Well done RSPCA!

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today – Abraham Lincoln

Readers will know that although I often give the RSPCA a hard time I have always recognised the good work which is done by their many independent branches, so it is good to be able to report one of their successes. Unfortunately, news is seldom about the many good things that occur in our lives but focuses on the errors, mishandling and misjudgements of people, organisations or institutions. They usually occur because those taking decisions jump without analysing the possible consequences. Two recent press releases from RSPCA headquarters provide textbook examples of how such communications to the media should not be written. I was told very recently by a Trustee that the problem has been recognised and press releases are now examined by an independent consultant: they need to get a new one!

But I must not get sidetracked: I really want to concentrate on a good news story about the Society although it is, unfortunately, based on the wholly unacceptable, objectionable and repugnant circumstances that sometimes surrounds the unfortunate, disagreeable or undesirable few who view dogs not as pets to be cared for in loving homes but as factory units to generate as much cash as possible.
Quality, of course, must be paid for and I have never had any objection to people who either breed dogs and sell their surplus stock to suitable homes or, for that matter, who breed dogs as part of their livelihood. The key element is the proper care and management of every aspect of the procedure from stud dog to puppy sale. Looking after dogs, bitches and puppies is arduous and inevitably expensive: if it is to be done properly a sensible charge for stock for sale must be made (and we should accept that there are those not in the world of pedigree dogs, who care just as much as we do for the puppies that they breed as was shown by the recent survey of owners of Cockerpoos which I highlighted some weeks ago).

No excuse

But there is no excuse – that is ‘no excuse’ just to make it absolutely clear -, given that people will pay a reasonable prices for good quality puppies, for the breeding stock and the puppies themselves ever to be kept in any conditions other than those which experts and non-experts alike can describe as ‘excellent’.

It is not as though it is difficult. Freedom to move around with sufficient regular exercise, good food, clean water, good husbandry and regular cleaning of a suitable environment, good socialisation and contact with humans, a thoughtful breeding strategy and good paperwork – rocket science it is not. There is simply no excuse for treating animals in any way that is not in their best interests. Ethical and moral duties aside, The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it crystal clear what our legal duty is to those animals for which we are responsible and I am delighted the RSPCA is prepared to take those who do not fulfil their obligations to the attention of the Courts.

I do not know whether you have heard of Margaret and Gary Mazan who live in Bradford and who are breeders of Irish Setters: he is a long distance lorry driver and she is a chef. Mrs Mazan has shown her dogs enthusiastically over the years (she entered four at Crufts in 2010) and in a breed in which there is much competition did reasonably well. Back in 2013, one, Klever, was good enough to win at the Otley Canine Society Super Match. Klever has been hip scored and there are photographs on Mrs Mazan’s Facebook page of him running free and ‘relaxing’ on a sofa at home. My research indicates she began with a love of dogs and the best of intentions: she bred healthy litters and produced some sound stock. But clearly something went seriously wrong* at some stage and those who have met Mrs Mazan at shows in recent years or looked at the pictures on the websites to which she subscribes, would have had no idea that she was keeping her dogs in what the local RSPCA inspector described as the worst conditions she had ever seen.

Highlighting responsibility

However, I bring this matter to your attention not simply to censure the Mazans – that is the role of the Court – but to highlight the responsibilities of all of us who keep animals. Both Mr and Mrs Mazan were brought to the Court for seven breaches of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The process was properly and sensitively implemented in that the couple were given a formal warning and advice three years ago by the local dog warden and the RSPCA as to how the dogs should be better cared for – and for a little while the conditions appear to have improved. But this did not last very long and after the dog warden made a routine call to check and was refused access to the house in January of last year, the RSPCA with the support of the police, raided the house and took the dogs, which were in an extremely poor condition, into their care.

Mrs Mazan did not give evidence and her husband, when questioned by the Court, said that the dogs were nothing to do with him and entirely the responsibility of his wife. And this is the point: whether or not this was true and he really left the care of the dogs entirely to Mrs Mazan, he was nevertheless convicted along with her. In fact, the Chairman of the Bench specifically stated that ‘he was jointly responsible for the care and control of the dogs’. The very fact that he was aware of their very poor physical condition and the overcrowded environment in which they were kept – and did nothing to help them – meant he had directly committed offences under the Act.

There can be no excuse for allowing animals suffer: we are responsible for their health and welfare. Personally I am delighted to see that the Animal Welfare Act is being used as was intended. For all the demands for new legislation (as set out in our report in this week’s issue of the recent meeting of the All Party Group for the Welfare of Animals to improve animal care) there is little that is not covered by this legislation whether it is the conditions within large breeding establishments or the importation of puppies. The demands of the Act are sensible and specific: they just needed to be applied – as they were in this case by the local dog warden and the RSPCA.

* The Kennel Club Charitable Trust has a Breeders Helpline. This is a telephone service which offers support and advice to breeders who face difficulties in looking after their dogs or anyone concerned about the welfare of specific dogs in their area. It is available 24/7 and all calls are dealt with confidentially. The service was set up primarily for breeders who have become overstocked and under resourced such as an elderly owner who has tried to cope with a reduction in income or has an understandable attachment to their ‘golden oldies’. Calls are also often received for veterinary guidance and for advice when summonses about to be or have already been issued. The number to call is 0845 30 30 18.

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