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(Updated 6/5/01)

Sheepdog crisis ... allegedly

by Nick Mays

IN THE midst of the Foot and Mouth crisis, there are a number of ‘forgotten’ victims. Whilst thousands of sheep, cattle and pigs are killed in an attempt to halt the spread of the disease, sheepdogs are being given up for rehoming by farmers who can no longer afford to keep them.

However, the ‘Sheepdog Crisis’ has been poorly reported, with some newspapers focussing on sensationalist stories of farmers shooting their loyal Border Collies and burying them alongside their sheep, or ‘dumping’ them on the doorsteps of rescue centres.

As is so often the case, the truth is somewhat different - and far less newsworthy in terms of sensationalism.
According to a report in the Daily Mail of April 20th, a MAFF source had said that they had noticed farmers “disposing of their dogs as their sheep are being destroyed” and that “animal sanctuaries are being inundated”.
“No farmer is going to kill a dog which has cost him between £1000 and £2000 and which has been fully trained,” says Sonia Saxby of Border Collie Rescue. “I had been told by someone in the farming industry of a farmer in Scotland shooting several Collies along with his flock, but they were all old. It certainly isn’t a widespread problem.”

Sonia also dismisses claims that rescue centres are being ‘inundated’ with unwanted Border Collies. “I have had some farmers call me to see if I have any fully trained sheepdogs in rescue at this time which they are prepared to take on, but I don’t. I have none to offer. All the Border Collies we have at this time - and that is very few - are pets only. We get a lot of Borders brought to us by people who are moving abroad and cannot take the dog with them.”

Sonia remains cautious about the whole issue of rescuing working sheepdogs. “I certainly won’t take in any form a farm in an affected area,” she says. “Here is South Yorkshire we are in a clean area, with no outbreaks. In any event, the farmers wouldn’t be allowed to take the dogs off their premises to bring them to rescue centres.
“Obviously, we are concerned about Border Collies needing help, but the situation has been blown up out of all proportion.”

Sonia’s words are echoed by Norman Lorton, Chief Executive Officer of the International Sheep Dog Society. “It is something of which I am aware,” says Lorton. “People have called us here to register their concern about the placement of dogs which cannot be kept by farmers in stricken areas.

“I has been alleged that MAFF shot some dogs in an affected farm in Cumbria, but whether that was one farm or more, no-one knows. MAFF are saying that it is certainly not their policy to shoot sheepdogs.

“I was contacted by the Daily Mail for information relating to their story, but nothing I said was quoted.
“If people call us wanting to know how they can help by making donations, we advise them of the three Border Collie rescue charities, namely Border Collie Rescue, the Border Collie Trust and Border Collie Rescue UK.”


MAFF has, however, approved a register set up by Border Collie Rescue UK to deal with working sheepdogs which are put up by farmers for rehoming, ads they are no longer needed or cannot be kept.

“We have 35 dogs on our register at this time, the majority of which are working sheepdogs,” says Mike Cooke of Border Collie Rescue UK. “A few of them are trainees, and they come from a wide area, including North Yorkshire, Essex, Cumbria, Devon and Herefordshire. Interestingly, we have very few from the badly affected areas, because of MAFF livestock movement restrictions.”

Speaking from the charity’s base in Richmond, North Yorkshire, Mike explains that anyone wishing to put their sheepdog up for rehoming may contact the charity by fax, phone or via their website. At the appropriate time, the charity will apply to MAFF for a licence to collect and move the dogs, which are then taken to an isolation facility for a period of 21 days ‘quarantine’ until they check out as being healthy. After this, they will then be taken to approved foster homes where their working abilities are assessed, with a view to rehoming them to suitable new homes.

“We find that most of the dogs aren’t even vaccinated against the usual canine diseases,” says Mike, “So we need to apply for a licence for our vet to go to the dogs at the isolation facility and to vaccinate them and microchip them. The whole process is very costly, and we estimate that it costs, on average, £250 per dog to do the vaccinations, microchipping, movement and isolation. MAFF say we act with full Government support, which is good, but sadly that does not include financial support, so we have to fund this from our usual fundraising sources, including public donations.”

Responding well

Mike says that farmers are responding well to the service offered by the charity, because they are assured that the job will be done properly, under licence, and that there will be no chance of infecting a new home with FMD.
“We’ve had about 200 applications to rehome rescued sheepdogs, mainly from farmers,” says Mike, “Each application will be carefully considered according to the dog’s needs and its working potential. We don’t sell the dogs by any means, although we ask for a donation with each dog rehomed. Again, there is no fixed donation price.”

Mike dismisses the sensationalism of the Daily Mail report. “The first time they contacted me for quotes was at midday on the day the article was published!” he says, “Yet I was quoted in there. I think they wanted a sensational story of dogs being shot and dumped on rescue centres, but it’s just not true.

“We certainly aren’t expecting huge numbers of sheepdogs into rescue under the scheme. Most of the dogs being put up for rehoming are simply surplus to requirements. We have also checked with MAFF, the NCDL, Blue Cross and many other charities and none of them have found any evidence of any mass slaughter of sheepdogs on infected farms. Yes, there is a matter of concern that some need rehoming, but that need is being addressed.”

Border Collie Rescue: tel: 01748 850025.