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Getting dogs back into a positive light

There are now 10 million dogs and 10 million cats in 20 million households in the UK – more than ever before! However there are some often cited negatives of having pets in society which we need to think about in order to assess just how real the problems are. These include –

Let’s start by looking at some of the myths surrounding Dog Attacks. Dog bites requiring NHS hospital treatment in 2008/2009 were 5221 or, put in another way, a 1915:1 chance, if each dog bites once, of being bitten by a dog. In contrast, 10 years ago there were around 6 – 7 million dogs and cats respectively with the number of dog bites requiring NHS hospital treatment totaling 3416 or a 1756:1 chance of being bitten.

In short: Dogs are getting safer despite increasing in numbers.

Another perspective to look at is fatalities caused by dog-related attacks.
In 2006-

In 2007 –

In 2008 –

Just moving about the UK is 670x more likely to kill you than dogs are. I’d also suggest watching how you get out of bed in the morning too!

Despite these figures however Defra still says that ‘there has been growing public concern over public safety issues relating to ‘dangerous’ and ‘status dogs’…ie those dogs used to harass and intimidate the public…traditionally associated with young people on inner city estates and those involved with criminal activity. In recent year’s incidents, attacks and the fighting of these dogs has increased, sometimes involving children and resulting in tragic fatalities.

The Government’s new consultation document seeks to extend breed specific legislation to cover Staffies, whom we may add are consistently in the top 10 of our favourite breeds, and extend its remit to ‘in the home’ as well as public places. The document in itself does very little to encourage responsible pet ownership. No mention is given of educational provisions to help prevent possible problems occurring whilst the very successful Dog HUB scheme model, instituted in the London Borough of Camden area (contact [email protected] for further information) may very well be engaged elsewhere, or even nationally, to help cater better for all dog owners in society.

However, the true root of ‘The Problem’, rather than ‘public concern’ among ordinary happy dog owners, seems to be the current ‘media obsession’ and the focus on problems of serious aggressive dog incidents largely restricted to inner city estates. It’s surely the design and impact on human social behaviour that needs to be addressed, not the consequences of it in canine terms.

So where does the poor image come from?

So many scientific studies have shown how vital pets can be, and sometimes far better than social services, in so many respects for the young, old, able and disabled alike. If you look at the benefits critically; dogs and cats should be prescribed on the NHS! Exercising, obesity busting, health promoting, social lubricating pets!

Look no further for great examples of what might be done than the London Borough of Islington and SNIP (Society for Neutering Islington’s Pussies – now working to national and international acclaim for over 20 years) and the Dog HUB scheme mentioned earlier in the London Borough of Camden. It’s also worth remembering that many people will sustain high taxes, the ever increasing costs of beer, petrol and cigarettes, but they will vote according to how the various parties deal with pets and animal welfare and the impact this has on their day to day life.

Instead the new Government Consultation document is once again nearly all about empowering local authorities to administer more restrictions to dog ownership and more punishments to failing dog owners but with no requirements for them to offer education in canine care and welfare. Yet any good teacher and any good dog trainer these days understands that if you change behaviour you get the best out of children, dogs and also people with techniques of positive reinforcement; ie lots of carrots, not lots of sticks!
Moving forward I hope we see something of a celebration of pet ownership and an exploration of why they are now more popular than ever. We can count bites and fatalities, we can record offences under noise pollution acts and we can measure the amount of dog and cat faeces deposited every day. However, the way to reduce all of these problems is through education and not punitive legislation for not knowing what you don’t know.
The real challenge is how do we measure all that dogs and cats provide for the benefit of mankind? How do you measure the comfort and reassurance that just stroking a pet brings to the elderly, the freedom that assistance dogs bring to their owners, the savings to the various counseling services of the NHS that pets bring through the positive psychological effects that they provide? How do you measure how much the keeping of pets, and not just the walking of dogs, keeps us in better shape physically and physiologically?

Did you know –

But, most challenging of all, how do you quantify the joy and smiling face of a child playing with a puppy or kitten, or how those pets help keep the child in us grown ups? For that is where the true value of pets lies…making us feel good in our increasingly hectic world.
So let’s see some more Dog HUB and SNIP type investment in facilities and education to encourage more and better pet keeping. It’s good for society… and we pet owners are nicer people who, like our dogs deserve far better than being beaten with sticks in our modern society!

Getting Dogs back into a Positive light

by Peter Neville
Clinical Professor, Dept of Veterinary Medicine, University of Miyazaki, Japan
Adjunct Professor, Dept of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University, USA

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