From my ‘Crossing the headlines’ column in Dog World (8th April 2015).

I recently wrote a blog on how our thoughts and ideas change over the years. Things we were passionate about as teens are probably not as relevant when we are in our 40s and 50s (which is probably no bad thing if you were a New Kids on The Block fan) but reading some recent press releases made me think about how such changes aren’t just limited to people they also occur in the groups and societies we may have once supported.

When I was a student I was passionate about animal welfare (and I still am). Back then, I was an ardent supporter of the RSPCA and (what was then a relatively new group over here back in the early 1990s) PETA.

It was a time of anti-fur/vivisection marches and raising awareness of dolphins getting caught in tuna nets and I attended many of them. The work these groups really struck a chord with me and on the whole they certainly did seem to do a whole lot of good.

Politicised

Then changes slowly started to happen and both groups seemed to become more and more politicised. As time went on I began to question some of their aims as stories circulated about swanky offices and ‘fat cat’ salaries for those at the top. It all seemed less and less about ‘saving the animals’ and more about continuance for their own sake. Political activism was the new agenda.

My first taste of what the RSPCA had become was when someone (knowing I was an animal lover and kept poultry) dumped some unwanted young cockerels and a rabbit over the fence into my garden. I had no available housing for these birds and they had to be kept away from my stock so I was forced to build a makeshift house for them in my garden shed and called my local RSPCA branch desperate for help.

“Sorry sir, we don’t deal with small animals.”

Excuse me, I hadn’t noticed the change in your name; Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (but not small ones).

So very different from the beloved Society of my childhood that would happily accept and treat lost pigeons and seagulls with broken wings.

Luckily, an excellent charity – Margaret Green Animal Rescue – was on hand to take these poor abandoned creatures from me and successfully rehomed them.

But what has this got to do with pedigree dogs you may be asking…

Well, as we are all aware, neither group is a friend of the pedigree dog but, off the back of the PR disaster that was this year’s Crufts, the RSPCA (pushing aside escalating animal cruelty, live export of livestock and remaining strangely silent over the scandal of animal abuse in ritual slaughterhouses) is now focussing on us once more and stepping up the attack.

It states: “There’s a wealth of scientific and other evidence demonstrating that the welfare and quality of life of many (note that this word is constantly used) pedigree dogs is seriously compromised as a result of established selective breeding practices.

“We are extremely concerned that the welfare of many dogs is compromised because of exaggerated features and/or inherited diseases in some cases for a large proportion or even all of their lives.”

And here we go: “That’s why we need you to tell us your stories. If your dog is suffering or you know a dog that has suffered, we need you to get in touch so we can join together and tell the Kennel Club this dog welfare issue cannot wait any longer.”

A bit biased don’t you think? I mean where do I go to report a crossbred labradoodle, puggle or cavapoo with health conditions… or are they all paragons of health? Why aren’t you interested in the suffering of these dogs RSPCA? And what system does the RSPCA use to judge whether a ‘pedigree’ is in fact a pedigree? Do these ‘reported’ dogs actually have a pedigree? Who bred them? Given the mislabelling of many dogs in shelters up and down the country – simply assigned to a breed they most closely resemble – I wouldn’t hold out much hope of a fair study. And with a bit more digging would we discover that a fair proportion of the ‘horror stories’ would reveal puppies that originated in Eastern Europe and were smuggled into the country (another practice that the RSPCA has remained unusually quiet over) and if indeed this was discovered, would the RSPCA publish it or would it upset their leftie sensitivities?

In the firing line

And if you think that ‘exaggerated features’ simply means flat faces or long backs, think again. You see, dogs with ‘floppy ears’ are now in the RSPCA firing line… because those having ‘floppy ears’ cannot move their ears to communicate with other dogs (you couldn’t make it up) and this communication theme extends to tails… oh no… not docked tails… we now have to do away with dogs with curly tails or short tails as these also can have trouble communicating with other dogs as they can’t raise or wag their tails.

We also should stop breeding very large dogs and heavy dogs… oh and dogs with ridges along their backs… and hairless dogs you don’t escape either… apparently you have trouble ‘keeping warm’.

The RSPCA’s answer to Crufts, Ruffs, winning line-up should be interesting to see!

PETA has also been vocal in the press condemning the pedigree dogs but one thing in its favour is that it doesn’t try to hide its agenda, its there in all its nuttiness on its website although I must say it does have a rather puzzling attitude to pet ownership; professing love for ‘their own animal companions’ but believing it would be in animals’ best interests if the ‘institution of pet keeping’ didn’t exist because it ‘fuels the selfish desire to possess animals which results in manipulating their breeding and depriving them of the opportunity to engage in natural behaviour (so doesn’t spaying and neutering do that then PETA?); they are restricted to humans’ homes where they must obey commands and can only eat, drink or urinate when humans allow them to’ (obviously not Dachshund owners then!).

PETA wants the population of dogs to be reduced through spaying and neutering and for people to only adopt from pounds and shelters. In fact, it claims there is no such thing as a ‘responsible breeder’, it claims ‘all breeders fuel the population crisis and every time someone buys instead of adopting from a shelter, homeless animals lose their chance of a home and will be euthanised. Once again completely ignoring the people who are producing the shelter dogs…

Of course, it’s very easy to dismiss both of these groups and once again stick our heads in the sand and wait for them to go away but that would be a grave mistake… because they won’t.

As I’ve said for years and echoing what Gopi Krishnan wrote in his excellent letter (DW, March 13) if we seriously want our pedigree dogs and our hobby to continue then we all need to join forces worldwide. We need to copy exactly what the RSPCA and PETA do… have a dedicated media centre or, as Gopi said, hire a first class PR firm to challenge every lie, myth and silly story put out about us. For far too long we have sat back and taken the abuse and negative stories without any real retaliation.

I hope our KC are preparing to counter the RSPCA by collating stories of happy healthy pedigrees –  fight fire with fire – pushing forward our beautiful veterans (something that should have been done in the full public glare of Crufts) as examples that many of our pedigree dogs live very long, active and happy lives. I would also like to see a study (to nail the myth that our breeders contribute massively to the rehoming crisis) into the exact makeup of the vast majority of our shelter dogs because, from my observations (although often dressed up as and counted in the figures as pedigree are ‘Collies, Jack Russell and Staffordshire Bull Terriers’) this isn’t in fact the case and these dogs are usually crossbreeds. If these groups were serious about animal welfare maybe they should dedicate more time and study to find out exactly who are producing and dumping these poor unwanted dogs rather than bashing a very convenient (always guaranteed media coverage to get those funds flooding in) and easy target.

How I wish the RSPCA would return to the society of my childhood one that tackled all animal cruelty and didn’t cherry pick those stories that are certain to court controversy and attract publicity and headlines that keep the money rolling in.

See more on Dog World’s website http://www.dogworld.co.uk/product.php/133914/

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