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Britain - A Nation Of Pet Lovers - Must Stand Up For Animals Overseas

06/10/2017 12:04 BST | Updated 06/10/2017 12:04 BST
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Britain has a long-held reputation as a nation of animal lovers. And it's a reputation that extends around the world.

Historically, Britain was the first country in the world to implement animal protection laws, with legislation put in place as far back as 1822.

Today, we're as obsessed with our pets as ever. There are as many pets as there are people in the UK - an estimated 65 million - and almost every other household is believed to have a pet.

Dogs lead the way as the nation's favourite animal companion, with the UK's canine population standing at around nine million (closely followed by almost eight million cats). Since the Victorian period, dogs have been commonly regarded as pets in Britain (having previously been considered in a more utilitarian way), although the bond between humans and "man's best friend" stretches back millennia.

New research shows that the average dog owner in the UK now spends around £18,000 on their furry friend during its lifetime. Essentials such as food and vet care make up much of this expenditure. But, the findings also reveal the extent to which many owners are indulging their dogs through their purchasing habits.

One in 10 people have invested in designer clothing (including diamante collars) for their dogs, a fifth of owners buy luxury gourmet food, while some owners pamper their animals with extravagances such as expensive grooming, pet portraits and massages.

It seems that many dog owners in Britain will go to any lengths - and costs - to keep their pets happy. But, irrespective of the sums spent, the close relationship that people often have with their pet is very apparent, and 81 per cent of dog owners say they treat their animal like "like another member of the family".

From personal experience, I know how important this relationship with pets can be. In our household, there is never a dull moment thanks to two springer spaniels with boundless energy - Hannah and Sophie. They undoubtedly get spoilt, but the fun, companionship and affection they bring is priceless.

It's reasonable to say that the majority of animal owners in the UK are responsible and caring. There are exceptions, of course, and cases of mistreatment and neglect are completely unacceptable. But, thankfully, most pets in this country enjoy a happy and healthy life.

However, the reality is tragically very different for many animals overseas today - particularly working animals in developing countries.

Working animals are the backbone of society in many poorer countries, with over 200 million horses, donkeys, camels and other working animals supporting the livelihoods of around one billion people worldwide.

Through their labour, these animals make it possible for families in poor communities to earn an income, by pulling carts and ploughs, and transporting everything from water and firewood to people.

Yet, despite their fundamental importance, many working animals sadly lead short and painful lives in punishing conditions, carrying back-breaking loads in extreme temperatures. More often than not, they lack the basic necessities such as food, water and shelter. And, unlike in the UK, lifesaving veterinary care is almost never available or affordable when they are sick or injured.

Like their owners, these hardworking animals never get to enjoy the luxury of holidays or retirement. They work until their final days.

SPANA is working hard to improve their lives by providing free veterinary treatment to working animals throughout the world - a lifeline for animals and communities.

But, the charity is also aiming to bring about long term change for these animals and the people who depend on them, by educating schoolchildren about animal welfare, and providing advice and training for communities in how to better look after their animals.

On World Animal Day (4 October) and beyond, SPANA is calling on everyone to lend their support to ensure that working animals - which aren't as fortunate as our pets at home - receive the care, attention and vital veterinary care they so urgently need.

In Britain, we should be proud of our record in standing up for animals. It's wonderful that our much-loved pets in the UK are treated so well. Now, more than ever, we need to stand up for animals overseas to put an end to suffering and help give them the more compassionate future they deserve.

For more information, visit www.spana.org/world-animal-day-2017