Archive for December 2020

Ignore the Anti-vaxers

December 2, 2020

Cllr David Cavill FRSA represents Paxcroft on Trowbridge Town Council

I AM becoming increasingly concerned about the wave of support from those who have become known as the ‘Anti-Vaxers’, for it has become clear that there are many, including some in Trowbridge, who are prepared to ignore evidence and act on social media posts, wild conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated hearsay.

Posters have been appearing in Trowbridge supporting fake ideologies and ideas which are not supported by any reputable organisation.

The person originally responsible for these ridiculous and unfounded views, the disgraced and discredited ex-physician Andrew Wakefield, was thoroughly exposed by respected scientists and was stripped of his status as a doctor and researcher when it was found that he falsified the data upon which he made his damaging announcements about the relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. Just to be clear, there is no relationship.

It is true that occasionally people who are vaccinated will have unexpected and sometimes dangerous reactions to the inoculation analogous to the way some people are allergic to nuts, aspirin or penicillin and it is a concern but it is dependent entirely on their own unique metabolism.

But in terms of ‘risk’, vaccinations are very much more likely to protect than damage. Those who refuse them are at much greater risk of the infection than they are from any damaging reaction.

Anti-Vaxers tend to be extreme and obsessive, so they shout more loudly than reasonable and sensible groups. We should be very wary of them and any others that broadcast fake news on this and other subjects.

The technique is simple, sometimes referred to as ‘Trumpism’. It matters little whether what is said is true but regularly swamping a frightened and/or gullible audience with hundreds of unverifiable ‘facts’ (often with one or two true statements thrown into give the material some degree of credibility) eventually results in the irrational concept being accepted by some.

As a columnist and politician, it is not my role to persuade you or anyone else to any particular point of view, but I believe I do have a responsibility to provide the evidence which enables you to make up your own mind by providing factual information and data which challenges hearsay, emotion and prejudice.

Whether you believe that the earth is flat, that Kennedy was killed by the CIA or any other conspiracy theories which have no effect on the health of the population does not matter one way or the other.

But the Anti-Vaxer movement is an example of unsubstantiated theories which are extremely dangerous.

I am not suggesting that the UK Government has ‘got it right’ as far as Covid-19 (or anything else) is concerned. There is no doubt that mistakes have been made but it is important to remember that, in this case, almost every government in the world ‘got it wrong’ so we are not on our own.

There have been no successful scenarios. Some countries, such as Japan, have been lucky in that their social structure militate against the spread of any infection but even there, their Prime Minister felt he had to resign because his electorate felt he had failed to deal effectively with the crisis

Two countries often quoted took steps which were diametrically opposed.

South Korea was one of the first to ‘lock down’ early and effectively while Sweden (which took the chance of developing a ‘herd immunity’ and consequently had a higher death at the beginning of the spread) took an entirely different approach, neither of their scenarios has prevented a second wave.

Rightly or wrongly, blaming ‘the government’ gets us nowhere for it is likely that whoever was in power at the time will have made equally damaging, if different, mistakes.

The good news is that data collection, experience and research is enabling us to cope with the symptoms of infection better then we once did, so, although the numbers are rising, death rates remain lower than they were despite the increase in the number of infections.

Rapid diagnosis tests are promised and billions are being spent by governments all over the world to enable scientists to deliver an effective vaccine.

Courageous volunteers are coming forward prepared to test vaccines on your behalf so that any problems can be detected.

So long as Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin or their ilk are not making the announcement that a vaccine is has been created, then I believe most governments can be believed if they say a safe inoculation against Covid-19 is available.

Vaccines have almost eliminated a number of diseases in some counties. They include tuberculosis, diphtheria, measles, poliomyelitis, tetanus, rubella, hepatitis B and diphtheria among many others, and where there is a resurgence, it is virtually always where the Anti-Vaxers have been spreading their dangerous and unsubstantiated messages. Please ignore them.

International Partnership for Dogs

December 1, 2020

Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success – Henry Ford

I would like to introduce you to Dr. Brenda N. Bonnett. It is a name most people will never have heard until this week when she features both in our news pages and Our Dogs’ Editorial but she is becoming a very important person in the world of dogs in general and dog health in particular. Brenda is a Canadian veterinary surgeon. She qualified in 1979 and went onto gain a PhD in Epidemiology. She became Associate Professor in the Department of Population Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College and carried out research into numerous species, disciplines and topics including theriogenology (I had to look it up: it means ‘reproduction, including the physiology and pathology of male and female reproductive systems), breed-specific health risks, human-animal interactions and medical communication. She lectures internationally and has received an Honorary Doctorate from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. But she is not just a very clever lady, she has a mission and to achieve it she set up the not for profit International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD) five years ago, which has as its objective ‘to facilitate collaboration and sharing of resources to enhance the health, well-being, and welfare of pedigree dogs and all dogs worldwide’.

              In an extraordinary short time the organisation has become a hub for international collaboration and an effective voice speaking on the complex challenges of dog health and welfare. I think too, that we would all subscribe to its values:

• Dog health, well-being, and welfare, and human-dog interactions contribute to the quality of life for both species.

• The world is a better place because we share it with dogs.

• Dog issues are important around the globe, and international sharing and cooperation are needed.

              And its goals which are to:

• Enhance the health, well-being, and welfare of dogs, and enrich human-dog interactions.

• Facilitate the sharing of knowledge, information, experience, and resources across stakeholders, e.g., kennel clubs, veterinary and other professional organizations, health foundations, and others, to improve health and well-being of purpose-bred dogs.

• Provide structure, evaluation, and interpretation of information to support the actions of stakeholders in dog health, well-being, and welfare.

• Facilitate specific actions to improve health and well-being of dogs, e.g., supporting globally relevant breed-specific breeding strategies.

• Run the web platform,

• Bring the dog community closer together through

The objectives are achieved through collaboration, research, publication and the website and its Board includes our own Bill Lambert (who has been elected Vice-chairman) and to my mind his involvement provides immense credibility to the whole project.

A refreshing change

              Given the fact that Brenda is a veterinarian it is a very refreshing change to see that she has gathered around her as board members and consultants those who see dog ownership ‘in the round’ and who, although concerned about many of the health issues in dogs, are not obsessed with the ‘problems’ of pedigree dogs and/or are making determined efforts to solve them. I am especially pleased that her approach recognises that many of our difficulties are down to the demands for unique and unusual pets by the public and she does not take the easy option of blaming breeders: the IPFD’s website’s heading to this important article is the simple statement,‘For all those who want a sustainable future for healthy pedigree dogs’. I am sure there is no doubt we can all to drink to that sentiment!

              For many, the key statement in her report focuses on the surge in legislation concerning pedigree dogs, health and breeding. She says, ‘If the perception is that the show world has failed to adequately safeguard the dogs/breeds under their care, failed to take proactive leadership in addressing problems, in the show ring or in breeding, it is not surprising that legislation is then proposed and enforced. On the other hand, if legislators or others focus too narrowly on the role of the pedigree community, and fail to address the bigger picture (which I believe is largely the case in the UK and some other European countries), including wider sources of dogs, then political actions will not achieve desired outcomes. Unintended consequences may occur if the role of the consumer in creating the demand for challenged breeds or types is not addressed, as well as promotion or normalization of these dogs by the media, pet industry, veterinarians, or others.’

International action

              Despite the several international conferences called by kennel clubs and attended by many representatives over the past few years, there has, so far, been no concerted action. The representative group in each country may have done their best to influence government but the activity has been sporadic. At the same time, although the passion for showing and commitment to pedigree dogs is now clearly international, this has had very little effect because the pressure from lobby groups (who are understandably mostly concerned with publicity to ensure the continuing flow of donations) and veterinarians (which are all too often anti-pedigree), have kept up a constant barrage on politicians of all parties. Kennel clubs have had no problem in facilitating International interactions at exhibitor/breeder level (and collecting the various fees which are required for international transfers), but concerted action has been minimal, even in Europe where one would have thought the FCI could have been incredibly effective given the European Parliament’s intense and continuing interest in pet ownership as demonstrated by the number (and sometimes bizarre) stream of documents and regulations emanating from Brussels,. In the UK we have had the recent introduction of mandatory Licensing Regulations and a raft of other legislation which although hailed as progressive is almost all unnecessarily bureaucratic, will have little effect on animal welfare and has already had damaging unintended consequences as set out by Brenda above.

              Her article calls for open, respectful discussions within and across stakeholder groups which include not just dog show enthusiasts, kennel and breed clubs, legislators, dog owners, veterinary and welfare groups but the pet owning public too. It highlights that there has been a disconnect between those seeking to protect animals, those that want (and need) pets and those who supply that need. This is not to say no work has been done or data collected, but emphasises that much of this material has not been considered as a whole and that pedigree dogs have in some ways been treated differently and been separated from rather than integrated into pet ownership as a cultural element in our society.

               It is refreshing too, that for once a report is not simply a demand for further legislation: it is much more sensible in that it asks that we consider the psychology of pet ownership, our personal commitments and attitudes to all pets and ‘work together for what is truly in the best interest of dogs and the people who care for them’. Brenda also recognises that there are no quick and easy solutions but that what is needed is a roadmap to engage everyone involved. She concludes that those ‘deeply committed to ensuring the survival of all that is good about pedigree dogs need to participate in open and respectful dialogue to identify actions for the benefit of all dogs and people. Each of us should honestly consider how our own attitudes and actions – or inaction – have contributed to the current situation and then together find a positive way forward’.

All power to her elbow, say I. Listen up, World!

Pet ownership soars

December 1, 2020

Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard – Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

MORI was founded in 1969 by Robert Worcester and was one of the first and now, as Ipso MORI, remains one of the leading market research groups in the UK. I was introduced to the charismatic Robert when I was developing the Institute of Quality in the mid 1980s by a friend who worked closely with him. He was born in the United States, became a British Citizen, was appointed Chancellor of the University of Kent and was a very well respected figure in British political circles and media commentator, especially about voting intentions in British and American elections. He died in 2014 but his legacy remains and my memories of him were triggered when I read a press release in Pet Business World News, the headline of which was ‘Pet ownership soars in Covid Britain’.

The research was carried out by Ipso MORI on behalf of an investment company called LetterOne. I had not come across this company before but I like it for one of the things it does is to sponsor an international jazz award but even apart from that, my research into its background has proved fascinating. It was founded in 2013 and brought together a number of long-term active investors to search out companies where ‘sector experience, and strategic geographic expertise will improve performance’.

They have a lot of money: over $23 billion in investments and liquidity of $5 billion: at the very least that implies that they have identified areas where investment will prove profitable. Their strategy embraces energy, food retail and technology and their strap line is to have a ‘strong bias to satisfy societies’ needs’. One sector they have selected as having potential and one upon which I think we can all agree ‘satisfies societies’ needs’, is pet ownership.

To ensure their continued success LetterOne carries out research in all the sectors within which it invests and the examination of the economic and health benefits associated with pet ownership is published in a series of journals called ‘The Pet Factor’. Its latest, intensely interesting edition considers: how a dog can make people feel less lonely or isolated; hears how soldiers in the British Army develop long-lasting emotional bonds with the horses in their care; explores the intense and often complex bond between pets and those experiencing homelessness through a contribution from veterinary charity, StreetVet – and reports on the Ipsos MORI survey they commissioned.

What the research shows

The research indicates that Britain is more besotted with pets than ever. The headlines include:

· A staggering 41% of current pet owners got a new pet during lockdown, of which 95% were existing pet owners who got another animal while 5% did not previously own a pet before the lockdown.

· Overall, 80% of those polled with dogs in their household agree that their dog keeps them physically active. Around 4 in 10 dog owners agree that as lockdown restrictions are lifted, they will take their dogs for more frequent and longer walks.

· As a consequence of lockdown, 37% of pet owners who have worked from home say they now have a closer relationship with their pets than before.

· Among pet owners who expect spending on their pets to change as a result of lockdown restrictions being lifted, the majority anticipate spending more. 30% of dog owners say they will spend more money on dog walking services in the near future.

The whole publication is available online and provides a unique perspective into pet ownership internationally.

It goes some way to explaining the explosion so many breeders have experienced over the past few months. This has been the subject of some pessimistic speculation regarding the behaviour of new owners once we get back to some semblance of normal but it is clear from the research that most owners are thinking about the future responsibly shown by the significant number being prepared to spend on dog walking services as and when necessary.

I will certainly be returning to this incredible mine of information in future articles but for the present I would like to use it as a foundation for one of the most important factors with respect to pet ownership which I am sure is at the forefront of our minds: how do responsible breeders ensure that their stock goes to good homes and how do prospective owners find a responsible breeder. This age old question has no simple answers but over the last few years a number of initiatives have tried to provide one although, unfortunately none have been particularly successful

Every attempt has some impact

Publications such as the Dog Directory and the classified pages of magazines devoted to dogs tried to provide centres for information over the years but the inexorable rise of the Internet has made them redundant. The Kennel Club, in an attempt to counter the criticism that ‘anyone can register pedigree dogs with the KC but no checks are ever carried out on the quality of the breeders’ by launching what was originally the Accredited Breeders Scheme and which for technical reasons associated with each UK Accreditation is now the Assured Breeders Scheme. Although it has a great deal going for it, it can hardly be considered a success for like all such schemes it has to tread a line between cost and complexity. Even government intervention culminating in the recent 2018 Regulations on breeding along with other legal initiatives such as Lucy’s Law are, in my view at least, not likely to be successful either. This is not to say they have not value: of course they do but they largely speak to those who would behave responsibly anyway.

A number of web sites which are free to access and largely free to post information on, have also been set up. Perhaps the best known is followed by the National Register of Pedigree Dog Breeders ( and Pets4Homes along with a number of commercial advertising sites such as Gumtree and almost all breeders will have their own websites. Layered on top of actually finding a puppy to buy, is extensive advice from charities, lobby groups, government, local authorities, commercial dog food manufacturers (and the Kennel Club, of course) providing advice and guidance on how to go about it. I would not for a moment challenge their aims and objectives but they are repetitive and, if experience is anything to go by, have not made very much difference to the puppy buying public: the ones who have been responsible remain responsible and those which are irresponsible ignore any advice.

The demands of those devoted to pedigree dogs range from, ‘no puppy should be allowed to be sold unless all those involved in its pedigree have been subjected to a battery of of tests to ensure that it is free of any genetic weakness’ to those who recognise that ‘breeding should be focused on the overall health of the sire and dam and rely on their experience and instinct to ensure that their puppies are sound’. Then there are the lobby groups and charities who all too often hold the view that breeders cannot be trusted to breed sound puppies, that they breed too much and too often and so prospective owners should be protected from exploitation versus the commercial companies in whose interest it is to persuade more people to have dogs: it is a media minefield.

As any reasonably intelligent person can quickly see, finding any sort of compromise which even partially fulfils these many expectations is clearly impossible and most of the commercial sites which have been set up in recent years have not survived.

The most recent attempt to capture this market was launched a couple of years back and I mentioned it in Speakers’ Corner at the time. There is no doubt the motives of those behind Tailwise are sound and it is a smart, professional site – but fulfilling the demands of every interest group is exceptionally difficult. For instance, if you want to buy a puppy through Tailwise there are eight stages you need to complete (including a payment to Tailwise of £95 when the transaction to buy your puppy has taken place) and if you are a breeder (the scheme is free to join) you need to go through a similar extended questionnaire. I have no idea how successful the site is because there is no way you can ‘search’ for a puppy neither can you tell how many breeders are listed on the site but I wish it every success and have no hesitation in suggesting that responsible breeders take the trouble to sign up.

If you do so, please contact me with your impressions and whether it is successful for you.