Archive for December, 2012


Why keeping the ban is more important than some might think

Last week I grudgingly bigged up the RSPCA on Twitter for prosecuting the Heythrop Hunt for flouting the ban on hunting with dogs. Being chums with the Prime Minister doesn’t make them above the law, I fumed and with more than 76% of British people wanting to keep the ban it infuriated me that our Government was actually considering repealing it.

In the midst of an economic crisis and with a thousand and one other priorities to deal with, pacifying a small minority of people who apparently enjoy seeing a living creature torn apart by a pack of dogs seemed utterly perverse. Nobody has stopped them from hunting, they just have to chase a scent and not a living creature. But that is apparently not good enough, they prefer a real fox to chase.

As a rider I can appreciate the thill of the ride especially as part of a large group, but I can’t wrap my brain around the idea that chasing a living creature and then killing it hideously is even necessary, unless of course, you enjoy seeing animals in pain. And I don’t just mean the last moments when the hounds strike and rip it limb from terrified limb, but the psychological pain of an animal fleeing for its life.  As a human being, how can you not empathise with that sort of suffering?

Animal abusers = People abusers 

There is clear evidence that animal abuse is a predictor of violence against humans.  Those who abuse animals lack empathy, not just for animals, but for people too.

According to Psychology Today, ‘nearly all violent crime perpetrators have a history of animal cruelty in their profiles’.  When asked how many mass murderers and schoolyard killers had committed acts of animal abuse, an FBI spokesperson is on record as saying “The real question should be, how many have not.”

Such is the link between animal abuse and child abuse that in the US, social services and animal welfare organisations routinely work together to identify and try to prevent abuse.

Animal abuse damages children

There is also evidence that witnessing animal abuse when young has a dramatic impact on a child’s ability to develop empathy.  According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 60% of incarcerated violent offenders saw their childhood pets taken away or experience traumatic deaths.

Animals play a vital role in helping children develop psychologically.  Anyone who’s grown up with animals will have suspected as much, but  I had no idea that there was so much evidence to measure and back this up. For example, in his book ‘The Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence’  Andrew Linzey, PhD, DD, HonDD, cites research from across the globe that concludes that witnessing animal abuse can psychologically damage children.  This may seem obvious, but the process is worth noting.

Children who witness neglect, abuse and/or the killing of an animal become desensitised to it.  What’s horrific today, isn’t so bad tomorrow and too soon, the child becomes indifferent and simply doesn’t care.  Habituation to the pain and suffering they see quickly follows and you soon have a child unable to empathise – with animal or human.

So what are we teaching our children as they witness a fox hunt, either in the flesh or on TV? And for those who claim empathy for some animals e.g. cats, dogs, horses, but not others, such as foxes, what are teaching them? That empathy is selective and dependent on appearance and popularity?  Oh, that’s a slippery slope if ever I saw one.

Social issue 

Empathy is vital, not just to our own mental health and stability but to the functioning of our society.  Imagine a world in which people were  emotionally incapable of caring! If the survivalists want something to worry about now that the Myan calendar has proved blessedly inaccurate, I’d suggest that this scenario should be top of their list.

I’m not suggesting that anyone who participates in a Fox Hunt is a full-blown sociopath, but if the road to psychosis is a sliding scale, then surely the evidence suggests that they’re a lot further toward the nut house than the rest of us.


Further reading 




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Annie & Bear under the (fake) mistletoe

Annie & Bear under the (fake) mistletoe

At the weekend, during a half-hearted attempt at Christmas shopping I made one purchase that I was particularly tickled with.  It was a bunch of felt mistletoe. Now I know this might not be everyone’s idea of a top buy, but since I’ve had dogs I won’t buy mistletoe as the berries are poisonous.

I said as much in passing while chatting to the sales girl and she was absolutely horrified, hastily explaining that she had a new puppy and had no idea about things that might be harmful.

Cue crazy dog lady who then felt compelled to then hold up the queue listing all of the things that are potentially fatal to dogs and especially curious puppies…

Irresponsible advertising

It’s a topical point as a battle royal rages between the dog loving world and Morrison’s supermarket who’s Christmas advert shows a dog being fed Christmas pudding.

Raisins are incredibly toxic to dogs and even a few can cause fatal renal failure, a fact that their PR department is bizarrely trying to deny despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

There’s little excuse for large corporations to get it so wrong, even less for such a puerile stance when their error is pointed out to them, but we can be more generous to the innocent dog lover, who, like the young girl in the shop simply didn’t know.

Spread the word

So if you want to help dogs this Christmas, please spread the word that lots of everyday food stuffs and some of the plants we decorate our homes with at this time of year are potentially fatal to dogs.  It’s even more important when we welcome friends and family into our homes who may not have dogs.

One of Little Bear’s Bichon friends was fed four After Eight mints as a puppy by a visiting toddler and spent two ‘touch and go’ days at the emergency vet as a result.  Had he not had such a clued up owner or fur incapable of hiding chocolate stains, he may not have lived to tell the tale.

Here are some of the common ones, but Dog’s Trust do a more comprehensive list that’s worth a ‘cut out and keep’ and sticking to the fridge alongside the emergency vet number, just in case.


Apple pips

Apricot kernels

Aloe Vera





Holly berries





Xylitol (a sweetener found in low-calorie foods)

You can follow the Morrison’s story via the ‘Morrison’s Christmas Pudding TV Ad could Kill’ Facebook page

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Little Bear the dog in front of the Christmas tree

Little Bear and the Christmas tree

With the Christmas holidays around the corner, I’m counting down the days to a week off.

In my head, I’m imagining something straight out of a John Lewis ad.  All Country Living magazine festive with everyone laughing around an elegantly dressed table laden with fantastic food, fine china and posh crackers.

I’m enough of a realist to accept that it will be more like something out of Fawlty Towers, but I’m a relentless optimist too. Somehow, my deep desire for the fantasy Christmas has blocked out the fact that it will most likely be a few stressful days of last minute shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, bed making and entertaining various house guests sandwiched between two 300 mile round trips to pick up and drop off family members.


Sad though it is to admit, Christmas is stressful and if we’re stressed, you can bet our dogs will be too. Especially fearful dogs like Annie who take comfort in the certainty wrought through routine and anxious dogs like Little Bear who can quickly get hyper.

Having lots of visitors can be exciting, but it can also be over-stimulating for some dogs and ours are no exception.  In our eagerness to make sure everyone has a full glass and a plate of something tasty, we can too easily overlook the subtle signs of stress from our dogs.


We’re taking radical action this year. We’re sacrificing the comfort of guests for the comfort of our dogs. We’re donating one of our sofas to a charity so that the dogs can have their beloved crates back.

Having a safe space to retreat to is really important for dogs all year round, but especially at Christmas. I’ll also be stocking up on Adaptil refills for the diffuser and there will be some stuffed Kongs and deer antlers on the treat menu to give them something to focus on while we’re playing hosts.  It’s no magic bullet, but knowing that the dogs are happy will at least be one less thing for me to stress about.

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Comb-over Bear

Comb-over Bear

Little Bear sporting a very fetching comb-over beard

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