It’s been delightful to read the comments and interest from so many people over the past week as we’ve unveiled the different elements of NAWT’s P.A.W. Manifesto. We know animal welfare is a subject close to so many people’s hearts, which is why we wanted to round up the current thinking on the welfare of our pets.
Much of this thinking comes from our day-to-day experiences of running rescue centres and in the second part of our blog, we are looking at some of the inconsistencies around the welfare of the UK’s three most popular pets after fish – dogs, cats and rabbits.
One of the issues that has been the subject of much campaigning over the past few years, spearheaded by Pupaid campaigner Marc Abraham, is the subject of banning the third party sales of dogs. This is a direct response to the rise in the sale of puppy farmed and illegally imported dogs and the horrendous impact on the welfare of these animals.
As an animal welfare charity sometimes seeing the sharp end of this unscrupulous trade when we take in abandoned puppy farm breeding dogs, we know it is a very complex issue and one that we will write about in a future blog post. However, one action that we agree could be taken is for an immediate ban on the sale of dogs through pet shops, because their environment and practices fall short of the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. We believe the same ban should be extended to cats and kittens too.
What is wrong with pet shops? The main problem is one of sourcing. A good breeder who prizes and respects their animals would simply not sell their puppies or kittens to a pet shop for one simple reason, the welfare needs of the animal. Take dogs for example, the first 12 weeks of life are the most important in terms of their learning experiences and socialisation. If puppies are not receiving all the right interventions from their mother and their siblings in those first few weeks of life, then behavioural problems are likely to develop further down the line.
The next pledge goes back to microchipping but this time we are calling for compulsory microchipping legislation to be extended to cats. By their very nature, cats are more prone to roaming and becoming lost which makes it very difficult if they are then picked up and brought in to a rescue centre as a stray.
We find it heartbreaking when we think someone might have lost their beloved moggy and we are unable to find any of way of tracing the owner.
The laws for stray cats are very different from stray dogs. You don’t need to take a cat to an animal warden. As a rescue centre, we normally give it seven days if a stray cat is brought in to us before putting him or her up for rehoming, just like animal wardens are legally required to do with stray dogs. We also put up posters and advertise the cat on Facebook to see if we can track the owners down. If all cats had microchips then at least be there would be the chance of reuniting them with their owners as we did at our Cornwall centre this week when we were able to reunite ginger tom cat Rio with her family.
The next pledge concerns rabbits that are sadly among the most neglected of domestic pets. Families buy rabbits often thinking they are great pets for children but this is often not the case. For a start rabbits are not easy to handle despite their cuddly appearance. They are prey animals and instinctively not used to being handled. If they are not regularly handled from a young age, they can show signs of aggression through kicking and biting. Perhaps the biggest problem is to do with the amount of space they really need to be able to live a happy life. Gone are the days that a small hutch was considered sufficient. Rabbits are best kept in large pens with spaces to run and places to hide. Just the kind of space that is often compromised in crowded family gardens with trampolines and play equipment. They need the company of other rabbits too. With so much misunderstanding about rabbits, we really feel there should be some specific protection of their welfare standards, to help people realise what their true needs are.
Our final pledge is without doubt our most controversial. We have already seen our politicians grappling with the challenge of providing social care for our aging population. Our final pledge might be a positive contribution to the challenge by helping to reduce the cost of care bills if we can support older people’s desires to keep pets.
Studies have shown that people benefit from living with a pet because it can reduce stress levels and blood pressure. We also know how older people living on their own can suffer from loneliness and isolation too. But many pensioners are put off taking on a companion animal because of the costs, particularly vets fees. We had a lovely story this year of Dora, a stray dog that came into our Hertfordshire centre who turned out to be pregnant. Once she had her pups, Dora was rehomed to a recently widowed older lady. She popped back with her dog at one of our Open Days to say how much Dora had changed her life as she goes out and everyone wants to talk to her because of her sociable dog. This is exactly what pets do for us, and if we could find a way of subsidising vet fees for the elderly, we would be able to help both people and pets.
So that’s the end of our P.A.W. Manifesto and we hope that pet lovers everywhere can use it as a reference point and help animal welfare organisations like ours, to keep some of these issues front of mind whoever gets elected next week. Now is the time to let those politicians standing for election in your constituency know that some or all of these issues are important to you. Will you contact your local candidates to encourage them to support these pledges and protect our pets?