Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Moving to wordpress!

This blog is transferring to wordpress and from now on can be accessed directly on the homepage of www.kildarevet.ie

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fight Club- Nearer than you know.

The term pitbull is usually used to refer to a type of dog rather than a specific breed. A Pitbull terrier generally describes any crossbreed of the American PitBull, English Bull Terrier or Staffordshire Bull Terrier which has been bred or trained for the purpose of fighting another dog in a ring. These dogs are not naturally any more or less aggressive towards Humans than other dogs and it is acknowledged that these breeds arent dangerous when raised properly.

Pitbulls are valued by performance, like racehorses and greyhounds. Top fight winners can be valued as stud dogs at up to $20000 in the US where pit bull fighting is a growing underworld activity. Pups from fighting bloodlines of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier change hands in Ireland for more than double the price of a non-fighting Staffordshire pup. At 12 to 15 months prospects will be trialled and potential game dogs selected and trained. A rejected dog deemed unsuitable for fighting may find its way to an animal shelter and be adopted as a pet from there. Or they may be used to bait other dogs.

Staffordshire bull terriers and other pitbulls can make excellent companion dogs as they are loyal and intelligent.But their perceived menace is often a source of conflict between neighbours in built-up areas. Owners of other breeds of pet dogs in housing estates often speak of feeling intimidated by the presence of pitbulls in the area. Behind the perceived menace there is also an unknown menace if a pitbull terrier has been bred from fight winners' bloodlines or "rescued" from a dog fight trainer.

Companion animals learn boundaries and their role and place amongst people by process of socialisation as pups. Just as greyhounds and police dogs are not raised as pets, rescued fight dogs can not be relied on to have the same conditioning as dogs which have been treated as pets since birth. In the US escaped fighting dogs have killed children. Many are simply too aggressive and damaged to be rehabilitated as pets and must be euthanased.

This week in a midlands town near one of my clinics Gardai were called to a house after neighbours reported a man for keeping large numbers of dogs in confinement. Gardai found a number of pitbulls in cages along with equipment for training these dogs such as chains, treadmills and weighing scales. They found anabolic steroids which were being given to the dogs for muscle development. There were also a number of dead dogs of assorted breeds which were believed to be stolen pets used to bait the fighting dogs during their training. A freezer contained body parts of various dogs. These were believed to be pets which were stolen to feed the fighting dogs.

My wife asked me not to write a piece on dog fighting. I will limit the tags on this blog entry so that it is not picked up by anyone other than the usual few who read here. Her fears are not misplaced because the details in that house are the outward trappings of a darker capability. Those who become exercised by the animal welfare and cruelty issues of dog fighting are missing the real point. One of my recent posts on this weblog ( Tokyo Kittens and Urban Cowboys) cited research about varied types of behaviour which are considered "signposts" of sociopathic and psychopathic disorders. Animal cruelty is considered a "gateway" behaviour. We are familiar with the idea of a gateway drug. Theoretically some habits lead to more harmful ones. Psychologists believe exposure to and practice of animal abuse causes erosion of empathy. Violence towards humans is the next step forward, just across a fragile moral barrier.

There isnt a lot of Irish research on this issue. We have an ambivalent attitude to animal abuse. We prioritise more immediate interventions. We have an inadequate and reactive approach to dealing with institutional child abuse and providing support to the vulnerable. Proactive interventions to target animal neglect and abuse arent even on the social agenda. But maybe they should be. The Humane Society of the US has convincing evidence linking dog fighting and pet abuse with child and spousal abuse. Since July 2008 when a famous American footballer was convicted of organising a dog fight club, many states have amended the RICO statutes to give prosecuters a greater range of charges with which to target dog fight organisers. The famous Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisation act recognizes that where you find dog fights there will be other violence, drugs, money laundering and illegal gambling.

Dispersal of a single fight kennels this week in the midlands scratches at the surface of these issues. Like a brief glimpse under a heavy rock, lifted then dropped. Unprecedented numbers of family pets have gone missing in recent months. Owners of missing small dogs can presume the worst. We must also presume there are other fight kennels in the region.The Law in Ireland lists dangerous breeds- American PitBull, Bull Mastiff, Doberman Pinscher, English Bull Terrier,German Shepherd, Japanese Akita, Japanese Tosa, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Rottweilar and crossbreeds of same. These dogs must be muzzled and kept on a lead in public and cannot be owned by anyone under 16. We also have dog licence laws which apply to all dogs. Our dog laws could be an effective instrument for Gardai to target and link criminal patterns of behaviour as the US RICO statute now does. But dog laws that arent implimented are pointless and a list of breeds without a register of either the breeder or the dog itself is an unenforceable list.

A Proactive approach to animal welfare would recognize that greater policing of animal welfare will benefit society, deter abusers, impact favourably on other violent crime rates. First and foremost we need stiffer penalties and more forceful interventions which recognize the "gateway" behaviour phenomenon. A proactive approach would also acknowledge that dispassionate coordination between Vets, Gardai, Dog pounds and animal welfare groups is needed. There needs to be firm criteria to decide which dogs to rehome and which to euthanase.I believe if a dog on the dangerous breed list is brought to a pound, it should be euthanased. Otherwise what's to stop anyone selling an impounded pitbull back to a dog fighting enthusiast?

A few days ago a sullen character of about 25 turned up at another of our clinics with a hungry British Bulldog suffering from Dermatitis which he had been given from the pound. The ISPCA paid its Vet's bill and had given him this dog even though he was unemployed and had a Staffordshire already to look after.I pointed out that this dog, having Dermatitis, would be high maintenance and require regular Veterinary attention. I had a concern about the new owners limited ability to pay for the upkeep of two big dogs and the ramifications of bringing a second dominant alpha type into a house with a Staffordshire. The ISPCA local volunteer whom I then spoke with, was motivated by the usual compassion but used no rationale for rehoming this dog other than to avoid its euthanasia. From a broader social perspective euthanasia of THAT dog would be my choice.

We need a new approach to animal welfare which recognizes how animals integrate with and impact on humans. Veterinary scientists now approach farm animal health, welfare and hygiene from the standpoint of food security, food hygiene, human health and safety. Beyond the isolated political footballs of stag hunting and dog breeder levies we need proactive and comprehensive companion animal legislation for all society's benefit.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dog Breeding bill falls victim to Reality Politics!

The term REALPOlITIK is one I remember from history class in school.It conjures up images of shady negotiations across the iron curtain where ethics and ideology came second to preservation of uneasy alliances. REALPOLITIK is the difference between what we would like to do and what we need to do. The German term defines a form of politics based on practical and material things. That's not to say it is a bad form of politics. Idealism doesn't buy the dinner,address the national deficit,or placate the trade unions.

Our coalition government is preserving an uneasy alliance. The Greens have a left-centric secularist,post-modern and pro-environmental view of the world,Bless them. Fianna Fail's nationalist core is tempered by three generations of power broking, global hustling and prioritising commercial growth over moral absolutes. Dog Breeding Legislation is well down the list of priorities for a party which used to draw votes from affording special status to Ireland's racing, coursing, hunting tradition. Fianna Fail will reposition our country in a global marketplace as a pro-enterprise economy. In return the Greens will impliment civil partnership reform, animal welfare reform, carbon offset credits, water upgrades and support fiscal austerity measures which international bondholders want.And Social advancement will ultimately emerge from difficult compromise.

The full text of the 2010 Dog Breeding Legislation is well crafted political reality, combining as it does measures to raise significant revenue from the dog industry and measures to satisfy the ideals of dog welfare and population control. Department of Finance needs revenue. The black economy in Ireland in 2009 was estimated at six billion euro. Insiders like me know that the dog trade exists in this black hole of untaxed cashflow. Now in our hour of discontent, it's time to tax some of this black hole while simultaneously reforming one of Ireland's animal welfare problems, namely the hitherto unregulated puppy farm problem

The Croke Park agreement is a good example of REALPOLITIK in that it at least keeps the country functioning and our civil servants off the streets. Brian Lenihan's last budget was a brilliant example of REALPOLITIK. His first budget most definitely was not. Being politically tactless and badly prespun it elicited protests until its most austere penuries were reversed. But the most recent budget which was full of fiscal austerity and brought reduced prosperity to one and all was grudgingly accepted with barely a whimper of protest. And such is our understanding that the country needs reality politics that we have already resigned ourselves to the next budget of expenditure cuts.The Santa Claus politics of "fantasy benchmarking" and "who wants to be a millionaire social partner" are over.

The British always applied the logic of REALPOLITIK to their colonial rulings. Better to swiftly slaughter a few hundred unruly gurkhas and indulge the Maharajah's fetish for victorian china than destabilise an entire area strategic for tea, rubber or slaves.The history of Ireland's famine is a legacy to REALPOLITIK. As Ireland's wheat and beef left to feed the empire, Westminster's awkward quandary about what to do with a starving peasantry was solved by their cheap and easy exit on fetid ships.

As a small ungovernable colony, the Irish learned politics from a Machiavellian empire which once ruled half the globe. Surprising then, that Britain's new Con-Dem government has launched straight into the minefield of electoral reform, headlong into disagreement over how and what way a lukewarm electorate should vote next time. Shrewd politics would be to focus all energy on the depressed economy and all reformist enmity on Labour's wasteful expenditure. At least for the first full year. Instead Nick Clegg's overreach towards the holy grail of proportional representative voting will end in tears as Prime Minister Cameron hasnt even the tact to support his coalition partner in public. Survival instincts in Irish politics are stronger. Cameron could learn a litle reality politics from Cowen and Lenihan's handling of our banks, trade unions, the ECB and our US investors over the last 18 months.

The Irish do REALPOLITIK very well. We have a history of coalition governments held together by tenuous promise and bartered favour. The ultimate exponent of REALPOLITIK was the most cunning of them all whose singular defining triumph was to deliver the Good Friday agreement. The boy republican from Drumcondra who gave the Reverend Paisley a gift of a Jacobite Musket on the battlefield of the Boyne, finally stalled sectarian conflict in Ireland by doing what politicians often need to do as a means to an end. Real political success is the acheivement of impossible compromise. Ahern, the son of a Cork IRA man acheived that one great thing on Good Friday 10th April 1998 by painstaking brokering and building relationships to dilute ideology. Fianna Fail have always done REALPOLITIK very well; progress by process and by compromise.

But the Dog Breeding Legislation? Now watered down by default so that opprtunities of revenue gathering, regulation and welfare improvement are lost for now. Fianna Fail are hardly dealing with the UVF this time.Romantic Ireland is dead and gone surely. But REALPOLITIK is with Ahern back in St Lukes, Drumcondra. Have there been Paramilitary Continuity Dog coursers and Beagle baiters darkly threatening backbenchers lest the 400 euro six bitch levy pass into law? Will we have to summon John De Chastelain to Ireland's potholed rural seats of greyhound power to clamber into battered transits and up to Paddyjoes to check who has seven bitches and who has only five OR who bought their own microchips CHAPE off the vanman at the dogtrack last night? The party that wore down the provos have given in to the dogmen!

During todays debate in the Seanad I heard one remark amidst the confusion over breeding bitches and civil partners "Anyone would think Tipperary was full of homophobic, guntoting, deer hunters". Its not, of course. The country has changed. The appetite for regulation of hunting, for conservation debates, for animal welfare advancements has fanned out across the eastern seaboard into the midlands of Ireland with the migrations of the last ten years. Bord na GCon or should that be Bord Na Con have pulled a two fold conjob. They have convinced the government by vocal lobby that their view is still a majority view in rural Ireland and they have successfully pleaded the poor mouth to avoid paying taxes which the rest of us may well now have to pay. An opportunity lost. government TDs? You've been Bord Na Conned!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Dog Breeding Establishment Bill 2010

I read today that RISE which are the group representing the Ward Union Hunt spent 100k on their PR campaign before the wildlife amendment bill. In my view they got poor value for money. Not once in the months of publicity did we hear figures on exactly how many jobs depend on the Ward Union or just how much in tourist revenue does the Ward Union generate each year?I expect the outlawing of the live chase will not greatly inconvenience the ward union in reality as the hunt will continue in drag form which the vast majority of riders to hounds will equally enjoy. I believe that in a few years time we will marvel that it was ever legal to chase a 400 kg farm animal across suburbia with horses and dogs.

The shadowboxing of back bench TDs purporting to represent " Rural Ireland" will gather pace over the next few days as the government seek to pass a piece of legislation known as the puppy farming bill.

This bill will enforce an annual fee of 400 euro on breeders owning six or more bitches of breeding age.Local Authority Vets will be regulated to inspect licensed dog breeding premises annually or as warranted. Bitches will be restricted to three litters every two years. All pups will be microchipped by law. As I write there are indications that greyhound premises may acheive an exemption. This would be bad news as Vets and others in the animal industry know that the greyhound sector has a significant over production problem. The effect of traceability, regulation and a registration cost would be a reduction of puppy numbers at the cheaper end of the market which is where overcrowding and animal welfare issues are most likely to arise.

It is convenient for FF rural TDs to characterise animal welfare bills as part of a Green agenda or Green conspiracy. In fact this Dog Breeding Bill was put together in 2006 by Dick Roche in the previous Fianna Fail government working with the ISPCA, Veterinary Ireland and the Dept of Agriculture. My own profession want puppy farms reduced in number and size and subject to inspection. The desired end product will then be a healthy, well socialised pet with fewer genetic defects. A reduction of puppy numbers will be an important side effect of regulation in a country where over 10000 unwanted dogs are euthanased in council pounds each year.

Mattie McGrath reckons the Greens want to ban "the pussy cat from catching the mouse". Mattie is the one playing Cat and Mouse as a game of party politics. The real underlying issues are discontent with An Taoiseach's appalling retreat over the last couple of years into morose pedestrian communications, the government press office's bull in china shop relations with journalists and Fianna Fail members' real hunger for clear out and clamour for reform of party culture. Foremost though in Mattie's intentions will be the tight rope between clientalist management of his Tipperary voters and not burning his bridges completely within his party machine.

The loudest opponents of the dog breeding bill are hunt kennels and the greyhound fraternity. Hunt kennels are loss-making and rely on membership subscriptions. Traditionally kennels provided farmers with an essential service of fallen stock disposal. This source of revenue has now declined prompting hunts to seek exemption from the costs which are central to this bill. But microchipping can be done as cheaply as tattoeing. If this bill allows exemptions then we may as well admit loopholes.

Greyhound racing is seen as the poor relation of horse racing. As such it is heavily subsidised by government and no doubt this group will plead the poor mouth in the houses of the Oireachtas this week. However any insider will tell you the breeding and sale of greyhounds remains a thriving cash based trade. Declared revenues within this industry are only the tip of the iceberg where pups travel between UK and Ireland on pound note transactions. Bord Na gcon have their PR people but it is notable that there is an absence of greyhound trainers or breeders sticking their heads up to plead penury. This sector may acheive its exemption but is in fact best able to pay the modest levies proposed.

The greyhound racing industry would benefit most from Local Authority regulation for a number of reasons. DSPCA survey showed that of over 10000 dogs destroyed in council pounds in 2009, 10% were greyhounds. There are too few outlets for unwanted greyhounds which have retired or are simply too slow. The best remedy to oversupply is to discourage breeding from poorer quality bitches by imposing a cost and an inconvenience.

I and my colleagues hope this bill is passed in its entirety. Our current laissez faire animal legislation is anachronistic. In common with the now outlawed spectacle of riders on horseback following dogs in pursuit of farmed deer across suburbia I believe we will marvel in a few years time that anyone who saw fit was allowed to breed and sell dogs without regulation or licence.