Picture the scene. A normal weekday morning. Everybody in the house is up, ready for school / ready for work / ready for the day. The family heads out and as they leave, release their beloved family dog out of the door, ready to roam the streets for the day with other like-minded pet pooches, returning for their dinner in the evening…..
STOP. WAIT. WHAT? Dogs let off the lead, out by themselves to wander the streets all day? What about if they get lost? What if they get injured or even happen to injure another animal? What if they bite somebody? What if they get stolen by dog thieves?!
Believe it or not, years ago putting your dog out to wander the streets all day wasn’t seen as irresponsible. It wasn’t seen as something out of the ordinary and certainly wasn’t frowned upon. Times have changed. Much like nowadays, where in the interests of safety, families are much less inclined to allow children to walk miles alone to and from school each day, allowing your pet dog to wander solo outside on the streets would not be seen as you behaving as an irresponsible owner. (Should the dog cause a nuisance, cause injury, wander within certain designated zones without a lead and many other examples, you may also be breaking certain UK Laws, but that’s a little beside the point.)
If we go back even further than 50 years, dogs got the royal seal of approval from Queen Victoria in 1837 when the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was prefixed with the word ‘Royal’ (and the RSCPCA was born!). Since then our love for dogs has continued to grow from an estimated 4.7 million dogs in the UK in 1965 to a whopping 9 million in 2016 (according to Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA)). Dog ownership then started to decline in the years following, thought to be linked to a rise urban living and an aging UK population who didn’t want the commitment of having a dependent animal.
However, the past 18 months and the pandemic have seen a resurgence in dog ownership with the UK pet dog population now back to over 9 million dogs (PFMA). The growth in dog ownership marks an increase of 400,000 pets over last year, and shows that 26% of households now own a dog. This increase is likely due to people having more time at home and downtime to raise a pet through the various lockdowns and home-working.
As responsible pet owners we watch out for our dogs’ health with regular vaccinations and treatments (e.g. flea and worming), and even encourage some dogs to donate their blood to a central blood bank in order to aid other dogs when they are unwell. We provide enrichment with toys and puzzles, and look for different ways to prevent their boredom. We train them and encourage positive behaviour, even supporting some dogs to become ‘therapy dogs’ to provide comfort, distraction and stimulation to those in need (in recent years even helping children to develop their reading skills and improve confidence). All in all, nowadays we have much greater awareness of a dog’s welfare and individual needs, and also the part they can play in enriching the lives of both its owners and those it comes into contact with.
Whilst moving towards responsible dog ownership is an ethos that the vast majority of people will support, there may be some instances where you could say that dog owners have taken it just that little bit too far in recent times (personal pet BMW, pet hiking sandals or personal doghouse bouncy castle, anybody?) And we haven’t even started to talk about designer dogs or celebrity influencers……
On the flip side, media attention and focussed PR campaigns have, over recent years, allowed some dog breeds to start to overcome their ‘challenging’ reputations – think Staffies and Dobermans for starters. Plus some celebrities also use their fame to support ‘rescue’ as the top breed (Amanda Seyfried, George Clooney to name but a few).
Thinking about dog ownership over the decades, it’s certainly true that time has changed perceptions around what it means to look after your dog. However, what hasn’t changed is that the majority of individuals want to be responsible pet owners and look after their pet pooches the best way. With this in mind, in this NAWT’s 50th Year, please help us by donating to support our work – donating your time, donating your energy or donating financially. This will help to ensure that the NAWT is there to support animals and owners who continue to need its help and support both now and for the next 50 years.