Are companion animals receiving a fair crack of the whip?’ So begins a paper prepared for the government by the Pet Advisory Council explaining its case of the greater government focus on a health and welfare strategy of companion animals.
It is an excellent report and I hope that the department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will look at is carefully. They promised that they would when I spoke to the new Animal Welfare Bill team that was out in force for a birthday party to celebrate PAC’s thirtieth anniversary at the House of Commons last week.
It is true that PAC has never tried to move its light from under its bushel but since 1974 PAC has had a considerable influence in the world of pets in general and dogs in particular.
PAC began life as JACOPiS, the Joint Advisory Council for Pets In Society. The organisation had two objectives: to introduce a dog warden system into this country and to encourage responsible pet ownership.
The first objective was finally achieved in 1992 when a major Environment Bill gave local authorities joint responsibility with the police forces for stray dogs. As dogs barking, fouling and straying were almost the largest single problem that local authorities had to deal with (I was Chairman of a district council Environment Committee in 1987 so I speak from experience) and despite the fact that the government gave no extra funding for the work, they took the mandate seriously and all authorities now have some mechanism (some better than others as you might guess) for ‘dealing’ with the problems that dogs pose for them.
In the last few years the organisation has, to quote a recent report to the government, ‘refocused’ and ‘reasserted its position as an organisation determined to bring forward matters requiring government attention’.
Part of this refocusing has been the change of name. The Pet Advisory Council has developed from what was, in effect, a single-issue lobby organisation to a genuinely representative council that campaigns for the welfare of pets in our society, recognises that pets are important for people and uses its considerable influence to put pressure on local authorities and government to take the place of animals in society seriously. With the support of trade organisations, manufacturers, the veterinary profession, local authorities, National Dog Wardens’ Association, the Kennel Club, Cats’ Protection, RSPCA and other major national animal related charities the Council has an important role.
As the report says that PAC is able ‘to offer help as appropriate to the Government where the necessary expertise and background awareness my not be readily available for relevant animal matters.’
Over the years it has not always had a comfortable relationship with those of us deeply involved in the world of pedigree dogs, for its approach in its early days was focused almost entirely on legislation and regulation and despite its external good intentions there was a suspicion on the part of the Kennel Club and others that there might have been a direct link to anti-dog groups such as the League for the Introduction of Canine Controls (LICC).
As a result PAC, as originally constituted, was considered a serious threat to dog ownership. There is certainly no doubt that it played a part in the gradual reduction of the number of dogs owned in the UK and PAC would argue that this has been all to the good for the result has been many fewer strays and better control, care and welfare.
Today, the organisation has matured and developed, amending its objectives so that it is a positive and constructive force in pet welfare.
There are three ways in which major changes can take place in society. War, revolution or the overwhelming will of the people and the slow and sometimes frustrating democratic process.
Organisations like PAC work slowly and methodically, moving the pieces carefully, testing reaction, moving sideways, persuading and nudging in the desired direction in the corridors of power.
This sounds Machiavellian but it is what politics is all about and PAC was conceived as a political rather than a welfare organisation.
It would be true to say that thirty years ago there was considerable concern about stray dogs and the numbers were substantial. Within our own community the development of the concept of buying direct from a breeder had been established.
Joe Cartledge and I published the first edition of the Dog Directory in the same year with education rather than regulation in mind - although it must be admitted in this instance that regulation - although not perfect by any means - has proved the more effective remedy.
The number of stray dogs reported by police forces in the early seventies was well over a quarter of a million. This may have been exaggerated but Battersea was putting down approaching 20,000 in the late sixties and this was just from the greater London area. There is no doubt that there was a problem.
The submission which recognises the changes in society today will be published in next week’s issue and will be of interest to all who have animal welfare issues at heart