by John F. Robins, campaigns consultant, Animal Concern Scotland
Recent reports about irresponsibly rehomed animals suffering from cruelty and neglect, and attacking other animals and humans, occurring right around the world, have reminded me that nearly 30 years ago journalist John Nairn and I spent a couple of days camped on the roof of a block of high rise flats in Clydebank, Scotland, photographing people who were thought to be stealing cats to sell to vivisection laboratories.
What we found were two eccentric elderly brothers who were “rescuing” what they thought were feral cats and keeping them in sheds on a piece of wasteland enclosed by high fences. The old blokes couldn’t afford veterinary fees and the rescued cats were riddled with parasites, illness and untreated injuries.
I have personally visited similar set-ups from the north of Scotland to the Norfolk coast. Each time the report was that cats were being taken for vivisection when they were actually being kept by hoarders.
One frustration in exposing such operations is that on several occasions other organizations have moved in and put down the animals, instead of spending the money needed to treat them and rescue them from their “rescuers.”
Requiring all rescue groups to be licensed would make them more accountable for their actions.
I also dealt with two cases involving greyhound “rescuers” here in Scotland, one in West Dunbartonshire and one in Fife.
In both cases it was alleged that people were offering to find good homes for some of the very many unwanted greyhounds who prove to be unsuited to greyhound racing. The Fife “rescuer” was selling his rescued greyhounds to a vivisection laboratory in Switzerland and the “good home” the West Dunbartonshire dogs were going to was a laboratory on the top floor of a building at Glasgow Western infirmary, where they also died in painful experiments.
“Big organizations still make mistakes”
We have had successful campaigns against the big animal rescue groups serving Scotland. After being approached by disgusted trainee Inspectors, we exposed and stopped the Scottish SPCA practice of making trainees at Bothwell Bridge kill healthy animals with captive bolt pistols. We successfully campaigned against the use of electrocution cabinets to destroy stray dogs at Dundee Council Brown Street stray dog kennels, and what was then the Glasgow Dog & Cat Home.
We condemned the Scottish SPCA for killing healthy dogs at their Milton Animal Welfare Centre to make room for stray dogs brought in under a financial contract with the local city council. I am sure it was our work on this which persuaded the Scottish SPCA to introduce a no-kill policy and set aside a budget to use commercial kennels when their own facilities are full.
But sadly the big organizations still make mistakes. Only a few weeks ago the Scottish SPCA wrongly identified a snake as venomous and then, instead of rehoming the snake appropriately, killed the snake by freezing, a method they admit was not suitable.
Licensing should be by stand-alone agency
The Scottish SPCA used to favor licensing all animal rescuers and rehomers, but we have not heard a great deal from them on this subject since we insisted that licensing should not be administered by either the Scottish SPCA or local authorities (which have a legal duty to deal with stray dogs), but rather by a new department or agency answerable to the government.
Today one of our biggest problems is that people without a clue about what they are doing are trying to rehome dogs and making a cruel and dangerous dog’s dinner out of it. Over the last twenty years, thanks to the macho man mentality, thousands of dogs have been bred, trained and deliberately mistreated to enhance their power and aggression.
To identify, retrain and appropriately rehome these animals (those who can be safely retrained and rehomed) takes skill, time and money. It cannot be left to well-meaning but ignorant amateurs or, worse still, to people out to make money out of the situation.
Comprehensive legislation needed
Since before the passing of the useless Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991, I have been calling for comprehensive legislation to cover all aspects of dog welfare, including breeding, sale and rehoming. This would stop puppy farming and create high minimum standards of animal welfare and public safety through licensing and inspection.
To achieve this, elected representatives must act in a new way. Instead of trying to produce quick fixes without upsetting anyone, they must take the time needed to produce effective legislation, even if it does not gain the approval of the pet trade and all the animal rescue and advocacy organizations.
If they do not, animals will continue to suffer, and people and other animals will continue to be killed by dogs who have been rehomed irresponsibly.