Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: dogs

Killing Dogs – Again

This article appeared in Lakbima News on Sunday January 15 2012.


The present-day Sri Lankan Minister of Health Maithripala Sirisena made a statement in Kalutara on January 6, 2012, that he has decided to revive the policy of killing street dogs “in the traditional way”.


If I have any regular readers, they will have noticed that I am not a great fan of tourism. However, if Sri Lanka really does want to attract tourists it would be a good idea to provide hotel rooms that don’t have stained towels, filthy rugs and alien hairs in the bedding. Another good strategy would be to avoid-cutting paying customers’ throats and sexually assaulting foreign women on the beaches. Calling it “Eve-Teasing” really does not make it into a quaint and lovable local custom. The New York Times has dropped Sri Lanka from its list of recommended holiday destinations.

A very painful process

Another quaint local custom foreign tourists probably will not appreciate is filling the streets with dead dogs. Calling mass slaughter of street dogs the “traditional way” makes it sound like one of those quaint old folk ways that tourists will flock to see.

Back in 2002, I was strolling past the Bandarawela Hotel in the tea country, a favourite destination even then for western tourists, and also crowded with visitors from all over Sri Lanka during public holidays.

I thought I noticed two sleeping dogs huddled together, prone on the sidewalk. A few hundred yards on I saw two more prone dogs. Then there was another three and they were covered with flies; the dogs were making no efforts to dislodge the flies. All along Dharmavijaya Mawatha and back along Main Street, dogs lay motionless on the pavement. Crows were pecking the eyeballs of some. Outside a stall on the market selling vadais, a dog was a seething mass of bluebottles, which were also sampling the vadais and moving along to the fish and meat stalls.


This was a consequence of the “traditional way”. The “traditional way” is a very painful process. Dogs undergo immense suffering after the poison is injected, sometimes writhing in agony for hours, jerking with muscle spasms and frothing at the mouth.


Horrifying films

Being of an interfering nature, always interfering with nature, we decided to do something about this situation and tried to organise our own sterilisation programme with a friend who is a veterinarian. She took us to a meeting of vets and medical officers of health at the Uva Provincial council Health HQ. The chief government vet Dr PAL Harischandra and Dr Nilamani Hewageegana, who was then deputy provincial director of Health services for Uva Province, addressed the meeting.

We saw horrifying films of actual rabies victims in their death throes, strapped to hospital beds, screaming and writhing and frothing at the mouth. They crave something to quench their thirst but scream in agony at the sight of water. They cut their own arteries as they frenziedly crash through glass in a vain attempt to escape from the horror.


Every ten minutes, somewhere in the world, someone dies from rabies infection. Of the reported cases, 30-50% are children under 15.

Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease but it is still a public health problem in many countries in Asia, even though safe, effective vaccines for both human and veterinary use exist. Most of the 50,000 deaths from rabies reported annually around the world occur in Asia, and most of the victims are children.


Knowledge of these horrendous facts might be a deterrent to someone planning a holiday in Sri Lanka.


Back in 2002, Dr Hewageegana invited us to her home one evening and gave us advice on how we might approach our modest project. We did not have any huge ambitions but hoped we could help in a small way. Dr Hewageegana informed us that she was having discussions with the chairman of the Urban District Council about her Healthy cities project. During the course of those discussions she had received an assurance from him that the slaughter of street dogs in his bailiwick would cease.


Dr Harischandra corresponded with us regularly, gave us helpful advice and invited us to meetings and seminars.


In 2005, scrawny dogs patrolled the wreckage after the tsunami. There were scare stories in the press about thousands of starving and desperate dogs roaming the night, biting people and eating human corpses. The government veterinary service, led by Dr Harischandra courageously resisted calls for mass slaughter of stray dogs and took the opportunity, with the support of tireless local vets, foreign volunteers and the then Minister of Health, Nimal Siripala de Silva, to carry out a programme of mass anti-rabies vaccinations and sterilisation of dogs.


In June 2006, President Rajapaksa’s website proudly carried a letter from Monika Kostner in Germany: “Mr President, let me congratulate you on the path that you have chosen. Please continue pursuing it. I greatly welcome your pledge to bring stringent laws against cruelty to animals. Do not give way to those political forces and vested interests, which are keen to continue the outdated, cruel treatment of animals. After all, they are living and feeling creatures.”


Visakha Tillekeratne, one of the five trustees of the Animal Welfare Trust, responded thus to Minister Sirisena’s statement: “I believe he is being wrongly advised.” Animal welfare groups united to explain that mass slaughter has been shown in many countries to be ineffective. Sterilization is the only solution.


Unfortunately, a good policy established by Nimal Siripala de Silva has been bungled and undermined by greed and corruption. Nevertheless, despite what Minister Sirisena claims, rabies deaths in Sri Lanka have reduced, not increased. The Epidemiology Unit of the Health Ministry said that the number of deaths caused by rabies dropped in Sri Lanka by 50% last year compared to the deaths reported during 2006 to 2010. According to Health Education Bureau statistics, 18 rabies deaths  were reported from the Western Province in 2009, while this figure had dropped to 11 in 2010 as a result of a number of awareness programmes carried out by local government institutions in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.


We thought we were making progress when a dog-lover, Nimal Siripala de Silva, whose wife is an animal welfare activist, was health minister, and the president, many times reiterated his no-kill policy. Thanks to Minister Sirisena, Sri Lanka is again being shamed. An international petition is being organized and is attracting comments like: “Sri Lanka, the world is watching you.”


Champa Fernando of KACPAW speculated: “Is he trying to bring discredit to the president? The No-Kill policy came from the president and this is the only humane way.”


The president had said that mass slaughter was against the Buddhist philosophy of living in harmony.

Minister Sirisena had said some sin , must be committed in order to gather merit.


Health Ministry spokesman WMD Wanniniyaike Iater said that there was no move to kill stray dogs and said that Minister Sirisena’s remarks had been taken out of context. Let us see how long it is before this subject comes up again.



This article was published in Ceylon Today on May 21 2014, where it was given the title: “Savagery in a Surgery. Hitlerian Experimentation.


Colman's Column3

Names have been withheld to protect the guilty – you know who you are!

May 23, 2014 marks the seventh anniversary of the death of Polly.


I enjoy reading crime novels. The older ones, like Agatha Christie’s, give the satisfaction of solving a puzzle and finding resolution in the end. Even the less cosy modern novels, like Nordic Noir, give the reader a sense of closure. Although the detective may be flawed, the crime is solved, the perpetrator caught and punished. Justice is seen to be done.

Real life is not always like that.

Three Dogs

Three dogs were removed from an animal shelter on May 22 2007 by a professor who said he wanted to give them a home. That was his first lie. He did not give them a home. They were taken to a government veterinary hospital where extensive and savage surgery was performed. Someone at the hospitalreported that the three dogs were “all cut up and mauled and killed”.

Polly had her adrenal glands removed. She died the next morning and was buried at the hospital. The body was exhumed on 28 May 2007 and a post mortem showed no trace of her kidneys. The inference is that the kidneys were removed during surgery. A piece of cotton wool wrapped up in a large piece of gauze was inside her sutured abdominal cavity. It seems that a chemical substance was inside her dissolving her organs as she lived. She died a slow and agonising death. She had been wagging her tail when she was taken for surgery.


Perry had both vertical and horizontal incisions on her abdomen with nearly 30 sutures. Six days after this butchery, pus and blood were still oozing from the incision.


Wussie had her pancreas removed and had a huge incision down her abdomen. Blood tests showed high blood-sugar levels resulting from the absence of the pancreas. Her front legs were so bruised she was given a drip intravenously from a hind leg. She was restless and totally traumatised. Her incision was infected. She had not eaten and could hardly stand up, as she was very weak. Her fur was shaved almost up to the spine from both sides of her body and there were many lacerations and small shaving wounds.

Wussy stitch


This butchery was conducted by the head of a government veterinary hospital. He refused to tell Dean of the Veterinary Faculty on 29 May 2007 the nature of the surgery he had done on the two surviving dogs. This information was crucial to the clinicians of the veterinary faculty of the university who were primarily concerned with treating the sick dogs.


Wussie in the care of more humane humans. Despite their best efforts she died six months later.

The matter was referred to the police and the SLVC (Sri Lanka Veterinary Council). I wrote to the SLVC on 24 September 2007 to inquire about the progress of their investigation. They replied on 19 October, informing me that my letter had been submitted to the inquiring panel.

“I am pleased to inform you that the Council is seriously thinking about formulating a set of regulations which will clarify the Veterinary professional ethics and responsibilities of Registered Veterinarians in this regard. Please be informed that your letter will be tabled at the next council meeting to be held in November 2007. I have the honour of thanking you for your constructive ideas and comments”.

The SLVC stonewalled innumerable queries. It seems that the SLVC did eventually rule that the actions of the two vets was “unethical and inhumane” but refused to say so publicly. They would not say what punishment they meted out.

The University was also evasive. They claimed that an Inquiry would be carried out but have kept quiet about it ever since. The Provincial Governor is a decent man who has done good work in the cause of animal welfare. The Provincial Governor wrote to me on July 1 2007: “I wish to state that an inquiry has been conducted by the University … subsequent to my request and necessary action will be taken against the perpetrators.” The Deputy Vice Chancellor responded to an enquiry from the Hon. Provincial Governor on December 4 2007 by saying that a Committee of Inquiry was “in the process” of finalising a report. No report has yet appeared. This shows great disrespect to the Hon Governor.

International Outcry

There was an international outcry, which shamed the Sri Lankan veterinary profession and shamed the nation itself. Foreign academics who had worked with the professor refused to believe he had done this. An Australian professor wrote to me: “If he is as flagrantly in breach of these laws as claimed, then his detractors in Sri Lanka have a clear legal avenue for punishing him.” The Australian professor eventually realised that he was mistaken in assuming that unethical veterinary behaviour will automatically find remedy in legal systems or with the Sri Lankan authorities. “I didn’t believe it at first, but it does seem to be the case that there are no laws in Sri Lanka about animal welfare.  So maybe the time has come to develop a lobby group to push for that.”

An English academic also started from an assumption of civilised behaviour and reasonable institutional procedures. He said, “an issue as serious as this needs to be dealt with by established protocols in which everyone concerned has an opportunity to put forward their case in a free and fair way.” He continued: “I certainly would not condone any scientist engaging in experimental work on animals and acting on a freelance basis without a licence or institutional monitoring. Any such action in the United Kingdom would be dealt with under criminal law with serious consequences for those involved; moreover, such actions damage the reputation of legitimate scientists and bring discredit to the profession.”

Ethical Protocols

I studied the ethical protocols of over thirty countries and it became obvious that the professor’s actions would not be condoned in any jurisdiction. No-one could act as a freelance in this way, without a licence, without a research plan, without a stated objective, without arrangements for after-care, without monitoring and supervision. In most countries, it is specifically stated that it is not acceptable to use animals from pounds or the streets.

I have just finished reading an Ian Rankin novel. By the end, I know who committed the crime and what the motive was. The villain is captured and locked up. Seven years on, I do not know why these two people behaved with such barbaric savagery to three innocent animals. In a grovelling letter, the professor tried to justify himself to animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi: “First of all I would like to briefly explain the experimentation we planned to perform with these three dogs. I was doing a trial on ‘Therapy for Diabetes Mellitus with medicines of Plant origin and Gene Therapy’. This will bring out great implications and benefits to the Veterinary as well Medical fields.”


She was not impressed and published an article condemning his lies. In a letter to him, she wrote: “You have not done research on these dogs – you have simply killed and killed and killed. Such is the way of the world that you have been repeatedly rewarded for doing what we look down on in slaughterhouses. Please do not believe that you have ‘brought grace’ to Sri Lanka. This is a land of supreme grace and dignity and you have merely shamed her by your actions”.

An Argentinean animal welfare campaigner wanted the culprits castrated. My hope was that the three dogs’ suffering might have some point if steps were taken to ensure that such atrocities could not be repeated. Even if the perpetrators were allowed to go free and prosper, we hoped that such brutality and insensitivity would not be possible in the future.

Animal Welfare Legislation

Sri Lanka’s Constitution casts a duty on citizens to protect nature and conserve its riches. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance enacted by the colonial government in 1907 makes it a criminal offence by any act or omission to cause unnecessary pain or suffering to any animal. It is an offence to kill any animal in an unnecessarily cruel manner. Anyone who ill-treats, starves or mutilates an animal commits an offence.

The main reason why this Ordinance is not effective is that the penalties, which stand at an incredibly low Rs.100 ($0.93) and/or three to six months imprisonment (rarely or never meted out by the courts), have no deterrence value. The authorities have therefore tended to think it not worthwhile to pursue even cases involving extreme or heinous cruelty to animals.

In 2006, the Law Commission prepared a draft Animal Welfare Act (AWA), based on an exhaustive study of relevant legislation elsewhere and the views of the public. It took the Law Commission over six years to finalize the draft Animal Welfare Act, after reviewing many drafts. The project to replace the obsolete Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No. 13 of 1907 was steered by the lawyer, writer and animal welfare activist Senaka Weeraratna. Mr Weeraratna was appointed as the Honorary Legal Consultant to the Law Commission on Animal Welfare legislation and many eminent lawyers worked on the drafts before the final version was approved in May 2006.

An Animal Welfare Bill based on that Law Commission draft was gazetted as a Private Member’s Bill tabled by Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thero, MP, in October 2010. This Bill could enable Sri Lanka to provide a model for other Asian countries to incorporate in their legislation modern standards in the way humans co-exist with other sentient beings.

An Animal Welfare Bill also based on the Law Commission draft has been finalised by the authorities and will be submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers on 29th May.

Let us pray!







Reflections on Stray Dogs

This article was published in the Sunday Island on January 15, 2011

I was saddened to read in the Sunday Island of fears that the President’s no-kill policy might be falling into abeyance as street dogs at Galle Face were being rounded up for who knows what fate. I am going to make a confession here and admit that I was once guilty of dog-napping. More of that later. First, some personal observations about different cultural norms about animals. In urban England dogs are generally on a lead and accompanied by an “owner”. This is euphemistically referred to as “exercise” but the main purpose is for the dog to defecate a reasonable distance away from the owner’s domicile. I admonished a neighbour as he watched his dog downloading on my front lawn. His basic argument was that the dog had to do it somewhere and my garden was not as neat as his.


In rural Ireland, dogs might be owned but they wandered around having an independent existence. Every day we saw a Jack Russell trotting purposefully along for quite a large distance from one house to another to get its breakfast.

In Sri Lanka, it is unusual to see a dog on a lead. Many dogs would appear to be strays or feral but they are actually community dogs. They may not have a warm bed, but they do indeed belong to a house or section of a village. In some villages, the dogs roaming the post-tsunami wreckage were still at “their house” even though the sea had taken away the house.

A couple of years back, several Sri Lankan newspapers gave prominence to an English animal welfare campaigner who was planning to set up a shelter for Sri Lankan 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…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.”

She was shocked to see advertisements for pedigree pups. “Dogs are bred whilst thousands of unwanted strays roam the streets looking for love and compassion from humans. Suffering of owned animals is often equal to the suffering of the strays.”

“Ireland is synonymous with puppy farming. It is the most, vile despicable trade in misery,” says one reputable dog breeder in Northern Ireland. Breeding bitches are kept in filthy conditions to produce pups to sell at premium prices just below what reputable breeders charge. A puppy farmer in Australia 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 been criticised for comparing intensive animal rearing to Nazi behaviour. It is a new twist to hear a puppy farmer comparing himself to victims of the holocaust.

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

I have heard the argument that sterilisation is contrary to Buddhist precepts. I do not know how true this is but surely Buddhist precepts would be against dumping unwanted puppies on the roadside.

We noticed a resistance to sterilisation among the Catholic population in rural Ireland and wondered if, in some bizarre way, this was related to the Church’s doctrine on abortion. Certainly, one of the Christian precepts is “Thou shalt not kill”.

It seems that in reality the UK is not the animal loving nation that it was once thought to be. In the UK in 2007, there was a 42% rise in the number of custodial sentences for cruelty to dogs. Operation Gazpacho, conducted by the RSPCA, revealed a sickening increase in organised dog fights. In 2008, following a BBC documentary on the horrific genetic disabilities of pedigree dogs, the RSPCA withdrew its support from Crufts Dog Show.

The Christian festival of Christmas in the UK is the traditional season for abandoning pet dogs. 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. ‘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. Because pit bulls 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. Many are dumped when they are past the cute puppy stage and become expensive to feed.

Sri Lankans seem to me to be guilty of negligence and ignorance rather than active cruelty. It is not too different from what we encountered in Ireland. Everyday, three dogs came a quarter of a mile up the road from an elderly neighbour’s house to take us for a walk. One of the dogs was a female that our neighbour had purchased as a pet. The other two were skanky, abandoned creatures that had wandered to her house and been allowed to stay. One was a Scottish terrier with a distressing skin condition which had probably caused his ‘loving’ owners to dump him.

Our neighbour loved all three dogs equally. For some reason we were never able to fathom – but suspected might have something to do with religion – she never got any of the dogs sterilised. Every year the female produced a litter of puppies which our neighbour’s son drowned.

The lady died and the dogs were well-cared for by the son. Still the female was not sterilised. One day she came to us in great distress, covered in blood. It was clear that another litter had been drowned. After she had the chance to recover, we took her to a friend who ran boarding kennels. From there we took her to a vet who sterilised her. After a few days recuperation back at the kennels, we returned her home. No-one ever said anything about the fact that she had been missing. No-one remarked on the fact that she no longer had puppies. Don’t ask, don’t tell. As Seamus Heaney wrote: “Whatever you say, say nothing”.

There are many aspects of animal welfare in Sri Lanka that are in need of improvement. Perhaps the most important is for the media to help create a culture of responsible pet ownership.

Rules and regulations are important because even if you cannot change the attitude of everyone, you can change behaviour. The Sri Lankan Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance enacted by the colonial government in 1907 is ineffective mainly because its sanctions have never been updated. The maximum fine is only Rs100. The authorities have tended to think it not worthwhile to pursue even cases involving heinous cruelty to animals.

An Animal Welfare Bill was gazetted long ago as a Private Member’s Bill by the Venerable Athureliye Ratana Thero, MP. It still languishes in legislative limbo. A petition is being circulated to get it passed.


My Dog Tosca


Some people have pets thrust upon them. Although I did not have much experience of pets as a child, now I am surrounded by animals. A misguided aunt gave me a tortoise called Cuthbert whom I was too young to understand or appreciate. It seems that I killed him trying to wake him up not realising he was hibernating. As Dorothy Parker said on hearing of the death of President Calvin Coolidge, “How could they tell?”

We briefly had budgie that my father won in a raffle. It was very cranky, refused to speak or sing and pecked us whenever we went near it. One day we found it at the bottom of the cage, toes curled up. Perhaps its depression was induced by an identity crisis – he was called Paddy, as was my father (whose real name was Jeremiah), my uncle, my cousin and my goodself. I was too young to understand how cruel it is to keep a creature of flight in a cage. As William Blake almost wrote: “A budgerigar in a cage/Puts heaven in a rage”.

I tended to avoid animals after that but in later life they started coming after me . I was once sleeping with the windows open during a hot Wimbledon summer when I woke to find a black cat on my chest. This was Charlotte who had crawled across the roof from next door. After that, she often used to come through the back door and sit on my lap watching TV. Charlotte was particularly fond of football – one could see her head moving from side to side as she intently followed the flow of the play.

My good lady wife suffered from a similar kind of animal magnetism, initially with cats. Bumble was dominating her household when I first met her but I understand Socks had preceded him as an uninvited guest. Bumble expired but soon Lucy, Uncle Monty and Maurice took up residence.

Throughout our married life we have found that there is some kind of feline equivalent of Facebook which allows the animals to know when a space has become available. We took three cats with us to Ireland. When they departed in various ways, three Irish cats arrived to replace them. We brought those three with us to Sri Lanka. In Ireland, three disreputable dogs came to the house every day to take us for a walk.

Since coming to Sri Lanka, we have been inundated with dogs through no fault of our own. I had thought about writing something called “Reigning Cats and Dogs” but found that someone had already used that title.

We first lived in rented accommodation in Bandarawela. The owners claimed to be animal lovers but threatened to poison a couple of street bitches that hung around the place and ordered their workers to beat them. Those people have since gone to their heavenly reward.

I noticed Tosca on my way to the kade. She had a horrible abscess hanging out of one eye but had a very benign expression. Dogs are not supposed to smile but she seemed to do so, beatifically. She seemed to take to us and, somewhat nervously, started approaching our house. One night, we noticed her sleeping in a drain near the house and she was not alone. A female companion, who later became known as Daisy, was huddling with her for warmth. We gradually, in the face of disapproval from the owners and the neighbours, adopted these two as our own, although we could in no way believe that we owned them.

Unfortunately, Tosca, in particular, became prey to the rampaging males of the area and was often subjected to gang rape. One rather timid fellow we named The Suitor, was doing the business when Hendrick, a disreputable one-eyed old roué who lived on the estate and considered he had prior rights, urinated on him in mid-coitus.

The result of all this attention was a litter of pups. One very small one died soon. Two of them were later found homes and given the names Lucky (a bad choice) and Sando. More of those later. Silky remained with us and remained with us in our new home until she died eight years later in March 2013.

When the pups were first born, Tosca was perhaps not an ideal mother. One got the feeling that she thought a different kind of life was her due. She remained rather plump after the pregnancy and she reminded me of one of those 1950s blonde pneumatic movie stars like Mamie van Doren or Jayne Mansfield (I’m showing my age here, readers). She would often abandon the pups and come to hide from them with us in the sit-out. The little monsters always managed to find her and squawk and bite and scratch at her abused undercarriage.

Luckily, we knew a good vet who was able to perform surgery at our home to remove the abscess from the eye and to sterilise her. A lot of veterinary attention was needed. On one occasion she seemed very ill and was hiding in the bushes. The vet thought she might have been poisoned. We took her to the Veterinary Faculty at Peradeniya where she was admitted for observation.


Tosca loved motor travel. In fact, she demanded to get in whenever we went shopping. Children looked in and told their parents there was a beautiful dog in the car. She serenely took such compliments as her due. If she saw another dog passing by she would bark at it imperiously.

Tosca clearly did not think the accommodation at the Veterinary Faculty was up to her standards. When we went to collect her after six days she was very huffy and walked briskly to a white car and demanded to be let in. Unfortunately, it was not our  car.

When we moved to our own house, Tosca, Daisy, Hendrick and Silky came with us. The intricate social dynamics of this ménage, particularly the antics of Tosca and Daisy in their lesbian love nest, must be the subject for another article (or scholarly thesis or porn movie).


Tosca continued to enjoy her status as motor-mutt with the plus of long walks through the tea estate and mud-baths, the dirtier the better. She is no longer with us. Like most street dogs she once had a home with humans who abandoned her. She endured with dignity. She survived a long time after being diagnosed with mouth cancer.

I am not ashamed of appearing sentimental when I say that I hope we added something to her life.

In the New York Review of Books, Catherine Schine reviewed an animated movie version of JR Ackerley’s wonderful memoir My Dog Tulip. “What strained and anxious lives dogs must lead, so emotionally involved in the world of men, whose affections they strive endlessly to secure, whose authority they are expected unquestionably to obey, and whose mind they never can do more than imperfectly reach and comprehend. Stupidly loved, stupidly hated, acquired without thought, reared and ruled without understanding, passed on or ‘put to sleep’ without care, did they, I wondered, these descendants of the creatures who, thousands of years ago in the primeval forests, laid siege to the heart of man, took him under their protection, tried to tame him, and failed—did they suffer from headaches?’

A Puppy Is Not Just for Christmas

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.

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