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Collie rescue crisis due to Foot and Mouth

SHEEPDOGS, the latest, apparently forgotten victims of foot-and-mouth disease, have been abandoned in their thousands by hard-up farmers and animal shelters are reporting record numbers of border collies in need of a home.

Animal Samaritans rescue centre, based near Craven Arms, Shropshire, is still taking in up to 35 sheepdogs a week to save them from being shot by farmers. But the centre said that people should not consider such a dog as an ideal family Christmas gift, as they are unsuitable to be around young children. Many Border Collies working dogs that have lived their whole lives in sheds or barns.

They may not be house-trained and are not used to having a collar or walking with a lead. Above all, they need plenty of exercise and stimulation. Carol James, a spokeswoman for Animal Samaritans, said that border collies that do not get the attention they need will find their own solutions. She said: 'A half-hour walk, two or three times a day, can be enough as long as the dog is given tasks such as 'retrieve' and 'come back'.

If they do not get this employment and stimulation they will come home and find their own employment - like tearing down the curtains. The important thing is that collie owners are fit and can give them plenty of exercise. Young children are no good, but a home with active teenagers, especially a few footballers, is ideal.' Homes are currently being sought for Chloe and Ross, puppies of an abandoned collie called Sky, who was picked up four weeks ago and has now settled into a new home. The pups are being cared for in a temporary foster home near Ludlow.

The other five pups are already settling into new homes. Mrs James said that Sky's story illustrated the plight of unwanted sheepdogs. A Welsh farmer had contacted the centre about the dog. 'The farmer had been affected by foot-and-mouth and phoned us to say that the dog was surplus to requirements because she was having puppies' Mrs James said. 'He had wanted the vet to put her down and take the puppies with her. "In the end we were issued with a warning that if we did not pick up the dogs by 1.30pm that day they would be shot.

When we got to the farm they had been abandoned and tied to a post. The real problem for the farmer is that Sky did not want to work. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I know of dogs being shot and put on bonfires as farmers do not want them any more.'


The Border Collie Rescue organisation in Richmond, North Yorkshire, also reports an increase of working dogs that need homes. Mike Cooke, a spokesman, said: 'Usually 90 per cent of the dogs we keep are pets on farms but at the moment 100 per cent are working dogs, because of foot-and-mouth.' He said that a difficult aspect of his work was dealing with farmers forced to give up their dogs. 'We were getting calls from distressed farmers who had lost their livelihood and the final straw was parting with their sheepdog. 'What could they do with their dogs when the sheep had been culled? It takes months for the compensation to come through and to restock. They are working dogs, not pets, so they cannot live in a house.'

The National Canine Defence League has estimated that over half the dogs in most of their rescue centres are collie-type dogs, However, interestingly, their findings are somewhat at odds with the Animal Samaritans and Border Collie rescue charities. 'We do get quite a lot of Collies, but not necessarily linked in any way to the Foot and Mouth outbreak," says Catherine Gillie, Manager of the NCDL's Darlington Rehoming Centre. 'In fact, I have lots of friends hereabouts who are farmers and they were quite upset at the thought of 'losing' their collies in this way. After all, a real Working Sheepdog has had a lot of training and the farmer has invested a great deal of time and effort in training the dog, so he's hardly likely to want to rehome it.

I think a few farmers may have sold their collies to other farmers, but we certainly haven't seen any kind of significant increase here. 'Having said that, we've received lots of request from people wanting a Working Collie since the Foot and Mouth outbreak.

I think the story about hundreds of redundant Working Collies has caused a mistaken belief amongst some people that we are awash with Working Sheepdogs!' NCDL Darlington holds an average of 120 to 130 dogs at any one time, almost half of which are collie-type dogs. This is normal for a centre which has a large rural catchment area, as a number of farm-bred collies and collie-types come into the centre's care.

The NCDL publishes a very detailed Fact sheet on Collies and Collie-type dogs and goes to great lengths to point out that these dogs are not suitable for every household. All Collie-type dogs are highly intelligent.

They require enormous amounts of mental and physical stimulation. Often, people believe that because they are intelligent dogs, they will be easy to keep as pets, but this is simply not the case.

Collies are often given away by their owners because they are too active and demanding. "Collies are extremely clever and energetic and they are not happy with the average environment of 2.5 children and minimal exercise," says Catherine. "People don't want that high a level of commitment to exercise and stimulation for the dog, they want a dog which fits in with them, but Collies are far more demanding.