Yesterday I read the shocking statistic that in the UK, 44.1 per cent of pet owners take no advice before getting a pet. With a nation in the apparent grip of some mysterious, paralysing modern illness that's affecting connections in the human brain between pet purchasing, common sense and the ability to think beyond today, is it any wonder that the country discards 250,000 pets a year, a good proportion of them dogs?
Wood Green, one of the country's leading animal welfare organisations used the startling statistic from their survey to launch National Unwanted Pet Week. Now in its second year, the initiative aims to raise awareness of the massive numbers of pets that are abandoned or mistreated.
Image source: Donna Law
Like Violet, a stray mastiff found wandering last year, having recently given birth, her puppies no doubt destined to appear in a pet shop or online pet sales site. A quick glance at the pages of these sites shows why they're the scourge of campaigners and the delight of the nation's puppy farmers and back street breeders. Listing after listing of thousands of puppies for sale, supplying a market that seems to know no bounds when it comes to puppy buying. It's a booming business that has no truck with careful research and planning. Breeders and puppy dealers advertising on these sites are unlikely to be offering much advice about the puppies they're selling and a dismally high number of buyers are not asking for any, as borne out by Wood Green's survey. It's a win-win state of willful ignorance for the booming puppy market.
After all, telling your naïve - and possibly daft - puppy buyer that the cute, diddy little husky pup will soon become an energetic, grown-up dog genetically programmed to run for miles each day, and that a ten minute poop run to the park, before being left to sit indoors all day, every day, won't cut it, will certainly kill a few sales. Not good for business. And it's all about business when it comes to puppies these days.
As well as being a highly lucrative market, it's also an easy one in which to operate for those with little conscience. If what you see in front of you is a four-legged incubator for your next few thousand pounds worth of sales, it's dead easy to force a dog like Violet to produce puppies, which are then sold with no traceability. And as the stats show, few questions asked. Right now, the nation's dogs are caught up in a perfect storm of almighty greed, trend-driven consumerism and a scandalous disinterest from anyone in authority to do anything about it.
It should all be so much better for the dogs.
We've been hearing for some years now that the economic pressures on people lead to dog abandonment and I accept this is a factor in some cases which find themselves in rescue. But, it still doesn't excuse people's actions. If people have the money to buy the puppies in the first place and we're usually talking several hundreds of pounds, even if they neither seek, nor, take any advice before parting with their money, it's a special level of ignorance that thinks a dog is going to live on fresh air and never get sick. An ignorance that's killing the nation's dogs as many of those ending up in rescue will not make it out alive.
If the buyers creating the thriving puppy market, choose not to think through their purchases to the end point of the dog's life - which should be several years down the line - and then decide to give their once desired, possibly loved, puppy up to someone else, they are accountable for their action. Only, they're not really, as there's not much that can be done. The rescues step in, do what they do, week after week, mop up and cope with the increasing flood of unwanted pets. It's darn miserable for both the dogs and rescue workers.
While there are some heartbreakingly sad and genuine cases of owners being forced to relinquish pets - and thank heavens for rescues being there to help - these do not account for most of the pet discarding that's going on today. I know it's not the 'done' thing to be judgemental about pets being handed into rescues. I understand that if people feel judged on what they're about to do, they are more likely to just abandon their pets. I do, fully accept this. But, my many good friends who work, or volunteer in the sector are better people than I am for being able to put aside their judgement, and look beyond the human doing the deed in order to help the animal. I'm a weaker specimen and can't keep my opinions to myself.
I think the widely adopted, non-judgemental stance when it comes to this topic, whilst understandable and admirable coming from those who see up close the miserable problems that are caused when pets become unwanted, needs to be counterbalanced by other voices. I don't expect rescues to do it, oh no, they have enough to cope with. And as I've found, it's not popular to criticise others actions when it comes to giving up their pets. I've had more than a few spats with those who don't like what I say. The topic is emotive and more than once, I've found myself painted as a heartless, callous, judgemental individual, thus neatly letting the pet dumper off the moral hook of responsibility as they become the apparent victim of my harsh judgement. But, I'm undeterred and care little if anyone reading this - although they probably stopped around the second sentence - is miffed by me judging them for ditching their pet.
My compassion runs deep when it comes to animals, but it refuses to extend to making people - who are the only ones with choices here - feel better about their actions. I've got too many other things to think about, like the 250,000 unwanted pets people will dump this year.
To find out more and to support Wood Green's National Unwanted Pet Week initiative visit here