Crufts, Siberian Huskies and Pyrenean Mountain Dogs
It was great to see that the Kennel Club are attempting to embrace breed club rescue , by giving a selected few space at Crufts there was the opportunity to reach out to the dog hungry visitor and show another side of owning and caring for pedigree dogs.
So what are the problems faced by breed rescues? Each breed certainly shares the same issues such as assessing the individual, matching the dog’s needs to a forever home and coping with a large geographical spread, but every breed has special considerations beyond that. For instance the average age of a Papillion coming into rescue is six, it’s as well to look this particular gift dog in the mouth as often extensive dental work has to be undertaken before the little dog is ready for a new home. The good news for this breed is the waiting list of potential owners out strips the available dogs, a rarity. The opposite end of the scale for Siberian Husky Welfare, the rebel without a clue phase hits this active breed at about nine to eighteen months and suddenly the dog has to be out of the owner’s house yesterday!
The wrong home to start with certainly, but anyone who has bred a litter knows that however careful your enquiries when someone first approaches you for a puppy, we can all be fooled. In Siberian Huskies at least it seems a large number of breeders are acting responsibly, if they don’t have room to take a dog back they will at least offer financial support. However, for the dogs that arrive in rescue bought from Puppy Farms, both in the UK and from Eire there is little hope for even a return call never mind a donation from the wad of money that changed hands such a short time ago. Siberian Husky Welfare asks for proof of Kennel Club registration when they are asked to take a dog in. I asked Tessa Wakeling of Siberian Husky Welfare if this meant that Huskies without paperwork would be denied a place in rescue, she explained with a wry smile that the sheer numbers of dogs waiting to come into welfare was almost overwhelming, that every rescue makes some attempt at a filter to use their limited resources in the best way possible but in the case of a Husky in real need rules are there to be challenged, given the right circumstances.
For breeds such as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog a whole new set of problems have to be tackled by their welfare organisations, this magnificent breed comes into rescue at all ages, poor diet in a young dog can affect growth of course and while we all scratch our heads and wonder what on earth were the owners thinking about when they made that not inconsiderable initial outlay only to scrimp on nutrition to the lifelong detriment of this beautiful dog, the rescue picks up the pieces. At the other end of his life , as we all know, the older the dog , the more we pay towards our Vets holiday fund, add to this the bigger the dog the bigger the bill and you can guess at the cost of a giant breed beyond the age of six coming into rescue. Re-homing an older dog is undoubtedly more difficult, I have a genuine regard for those who take on a middle aged dog, we can waffle about the glory of autumn years but the day to day care of an older dog takes dedication and a special sort of person to welcome an elderly dog into the home knowing their stay will be brief.
So why do PMD’s come into rescue? The economy plays it’s part here both as a fact and as an excuse, with many insurers refusing to cover a giant breed beyond a certain age for Veterinary cover the hard reality of a sick dog is too much for financially stretched families to cope with, even the end of that dog’s life will see a sizeable bill for euthanasia and disposal of the body. Sadly there are those that use their perceived financial state as an excuse, heartlessly there are prepared to give up their dog as it becomes less active, perhaps incontinent and certainly less appealing than a bright, new puppy. For those people, there is little hope of education; they are the ideal customers of the puppy mills.
There simply is not enough money to go around in many breed rescues. Although Rottweiler Welfare were not invited to the Crufts display this year, it is a breed close to my heart and perhaps one of the breeds that needs more exposure to get the true facts out there. They struggle to keep ahead of the game, frustrated that they have to turn away so many dogs that would clearly benefit from specialised care, the balance between working as a rescue and becoming a sanctuary due to lack of suitable homes, constantly under scrutiny. It’s almost impossible to trace the breeders in the case of a Rottweiler coming into rescue, in general rescue I have seen many who are recognisable as a Rottweiler but of such poor conformation that my instinct is to presume that several generations have been bred with disregard for the standard but with an eye to the money for a cute puppy.
It’s not just make and shape that suffer in this scenario; the potential for dogs of uncertain temperament is a real danger. A degree of feistiness in a West Highland Terrier would perhaps be tolerated but be completely unacceptable in a powerful Rottweiler even though the terrier’s prime function was seeking and dispatching and the Rottweiler , herding, the public perception is built on what they see and not what they know. Careful assessment by breed specialists is time consuming and ultimately costly but is the only way to ensure that permanent homes can be found and dogs safely re-homed, you might be surprised to know that not every rescue is as meticulous. It’s time to applaud those who spend so much time and effort getting it right for their rescue , by establishing a standard of care across the welfare board we can bring a level of trust , encouraging more folk to come forward and offer homes . I feel too many breed clubs are treating their rescues as poor relations , tagged on to the end of a meeting instead of realising that the future of the breed depends on how they deal with the fall out from living in a throw away society.
Picture courtesy of Rottweiler Welfare, please click on the picture to go to their site and see the lovely dogs in their care
Freedom Project and Foster Care
I love it when I hear a good news story about a rescue dog so I was delighted to hear from Carolyn Roberts from Ireland about her drop dead gorgeous Pyrenean Mountain Dog , Bekah. It is a story of being in the right place at the right time. Five years ago Carolyn first heard about Bekah, she was a year old and she had already been through two homes. The outlook for dogs found or given up to the Dog Warden in Ireland is uncertain, without a receiving rescue for the overflow of sheer numbers. A grace period of 8 days is given before destruction. The ISPCA say “Ireland has five times more stray dogs than the UK. The chances of a dog becoming a stray and ending up destroyed is 20 times greater for a dog in Ireland than it is for a dog in the UK. There is an overpopulation crises and the ongoing annual destruction of 25,000 - 30,000 dogs in Irish pounds is a result of this crisis”. However this particular Dog Warden could see what a terrible shame it would be to destroy this lovely creature, just at the start of her life. He set out to contact someone who could give him advice and help re-home Bekah safely. Carolyn took the ‘phone call and was soon on her way to collect the dog that would have such an impact on her and her family. It was of course love at first sight for Carolyn and Bekah came to stay, her forever home. The Dog Warden approached the first owner who had only kept Bekah a matter of weeks and asked for her IKC registration papers which were gladly given and Carolyn was legally the proud owner of a sizeable rescue. The crowning finale to this story is that Bekah also known as Ch, CIB Monksgrange Musica proudly carries the title of Annual Champion for 2010. For Carolyn it wouldn’t have mattered if she was as ugly as sin, she would still have been adored as she says “She is a fabulous friend and companion and the original owners don't know what they have missed.”
Domestic violence affects one in four women in the UK and the fall out from an abusive relationship includes the pets caught up in that whirlpool of hurt. In general rescue many dogs come in, often as emergency status, from stricken individuals who suddenly realise that either the situation has to change drastically and they seek shelter or they leave themselves in the firing line but ship their pets and/or their children out and take it a step at a time. Anyone who loves their animals can only begin to understand this terrible wrench away from, possibly the only living thing that has shown the abused person comfort and companionship. The Dogs Trust recognised the need for Foster Care of these loved pets, six years ago the Cats Protection League came onboard and now they can offer a lifeline to those who so desperately need help through a traumatic period of their life, they named it Freedom.
Clare Kivlehan, Freedom Project Manager, explains why the project was set up:“Unfortunately women often remain in a violent situation as they fear their partner will deliberately harm their pet if they leave; it can come down to making the choice between your own safety and that of your pet. The Freedom Project allows women in this terrible situation to know that their beloved pet will be cared for so they can escape the violent household and set up a new life.” Since the project was set up over 900 animals have been helped, their referrals come both directly from the public and from organizations such as Refuge and Social Services Departments throughout the UK. In that position, as a refugee from violence I’m sure the safety of all you love is the most important thing in your life and knowing that anonymity and regular updates are there for you must be a huge relief. Foster Carers are so very precious to every animal rescue and for the Freedom project they are the backbone. So many breed rescues rely on those offering foster care too, it’s often the governing reason for restricting the numbers coming into rescue.
Long term foster care is sometimes the only option apart from destruction for many dogs, illness or behavioural problems mean that a lifetime in kennels is unacceptable but that a permanent home would be as rare as rocking horse rose fertilizer. Offering foster care in these situations is a huge commitment but luckily people do come forward for the love of the breed and of dogs. If this resource dries up the number of dogs euthanased would certainly increase, leaving it very difficult for anyone to be proud of their rescue. I’d like to urge you to consider short or long term foster caring, it’s not all doom and gloom. You may find that the pleasure of offering a helping hand and giving something back to your breed is more satisfying than ribbons or certificates and your experience and expertise is appreciated. Give it a go!
Older Dogs in Rescue
Is there anything more saddening than a young puppy in rescue? For me, yes there is, an old dog in rescue plucks at my conscience and heartstrings as I think about the possible events that have brought him to that place. It is a shameful fact of our times that age is no longer revered in humans or animals, a culture where youth and the appearance of youthfulness is prized is a society that has missed the reality that life is a terminal process. Growing old cannot be guaranteed but if we are privileged to age then our needs change but like dogs we are still the puppy beneath the layers. Granny dumping has become common place and the canine equivalent almost a tradition for some families. It’s interesting that the reasons given for both are so similar, including the fabrication of medical conditions that mean the responsibility can be passed on to someone else. As Easter approaches families are already making themselves ready to dispose of their older members of the family, human, dog or cat, to allow them selves to “enjoy” their holiday time with no worries.
Humans share so many of the signs of ageing with our animal companions, we start to smell “old”, we may become incontinent, we are less sure of our physical ability and are slower in movement - In caring for a relative or a dog you love, these things matter very little, but for some these are the irritations that send them scurrying to the NHS or the nearest rescue in order to unburden themselves. At least there is an option for legal euthanasia for a dog and yet many of the dumpers choose not to take this option , but that’s because they haven’t thought what will happen to their dog after they leave him in someone else’s care or if they have given it any brain cell time, their compassion was absent that day. This isn’t an attack on all those who do make the choice to have their older dog put to sleep, I think we all know that moment when our old companion has had enough, a decision based on what is the best for your dog is always a difficult one but one made out of respect and love, that is the ultimate responsibility. There are many other reasons why an older dog comes into rescue of course, bereavement or genuine life changes for their owners do mean that the dogs suddenly have to cope with an abrupt change in physical situation and carers. The noisy kennels and hard floors can come as a mighty shock to the elderly dog, the ageing process is often accelerated by this environment as the dog struggles with his new world.
Older dogs shouldn’t be so difficult to home when you look at the facts, they can offer so much, they often need less training and are more appreciative of cuddle time on the sofa than a busy youngster, and there is often extensive history. One comment I hear when an veteran dog is being considered is “…well, we want a dog that is going to be with us for a long time” , it’s my opinion that no matter how long you have a dog, it’s never long enough! As Carlotta Monterey O’Neill said “Dogs lives are too short, their only fault, really”. Without the advantage of a working crystal ball our future and the life span of our dogs in unknown, we are not given old age as a certainty. In 2005 a group of people met in an internet dog related chat forum, they shared a concern about the number of old dogs in rescue and the Oldies Club (www.oldies.org.uk) was formed. From this small beginning the group has grown as they have successfully re-homed or placed in foster care an astounding 3688 dogs! The dogs come from general rescue, breed rescue and directly into the care of the Oldies Club. The only stipulation is the dogs must be seven years or over, the Oldies Club will then advertise that dog on their impressive website with the contact details of the rescue the dog is with. The site offers lots of sensible advice about choice of breed or type as well as lots of tips for living with an older dog. This is a great resource for breed rescue as the site attracts foster carers as well as returning potential owners who know the value of a pre-loved dog.
Alice the Springer Spaniel puppy certainly landed on her feet when she was offered for adoption from the Blue Cross Rescue Centre in Oxfordshire. Alice needed special care and an extraordinary home because she is deaf, now this is where the story could go badly for Alice but a couple were browsing the internet that day who were about to change Alice’s fortune. Marie Williams and partner Mark Morgan are both deaf and when they saw Alice they fell for her instantly. Alice is now being taught by sign language by the couple and their three children at their home in Essex
Deaf dogs are often written off as being difficult to train and never being able to be let off the lead, this simply isn’t true, as an owner you need imagination and effort but remember this is only one sense that is missing and dogs are adaptable and quick to learn as long as the training is consistent. I’d like to think that Alice has found her perfect home with real experts, knowledge and compassion, a life changing mix for Alice.
Picture courtesy of Oldies Club, please click on the picture to go to their website and see the other oldies who need forever homes
Greyhounds to China?
The controversy still rages following the Grand National and the loss of two good horses on the day and the dreadful cost in equine flesh of such a spectacle. Whether you are for or against surely any right minded person would take time to question our right to ask so much of those animals, entertainment it may be but like greyhound racing, the wastage is horrendous. The Irish Greyhound Board (Bord na gCon) are investigating the possibility of sending dogs to China amid worldwide protest, the latest was outside the Irish Embassy in London on April the 9th.
Over 75 per cent of Greyhounds raced in the UK are produced in the south of Ireland and because of the demise of interest in greyhound racing an alternative market is being sought. Organised Greyhound racing began here in 1926 when the first purpose built track was constructed in Manchester , the Belle Vu Stadium was the start of stadia built all over the UK. In a few years greyhound racing was at it’s height with 111 Tracks , now the figure is 27 with 1 in Scotland and yet the number of dogs produced in Ireland to service the demand still tops ten thousand dogs a year. So are they considering sending top class dogs to race at prestigious tracks in China? No, it’s about numbers, dogs that have a few months or years racing left in them would be the dogs to send, Spain used to be the country of choice for these animals until Spain decided to make the “sport” illegal and closed all tracks. The abuse of the Spanish Greyhound, the Galgos, still continue, more of that another time
If the Irish Government in the form of the Ministry of Agriculture decided to back this project the future for Greyhounds sent out to China would be bleak. China does not have a good reputation for animal management, in fact their way of dealing with stray dogs who pose a rabies threat or archaic dog-management regulations that do not allow dogs of certain sizes and breeds into public areas is an on street cull, the dogs are destroyed by the most brutal means often in full public view, 37,000 dogs were clubbed to death in Hanzhong not so long ago. The places where this ghastly practise occur tend to be the biggest “dogs produced for meat “ areas, but any unattended dog is attacked and destroyed during this bloody slaughter .The Chinese authorities have no concept of dog rescue , their existing policies are about detainment and destruction to protect the citizens but there are welfare organisations such as the Humane Society working hard to change their minds and show them a better way to ensure that security without the barbaric cruelty that continues.
If greyhounds were exported to China to race, there is no safety net in place at any stage of their existence. At the finish of their usefulness and as a comparatively young dog, their life ends abruptly. The quality of life would be questionable at best and the ultimate destruction sickening.
In the UK there are Greyhound rescue organisations up and down the country, getting folk interested in a 30mph couch potato is not the easiest of tasks but they are regularly successful through hard work and education in re-homing a large proportion of the dogs in their care. Grey hounds most certainly do make fabulous pets and it’s a tribute to their usual gentle nature that many can adapt so quickly to a domestic situation. These welfare organisations are mostly concerned with dogs retired from racing but what about the dogs that never make it to the track?
It’s estimated that eight thousand dogs a year will be killed before they have a chance to race according to Greyhound Action. Looking at the average litter size of 5.5 of dogs registered in Ireland it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that several of the litter are not being named or they have terrible fertility issues. As the pups grow further dogs are removed from training due to injury or just not being fast enough, if those breeders and owners gave them up to rescue instead of disposing of them privately the rescue societies both here and in Ireland would be swamped, the logistics of the care of hundreds of side lined Greyhounds would be impossible for rescues already stretched to their limits by the continuing dumping of the companion dog. In this multi million pound industry you would expect a considerable conscience salving figure to be donated by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain and yes, they certainly support the Retired Greyhound Trust to the tune of £1.7 million. They also assist with veterinary attendance at race meetings, cough up for track safety improvements and supply grants to trainers to improve their facilities. The hidden figures of dogs that never made it to chase the fake hare remain , their existence a simple case of supply and demand, their deaths an acceptable fact to the industry , while we have the nerve to call ourselves a civilized society.
If you have any stories or comments to make regarding rescue I’d love to hear them email@example.com
Temperament and Tempering
I’m constantly surprised at how little bad temper dogs display when they come into rescue. You would think that with all the changes and upheaval they would display obvious distress and anxiety and yet time and again these unfortunate souls accept their circumstances with curiosity and a hopeful interest.
The exceptions therefore stand out, kennel guarding is a behaviour which is frightening to kennel staff and could ultimately result in the dog’s destruction as he is marked down as aggressive and difficult to handle. The reason a dog starts to guard his kennel or crate is easy to explain, the need to feel secure in his territory becomes his focus, it is natural for our wolf cousins to have a place they can rest in safety, I have found that dogs who habitually kennel guard often mark their beds more by urination and are inclined to sleep tightly curled up, all signs of insecurity in this instance. Life in a boarding or rescue kennels can activate this behaviour, first the dog is nervous and shows the first warning signs of “no entry”, he lowers his head, his body becomes hunched and he works himself up to a bark as a member of staff walks by. To the dog he has scared off the intruder as the person carries on walking and the behaviour has now the potential to become a habit. The next time, the dog feels a little more confident, he may now stand rigid with his tail straight and eyeball the door, as the member of staff walks by again the dog rushes the door with a bark. Success! He’s scared off the threat again, and so the behaviour escalates. He may try the same technique when someone enters his kennel, it is likely that a hasty retreat is beaten by the terrified staff member and yet again the dog has succeeded in his defence of his territory, he’ll probably celebrate with a grumble and a wee in his bed!
How to overcome this dog’s insecurity and keep yourself safe? I would suggest firstly that if you are not sure you can handle this, don’t even try. A bungled attempt is worse than no attempt as the dog is in a heightened state of awareness and his future depends upon your actions. Your safety must come first, never try to make contact with a fearful or aggressive dog by yourself, make sure someone knows where you are and even if they stay out of sight make sure they are within hearing range. If you are calm and assertive a nervous dog will respond by offering different behaviour to the “get off of my cloud” he had been showing Direct eye contact should be avoided as the twitchy dog may interpret this as a challenge but a quiet confidence and a consistent approach will, in most cases, reap rewards. By leaving toys in the kennel or crate you are encouraging the dog to be possessive, as well as the possibility of the dog ingesting that cute little fluffy toy or rubber ball, the result of which could be tragic. Much better to use toys and treats as tools to help you gain his confidence. When you use these items with a dog inclined to kennel guard you have to be sure that you’re sending the right signals to the dog. They are YOUR treats and toys and only by appropriate behaviour will he get his teeth on them, always ask the dog to earn his treat. A simple sit or an approach without aggression from the dog should be instantly rewarded. By establishing who has control, the dog will back down from his need to guard and happily relinquish his dominant behaviour. There is no place for gung ho tactics and wrestling the dog to the floor, it will most certainly “teach the dog a lesson, the lesson being, you have to be quicker and fight harder. Macho techniques and eyeballing a dog in this situation aggressively will not work, it just increases the fear and therefore the fuse is lit for possible attack. Sadly the opposite is pretty useless too, allowing the dog to chose how he uses his kennel space and on exercise just playing by his rules results in the potential for disaster and certainly less hope of re-homing that dog safely. Take your time and keep relaxed, remember dogs like to follow a confident leader and he’s probably just waiting for that opportunity to do the right thing.
The dreadful devastation of the Japanese earthquake and resulting tsunami has shocked the world. The human death toll still rises and we have no idea how many pets were killed by the utter havoc of those few short hours. Out of this horrendous chaos comes a good news story. A small dog was first spotted by Coastguards in a helicopter about a mile from the coast of Kesennuma in the north-east. The brindle crossbreed was balanced on the debris that still litters the coastline; it seems this dog had survived three weeks out at sea! Coastguards spent several hours gently coaxing the dog to come to them before he was finally caught and hauled onto the rescue boat and taken to dry land. As I watched the video of this extraordinary rescue I was again impressed at the level of trust of this frightened dog, within minutes he was accepting food, licking the hands of his rescuers and even managed a shy wag of his tail. I wonder what the Japanese for lucky is?
If you have any stories or comments to make regarding rescue I’d love to hear them firstname.lastname@example.org
Where there's a Will, there's a way
Have you made a will? Or are you one of those suspicious people who believe it will encourage the grim reaper to help you shuffle off your mortal coil before you’re ready? The thing is, if you have animals who are dependant on you it does make sense, who will be there for them when you’ve gone. Maybe now is the time to look at your breed rescue and ask yourself if they would be able to cope and more importantly make a good job of looking after your beasties when you no longer can. Many breeders and owners of pedigree dogs have no idea how good their breed rescue is, sure they may support it with an extra fiver on the entry for the Champ show but as to the running and efficacy of the rescue, most don’t have a clue. .
It’s true that if it’s not broken why mend it but times and the needs of pedigree dogs are changing and I fear many breed rescues are still dragging their heels when it comes to effective re-homing. For instance, do you know if your rescue neuters the dogs they re-home, do they pass on Kennel Club registrations and do they ensure the dog is up to date with vaccinations? All of these are contentious points and that’s before the dog is found a suitable home! There are so many areas that a badly run rescue can make a mistake that will impact on the dog, the assessment of temperament made by an inexperienced but well meaning soul can mean the dog is paired to a totally unsuitable environment and his journey will be downhill from then on. The only way to ensure your breed rescue does what it says on their collecting tins is to ask, find out what the policies are and if they have been upheld. Well run, competent rescues will welcome the interest, the others , in my opinion , need a good shake up to realise how much depends on their ability to cope in the future. There is plenty of help and advice out there for breed rescues; it may be that changing to a Charity status would be of advantage for them both financially and from the point of view of public perception. Which brings us back to making a will, hundreds of people leave money to Charities every year, for many it gives a much needed boost to the usual income of monthly support and fundraising events.
One of the Animal charities I have plenty of time for is the Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals; it was established by an extraordinary woman of her time, Maria Dickin. She opened her free 'dispensary' in a Whitechapel basement on Saturday 17th November 1917. London’s East End was in the grip of terrible poverty, humans and animals in desperate need of care, both abused by the harsh reality of life. Her dispensary was an immediate success, so much so that it ruffled the feathers of the establishment in the form of the Royal College. In 1937 she was forced to defend PDSA in a letter to the RC, she said : 'If you are so concerned about proper treatment of the sick animals of the poor, open your own dispensaries ... Show owners how to care for their animals in sickness and health. Do the same work that we are doing. Instead of spending your energy and time hindering us, spend it dealing with this mass misery.' I can imagine the reaction that caused, can’t you!
In 1921 this amazing woman had converted a gypsy caravan into a horse-drawn clinic and, accompanied by a veterinary surgeon, travelled all over Britain treating animals and setting up clinics along the way. By 1923 there were 16 PDSA dispensaries and Maria had designed a motor caravan dispensary. She had also opened her first dispensary overseas in Tangiers. The support and care that this charity offer to those who are unable to meet spiraling veterinary costs is as relevant today, In 2011 the PDSA has seen a 50% increase in pet patients for it’s services nationally over five years. That’s 120.000 more patients, an astounding figure. This year more than 400,000 pets will receive treatment at the PDSA hospitals. What is the cost of this care by the PDSA, well, in 2010 those services cost more than £50 million, but to meet the growing need more hospitals have to be built, replacing the outdated facilities. Three sites have been chosen, based on the increased demand for care in these areas: Birmingham Cardiff and Plymouth. Six million sounds like vast amount of money but think how much the cost would be in life if those animals were not treated.
Without the care offered at these centre’s we would certainly see more dogs coming into breed and general rescue, when Maria Dickin began her work her critics told her that 'The poor don't have any sick animals and if they did they would not bring them for treatment', sounds as if the political critics were as street wise then as they are now! Of course there is a cost in owning a pet, but do we become a nation that only allows companion animals for the wealthy? If we did I think most of us would fail the means test necessary for an accident prone dog! Keeping healthy animals in their homes by way of free Veterinary care is as important to the rescue world as all the work that goes on to re-home abandoned dogs. It’s not a hand out to the benefit scroungers, it’s enabling people who care about their animals to continue to have them as companions, exactly the same principle that Maria Dickin stood by all those years ago.
If you have any stories or comments to make regarding rescue I’d love to hear them email@example.com
Staffordshire Bull Terriers in the Front Line of Abuse
All over the country there are hot spots of what a sociologist would call deprived areas of poverty and a self fulfilling prophecy of poor achievement and further degradation, for all those who accept and rescue dogs from these streets, they see the sociologist isn’t the one picking up the end result of abuse! Neither is there any change to these no go ghetto’s as far as reducing the number of dogs streaming into rescue. I’m not smart enough to come up with the political equivalent to a wave of the magic wand but I do think that the doggy doo will have to reach the hallowed steps of Whitehall before any kind of realistic action is taken, meanwhile Stafford’s are being killed daily just to make room for the next batch waiting at the gates. I spoke to Barbara Green of Staffordshire Bull Terrier Rescue, she was sad to report that last year she could only find suitable homes for 26 dogs, in previous years she has celebrated over 180 finding homes in a twelve month period, the demand for rescue Stafford’s has fallen dramatically over the last few years, while her ‘phone never stops with people begging for their dog to be taken into rescue, she said.
We need to cast our minds back to 1991 for a partial explanation; the dangerous dogs act frightened many, many people into passing on dogs. Through misinformation and scaremongering the Pit Bull type suddenly seemed to include anything with a broad jaw and a smooth coat! Breeders fearing the worst was to come, downsized on their stock and a market was ready to take on the discarded animals and make money from them. Several generations on we now see Staffords barely recognisable as the generous, foursquare breed who rightly earned the nanny dog reputation. The most sinister of changes has to be dogs advertised as the Irish Staffordshire Bull Terrier, you would think if you were going to part with £700 you would at least check to see if such a dog was recognised by your country’s leading registrant of breeds! This Irish Stafford shares many of the physical attributes of the Pit Bull, is it a Pit Bull in Hibernian clothing? The enthusiasts of this dog will say not, but without pedigree or traceable ancestry the decision will be out of their hands, it won’t be the breeders facing the music though, it will be the family who have the dog in their care who thought they had bought a “pedigree” dog or the rescue who face the problem to re home or not to re home. From this maelstrom of uncertainty for the future of the SBT rose an alternative to the Kennel Club. The Intercontinental Kennel Club specialises in what they choose to call performance dogs, now is that like having a Cortina with a flycatcher on the hood and precious little under the bonnet rather than a Lagonda, I wonder? According to it’s website, apparently not, it’s about dogs that cannot be registered anywhere else, I’m all for the entrepreneur but not when it impacts on the future of dogs in this country. By holding their “athletic events” they are certainly taking the UK Kennel Club’s “fit for function” to heart so what could possibly be wrong with the promotion of long legged, broad jawed dogs that can haul a vast weight over a measured track? Promotion means generating a demand, perhaps the founder of this enterprise Mr Ed Reid would consider putting some of his profits into the rescue’s that have to respond when the novelty for the Irish Staffordshire Bull Terrier has worn off and the owners are fed up with people crossing the street to avoid them?
As Gwen Beard (Hasweth SBT) remarked to me “You can train any breed of dog to perform but why choose a dog who people already view with suspicion?” her point being that it’s already hard to educate the general public about buying a puppy and if these dogs are chosen for their, lets be generous and call it, “lively “temperaments, this is a not necessarily an attractive attribute for the average 2 up 2 down home with 2.4 children! Gwen added that she has been told in conversation with Joe public that her dogs can’t be Staffords as they are too small, she is just left shaking her head at the enormity of the ignorance out there. Tackling that ignorance can only be taken on by those who really want there to be a change and have the financial clout to carry it through, I suggest not a Charity using the Stafford’s plight to bleat for money with one hand while administering the killer injection with the other but the UK’s largest organisation dedicated to the health and welfare of dogs, The Kennel Club.
If you have any views, comments or stories relating to rescue I would love to hear them: The hot potato of the rescue world is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier; this affectionate, intelligent breed is filling rescues faster than any other breed or type of dog today. We know very well why this breed is stacking high in rescue, it’s supply and demand as always. The dog taking the lead as the bling “must have” for this season is…the blue Stafford. For once, this trend has not been show ring led, there are few blues in the ring today and in the opinion of some of the older members of the fancy, there shouldn’t be any blues at all! The colouration of the Blue comes from a recessive gene and therefore to breed solely for colour with such a restricted gene pool has the potential for catastrophe. The responsible breeder or stud dog owner is going to have their stock health tested, in SBT’s the problems of L2 HGA and HC are well known and much effort has been taken in the near eradication of these particular issues through DNA testing ,whatever the colour of their animals, but for the fast buck breeder of the fashionable blue these are mere details along with Kennel Club Registration, worming and the treatment of demodectic mange which also seems to thrive in these unsavoury pools of dirty dealings. The responsible breeder is yet again tarred with the same filthy brush as those who breed for a quick turnover with little outlay.
Black Dog Syndrome
Anyone who has worked in rescue for any length of time will know about Black Dog Syndrome, what is it and does it truly exist? The simple assertion is that a dog which is black in colour is more difficult to re-home. Certainly it does seem that a black dog without markings is trickier to market, there’s the profile picture for a start, and even professional photographers stifle an inward groan when they see that a black dog on a sunny day is their next dog to capture. It is more challenging to show facial expression on a dark dog and as a result there is nothing outstanding or memorable about that dog, the hook that brings the potential new owner in has missed its target. Families walking through the pick and mix of general rescue centres are faced with so many black dogs that you can understand why a dog with unusual markings will catch the eye and leave those black dogs in the shadows. Faced with a choice of a light coloured dog and a black dog it does seem that the lighter dog has the advantage in most cases, even though the black gene is dominant and therefore we have more crossbreeds who are likely to be black than any other colour.
So is it superstition and bad press that have an influence on the public? We all know that bad guys wear black hats , that a “devil” dog is going to be black and as far as black cats go it depends where you live as to whether they are seen as harbingers of doom or a sign of good luck. I was brought up with the legend of Black Shuck in East Anglia, one dog you really did not want to meet on a dark night! This particular story echoes throughout Great Britain, the name changes but the fear of the black dog is the same wherever you go. It’s rare that an aggressive dog is played by a light coloured animal in films; it seems we now “expect” our bad dogs to be black here too. The evidence is empirical but no less compelling from Shelters in the USA and Rescue in the UK, it seems we are colour prejudiced when it comes to our animal companions. This bias is reversed when buying a car, the worldwide most popular colour for 2010 was silver with 26% of the market but closing fast in second place with 24% was black! It appears black is the colour for prestige, power and sophistication when linked to the purchase of an inanimate object but perhaps older influences are at work when it comes to the choice of a companion, it would seem a good time to repeat that old idiom, “A good horse is never a bad colour”
From personal experience I know that the name a dog bears also has a profound influence on his chances of re-homing. Recently singer Cheryl Cole was named the star most people wanted to name their dog after, the male alternative was Ozzy in honour of the Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne. Canine Insurance companies tell us the most popular names for dogs are Max, Bailey, Lucy and Bella. I suppose we have to take into account the insured dogs are likely to be older and the Cheryl’s and Ozzy’s will feature later! The trend is toward human names, a reflection of how we view our animals perhaps, one of the family and in some cases their “baby”. Fido, Rover and Spot are now rarely heard being shouted in the parks, it’s much more likely you’ll hear Molly, Bob or Ben. When a dog comes into general rescue from a pound it is rare to know that dog’s original name and whilst you could sit in front of the dog and recite hundreds of names to him in the hope of some flutter of recognition it is easier and sometimes more beneficial to him that a new name is chosen before you both fall asleep.
Finding a dog a new home is about reaching as many people as possible who could be the potential new owner, first stop for promotion …a picture and a name. The number of Staffords and Rottweilers called Tyson or Rocky out there is extraordinary, these are a couple of the names that, in most cases, really don’t improve those dog’s chances of re-homing. It’s about persuasion in those first few moments of getting someone’s attention, getting them to pause and consider that dog as part of their family; the image a name conjures up can create that moment that can lead to another dog finding a forever home. Changing a dogs name doesn’t have the same connotations of bad luck that renaming a ship has and the dog will quickly learn his new name with pleasant interaction, in some cases a name change can actually help a dog to disassociate himself from former abuse. I’m sure you’ve all got your favourite names for dogs; we certainly register our dogs with the secret hope that Champion would look pretty good in front of the moniker, and pet names that are as individual and say something about our beasties are always the ones that fit best. For rescue dogs it has to be about general appeal as well as individuality but be careful, as Thomas C Haliburton said, ‘ Nicknames stick to people , and the most ridiculous are the most adhesive’
Okehampton Fayre on May the 1st proved to be yet another lucky day for Paddy the GSD as he took Best in Show at the companion dog show. Paddy’s first lucky day was a few weeks ago when he was taken into rescue by K9focus who concentrate on GSD and large breeds. His second lucky break was going to his new owners, delighted Wayne and Sarah Campbell just five weeks ago. Well done to all! You can teach old dog new tricks.
If you have any stories or comments regarding rescue I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org