/15 : You can read my response to the feedback from this article here.

Over the years I have been very well aware of the negatives associated with Crufts and of course, along with many others, am hugely concerned about breed standards and how some dogs are suffering when bred for looks with health being somewhat disregarded. However, my absolute intention of going to Crufts this year was to highlight some of the positive aspects of the show – alas this wasn’t to be.

I have no experience of the showing world, I’m actually not a fan – that’s just a personal thing and no blight on those who do show responsibly. I was really interested in exploring 'beyond the show ring' though and as I was a mere 8 years old when I last visited Crufts, I believed going this year would give good opportunity to report my honest opinion of what I experienced.

For as long as dogs are bred, there will be dog shows, and many who show their dogs are truly dedicated, principled, caring owners - I witnessed a lot of them over the weekend. I have friends who show, and I know they are dedicated to their dogs and their breeds.  I respect these people – their dogs are beautiful, happy animals who revel in the show environment and great fun is had by all – thing is, that wasn’t something I witnessed across the board.

I was affected so deeply by some of the things I saw that I decided to leave the event a day early and return back home to the Isle of Wight.

There has been discussion on my own personal Facebook page about the show; there are those who passionately defend it, alongside those who just as passionately boycott it, and I welcomed the opportunity to hear both sides.

What was apparent from that discussion was that those who are there to show their animals don’t necessarily see further than the task in hand; showing their dogs. I, in contrast, was able to walk the halls at leisure, revisit areas as and when I wanted to. I had hours and hours to explore and really see what was happening - which, when trying to gather a picture of the ‘whole’ experience, is an advantage over those restricted by showing timetables.

During the same discussion on my Facebook page, it was also pointed out that it would be useless for a miserable dog to be shown – and of course this is true, a dog that truly dislikes being in the show ring isn't going to win prizes – but – I do not lie when I say that there were some really miserable and stressed dogs there that shouldn't have been. One handler even admitted this to me about his own dog after I made the observation that it looked confused, saying – “He has no choice, I want him here.” 

That was when I had to walk away.

But back to it.

On Friday, armed with camera and notebook, I collected my pass and went into the hustle and bustle that is Crufts. Not going to lie, the sheer scale of it overwhelmed me a little, and it took a while to decipher the plans and show lists in the catalogue supplied.

With my plan made, I explored.

First impressions of course from me was “Ohmegawds looks at all the glorious doggies!” The 8 year old me will always charge forth with big fluffy fairy wings when surrounded by dogs. But, after I’d gotten over my initial excitement and gained my composure a little, I began to see deeper and my whole experience went from childlike wonder to real worry for some of the animals involved, which I just couldn't shake off.

As was pointed out to me yesterday, there is good and bad everywhere – and I agree there is – however, when the welfare of animals comes into play there is absolutely no excuse for negligent treatment – at all, full stop. The ‘good and bad’ argument becomes null and void. No dog show, no award is worth the suffering of any animal - and I stand by this opinion.

Alone on the benches

The more I explored, the more I saw things that saddened me – for example, dogs being left alone on benches (the area the dog is designated whilst waiting to go into the show ring).

Jagger, the Red Setter (Edit 16/03/15 Toxicology reports show that Jagger wasn't poisoned at Crufts)

Now, to give a clear perspective (for fear of being shot down; I have already had a lot bun flinging for expressing my opinion), the majority of dogs had their owners/handlers with them – however, many dogs were left alone for long periods of time. On several occasions I did a repeat ‘sweep’ of the hall to see if the dog’s owners had come back an hour or so later and found that many hadn't.  What I couldn't understand was that whilst I was very sure they wouldn't leave their dog tied up outside of a shop, for example – owners were happy to leave their dogs in halls where literally thousands of people are able to walk around freely – able to touch, poke, prod, handle badly and – worst of all, feed these dogs whatever and whenever they pleased. I noticed this on the Friday, only to learn on Sunday morning of the death of Jagger, the beautiful red setter, who had allegedly been killed by being fed meat laced with poison on the Thursday whilst being left “for a short period of time.”

Whose responsibility?

Surely, we as owners, or those who are charged with the responsibility of another person’s dog have a duty of care to supervise these animals for their safety – and heavens forbid a child had unknowingly handled one of these unattended dogs and provoked an uneasy response from them. Who ultimately takes the brunt of that? The dog.  Frankly, if you’re leaving your dog unattended for any period of time during a show such as Crufts, you only have yourself to blame if something happens to them whilst you are away. This cannot be blamed on the Kennel Club, however, there is room for proper regulation by them to ensure, as much as is possible, this kind of tragedy never happens again.

The Crate Issue

I saw many dogs in crates too small for them, and sometimes multiple dogs in one crate which was too small for their needs. The dogs spent hours in these crates and I was really upset at seeing them pressed against the wire.

Whilst I am very sure that there are people designated to look after the general welfare of animals during the event, I didn’t see one person clearly identified (by way of clothing, tabard, etc) operating as such (and I was looking for them). Surely, with animal welfare officials openly circulating during the whole event on behalf of the Kennel Club, incidents such as these would be reduced heavily?

Grooming

The sound of a dog crying out in pain is heartbreaking, especially when that dog is having a comb dragged through its fur whilst it is cowering on a grooming table. What added to my anguish on witnessing this, was the handler shrugging it off,  laughing at me when he noticed I had seen what he’d done. I certainly didn't find it funny, and I'm pretty sure the dog didn't either. The excessive over-grooming of some of these dogs seemed utterly ridiculous to me. No show, no prize or amount of kudos is worth pain.

Handling

I began to count, but stopped after reaching double figures, the number of dogs being jerked harshly by thin conformation leads digging into their skin with some dogs visibly struggling. There is nothing beautiful about seeing a dog having its head held up unnaturally. Some assume that stance happily and easily – others don’t.

Best In Show – Knopa the Scottish Terrier

Of course, there has been a furore on internet dog forums throughout the night and into today regarding the handling of Best in Show Winner Knopa, the Scottish Terrier who was picked up by his tail and neck during judging by its American handler.


Hundreds have complained about the treatment of Knopa, with others defending the handler’s actions. Despite the argument from those who breed Scottish Terriers that they are “bred to have strong tails.” The Kennel Club’s guidelines are very clear:

“Exhibitors are reminded that the Kennel Club believes the practise of picking up dogs, often Terriers, by their tails and leads when lifting them to and from the table during judging is both undesirable and completely unnecessary.”

Many are calling for the handler to be disqualified – the Kennel Club issued a statement during the online debate:

“We want to address the posts we have had regarding the handling of last night’s Scottish Terrier, Knopa. It was made clear to the handler at the show that it is not acceptable to pick a dog up in this way, and despite repeated requests not to do so, she went ahead. The handler is from the USA where it is customary to pick up terriers in this way, but it has no place at Crufts and this is put in writing to all handlers before the show.”

Surely, if she ignored advice, she shouldn’t have gone on to win the competition with her dog?

There are more handling issues that have been highlighted elsewhere, but because I wasn’t witness to them, I won’t go into detail.

Wish List

Many of the dogs seemed to enjoy being in the ring, they loved being around the other dogs and adored the fussing they received – that I cannot deny. But apart from all the very obvious and important aspects breeding and breed standards, which is way out of my remit here; I am not an expert and cannot comment on these things other than express my absolute support of a complete and in-depth overhaul of breed standards – as a layperson who had really hoped to be able to focus on some of the fun positive aspects of the show, only to witness many negatives, my wish list for Crufts would include:

1. Visible Animal Welfare staff wearing appropriate clothing to identify them as such, circulating the event constantly to ensure proper standards are maintained regarding the welfare of all dogs.
2. Banning of all crates not suitable for the size of dogs, and immediate disqualification of handlers who do use these crates. Show over.
3. Less emphasis on repetitive over grooming which can cause pain.
4. Ban on dogs being left alone at the benches. (meaning that each dog being shown is accompanied by at least two people so that comfort breaks, etc. are covered and the dog is never alone.)
5. Rules, not guidelines, written by the Kennel Club regarding safe and proper care in the handling of all dogs, with the absolute assurance that breach will result in disqualification.

In conclusion, many of the issues I experienced at Crufts weren’t the fault of the Kennel Club itself, but lay with a minority of handlers who place their dog’s welfare second to the glory of showing a prize winning dog. This side of the show was not the celebration of dogs as I’d been promised, but an ego feeding exercise from people who really should know better.

Even one dog suffering is one dog too many.

Crufts really needs to make a stand now – lead by example. There is absolutely no point in doing amazing work on one hand, to ruin it all on the other. The Kennel Club needs to put their money where their mouth is; tighten up regulation, move away from archaic activity and embrace modern dog ownership. Work harder on safety and welfare, make absolutely sure that the dogs registered with them are proven healthy and happy just as they promote, by insisting on changes needed in breed standards, and create a real celebration of the wonder of dogs - pedigree and all in between. 

All of this is possible, and within reach with a lot of hard work and dedication, and I’d like to be there when it happens.

You can read my response to the feedback from this article here.

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Thursday, 5 March 2015

Sushi Needs Your Vote

Some of you might remember me posting Sushi's story as written by her Mum, Deborah.

Sushi is very special to me.

She is also a finalist in the 'Perfectly Imperfect' category of the RSPCA's Ruffs Competition - and today is voting day for that category.

Will you vote? (I really, really hope you will)


Voting is open between 10am and 8pm today (5th March 2015) - and is open to all. Votes are counted by the number of likes on each photo in the Perfectly Imperfect album on the RSPCA's Facebook page.

Here is the link to Sushi's photo.

All you need to do is click the link, and then click 'Like'.

Job's done!

Sushi has important work to do highlighting Romanian rescue dogs, many of which suffer terrible experiences that no animal should have to endure. Your vote will help her do that - and you will receive approximately 10 gerjillion universal Brownie Points - that's like loads that is.

So, to recap.

Click here, then click 'Like'.

Thank you.

x

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

What is she?

When I was looking for a dog to adopt it really didn't matter what breed, or mix of breeds it would be - I knew I'd know the dog as if by magics, and that definitely happened when I first saw a photograph of Willow - somehow I just knew she would be mine. So with zero pre-conceived ideas of the kind of dog that would end up joining our family, I really don't care what she is. But...we do have some behaviour issues that, if I knew what was in her make-up, I might have a little insight into how to help her deal with them. If you don't know about some of Willow's worries, take a look here and here, it'll explain a bit more.

I've trained a few dogs in my time, so having a dog that is so unsure of everything has left me with a bit of a conundrum. Of course, this has as much to do with her past experience as it does her breed make-up (probably moreso) so - this research was a bit of fun really and to satisfy my own curiosity. I didn't really believe I'd learn much, other than some things about breeds I hadn't really heard of before. But the journey really did open my eyes, and whilst she might be none of the breeds below, learning about their characteristics has really helped give me a new understanding of Willow and what might be.

Willow is unlike any other dog I've known in many ways

The most beautiful girl ever known ever!

Willow's background

The great thing is that we know Willow's Mum. She lives here in the UK too after being rescued from the Thai Dog Meat Trade. I've met her and Willow is very much like her in many ways - she is a beautiful mixed-breed. We also know her brother and sister. Her brother is almost a carbon copy of their Mum in looks, and her Sister is very much like Willow in body type, but not in colouring.

Willow and her Sister Hetty meeting for the first time since arriving in the UK. Hetty was far more welcoming than Willow - whose aloof  stance was actually because she was fearful of the new surroundings.

I could go down the road of having her DNA analysed I suppose - but, having researched many breeds, I'm in a much better place to begin to understand Willow's quirks I think. She shares so many traits with a certain 'type' of dog, the very old breeds such as the Basenji and some of the native/Pariah dogs of Asia which of course fits with her geographical beginnings. If my hunch is correct, then a DNA test is unlikely to show any of these breeds anyway, due to the limited number of breeds on the DNA database.

Some of Willow's quirks are:

  • Singing. Whilst she does bark also, her main form of 'conversation' is what some might call moaning! Willow has the voice of a [drunken and psychotic] opera singer and she uses it often.
  • Cat-like in the way she sits, and uses her paws in play and grooming.
  • Head flicks when in an excitable state - something I've never seen before in any other dog
  • Totally independent - will do what she wants when she wants to. 
  • Frown lines - she looks worried even when she's not!
  • Incredibly gentle, even when in a state of dreadful fear. 
  • Very attached to her own 'pack'. Fearful and untrusting of strangers.
  • Using her paws like hands. She actually holds things as if she had fingers and will open doors by grasping the handle (not just flicking it, but holding on to it and opening the door itself)
  • An expressive tail, it's almost snake like! It twists and turns in all sorts of shapes, and, when happy, it falls into a sickle shape (unlike her Mum, Brother and Sister who all have a coiled tail.)
So what could she be? What breeds make up this beautiful creature? (The following is of course speculation and without DNA analysis there really is no way to really know.)


Shibu Inu

I often get asked if Willow is part Shibu Inu - I can certainly see how people might think she is - and she definitely shares many of the Shibu Inu characteristics.

 Shibu Inu. Imaged used under CC license. Credit: Roberto Vasarri


She has the urajiro markings (underside white) of the SU – but she’s much smaller and slenderer and doesn't have that thick coat. She shares the sickle tail though and those beautiful eyes. The Shibu also screams, and of course Willow loves the sound of her own voice. Shibu’s are also a very old breed, with independent thinking, much the same as many Pariah Dogs…so the similarities aren’t few.

The Basenji


I've no doubt that Willow has a lot of primitive dog traits in her – those of the Pariah type, which are some of the oldest breeds known. Many breeds share Pariah similarities, such as the Basenji – and even with very little knowledge of the breed itself, I would hedge a bet that there’s definitely Basenji in Willow's blood somewhere.

Basenji’s don’t bark – Willow does - but she also has the scream of a Banshee that will send your blood cold, and it happens mostly when she’s happy, or if she’s trying to find a hiding place for a toy or treat. The Basenji is a bit of a primper, it likes to be clean - this is very much like Willow. The Basenji is described as catlike, much like Willow too; she sits like a cat and uses her paws in play just like a cat. Basenjis are also renowned escape artists, and have been known to climb chain link fences - we all know that Willow ‘Steve-McQueen’ Wade's capable of that too!

Basenji’s are known as freethinkers – and in one study were said to be the 2nd least trainable dog - that’s definitely my Willow - she’ll do what she wants when she wants to (although is very rarely badly behaved). The Basenji also ‘meerkats’ (walks on their hind legs with paws in the air) – and Willow does a lot of that too. 

Image used under CC licence. Credit Ibethagreatone

One of the Basenji's physical characteristics are their frown lines - they aren't a sign of worry, just part of their look.

Willow's Frown

The Telomian


When I looked at a picture of the Telomian, I immediately saw similarities to Willow (the frown lines, the ears and eyes), but even moreso with Willow’s sister, Hetty -  because of the colouring. 

Telomians are a native dog of Malaysia. If not socialised they are known to be very shy of people, and find it incredibly hard to adapt to new situations. An added trait is that they use their paws just like hands. One example is how they adapted to their people building houses on stilts to protect them from ground level predators; the Telomian learned how to climb ladders to be with their human pack. Of course, the 'hand' thing is another endearing quirk of Willow’s - she has incredible paws, she can open doors by gripping the handle and when she's climbing (on furniture) she'll grasp hold of it as if she has fingers. She also holds her toys and chews with human-like dexterity. 

The Telomian is a close cousin to the New Guinea Singing Dog and Dingo - two more canines that I found had similar 'Willow quirks'. This breed is also thought by some cynologists (people who study canines) to be the missing link between the Dingo and the Basenji (curiouser and curiouser!)

Those clever paws


The New Guinea Singing Dog (NGSD)


Out of all the breeds I've researched there's one that, if I didn't know better, I'd swear Willow was: The New Guinea Singing Dog. Everything I read about them was as if someone had written an entire description of Willow and her behaviour.

Of course, one of the things that give the dog its name is its ‘singing’- we know that matches.

A unique trait though of the New Guinea Singing Dog is their head toss – a behaviour that was in all NGSDs observed by Tim Flannery in his 1988 report on the breed. This is something Willow does daily and often. It’s not something I've seen before in any dog, it is rare, and I find it incredibly endearing.

The NGSD is described as “strangely cat-like” which if course is a Willow thing too.

They are "extraordinarily shy", avoiding any contact with humans - but are, on the flip-side of that, extremely gentle when they are with people – one report stating they had never heard of any case of a NGSD biting. This is something that has always surprised me with Willow, her gentleness is incredible and even in her most fearful states; her biggest meltdowns, when many dogs would feel the need to snap - Willow has never ever shown any sign of aggression at all. She of course likes no one near her but her immediate human pack.

The NGSD are also notorious escape artists, able to climb fences and dig – similar to the Basenji and Willow.

One of the very noticeable things I've found with Willow is her love of forests – she panics on beaches and in streets, she doesn't like parks either but is in her element amongst trees (much like me) – the NGSD comes from a coniferous, mossy forest habitat.

Thai Dingo

Australian Dingo - I couldn't find a usable by license picture of the Thai Dingo, also known as the 'Thai Dog' - but they are almost identical apart from being smaller in stature. Image used under CC license. Credit Jarrod Amoore.

Now, obviously, the Thai Dingo (also known as simply the 'Thai Dog') shares the same geographical origins as Willow and could indeed be part of her blood line somewhere –  she certainly looks very much like one. 

The Thai Dingo is closely related to the New Guinea Singing Dog and the Telomian, some experts believe that the Thai Dingo and the Australian Dingo are taxonomically identical (the Australian Dingo, some believe, having originated from Asia). Although they do have some physical differences, such as size (the Thai Dingo is smaller). The Australian Dingo is seen as a predator, whereas the Thai Dingo is seen as a mongrel dog that lives a stray life on the streets of Thailand.

When I look at a picture of an Australian Dingo – it has Willow written all over it.

So, in conclusion, I can only believe that whilst a lot of Willow's behaviour is due to lack of early socialisation, there must also be some behaviour which is fundamentally genetic. Her traits and quirks (being catlike, head flick, use of paws, 'singing', etc) connect so closely with the dogs above (beyond any other breed I looked at) and with 3 out of 5 of the breeds being genetically related (which I hadn't known until after I'd researched each individually), and one (the Telomian) thought to be the 'missing link' to the fourth dog (Basenji) it seems there could very well be a connection. 

Does it really matter? No - not at all. Has it helped me understand Willow more? Yes, I think it has. What is evident is that Willow comes from a mixed bag of ancient breeds - robust, clever, independent, and utterly beautiful dogs (I knew that last bit already). 

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