A Puppy Is Not Just for Christmas

by Michael Patrick O'Leary

Sentient beings are disposed of in the same way that a supermarket chain might reject misshaped fruit.

The English Delusion

The English like to think of themselves as animal lovers. Some English people look down on other nations for their behaviour to animals. A couple of years ago,  an English animal welfare activist was interviewed by Sri Lankan newspapers who allowed her to voice her view that as a nation Sri Lanka is  particularly cruel to animals because of the number of and condition of street dogs.

The Sunday Leader quoted her: ‘”We were overcome by the quiet despair, misery and silent suffering of thousands of strays, pets, wildlife and livestock alike.”

There is work for her at home in England.

Here we are, well into September  and soon the Christmas shopping season will be in full swing in the British Isles. The Christian festival of Christmas in the UK is the traditional season for abandoning pet dogs.

The National Canine Defence League, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, says older, bigger dogs are the main victims. The league’s spokeswoman, Louisa Bracking said: “These dogs are being kicked out to make room for newer, younger models.”

North Clwyd Animal Rescue, in Trelogan, Flintshire, Wales say their sanctuary becomes “full to bursting” with unwanted pets thrown out between Christmas and the New Year. The centre finds new homes for 850 animals a year. There are similar reports from Devon and other areas of the UK.

Dog dumping has got earlier every year since the early 2000s and now starts well before Christmas. Barking (no pun intended) and Dagenham Council covers a borough in Essex which is thought to have the highest dog ownership in the UK. Data collection company Experian released a survey showing one in ten households in Barking and Dagenham owned a dog. The council says the number of dogs being abandoned is soaring because of the financial crisis.

According to Kirsty O’Sullivan, a volunteer with animal welfare groups, Scruffy Angels and Animal Action: “I don’t believe it’s the credit crunch. I think they’re using it as an excuse.” ‘Essex man’ and ‘Essex girls’ are stereotypical figures of fun in England. Perhaps in America, rednecks might be a rough equivalent. A pit bull terrier would be the dog of choice for this stereotype. O’Sullivan highlights the number of Staffordshire pit bull terriers that are being abandoned. Adverts for puppies have been placed all over the borough. Because they are a very popular breed and can be sold for between £250 and £750, many Barking residents have decided to breed them.

Litters are typically between six and ten puppies. “But people need to realise the work that goes into looking after them. Once they’ve gone past the cute puppy stage is when they dump them.”

The English Reality

It seems that, in reality, the UK is not the animal-loving nation that it was thought to be or that it thinks itself to be. The European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals has been signed and ratified by 18 European countries, but not by the UK.

There was an investigation in the Independent newspaper into cruelty in rearing pigs and another one on the horrific conditions endured by battery hens.

115 horses and donkeys, some severely emaciated, had to be rescued and removed from Spindle Farm at Hyde Heath in Amersham, Buckinghamshire during a huge operation in January 2008. Hooves and body parts of horses that had been left to die were scattered around among rotting corpses and a mound of bones and skulls was discovered. Convictions for cruelty to horses rose 33% in 2006, and a further 13% in 2007. This indicates that Spindle Farm was not an isolated incident.

In September 2003, 26 RSPCA (Royal Society for the Protection of Animals) officers rescued 269 animals from a single house in Lancashire. The rescue of 244 dogs, 16 parrots, seven cats, a rabbit and a chinchilla, from the house in Silverdale, near Carnforth, was the biggest single seizure in the charity’s history. The haul of dogs included shih-tzus, dachshunds, Lhasa apsos, bearded collies, corgis, chihuahuas, poodles, pekinese and Yorkshire terriers.

In November 2008, Phil Bishop, a TV executive who directed Top of the Pops and Game for a Laugh during a decades-long career, shot his neighbours’ dog, Foggy, a Bedlington terrier, in the heart with a single shot from an air rifle after becoming annoyed at its early-morning barking.

I was once involved in a case where a man in Sussex reacted to his neighbours’ complaints about his dog by cutting off the dog’s testicles and nailing them to the neighbours’ front door.

There were 137,245 RSPCA investigations for cruelty to cats and dogs in 2007. There have been so many examples of cruelty to animals in general in the UK that I had better restrict myself to dealing with cases involving dogs.

The RSPCA has reported a 24% increase in the number of people convicted for animal cruelty. Convictions for cruelty to dogs were up by more than a third. There was a 42% rise in the number of custodial sentences. We are not talking about negligence here. This is vicious torture and sadistic violence.

Dog Fighting in the UK

Operation Gazpacho conducted by the RSPCA revealed a sickening increase in organised dog fights in the UK. Dog fighting has always been there, but its nature seems to have changed. According to Becky Hawkes of the RSPCA: “It used to be an activity for people who were very into dog fighting, who prided themselves on having the most macho dog, coming from a strong lineage of champions, you know, the champion of champions. There was a hard core of about 100 people involved in this country, it was very underground, and it tended to be people involved in other criminal activities as well. Now we’re seeing more hard kids on street corners, using their hard-looking dog to intimidate people. This is predominantly in urban areas, among young people. There seems to be an increase on that level, where maybe rival gangs are having their dogs fight. It’s less structured, certainly.”

Chief Inspector Mike Butcher of the RSPCA, who directed Operation Gazpacho, said that in the past, “The fights would be in a regulation-sized pit with fixed rules and a referee, and would be stopped when one of the dogs had clearly won … betting didn’t really play a major part in these fights, it was more about the prestige.” Today, the fights have become more commercial and even bloodier, with young men and their tough-looking dogs meeting each other in parks.

“The emphasis [now] appears to be more on betting and fighting the dogs to the death,” said Mr Butcher. Dogs’ jaws are strengthened and trained on car tires and wooden sticks in preparation for fights. The injuries sustained to the head, neck and front limbs of the animals are therefore serious, and can include crushed and broken bones and torn muscles. It is also common for dogs to die from heart attacks prompted by severe pain or distress, sometimes hours after a fight.

Further gory details can be found at


Dogs as Consumer Accessories

It’s not just the criminal underbelly of British society that is inflicting cruelty on dogs.

Happy Dogs is a UK charity which re-homes abandoned dogs. Founder Lyn Williams estimates that there are seven million dogs in the UK.

Some people buy cute little dogs as fashion accessories and get bored with them. Some people think of themselves as ‘dog lovers’ so they believe they must have a huge hound, even though they live in a small apartment in the middle of a big city and are out at work all day and socialising in the evenings, leaving the dog locked up at home alone.

A British Sunday newspaper reported that staff at the Leigh Animal Sanctuary near Wigan in Lancashire killed healthy greyhounds after their careers on the racetrack were finished.

An expatriate living in Turkey writes about fellow Brits adopting Turkish stray dogs and then putting them back on the streets because they don’t want to pay travel and quarantine costs to take them along when they return to the UK. “This of course, also applies to those who bring their animals from the UK, then abandon them here on the streets, which has also been done many times in the last few years.”

Pedigree Mutants

The same English activist mentioned above was horrified to see German Shepherd pups for sale in Sri Lanka when there were dogs roaming the streets. She seemed to think Sri Lankans were unique in liking pedigree dogs.

“The attitude of a majority of locals who prefer to turn a blind eye to the suffering of an innocent stray and instead pay thousands for  a purebred that they take care of like their own children has also contributed towards the suffering of these animals.”

Mark Evans of the RSPCA described Crufts dog show as a “parade of mutants… Breeding deformed and disabled animals is morally unjustifiable and has to stop.” Sentient beings are disposed of in the same way that a supermarket chain might reject misshaped fruit.

To coincide with the start of Crufts 2006, the world’s biggest pedigree dog show, Advocates for Animals released a scientific report examining the health problems caused by pedigree dog breeding. The report condemned irresponsible and unethical practices in dog breeding, including close inbreeding and developments in cloning.

In 2008, following a BBC documentary on the genetic disabilities of pure-bred dogs, the RSPCA and the Pedigree pet food company withdrew their support from Crufts. The BBC has been covering the show for 40 years but may not do so again.

Mark Evans chief veterinary advisor to the RSPCA described dog shows as “parades of mutants”.

Dr. William Schall, a genetic specialist at Michigan State University estimates that there are more than 300 separate genetic disorders that subject dogs to enormous pain. German shepherds and golden retrievers frequently suffer from hereditary hip and elbow dysplasia; pekinese and basset hounds from inherited eye diseases; pugs and cavalier King Charles spaniels from heart and respiratory disease; West Highland white terriers, cocker spaniels from skin diseases; dachshunds, chihuahuas from inherited skeletal problems; rottweilers, great Danes from bone tumours; dobermans and border collies from hereditary deafness. Labrador retrievers are prone to dwarfing. At least 70% of collies suffer from genetic eye trouble, and 10% eventually go blind. Dalmatians are often deaf. Newfoundlands can drop dead from cardiac arrests. English bulldogs have such enormous heads that pups often have to be delivered by caesarean section. Irish setters, according to veterinarian Michael Fox, a vice president of the Humane Society of the U.S., “are so dumb they can’t find their way to the end of the leash.”

Five million purebred dogs in America are afflicted with a serious genetic problem.

The best way to produce a puppy with a specific look is to mate two dogs with the same look. As with any species, though, the closest resemblances are found among the closest relatives. Breeders often resort to the mating of brothers and sisters or fathers and daughters.

“If we did that in humans,” says Mark Derr, who wrote a scathing indictment of America’s dog culture for the March 1990 Atlantic Monthly, “we’d call it incest.”

The chairman of the Kennel Club, which organises Crufts, was filmed by the BBC voicing his approval of incestuous inbreeding, as long as it took place between mother and son. Oedipus?

A prize-winning Cavalier King Charles spaniel was shown writhing in agony because it suffered from syringomyelia, a painful condition that results from the animal’s skull being too small for its brain. A pekinese, bred to possess a perfectly flat face, and winner of Best in Show in 2003, was found to have had surgery — a soft palate resection — to enable it to breathe.

David Balding is professor of statistical genetics at Imperial College London and co-author of a report on inbreeding. “Because you’re mating animals with similar genes,” says Balding, “you’re getting a big loss of genetic diversity and that has bad consequences in terms of your ability to resist disease. Breeding has gone too far. It was something that started getting organised and became systematic in the 19th century, and it didn’t do much harm for a long time. But now we have reached the point where the harm is starting to show more and more. We are now doing genetic damage to the dog.”

Mark Evans, of the RSPCA said: “Breeding deformed and disabled animals is morally unjustifiable and has to stop.”

Britain’s leading canine charity, the Dogs Trust, pulled out of Crufts show. Clarissa Baldwin, its chief executive, told the London Times that her organisation had called for an end to the killing of puppies that do not meet dog show breed standards. “We are horrified by the culling of dogs,” she said. “That has to stop. The culling of the Rhodesian ridgebacks that don’t have the ridge, the Dalmatians whose spots are in the wrong place.”

Puppy Farms

I would not characterise the Irish as especially cruel to animals but it is a fact that factory farming of puppies has been a profitable industry. The Dog Act is  intended for pet owners, not commercial operations.  Cheap, poor quality purebred dogs are mass-produced by the hundreds in cages, bitches bred and bred successively until they drop. Dogs in dreadful conditions, often ill and unkempt and filthy in their own faeces, held in wire crates or makeshift kennels in cold, damp farm outbuildings, some held inside in dark, windowless rooms. They are sold through brokers to pet buyers, at premium prices but always just below what reputable breeders charge, in Britain and North America, and to a lesser extent, Europe. Profits can be huge. “Ireland is synonymous with puppy farming. It is the most vile despicable trade in misery,” says one reputable dog breeder in Northern Ireland.

Ireland also has the highest per capita rate of stray dog euthanasia in the EU, with 23,000 dogs put down annually.

Irish dogs are also used to stock US puppy mills because, unlike dogs that come from reputable breeders, they carry no breeding restrictions (a “neuter” clause). US sources feel some reputable Irish breeders are unknowingly selling dogs to mills and brokers in the US, believing they are for American families.

Says one US breeder:”Here in Minnesota area Irish dogs have such a bad rep that if buyers find out your foundation stuff came from Ireland they class it with trash.” Another reports her friend’s sickly, Irish “champion-bred” dogs bought from a puppy farm broker had worthless, forged Irish Kennel Club papers. Such dogs are frequently offered on US websites by known brokers who claim “Irish relatives” send them the dogs. The trade is hugely damaging to the many reputable professional Irish dog breeders.

Puppy farming is also prevalent in Australia. One puppy farmer there wrote to me to express his outrage at being victimised: “similar to what happened to Jews in the beginning of Hitler’s rein [sic] of terror.

Peter Singer and JM Coetzee have compared the treatment of animals with the way Nazis dealt with Jews. It is very odd to see a puppy farmer comparing himself to the Nazi’s victims.

The pictures her are of a dog we found playing with the traffic in Bandarawela. She attached herself to my trouser leg and came home with us. We called her Honeybup. She is happy but keeps us awake at night barking at phantom grease yakas.