Sunday, 28 September 2014


As my nod to the fact that it's World Rabies Day today  (the 28th September), I'm taking a look at the changes to pet travel legislation that comes in at the end of this year.

There's a very good overview of the current situation here, care of The Animal Welfare Blog but, in brief, Rabies-susceptible animals are prevented from entering the UK unless they have an import license, or are exempt from needing a licence because they are being moved under the Non-Commercial Movement of Pets Order 2011, which mainly covers animals travelling under the EU Pet Travel Rules.

As of 29th December 2014, the Pet Travel rules are being slightly updated to strengthen enforcement of compliance with the rules and to harmonise the rules across EU countries. There will be a new style of passport with more detail in it, but if the animal already has a passport it doesn't need to get a new one (unless all the treatment spaces in it get filled in). The new passport needs the vet to fill out their details on the passport, and include their contact details when certifying vaccinations and treatments.

The other changes are:

All countries in the EU are now required to carry out checks on pet movement. As such, it's likely there will be more checking of passports at other borders, and the animal must be fully compliant with the terms of the travel rules before leaving the UK. This means that the Rabies vaccinations must be carried out 22 day before the travel date (vaccination date is day 0, and then there needs to be 21 days between vaccination and travel)

A minimum age for travel - under the old rules, the puppy or kitten had to be 12 weeks before the vaccination was given, because there are no vaccinations available for animals under that age. However, individual countries could allow in unvaccinated animals under that age that were travelling with their mother or had never left their place of birth and so couldn't have been exposed to Rabies. Whether to keep this option is now under discussion, primarily because it could only apply from one Rabies-free EU state to another, and definitions of "Rabies-free" vary.

Transporting of more than five animals now needs to take place from a registered place, using an authorised transporter and with their movement logged on the TRACES system (the EU import and animal movement tracking system). However (as before) this is not required if the animals are travelling to shows though owners will now need to carry evidence of the need for the exemption (details of the show and of their entry) and may be asked to sign a declaration that the animals are eligible to make use of this exemption.[NB as of August 2014 the exact nature that this declaration will take is still being finalised]

If the animal travels separately from the owner (eg by freight) pet and owners now need to travel no more than five days apart - at the moment there is no time constraint

Finally, the definition of animals allowed to travel under the Pet Travel Rules has been updated to make it specifically the domestic dog (Canis lupis familiaris), domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) and domestic ferret (Mustela putorius furo). This is to prevent wild animals being moved under rules designed for pet transport. In practice, this will only affect owners of hybrid animals such as wolfdogs, or owners of certain cat breeds such as the Bengal (Felis lybica) or Savannah (Felis catus x Leptailurus serval)

More detail on the changes is available from DEFRA for pet owners, and for vets from the BVA.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Wet Nose Day! 26th Sept 2014

Wetnose Animal Aid was founded back in 2000 to provide support and assistance to smaller rescues that are buckling under the pressure of vet and food bills as more animals need rescue places and there is less cash available to go round. They don't have any animals directly in care themselves, but instead, raise money which can be passed to those rescues in need to help them care for sick and vulnerable animals both nationally and internationally.

Modelled on the human "red nose day", it's "Wet Nose Day" tomorrow and just as with the human variety, you can get black noses to show your support on the day. I decided Daisy and Cybi's noses were wet enough - especially Cybi who has a knack of sneaking up and plonking his wet nose on my leg or in my hand (thanks, bud!) - but I have acquired a couple for myself. I'm sure I shall model them in due course.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Watching your dog work

While I was hobbling around on crutches, my dogs went off to an agility foundations training camp without me. Or at least, they were worked by one of the instructors, and I sat in a lawn chair with my feet up.
It's a fascinating experience, being able to watch your own dogs work, especially when I was watching someone who is extremely experienced coax exercises out of a dog they don't know. In fact, it was pretty difficult to tear my attention away from what my dog was up to for long enough to watch how they were being worked to try to pick up positioning and cueing tips.

What was interesting was that Daisy worked far, far better for the female instructor. She was polite when worked by the male instructor, and did as she was told, but it was a noticeably more restrained, and less engaged experience with far less enthusiasm. Cybi, on the other hand, was completely the opposite. He seemed to respond better to a more assertive handling style, and got a bit silly if not being given very precise, firm instructions with few extra comments. I tend to default to working Cybi the way I work Daisy (very light commands, lots of happiness, occasional stops mid exercise for a "well-done" cuddle...) and it looks like I might be doing him a disservice by not working to his learning strengths.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Kids and Dogs

When I got Daisy at 14 weeks I had lots of plans for puppy socialising that involved taking her to meet lots of people, going for walks on busy streets so she could learn what buses were, making sure she met lots of older dogs and so on. One area that I did not think specifically about was making sure she met kids - I don't have children myself, and so don't really interact with them very much. She met plenty of tweens and older, not least because random passers by wanted to play with the puppy but wasn't really exposed to anyone under the age of about 12. Fortunately, it turned out ok, and the very first time she did meet a five year old, she instantly identified a playmate and the pair of them ran around like idiots under the watchful eye of the child's mother and me. Later on, she met my friend's toddler, again under very close supervision, and seemed to know instinctively to be very quiet and calm around him (though she did give him lots of kisses, which he seemed remarkably nonplussed by).

Cybi is a different matter. He came to me at 7 months old, by which time he was already a decent size. He's pretty boisterous, and not jumping up is still a work in progress - and he was born in a very quiet and rural area (he's a failed sheepdog). I can only assume he had never met children before he arrived with me, but we live near a school and there have been a couple of occasions now where kids walking home have invaded his personal space while we've been out. We're working on it, as obviously it isn't a good thing that he feels threatened by young children (and he's so silly that if he realised they were fun to be around he could have an ace time playing with them) but I've been a little bit surprised by the attitudes of both parents and older kids (which I assume comes from the parents) around dogs they don't know. Maybe it's the default assumption that all dogs are friendly, but there have been times when I have actually had to put myself in the way, and explain to a parent that their child should not continue to approach my dog while he is retreating behind my legs and even starting to growl. Most of them have been ok with it, if a little surprised (and I always feel very rude saying "no, I'm sorry your child can't stroke my dog") but the odd one has suggested that it's in some way my fault that I need to fend off their small child because my dog isn't totally kid safe. And it's always the ones who come rushing in arms outstretched and looming over the dog, generally while making some kind of a loud noise, that have the parents who take it personally that I'd prefer my dog stayed away from their child! Sigh.

Anyway, the RSPCA has recently started an education campaign aimed at parents, to try to decrease the risk to children. It's not quite the same as my situation, in that it's primarily aimed at people who have both kids and dogs, but I can't help but feel that if it was circulated widely it might help my cause with Cybi while I continue to work on him.

RSPCA dogs and children infographic
Dogs and children - an infographic created by the RSPCA

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

All the things for all the one place!

All photos by PATS
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the PATS trade show this weekend as part of my day job. I generally work more on veterinary products and services, so to be able to get a look at the advances and innovations in the pet world was pretty awesome. Exhibitors ranged from the large distributors down to the little "single-product" manufacturer (seriously, who wouldn't want a Mr. Men poo bag dispenser?)

I also got to listen to a half hour talk by Dr. Roger Mugford, founder of The Company of Animals, and probably one of the reasons I got interested in animal training and welfare in the first place. I was given his book, Dr Mugford's Casebook when I was....not very old (it was around 20 years ago!), and it sparked a lifelong interest in animal behaviour. Dr. Mugford's methods sit very much in the middle of the two styles of dog training that we see on the TV - the "positive only" at one extreme and the "dominance based" at the other, but I have noticed that in some quarters his methods have passed out of favour. My understanding is that he is what I would term a "balanced" trainer, in that he advocates the use of both positive and aversive methods in training, but as he was at pains to stress during his highly entertaining and informative talk, "aversive" is not the same as "punitive" - merely withdrawing attention from a misbehaving dog is sufficiently aversive if they are sensitive to human affection (as most family pets are). I think in the wider pet training community often punitive and aversive have come to mean the same thing, and so almost by definition if you are not a "positive only" trainer you are an advocate of the use of physical punishment. And while I personally would never lay a hand on my dogs, I wouldn't think twice about withdrawing affection or offering a verbal rebuke if my pair were knowingly misbehaving. Which to be fair to them they don't do very often - it's more likely to be insufficiently reinforced training, misunderstanding or my lack of supervision that leads to them metaphorically heading off in the wrong direction.

The thing that utterly blew my mind though was the sheer scope and variety of pet (especially dog) food on display. How anyone ever makes the right decision on what to stock in their stores - or what to buy for their pet - is beyond me. I instantly fall back on the hard work done by the founder of All About Dog Food when I need answers, but that just isn't practical on the PATS scale.

All photos by PATS

Friday, 12 September 2014

The good that men do... oft interred with their bones. But the evil that men do lives on and on
 - Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) sort of paraphrasing Marcus Antonius in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

Last night showed off the best and the worse of our treatment of animals. Manchester Dog's Home, a charity that cares for over 7,000 stray dogs each year burned to the ground, in what's believed to have been an arson attack. As of this morning over 60 dogs have died, having burned to death or due to the after effects. More than 150 were rescued from the flames. many people turned up to volunteer help and support, and to bring blankets and food that individuals wanting to help were eventually asked to stay away because the rescue and firefighting effort needed more space. Collection points for donations of things - food, bedding, crates, bowls, leads - have been set up round the country. Two men scaled the fence and rescued more than 20 dogs. Hundreds of people have volunteered to foster dogs. And a fundraising page put up by the local paper has, at the time of writing, raised more that half a million pounds for the home, with more pouring in.

It's tragic that these dogs were unwanted enough to end up in the rescue system, and that the actions of an individual have deprived them of security and stability again. But it's also a reminder that most people care very deeply about the welfare of animals - something it's all to easy to forget in the face of constant tales of cruelty, ignorance and neglect that we hear about all too often.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Compulsory Microchipping (part 2)

As discussed in Part One of my thoughts on compulsory microchipping, dogs are going to need to be chipped, by law, from 2016 onwards (in England - earlier than that in Scotland and Wales). Arguments in favour of compulsory chipping cover a range of outcomes, from cost savings, to making it easier to document hereditary health issues, to improving the ease and speed of reuniting owners with their lost pets.

By Reinraum  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But the argument that compulsory microchipping will "improve traceability generally"  is an interesting one. Admittedly, if a higher percentage of the pet population is chipped, then in theory it should be easier to reunite pet with owner. But as we can see from research, even if a microchip is found, in a significant proportion of cases the contact details associated with the chip are incorrect.

American researchers carried out a study at a local shelter to determine the impact of being microchipped on rates of return home. In all, of the microchipped animals arriving at the shelter, 72.7% were able to have their owners contacted. Of the remainder, the majority had incorrect contact details registered, or the owner couldn't be contacted through the given details, with a much smaller proportion having a chip that wasn't registered in any database. This last is less of an issue in the UK, as the action of inserting the chip and the action of registering the animal are both done by the vet at the same time. In the US, the owner is often left to carry out the registration.

By Steffen Heinz (Caronna 14:47, 20 February 2007 (UTC)) (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( o via Wikimedia Commons

On top of this, the issue of traceability is muddied by the fact that many vets don't scan new patients for existing microchips, and rescues are under significant time and financial pressure, sometimes meaning that pets aren't scanned as thoroughly as would be ideal. Couple this with the fact that there is no obligation for the Highways Agency or local council to scan deceased pets on the roads, and that a microchip doesn't act as proof of ownership, and suddenly using a microchip to identify and return your pet becomes a lot less clear cut.

In the UK, there is a campaign called "Vets Get Scanning" to raise awareness of these issues. Initially I was sceptical as to the value, since I (wrongly) assumed that every agency associated with stray animals and animal welfare would scan as a matter of course, but this assumption turned out to be spectacularly incorrect. I've also come across some horror stories of the owner having done everything right but the chip not having been read within the statutory seven days when a straying animal is held and so the animal passing into the rescue network and being rehomed or worse.  It seems like such a small thing, to make it at the very least "best practice" to scan a new dog at the time of registration with a vet, or (if at all possible) if it is unfortunately found deceased.

The Vets Get Scanning group also believe that a microchip should act as proof of ownership. At the moment, it does not, which leads to issues where an animal is passed on to a new owner having entered the rescue network after straying or having been stolen, and the chip shows up as being registered to another person. Data Protection laws prevent the old owner being given any details of where the dog is now, and as a result if they are notified that a dog registered in their name has turned up, the original owner has to resort to legal action to get the name of the new owner released, and potentially go to the small claims court to get the dog back. While I have no problem with the data protection law as it stands, it seems a little silly that there has to be a legal dispute over the ownership of the dog, when the original owner's details are on the chip.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

A beautiful memorial

I was out coaching rowing this morning at a river I'm not that familiar with. I'd normally be clattering up and down on a bike, but while I'm restricted to hopping places I had to be slightly more tactical about standing in the right place to maximise my view of what was going on on the water.

And conveniently, I found an ideally located bench. It was a beautiful morning, just the right amount of chill in the air, clear and quiet.

And while I was sitting there in the quiet, waiting for my rowers to round the bend so I could see them, I noticed the memorial plaque on the bench. 

An incredibly touching idea, to commemorate the miles walked together with a much loved dog

Friday, 5 September 2014

Where's mum? Banning the sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops

Yesterday, the House of Commons debated a ban on the sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops. This has been driven by the campaign group Pup Aid which was founded to highlight the problems of puppy farming in the UK with the ultimate goal of getting it stamped out all together.

Pup Aid recently launched a campaign to heighten awareness among would-be puppy buyers, to remind them always to ask "Where's mum?" before buying a pup. This attempts to address the gap between the fact that over 95% of the population in the UK (according to a Dog's Trust survey) say they would never buy from a puppy farmer, but many thousands of people do just that every year, purely by not knowing that that cute pup in the pet shop, advertised on the internet or sold by a neighbour has actually been separated from its mum and shipped to the point of sale.

As a part of this campaign,Pup Aid created an e-petition, which collected over 110,000 signatures, to ask the Government to ban the sale of puppies and kittens unless the baby animal's mother was present. As the petition got over the 100,000 signatures marker, it got its debate in the House of Commons yesterday. (Details in Hansard - the document of report for all Parliamentary business). The discussion focused particularly on a very specific topic, namely that of the sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops. While this is only one part of the problem, as recognised by Robert Flello, MP (taken from his speech to the Commons):
"We consider ourselves a nation of animal lovers, where a dog is a man’s best friend and a pet cat or dog is part of the family, but every day puppies and kittens are bought from pet shops and garden centres, become ill and all too frequently die as a result of the supply chain from irresponsible breeder to pet shop. I cannot think that a nation of animal lovers would allow this to continue. Are we at risk of becoming a nation of disposable pets?
Those behind today’s campaign want to end the cruel and unnecessary practice of puppy farming. We want to work with the Government to find a solution that improves the welfare of puppies and kittens as well as protecting the animals’ mothers and, importantly, their prospective owners. Tackling the supply side is difficult, but we can tackle the demand side by looking at where the animals are sold [...]. There are three main routes: the internet, the private dealer and retail outlets. In time, we need to address the first two, which will be hard, but there is already strong agreement on tackling the third route—high street premises and pet shops, garden centres and dog supermarkets, such as the one in Salford. Puppies and kittens are housed and sold without their mothers, and the presence of such retail outlets encourages impulsive buying, irresponsible breeding and the commoditisation of animals, as well as too often leaving prospective owners with the burden of the life-threatening health and behavioural problems associated with pet shop puppies. The Government could have an immediate effect, without excessive enforcement costs, by banning the sale of puppies and kittens on high street premises."
it is a part of the problem that could be dealt with quickly and easily (at least in theory - I get that the Government is kind of constrained by what laws have gone before so as not to be creating overlapping or contradictory legislation, but a bit of secondary amendment wouldn't hurt, surely?)

Unfortunately, the debate followed a well trodden path in terms of outcome. There was full agreement that "Something Must Be Done". But only 2% or thereabouts of pet shops are actually licensed to sell dogs and cats on the premises - around 70 across the country. And even for this small number, it turns out that legislation already exists at a local level to prevent the sale of puppies and kittens within local authority regions were it so desired, though it sounded from the statement that the Minister for DEFRA, George Eustice, made that most local authorities were unaware of this. The Minister undertook during the debate that his department would send out a clarifying note to ensure that local authorities knew they could decide on pet shop licence conditions on a case by case basis.

My personal view on this coincides with that of Robert Flello, in that while the legislation in place to determine the licence conditions of particular petshops (the Pet Animals Act 1951) exists, it doesn't cover some of the things that we now recognise as essential to the health of a baby animal, including its emotional welfare. So while DEFRA may be in a position to send out guidance on such matters as socialisation requirements, these are not covered in the Act and therefore aren't enforceable. Neither is the problem of young pups and kittens being taken from their mothers far too early and potentially being transported long distances to be sold - a key part of the puppy farming business model.

However, in the light of the debate, all is not total doom and gloom. While the House wasn't perhaps as decisive as might have been ideal, they did recognise that there is progress to be made, and called upon the Government to begin to take action. Baby steps, but baby steps in the right direction:
"[T]his House has considered the e-petition relating to the sale of young puppies and kittens; notes that puppies produced at large-scale commercial breeding establishments, known as puppy farms, and irresponsibly-bred kittens are separated from their mothers too early and often transported long distances, and as a result often suffer serious life-threatening problems including impaired immune systems, poor socialisation, infectious diseases and shorter life spans; calls on the Government to review existing legislation to ensure that it is consistent with its own guidance that prospective owners should always see the puppy or kitten with its mother, and to ban the sale of puppies and kittens from retail centres such as pet shops, garden centres or puppy supermarkets; further notes the support of the Blue Cross, Dog Rescue Federation, Dogs Advisory Council, Dogs Trust, The Kennel Club, RSPCA and others for such a ban; and further calls on the Government and welfare organisations to work together to raise awareness among the public about choosing a dog responsibly from only ethical breeders or by adoption from legitimate rescue organisations, and to consider further steps to end the cruel practice of irresponsible and unethical breeding of puppies and kittens in the UK."

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Postman's Knock

I have just had an extremely sobering experience.

The postman came today with a parcel that needed signing for. Normally when someone knocks on the door I send the dogs to their crate so that I can deal with the person at the door without having to field two inquisitive collies at the same time, but Cybi is in the teen phase at the moment and pushing his boundaries wherever he can. My front door is at the end of a narrow hallway which is quite cluttered with shoes and things that don't live anywhere else (you mean not everyone keeps their car's parcel shelf in the hallway?) and so opening the door fully while on crutches is a challenge at the best of times. It gets exponentially more complicated when you are also trying to fend off a collie who has decided that now is the right time to ignore what he's been taught AND you're trying to get to and open the door quickly because otherwise your parcel is going to get taken back to the depot.

I managed it, vaguely, and the postman took one look at me, and the oncoming collie and took a large step back. I can't blame him - there were 3300 dog attacks on posties last year and I'd imagine he was keen not to add to that statistic as my dog was blithely ignoring my commands to return to his bed - I know he's just being a pain, but the postman definitely doesn't. So balancing crutches and partially open door to prevent the dog getting out I managed to sign for my parcel. As I opened the door more fully to take said parcel, Cybi had another attempt at find out what was going on, and since I didn't have a hand free I just yelled at him. Fortunately he listened enough to back away from the door and return to the inside of the house.

At which point, I apologised to the postman and uttered the immortal words "He's just being friendly" Cybi and Daisy started playing in the kitchen. And as anyone who has bigger dogs will know, playing generally sounds like someone is being murdered.

"He doesn't SOUND friendly," said the postman.

"Er, no," said I. "They are just playing, though I can see how you might not come to that view if you didn't know them."

Awkward silence.

Anyway, it made me think once again about the recent change to the Dangerous Dogs Act. As of May this year, if your dog is "dangerously out of control" anywhere - whether public or private - you leave yourself at risk of prosecution. As with anything involving criminal prosecution, you have to be guilty beyond reasonable doubt, and a dog being dangerously out of control is a very grey area, but it does mean, more than ever, that responsible dog owners need to have their pets well trained and well behaved both out on walks and in the home. Attending a Good Citizen Dog Scheme class is a great place to start.
It also means (and this was what was really brought home to me this morning) that sometimes you need to think about your pets from a non dog lover's perspective. You know your dogs are just being friendly, but that random person in the park might not.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Buster Collar

Given Cybi's ability to destroy the regular, veterinary-issued Elizabethan collar within minutes of having it put on, we opted very quickly for an alternative. The Buster Inflatable Collar got the vote (see previous post for why) and I had one rush-shipped to me to replace the increasingly tatty piece of plastic that Cybi had around his neck.

The Buster collar was, on the whole, a success. Cybi was much happier wearing it than he was the larger collar, and it didn't impede his view, to the benefit of my legs, Daisy, the door frames and his ability to get up and down the stairs.

Admittedly, he doesn't look amazingly happy in any of these pics, but you'll have to take my word for it that there was the odd tail wag while wearing this collar. And a lot less crashing and yelping.

The only downside to the Buster Collar I found was that since Cybi is a wiggly, bendy little sheepdog he did on occasion manage to get around the collar to the general vicinity of his stitches (he was castrated, so his stitches were as far away from his teeth as it's possible to get - had they been any further up his body towards his head he wouldn't have managed it). It took an awful lot of effort on his part though, so I got plenty of warning that he was going to try to chew, and so could dissuade him. It did mean he had to have his (heavily reinforced with duct tape) big collar back on when I went to bed, though.

And as a bonus, now he has finished with it, it can just be deflated and put in the dog cupboard until the next time one of them does something ill-advised. Unless I pinch it - while messing about it turned out that this thing can also be pressed into service as a travel pillow. Due to my extreme dislike of selfies I don't have photographic evidence of this, but if you have one that isn't too covered in dog slobber then give it a try - it's surprisingly comfortable and effective! The only thing you need to watch for is blowing it up - the first time I inflated the collar I was seeing stars and watching the ground rush up to meet me simultaneously, due to the effort involved.