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Guide Dogs in & out of harness

Chris and partner, responsible dog ownership in action

I have just read the results of the National Canine Defence/ National Dog Wardens Association’s survey published recently which revealed a 3% rise in the number of stray dogs wandering the streets. This is the first increase to be reported over a six year period.

When I used to train guide dogs with their owners during the 1970’s and 80’s, one of the biggest problems was caused by packs of stray dogs, or even the odd loner, who would plague our dogs while they were trying to concentrate on guiding. Because guide dogs are neutered and are trained to ignore the attentions of strays, you would have thought that they would be of little interest to the strays.

Unfortunately, however, we still had to retire the occasional guide dog who became distressed by the unwelcome advances of these pests.

Certainly, I remember a delightful German Shepherd bitch working in the Telford area, who spent her time in harness nervously looking over her shoulder following altercations with large packs roaming the estate where she lived and worked. Such was her distress that she was unable to act as a guide dog. Her career as a working dog was cut short and she became a pet.

In these situations, guide dog staff who contacted police for support found that the police were overwhelmed with other, arguably, more pressing problems and were often unable to help.

However, in recent years I am convinced that the stray problem has decreased dramatically. When I drive through many urban and rural areas throughout the UK, it is much rarer to see packs or even individual dogs roaming the streets. Obviously, it would be very naïve to say that these incidents have completely disappeared and I am sure all readers can cite examples, but I still feel strongly that things have improved.

So what has brought about this change?

There are signs that, slowly, the public is become more aware of the need for responsible dog ownership. It continues to be a long, hard battle but, compared to a few years ago, the number of responsible dog owners seen out with ‘pooper scoopers’ has undoubtedly increased dramatically.

Social changes do mean that people are not quite so ready to glibly take on a dog. Fools will always be with us but, perhaps, they do not like to get their houses messed quite so readily!
Surely, a major reason for the reduction has to be the introduction of dog wardens. We must appreciate that this is a figure-head to turn to and, in areas where they operate efficiently, a real difference can be seen.

Although the report cites a 3% increase in strays, it is fortunate that the number of incidents involving guide dogs has continued to decrease.

But why are dogs still being put out on the streets or being handed to organisations like the NCDL? I believe, and this observation is backed up by Jack Johnstone of NCDL, that sadly, more are the result of family breakdowns which is recognised as part of a growing change in the social fabric of this country. When families split up, pets can also become a casualty and can be abandoned and left homeless.

Let us hope that the number of irresponsible people actually getting dogs in the first place goes down. We should all acknowledge those organisations and individuals who are in the front line, literally picking up the mess!

This is one reason why Guide Dogs will be joining other charities and groups to support the Wag and Bone Show at Ascot Racecourse on Saturday August 16th. Although we will not receive any money directly from the event we feel it is an important acknowledgement of those dog welfare organisations who work so hard and it is vitally important that we all work together to get some action.