Last year 2014 was a very interesting year for many reasons. Coming off the back of September's Commons PupAid debate in which overwhelming cross-party backing was given to support a ban on puppies (and kittens) sold without their mums, which of course only the Government frontbench rejected.
Obviously this wasn't an ideal result for our four-legged friends as this encourages large scale commercial dog breeders to still breed dogs to death in puppy farms; but as we now know everything happens for a reason so more on that later.
January always means helping judge CEVA's Animal Welfare Awards (which I'm honoured to have won twice) recognising the best in UK animal welfare with loads of categories to choose from. Voting for this year's awards is still open so I urge you all to nominate your own animal welfare champion here. In January I also visited Dogs Trust in Kenilworth to report about abandoned rescue puppies live on ITV's Good Morning Britain.
I was also lucky to visit both London and Glasgow veterinary schools to deliver lectures on animal welfare and making a difference. January was also a busy month in Westminster - as was the whole year to be honest - attending meeting after meeting with numerous animal welfare MPs including Rob Flello and Angela Smith. Being invited by my friend and tireless animal welfare campaigner Brian May to watch him perform with Queen (I saw them last in 1986!) at the O2 was also a January highlight.
February arrived and General Election fever was hotting up. Each party was revealing its manifesto with animal welfare highlighted in different degrees by the various colours. As founder of PupAid's campaign to end puppy farming I was incredibly proud to read that Labour, Greens, and the Lib Dems had all flagged issues surrounding puppy farming, irresponsible pet breeding and sales, even puppies sold in pet shops.
I had an interesting one-on-one meeting (below) with Government Minister George Eustice (the same Minister who rejected the petition to ban the sale of puppies without their mums present which had been signed by over 110,000 members of the public in just six months) and Simon Kirby MP in which I provided him with all the evidence needed (and more) to help try and reverse that decision.
I was also invited to Lisbon to be guest speaker at CEVA's annual conference on animal welfare - and even had an opportunity to explore one of Europe's most enchanting cities. February also saw the Hanwell Pet Shop hearing at Ealing Town Hall which I attended as well as many more meetings in Westminster including the All Party Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) sub-group committee about dog welfare strategy.
March means Crufts and a chance to meet up with and highlight some of my favourite charities including Guide Dogs, Hearing Dogs, Canine Partners, Battersea, Wood Green, Pets As Therapy, Dogs for the Disabled (Dogs for Good), and plenty more. I was also proud to promote rescue dog adoption - as well as the correct way to buy a pup - when interviewed on Channel 4 by Claire Balding about puppy farming.
Crufts is also one of the few chances in the year to hang out with my dear friend Victoria Stilwell (who now lives in the States), as well as support the Friends for Life Competition of which I was a judge - the 2015 winner highlighting the dog meat trade in Asia. March also saw the excellent Whalefest hit Brighton as well as the APGAW pre-election Question Time meeting in the Commons. March also saw an excellent meeting in Parliament to highlight the dog meat trade where I met the lovely Dame Judi Dench.
In April I attended CEVA's Animal Welfare Awards in Birmingham followed by lectures at the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) Annual Congress - a golden few days of topping-up on all the latest research and knowledge in the pet health world as well as catching up with colleagues and experts in my profession.
The highlight of April was Brian May's 'Votes for Animals' march (above) from Oxford Street to Parliament, culminating in the first of a few rallies outside the House of Commons. Organised by the League Against Cruel Sports and LUSH hundreds joined myself, Brian and the 'third amigo' actor Peter Egan on a glorious sunny day - raising awareness of MPs regardless of party who vote with their conscience for animal welfare not just the way their leaders expect - summed up nicely by Brian's Common Decency movement.
May was election time and although the result didn't exactly appear to go the animals' way I've since been really impressed by the new Tory intake - many of whom I'm happy to report are passionate about dogs and cats and are now supporters of PupAid too. As a proud ambassador of Wood Green Animal Shelter I was proud to take part in their National Unwanted Pet Month (NUPM) campaign with my friend and actress Ali Bastian to promote rescue pets.
May also saw one of my favourite fun dog shows, All Dogs Matter's Great British Bark Off, which takes place on Hampstead Heath and is absolutely brilliant fun - especially as this year I was judging with Peter Egan and my mate Rachel Riley. The next day I was off to the States for the World Premiere of DOG BY DOG, an American movie documentary about the relationship between industry and animal welfare legislation that allows/encourages puppy farming to continue. I'm deeply grateful to the film's Director, Chris Grimes, for inviting me to be a producer of DOG BY DOG. The screening went well in New York followed by a Q&A which I took part in; repeated the next evening in Philadelphia.
Before heading home I was able to see one of my all-time heroes Larry David in his play 'Fish in the Dark' as well as meeting him afterwards. The end of May saw a visit to rescue centre Triple AAA in Marbella, Spain as well as a guest spot on the Wright Stuff talking about puppy farming, rescue pets, and animal welfare - complete with live phone-in.
The month of June saw things again getting political and various meetings with animal welfare organisations took place in Swansea and London. Common ground and consensus of agreement would, you'd think, be easy but unfortunately things are never as simple as they first seem. Perhaps it's just easier for campaigners to see the solutions because their only agenda is animal welfare. This disappointing theme continued for the rest of 2015. On a more positive note, I was so happy to judge Greyhound Compassion's Fun Dog show in Hertfordshire and even got to judge - wait for it - the cake competition with the Women's Institute!
June was rounded off nicely with Animal Asia's Gala Night in London and a chance to see one of my animal welfare heroes Jill Robinson (below). A perfect evening that raised money and awareness for one of the most honest, transparent charities out there and I would urge all of you to support their work saving moonbears from the horrific bear bile industry in China and Vietnam.
July is traditionally the busiest fun dog show month so it was scrub top on and off to support a few including The Mayhew Animal Home's annual Hyde Bark event in London as well as the Painshill Pooch Day in Surrey. One of my favourite afternoons in July was spent with Victoria Stilwell visiting Hersham Hounds greyhound rescue (below) who meticulously look after ex-racers making sure they all have the best chance of finding loving forever homes.
I was also proud to support assistance dog charity Canine Partners' fundraiser in the beautiful setting of Arundel Castle Cricket Ground. July was the month the Government backed down and postponed their own debate on fox hunting. After some phenomenal campaigning by anti-hunt groups such as Save Me, a rally outside Parliament on the morning of the debate turned into a celebration as the SNP had at the last minute declared they'd vote against David Cameron making the debate unwinnable for the Tories - at last - Foxes 1 Cameron 0.
In August things personally always start to get a little frantic in preparation for September's PupAid fun dog show; wall-to-wall meetings with journalists, sponsors, celeb judges, performing bands, charities, and trade stands to make sure it's always the best show it can be. Media coverage about puppy farming is at an all-time high which gets people talking, and hopefully raises more awareness about the correct (and simple) way to choose a dog - which is of course as a puppy seen interacting with its mum, or preferably from a reputable rescue centre.
In August I also met with the Kennel Club to raise my concerns about KC-registered puppies being sold in a pet shop, i.e. without their mum, and miles from their breeding environment (in this case licenced large scale Welsh dog breeders). To date, i.e. five months later, these KC-registered litters are still being sold in the same pet shop so I expect the Kennel Club (who confusingly claim to campaign for a ban on puppies sold in pet shops) to rectify this situation immediately - although what I'm hearing from them doesn't fill me with much confidence so I'm hoping to be proved wrong in 2016.
I was able to get away for a few days to Gozo (Near Malta) scuba diving in August too and managed to visit Gozo's SPCA animal shelter while I was there. August was also the month that witnessed the gruesome news of the murder of Cecil the lion which quite rightly made worldwide news headlines followed by the impeccably-timed and brilliant LionAid Concert raising awareness of trophy and canned hunting. I was proud to speak at this event as well as draw a picture that was later auctioned to raise funds for LionAid.
September is PupAid month so it was all hands on deck for the biggest puppy farming awareness dog show in Europe and now possibly the world. Taking place in London's leafy dog paradise of Primrose Hill this year's event was opened once again by my dear friends Owen and Haatchi (above), and was bigger and better than ever with everyone involved working together to raise awareness about this shameful legal industry in the UK. As a free entry show I'd like to thank all the people involved especially main sponsors Barking Heads, numerous other main sponsors, dog-lovers, celebrities, trade stands, Halo Dogs Agility, and doggy display teams (Hearing Dogs and Southern Golden Display Team), as well as the PupAid volunteers, and of course my fellow PupAid directors Stu and Bex who all make this day so unique, and we look forward to seeing you all again next year (date tbc but most likely Sept 3rd).
September also saw Hearing Dogs' fun dog show which I judged with Pam St Clement (yes Pat Butcher!) as well as speaking at another rally about the badger cull at the Commons with Brian May. There were more meetings in Parliament, and an appearance on ITV's This Morning brushing the teeth of hosts Eamonn & Ruth's lovely rescue dog Maggie! The month was rounded off rather nicely by an invitation from Battersea to speak at the Labour Party Conference about irresponsible dog breeding where I sat on a distinguished panel including Angela Smith MP.
October meant the Conservative Party Conference - a trip to Manchester and, once again invited by Battersea, I sat on a panel which included Neil Parish MP and Minister George Eustice to discuss dog welfare issues. A heated discussion ensued with the Minister under pressure and for the first time in public revealing he was now open to new legislation being tabled in 2016 - a significant breakthrough.
Other highlights in October were Discover Dogs at London's ExCeL where I launched my new Pet Health VetBox Range which not only helps look after your dog healthwise but generates money for dog charities too. Also in October I attended the Daily Mirror Animal Hero Awards where I won Vet of the Year so a huge thank you to everyone who voted for me. It was a very proud moment for me, as my parents were there to see me presented with my award, and it was to them that I dedicated it on the night.
November is traditionally the month for events including Hearing Dogs Awards, and Battersea Dogs Home's Collars and Coats Ball of which I was a guest of the Dog Cottage Company. November also saw the launch of the PDSA's excellent PAW Report as well as the inaugural All Party Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) Dog Conference full of brilliant speakers and MP presentations adding to the occasion too; an excellent event and many congratulations to Marisa Heath for organising it all.
Like most months much of November was spent in Westminster - keeping the pressure on MPs, Ministers, and interested stakeholders (including the big charities) that change for the dogs must happen soon; and then being both positively amazed and excited with some responses, as well as hugely disappointed and disgusted with the others. Labour's Rob Flello also championed a Commons debate on the dog meat trade which I attended. November also saw the UK Premiere of the brilliantly shocking Blood Lions - another huge game-changing movie documentary perfectly highlighting the disgusting canned hunting industry in South Africa.
Finally December arrived and was kicked off with the lovely Mayhew Animal Home's Tinsel and Tails event followed the next evening by giving a lecture to Sussex University's Politics Society about PupAid and campaigning. More meetings were held in Parliament, the Guide Dogs Annual Awards took place, and the Government finally revealed its 'Consultation on the review of animal establishments licensing in England'.
I'll talk more about the hopes, ambitions and serious anxieties campaigners have about whether it will see the dogs better off than they are now, in a future blog. December also saw a particularly proud moment when I premiered DOG BY DOG in the Houses of Parliament to a room packed full of animal welfare campaigners; a truly exceptional evening made even better as director Chris, executive producer Chris, and Philadelphia rescue shelter CEO Grace all flew in from the States.
A Christmas Day appearance on Sky News promoting rescue dogs with Peter Egan plus a festive visit to the National Animal Welfare Trust rescue centre rounds off a challenging but fulfilling animal welfare filled 2015 and I can't thank everyone enough who made it happen.
The golden rule for 2016 is to all work together as that's how stuff happens; we can all make a difference somehow with whatever resources at our disposal. For example following PupAid on Twitter and Facebook and sharing tweets and posts, meet with your MP, or perhaps start your own e-petition to change something like the one to ban puppies in pet shops or compulsory scanning of microchips? Two fine examples of original campaigns are vet nurse Shakira Miles' 'SaveABulls' campaign to end Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), and Lisa Garner's puppy farm survivor 'Lucy the Rescue Cavalier' Facebook page and not-for-profit calendar idea (all already sold out!)
We are the voice of animals so we need to step up and prove that welfare is more important than trade, industry, or whatever other vested interests are preventing the health and happiness of this nation's animals. As a practicing veterinary surgeon also campaigning in Parliament I not only witness disastrous effects puppy farming has on pups and breeding bitches first hand in my consulting room, but also meet face to face with the exact individuals responsible for this barbaric industry continuing to flourish.
Special thanks also to my amazing agent Katie as well as my fellow campaigning buddies Linda and Sue (CARIAD), Julia (Canine Action UK), Philippa (Karlton Index), Patrick (Naturewatch), Mark (League/Hidden-In-Sight), and Emma. Also huge thanks to all the support from journalists, bloggers, social media campaigners that support PupAid and continue to help raise so much awareness. Finally special thanks to Peter Egan, Brian May, and of course Ricky Gervais for all their support too. Here's to an animal welfare-filled 2016 - let's hope it's the best one for them yet!
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