by   David Hancock

It is a chilling statistic that in 1888, and a century later, in 1988, Battersea Dogs Home took in over 21,000 dogs in each of those years. We are not learning; dogs are still considered disposable items. We destroy some 100,000 dogs each year. Over 2,000 cruelty to dog cases a year pass through the courts. How on earth did the tag of 'man's best friend' get bestowed on dogs! Why have we been dubbed 'a nation of dog-lovers'? I understand that in some pedigree breeds, breeding which can only be described as reckless is being conducted. In 2006, over 2,360 Dogues de Bordeaux, double the number of three years ago and four times the number in 2000, were registered. Before 1996, this breed didn't even figure in the registration lists. Our equivalent native breed, the Bullmastiff, has never once reached the registration level of that of the Dogue de Bordeaux in 2006. These figures may enrich the Kennel Club; they don't enrich the breed; a dog of this breed was recently found to have starved to death in a back garden.

Every year thousands of purebred dogs go through the breed rescue and animal charity systems, well over 1,000 Labradors I believe. For any breed to register over 45,000 dogs a year is worrying; the deserved popularity of the Labrador is understandable but I come across more and more of them with unwanted temperament each year. But when there is more concern over the length of a dog's tail than its temperament, we are not acting primarily in the best interests of the precious man- dog relationship. Most dogs going into rescue do so because of unwanted behaviour. The breed most rigorously tested for temperament in the world of dogs is probably the Fila Brasileiro, a breed banned from our shores by the DDA. We can import hundreds of a comparable mastiff breed, the Dogue de Bordeaux, with wholly untested temperament, but not one from the most temperament-tested breed in the world. And we are expected to respect the law? Why on earth should the man in the street have any faith in those with authority in the dog world? When are we going to stop mismanaging dogs? Are we actually more, or less enlightened nowadays? The barbaric so-called sports carried out in past centuries are justly condemned by today's more compassionate society. Odious pastimes like bear and bull-baiting are rightly stigmatized, with the wretched captive victims receiving deserved sympathy. And, whilst that has my full support, it doesn't seem right to me to accord no compassion towards the unfortunate dogs involved. These dogs were employed, trained, encouraged and let loose by men; far more dogs were killed in the baiting rings than either bears or bulls. If you read the arguments used in Parliament in the 1830s to persuade the House to ban the baiting of animals with dogs, no speaker spoke up for dogs and their suffering in such repulsive contests.

A similar lack of sympathy towards dogs existed in the hunting field, especially in the boar hunt. Historians list the appalling totals of quarry killed but never the number of dogs which lost their lives in such hunts. Elector John George I of Saxony (1611-1656) held hunts in which nearly 32,000 wild boar were killed; his son only managed 22,000 in his lifetime! But it is likely that several dogs died for every boar. There was an old German expression which translates as 'if you want boars' heads you have to sacrifice dogs' heads'. The scale of hunting in the 17th and 18th centuries was quite staggering: on the 12th of January 1656 on Dresden Heath, 44 stags and 250 wild boar were killed; in Moritzburg in 1730 the haul was 221 antlered stags, 116 does, 82 fallow bucks, 46 fallow does and 614 wild boar. It may well be the case that on Dresden Heath on January the 12th 1656, several hundred dogs died in the hunting conducted that day.
A wild boar is a fearsome adversary, its speed in the charge is like lightning, their tusks can rip through the flanks of a dog and its underbelly with devastating effect. In his 'A Month in the Forests of France' of 1857, Grantley Berkeley related how one old boar at bay killed or rendered hors de combat 14 of the 18 hounds attacking it. He considered this a higher canine casualty rate than usual but expressed no surprise at the fact that dogs were routinely killed in such a hunt. The attitude towards the recklessly brave dogs which closed with the wild boar at bay is aptly summed up in The Master of Game of 1388: "They are almost shaped as a greyhound of full shape, they have a great head, great lips and great ears, and with such, men help themselves well at the baiting of the bull and at hunting of the wild boar, for it is natural to them to hold fast (i.e. seize and hold) but they are so heavy and ugly, that if they be slain by the wild boar it is no great loss".

A comparable lack of compassion is seen in the use of dogs to bait animals for the amusement of spectators. Hentzner, in his 'Itinerary' of 1598, provides this description: "There is a place built in the form of a theatre, which serves for baiting of bulls and bears; they are fastened behind, and then worried by great English bulldogs; but not without risque to the dogs, from the horns of the one and the teeth of the other; and it sometimes happens they are killed on the spot; fresh ones are immediately supplied in the places of those that are wounded or tired." Baiting dogs were clearly regarded as expendable, valued even less than the wretched baited quarry. The hooves and horns of bulls and the claws and teeth of bears must have accounted for around ten times the number of dogs as their target in the ring. Little is made of this canine sacrifice and suffering, if anything the formidable dogs involved are often blamed for their participation, as if they had a choice.
Whether it is lion-baiting, auroch hunting, the staging of exotic contests between dog and hippopotamus or dog and ostrich, public sympathy has been urged towards just the quarry. But dogs are victims too in such human-instigated activity. For every dog killed in such 'combat', another is cast into the fray. The injuries sustained by dogs in such cruel activities are hardly superficial; a lion can tear a dog to pieces, an auroch's horns can rip a dog in two, an ostrich can shatter a dog's skull with one well-aimed kick. Even a smaller native animal quarry, like the badger, can all but severe a terrier's head with its powerful jaws. I have immense sympathy for the badger, which has every right to defend itself, but concern too for the terrier. Dogs used in the hunt, when misused by man are victims too. Little consideration was given to Foxhounds in the recent debate on their use. In Scotland in a recent year more Foxhounds were killed than foxes.

Soon any dog with hunting-potential could end up being vilified. A sudden law change in Australia recently makes my point. Hunting laws in Victoria allowed the scent-trailing of sambar deer by two breeds, Bloodhounds and Beagles. The hunting is out of conservation concerns, because the deers' hooves damage the local ground environment and their numbers need controlling. A local hunter-conservationist imported some Kerry Beagles out of regard for their ability to do the job most effectively. When wild animals have to be culled on conservation grounds, it needs to be done in the most considerate yet efficient way; the Kerry Beagle is a superlative hound. But, in this Australian case, the law was then immediately amended so that the permitted hound breeds had to be breeds recognised by the Australian National Kennel Club. The Kerry Beagles, despite their superior hunting prowess, were thereby forbidden from use in sambar control. This could not have been on size grounds, the Kerry Beagle is far smaller than the permitted Bloodhound. It could not have been on any 'fit-for- purpose' argument, the Kerry Beagle is a perfect choice for such a task. It could however have been blind prejudice, the Kerry Beagle is used in Ireland for a style of hunting which is frowned upon by some activists in Australia. The most effective way to control sambar deer, on conservation grounds, has therefore been prejudiced by a misapplied dislike of hunting field use somewhere else, with superlative hounds. Those concerned about animal welfare will probably look away when the imported Kerry Beagles are destroyed. In so many very different spheres, when man gets it wrong, dog dies.
Dogs are so vulnerable to man's whim. In one century we seek superlative hunting dogs, in the next one we seek to ban any employment of that prowess. In one decade we want to own Rottweilers, in another we favour the Akita; rescue problems are quite needlessly created by our transient whims. We choose on appearance not characteristics. In a crime-ridden country we are discouraged from owning guard-dogs but lectured on the importance of crime-prevention by officials who would without hesitation seize an effective canine crime-preventer as a perceived threat to the public. It is lawful to breed dogs with inheritable blindness but unlawful to dock their tails. Which do dogs value more, their eyesight or their tail-length? It is certainly a topsy-turvy world that dogs live in. A decade ago I was told of a Bulldog breeder whose pups didn't live past four years of age; he made a great deal of money just replacing his short-lived pups. At £1,000 a pup, there is a cruel commercial logic in producing dogs which don't live long.

In a throw-away society, in a market-place where used goods have no value and in a country devoid of shame, dog disposal becomes part of that careless casualness. I recall one of my past vets telling me of an elderly but perfectly sound Goldie being brought in for destruction merely because its owner wanted 'one of those Beardies' she'd seen on TV. My local Blue Cross kennel is always full of cast-aside lurchers; when I was young they were valued as pot-fillers, now they are being seriously overbred. I don't recall puppy-farming in those days, certainly not on today's scale. For a companion animal to be 'farmed' doesn't speak well of human compassion. Dogs are not fashion accessories, warm-blooded playthings, status symbols or mere possessions. They are our most devoted animal companions, to be valued and treasured.

Changing contemporary human callousness and shallow appreciation of dogs is a huge task, affecting more than just canine considerations. But I suspect that the principal cause of dog misuse and abuse is over-production; we are simply breeding too many dogs, they therefore become undervalued, easily replaced, disposable, part of the throw-away society. Is it fair to dogs for any person to be able to breed from a bitch, really whenever they want to? I really don't care whether it would be fair to those who breed dogs for restrictions to be placed upon them. The very best breeders are rarely in it for the money. Breeding dogs purely for profit should not be an acceptable commercial activity. The licensing of dog breeding premises by local authorities should not just be a matter of location and facilities but dog welfare more generally. Clearing up after dirty dog owners is already a drain on hard-pressed council taxes. Why allow the market place to be flooded with dogs in the first place?

In the pedigree dog world, the problem of over-production could be reduced if the Kennel Club severely contained the number of dogs being bred. It is just not good enough to swank about by how many percentages breed registrations have gone up. That is not a plus for the dog game, but a sad commentary on confused priorities and distorted values. Initiatives like 'KC-Dog' would be better directed to reducing dog numbers, in rescue centres, in breed rescue organisations, dogs homes and animal charities. It is a stark fact that dogs are being undervalued, discarded quite casually and maltreated as a direct result because we humans are, with sublime indifference, breeding too many of them. It has got to stop. Far from having a human right to breed dogs if they want to, human beings should act more like the superior order we are supposed to belong to, with moral values and welfare obligations towards subject creatures.
Registrations income forms a substantial element in the income of the KC. This income is rooted in the over-production of pedigree dogs, whose market value relates to registration. For those members and their guests indulging in the social splendour and cultural ease of a private Piccadilly club there is a question: You are exploiting the over-production of pedigree dogs - is your conscience clear? Are you as a dog-lover happy to do that?