Almost three quarters (72%) of UK animal rescue centres are reporting an increase in the number of neglect cases they see, according to research conducted by the UK's largest dog adoption website, DogsBlog.co.uk.
The study, conducted in partnership with Co-operative Insurance as part of Dog Adoption Month - which concluded at the end of October - reveals that of the neglected dogs taken into rescue over the past year, 64% had been abandoned, 29% were malnourished, 29% had untreated health problems and 11% had been abused.
As raw stats, this is merely a depressing way of splitting the welfare figures. But when you consider that hundreds of dogs every day are handed over to the welfare system, those numbers represent an awful lot of human beings acting terribly. If you acquire a dog and then arbitrarily decide dog ownership is too much hassle, you're a big part of the problem. If you solve this problem by abandoning your dog, you're a terrible person. If your dog becomes malnourished, has untreated medical problems or is abused, you're a fantastically bad person. There are no excuses for dog neglect.
Even in cases when human idiocy or callousness aren't the cause, as a species we've always got questions to answer when the creature to which we historically owe the most debt ends up in the welfare system.
So while only the most unsympathetic among us would blame someone for handing their dog over to the welfare system if they'd been evicted or become ill, there is still a massive lack of accountability among those on whom these dogs rely.
Even in cases where owner death leads to abandonment, we can still be doing more to prevent our dogs burdening the welfare system. Pet owners that fail to account for their pet in their will, for example by stipulating how and where he should be re-homed, risk inadvertently forcing their dog into an already stretched-to-bursting rescue centre. Joyce Bradbeer, a probate solicitor with general practice law firm Moore Blatch, believes that wills are essential for all pet owners to remove any uncertainty about what happens to a dog should his owner die.
Straying is also a problem that puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on stretched welfare services. The recent heartbreaking scenes of the Manchester Dogs Home fire briefly brought the grim realities of dog abandonment and owner negligence into sharp focus. 60 dogs, most of them with a negligent human to thank for their situation, perished. 150 were rescued and mercifully, enjoyed a momentarily higher-than-normal chance of re-homing thanks to the tragedy of their circumstances. But not all dogs at the centre were looking for a new home, some were just strays waiting to be collected.
Imagine for a moment you were a normally competent dog owner who'd had an uncharacteristic lapse in concentration. Imagine your dog had walked out of the back yard and eventually had been picked up by a warden who turned that dog over to the care of Manchester Dogs Home. Imagine that, after hours of ringing around, you had tracked your dog down to the centre and had arranged to collect him the following day, only to see that the place giving him shelter was now burning down.
That's how Dawn Bradbury, owner of a two-year-old bichon frisé who'd escaped the day before the fire, would have felt. Tackling the mentality that leads people to abandon their pets is hard, but reducing instances of straying and lost dogs is quite simple. Microchipping can be done for free, and tracking via barcode or QR code is now so simple and cheap that there's little excuse for not bothering. Companies like Data-label use barcodes to track blood donations and even control who can access the fridge containing it. The applications of this technology for dog owners is quite obvious. You can already get collars with QR codes embedded which, when scanned, take you to an online profile of the canine wearer. The technology is available and cheap, we should be using it more.
Sadly mass abandonment is the logical conclusion to an all-too-casual attitude towards the massive commitment of dog ownership. Too many people become preoccupied with getting a cute pup of perfect provenance that they forget about the nuts and bolts commitments of dog ownership. The early morning rainsoaked walks, the days when their dog has a delicate stomach or an appetite for table legs rarely beg consideration.
Thousands of incredible dogs are waiting right now for a new family to take them in, yet people are still prepared to pay good money to get a purebred pup only to change their minds about dog ownership a few months later.
Joanna Lumley, supporter of Dog Adoption Month, believes the safety net of welfare actually contributes to this attitude.
"Thousands of dogs in the UK are just thrown away - or lose their homes - when things get tough which is why we need rescue centres but they are stretched to breaking point. It's great to have National Adoption Month as a reminder to help dogs who are not quite so lucky at finding a second home. As a passionate animal lover I would urge people to consider adopting a rescue dog which is hugely rewarding for all sides."
Dog owner and magician Dynamo believes the assumption that dogs in welfare are somehow inferior leads people to ignore potentially perfect pets.
"There are so many unloved and badly treated animals in these places it only seems right to give them a chance.
Adopting a dog is something I would definitely do in the future and I'd encourage other people to do it too because it's such a good cause, you're saving a dog's life and the amount of gratification and pride you get from your dog would be even greater, especially being a dog that you'd just saved and given the opportunity all dogs deserve. It's got to be a good feeling for both of you really. All dogs are awesome!"Suggest a correction