Bobi the disabled Bulgarian dog was introduced to the public back in December with a desperate plea for help through social media: 'Bobi Needs Emergency Media Help! RSPCA Wants to KILL HIM!'
Found in a shelter in Bulgaria by the K9 Rescue animal charity, the severely disabled dog arrived in the UK on Saturday 21 December 2013, yet six days later was issued with a death sentence by the RSPCA. A social media campaign and e-petition followed which caught the attention of the Daily Mail, who published an article documenting the 'Battle to save Bobi' on 29 December.
Media interest heightened the following day with headlines in the Independent and The Telegraph taking the view that the RSPCA were at fault, which highlights the bitter rivalry between the British media and the largest, most respected animal charity in the UK. The Telegraph reported: 'RSPCA in row over recommended euthanasia of disabled Bulgarian dog'. The Independent opted for, 'Animal charity embroiled in row over "discrimination against non-UK animals"'.
The official response by the RSPCA on 30 December pointed to Bobi's welfare issues: 'In short, there is no likelihood of recovery of a good quality of life. Bobi has now been seen by a total of five independent vets, all of whom believe the kindest option is for him to be put to sleep'. They also conceded that the Langford Veterinary Services at the University of Bristol had confirmed that 'whilst they would not recommend them, there are potential intensive, long-term treatment options available...' while adding that '...they may do no more than temporarily delay a decision that could be taken more quickly to put Bobi to sleep'. Remarkably, Bobi's life had been spared against the recommendation of the RSPCA.
Dogs with such severe disabling conditions are rare in the UK. Could the opportunity to experiment with 'intensive, long term treatments' be why the Langford Veterinary Services intervened? There would be no shortage of imported participants as there are over three million reported stray dogs in Romania alone; many have severe injuries due to public beatings. Perhaps the prospect of pioneering experimentation helped prolong Bobi's life.
One certainty is that media intervention allowed a relatively small animal rescue to challenge the most powerful animal welfare charity in the country. The fact that such media intervention was required to save this dogs life is troubling, though not surprising. The RSPCA admitted to euthanizing 3,400 animals for 'non-medical reasons' in 2011. Had a British dog been found in the same physical state, would the public expect the RSPCA to be involved? Would their destruction policy then be questioned by the British public? Why then was the media so interested in the plight of Bobi?
The unbalanced accounts of the newspapers suggest an ulterior, perhaps even political motive. The media gave the impression that this was a failing of the RSPCA to provide the right outcome for this rescued animal. Yet there was no real question of why a rescue charity had brought a severely disabled animal into the country. Three year old Bobi has paralysed back legs, double incontinence, and deep pressure sores from his time in Bulgaria. Had the rescue in question set out a plan of action prior to import? Had they set up a solid foundation for continual support, medical treatment and fundraising? Would the RSPCA have ever needed to get involved had this been the case?
Maybe not - the RSPCA has the same authority as any other animal welfare charity in the UK. Yet K9 Rescue claim to have had such preparations and planning in place. They did, however, have an unfortunate situation where the fosterer became overwhelmed. According to Bobi's official Facebook page: 'Suddenly at 8.55 pm ... Christmas Eve we received a message from foster Mum saying Bobi had ruined her and her families Christmas because he was incontinent and smelt so bad'. It was also stated that 'his wound was very bad'. Despite reassurance from the rescue, the RSPCA were made aware of the situation.
In this case, the RSPCA were doing what they do on a daily basis, dealing with an animal in the UK whose welfare was in question. If anything, the 'non-UK' birthplace of Bobi led to positive 'discrimination'. At a time when broader tension about Romanian and Bulgarian immigration peppered the tabloids, a story bringing together immigration and animals was sure to make a provocative story, especially as we are a 'nation of animal-lovers'.
Bobi was a political pawn, used by the media to condemn the RSPCA. In this case, the two charities in question were both doing the right thing in relation to the remit of their policies. The media hysteria, public bias and negative publicity meant that the death of Bobi would have haunted the RSPCA in 2014. The case of Bobi shows how influential the British media can be towards animal welfare debates, and the unbalanced nature of such stories.
The welfare of Bobi will now be monitored by the charities, vets and carers involved. Bobi is now a symbol of the broader Eastern European stray dog situation. While local authorities picked up 111,986 stray dogs in the UK in 2012, some people still feel strongly about importing disabled and injured dogs from abroad, rather than rehoming from British rescues. The case of Bobi also opens the debate on "Quality of Life vs Reasonable Destruction Orders". These areas are highly subjective and tainted with ideology and emotion. Personally, I would like to see a plan for continual care of any animal adopted by a rescue charity, including a funding, welfare and medical treatment roadmap, as without these fundamental issues being addressed from the outset, no charity or individual is in a position to take ownership of any animal, whether for rescue or as a pet.