THE BLOG
23/10/2015 12:04 BST | Updated 22/10/2016 06:12 BST

The Rights and Wrongs of Canine Rehabilitation

Dogs unfortunately have accidents. They break legs, hurt their backs and sometimes they're born with problems that require surgery to correct. Even the healthiest dogs can, in their senior years, suffer from general wear and tear on joints. When these things happen, the road to recovery necessitates veterinary intervention, physiotherapy and a guardian that's prepared to support them while they heal.

We're so fortunate to live in a time when the veterinary profession can literally perform miracles. Anyone watching Channel 4's 'Supervet' Noel Fitzpatrick at work will attest to just how astonishing these transformations can be for dogs that not long ago would have had no hope of surviving, let alone having a fulfilling life.

This is the acceptable and welcome face of canine rehabilitation.

But what about the dogs who need rehabilitation because they have been deliberately subjected to harm? The dogs whose bodies have been damaged and their minds broken by people who see them as things and not intelligent, sentient beings?

Our 'nation of animal lovers' is strewn with these victims of abuse and neglect and the overwhelming majority of these crimes go unreported. Even when prosecuted, abusers are handed such lenient sentences that they are not a fitting punishment or an adequate deterrent to others. This is the way our nation deals with a sickness that now seems endemic in society. And this aspect should greatly concern everyone, whether an animal lover or not. It has been well documented that many abusers practice their heinous deeds on animals before going on to commit domestic violence, unspeakable crimes against children and have even become serial killers.

For the animals that survive human abuse, who picks up the pieces? This is left up to a veritable handful of compassionate people who understand the true value of non-human life. These people go about their work quietly and calmly in the background. For them, helping to repair the damage others have inflicted is not a career choice - it is a compulsion. They are genuine unsung heroes who ask for nothing more than a successful result for the animals in their care.

Whether working in rescues, adopters or fosterers, they do what the majority of people simply couldn't face. They look into the eyes of animals that are scared, confused and in pain and do whatever they can to make them feel safe, loved and comfortable.

But there is also the need for rehabilitation on yet another level, where the neglect and abuse is being tolerated under the law because it is considered to be an 'unfortunate' side effect of a trade or industry.

Greyhounds suffer unimaginably to satisfy the human urge to gamble. And puppy farm breeding dogs suffer a confined living hell to satisfy public demand for puppies. When these industries have taken their pounds of flesh, the dogs that manage to survive need rehabilitation on a grand scale.

There are of course those who can't understand why anyone would bother to take the time or spend the money to help these dogs when a bullet to the brain or a brick smashed against a skull is their idea of dealing with a life that is no longer productive in their eyes. This is an end to life that happens on a daily basis to dogs in the UK; dogs that have no names and will never be mourned.

Rehabilitating a dog from a puppy farming background for example, is definitely not a walk in the park. It takes enormous patience and a lot of time. It also takes an understanding that dogs who have survived years of incarceration, malnourishment and sensory deprivation, will always have certain limits. They can emerge from these establishments physically challenged with thin matted fur, skin infections, sight problems, rotting teeth, fractures and be covered in parasites. Their muscles are weak from living in a cramped, confined space.

They have no experience of everyday life as we know it. The sights and smells of a park and open space initially make them fearful. The sound of a TV or a washing machine are frightening and alien. They have no concept of what it is to play. And for many, they even have to learn how to eat from a bowl. For a dog to emerge in this condition at anything from 4 to 10 years old should be criminal. But instead, it's licensed.

Gaining the trust of a dog that is emotionally shut down because she or he has never known anything but fear and isolation can take many months and even years. They also need to be placed in homes where there is the additional support of a resident, calm and sociable dog just so that they can learn what it means to actually be a dog. Every small hurdle they manage to overcome on this journey of immense obstacles is heartbreakingly joyous for those who are by their side: An elation that is on a par with being present when your baby first says 'mama' or your toddler takes his first step.

But even at your highest point with a dog that is progressing well through rehabilitation there is always an angry question burning in the back of your mind. Why? Why are these dogs having to be rehabilitated in the first place? What kind of country allows the greyhound and puppy farming industries to cause such immense pain and suffering to tens of thousands of dogs for money?

Until Government decides to answer these questions by delivering serious, enforceable welfare reforms, those who dedicate their lives to repairing the damage caused to man's best friend by other people have no option but to keep doing what they're doing.

Rehabilitating dogs to improve their quality of life will always be the right thing to do. But needing to rehabilitate them for the wrong reasons continues to be just plain shameful.