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The Dog Vote Counts!
The 2005 General Election – A Personal View

WHAT’S THAT? You don’t do politics? Well, you’ve seen the TV ads haven’t you? The bloke who says that he’s not interested in politics then proceeds to moan about everything only to be ‘shushed’ by his friend who points out that as the objects of his complaints – road works, pub opening times, taxes – are all related to politics they can’t talk about them because, as he said, "he doesn’t do politics", writes Nick Mays.

So, here we are in the final throes of the 2005 General Election campaign. Thankfully, this time next week, it’ll be all over bar the shouting. We might have a new Government, we might have the same Government with a reduced majority, or we might have a hung Parliament. Will it make a difference to our lives? Let’s face it, even if we ‘don’t do politics’ we’re all concerned about day-to-day issues such as crime, education, the health service, terrorism, whether the war in Iraq was legal, immigration, Europe… surely those are ‘real’ issues? But we’re dog owners aren’t we? What possible bearing does the choice of Government have on our love of dogs or our hobby of showing dogs?

A simple short answer: A LOT!

A Matter of Choice

Let me express it personally – I’m a 43 year-old father of three, work hard for my living (yes, yes, even journalists work hard sometimes), I pay my taxes, I try to be a good citizen, I am concerned about all of the issues mentioned above, and I do feel increasingly disenfranchised in this fast-changing world, with its emphasis in ‘Yoof Culcha’, lack of respect, increasing lawlessness – even in my relatively short lifetime, I’ve seen things change for the worse. I bought into the New Labour spiel in 1997 that "Things Can Only get Better". No more Tory sleaze, no more dodgy decisions, firm leadership, better education, no more NHS waiting lists or mixed wards, better pensions for our senior citizens, tough on crime and the causes of crime, no increased taxation other than where absolutely necessary. That lasted all of six months, if that.

It’s all got worse, it affects my family and me directly, and millions like us. However, I have a choice every four or five years – I can vote against the current Government. On more frequent occasions, I can vote in local elections and change the political shape of my local council. And where I live, we even get Mayoral Elections – and we’ve got all three of those wonderful things to vote on come May 5th. Aren’t I lucky?

So I’m not insular in my views, but I do like to forget the wider world now and again and enjoy my pets – my Golden Retriever Emma, my cats, my fancy rats (no, don’t ask), the animal shows I go to. But what’s this? All of that is affected by politics, not just local politics either… nasty, big, national, Government-type politics. And we’re promised far more interference in the future. It’s not just an isolated point either – it links to ALL of the other issues affected by Government policies.

Tough On Crime….

Let’s take dog theft as an example. Five years ago, OUR DOGS would report the occasional dog theft, because it was a fairly big news story. Then, around 2001, dog theft began to increase. I wrote a big article about it at the time, quoting how Malcolm Moss, a Conservative MP in Cambridgeshire had written to the Home Office to say just how bad the situation had got, how people were having their dogs stolen and often ransomed back to them, with little or no interest taken by police forces around the country. Mr Moss said that if any other segment of society was treated in this way – say if shopkeepers were being extorted – action would surely be taken. The Home Office ignored his letter for many months.

Now dog theft is the latest growth crime and it’s become a ‘sexy’ news story, with the mainstream media taking an interest. The excellent work of agencies such as DogLost UK is highlighted, because DogLost and groups like them take dog theft seriously. Sadly however, the police and politicians seldom do. Kent police had a unique approach to their county being the area of the country where dog thefts were highest – they just recorded all stolen dogs as "missing". So a spokesman was able to tell me that they "don’t have a problem with dog theft in Kent".

Step forward the political lobbying group Dog Theft Action that grew out of DogLost UK. In just four short months, from January this year, a small group of activists, most of them dog owners who have had their own dogs stolen have made the police and politicians look at the terrible cancer on dog theft with fresh eyes, to take it seriously. Thanks to DTA, over 70 MPs signed an Early Day Motion on Dog Theft before Parliament rose, with promises made to raise the issue in the next Parliament. But when Government Ministers such as Alun Michael at DEFRA blatantly ignore DTA’s communications, or shrug them of as being a Home Office matter, only to have the Home Office say that, despite it concerning crime, its to do with dogs, so it’s a DEFRA matter, how does that make a bereft dog owner feel?

There’s the story in this issue of the dog owner from Cambridgeshire who had her three Cavaliers stolen and how the police officer assigned (eventually) to her case suggested that there "wasn’t a problem with dog theft in Cambridgeshire". And then, worse, the dog owner started getting obscene text messages and calls on her mobile phone from a sick individual who took her mobile number of her missing dog posters.

The police officer allegedly simply shrugged and said she’d seen "far worse" messages. The dog owner noted the obscene caller’s number and contacted their mobile phone provider. The company said they had registered name and address details for the caller but could not release them to the dog owner, but would happily release them to the police. The police officer said it could take six months because of "procedure". The Cambridgeshire Police press office said it could take months "because of procedure".

I have to ask the question: what bloody procedure? What could be simpler? Police officer sits at a desk, maybe has a nice cup of tea, calls the mobile phone company, gets the miscreant’s details and pays him a visit later. How difficult is that? No one has yet been able or willing to explain to owner, the DogLost or me just what this ‘procedure’ is that takes so long. So here is a prime example of something that has gone beyond a ‘mere’ dog element into another area – the breakdown of law and order – and ho politicians for all parties promise that they’ll clamp down on lawlessness and make it all better.

Mr Blair, Mr Howard, Mr Kennedy – we’re all still waiting!

… And the Causes of Crime?

Sticking with dog theft for a moment, the point that has been put to me several times by various people about the lack of police action over dog theft is that travellers are the main culprits of stealing dogs and the police don’t want to enter their camps. (Aiiieeee! He said the ‘T’ word!)

Now, I’m no apologist for anybody who breaks the law, especially dog thieves and yes, maybe some travellers have stolen dogs, but it doesn’t follow that dog theft is down to ALL travellers. It’s just as likely down to young chancers who steal a dog to sell for a few quid to get money to feed their drug habit.

However, because people perceive the police inaction as a reluctance to go into travellers’ camps, then resentment grows that travellers can get away with anything, so all travellers are then seen as thieves and resentment grows further. Then one day, an infuriated society will ‘snap’, you’ll get a real fascist administration, harsh new laws will come into force and all people form sections of society accused of being in any way deviant will be rounded up, imprisoned, persecuted.

Substitute ‘Asylum seekers’ here and anyone with a foreign passport, even those who are here legitimately will be persecuted. Think back to Nazi Germany 60-odd years ago.

Is this a big leap of my fevered imagination? And all this because perceived ‘political correctness’, fuelled by political inaction in the first place, allows it to happen!

Bad Laws Abound

That’s just but one aspect of bad laws that affect dog owners. Look at Bred Specific Legislation that started in the UK with the Dangerous Dogs Act under John Major’s Conservative Government. It’s been exported around the world. You talk of Nazi-ism – in Germany the Government changed their constitution to take certain civil rights away from dog owners! So if you are accused of having a ‘dangerous dog’, the police can burst into your house without a warrant, rough you up and seize your dog. And they have, but suspected murderers and rapists have the protection of the law and the police need to obtain warrant before they go in.

But let’s not be smug – it’s been that bad here in the UK too, with dogs such as the Staffie cross ‘Buster’ who was shot by police officers in a London street in broad daylight because they said he was vicious – this was done in the name of the DDA. They’d seized him twice before a s a pit bull ‘type’ and released him without charge. Just as thousands of innocent crossbreeds were seized as pit bull ‘types’ merely on account of the way they looked. Protests abounded and the government ignored us. What the hell, said the Government? It’s only a few disgruntled dog owners!

They changed their tune when 1996 rolled around and impending defeat at the following year’s General Election loomed large. They listened then, they set up a consultation, and they rushed to amend the DDA before Parliament rose at the end of March 1997. "Hey", they said, "we’re good guys really, vote or us, we like dogs, honest!" John Major even shrugged off 18 years of refusal to relax the UK’s quarantine laws and promised to relax them if the Conservatives were re-elected – which was news to his MPs in port towns such as Dover and Folkestone. Did it work? Of course it didn’t. Dog owners, like millions of other angry voters, weren’t going to be fooled again. Let’s give Tone and his smooth machine a chance…

So what have we got now? The Animal Welfare Bill, which looks good on paper, but contains clauses that will let "animal welfare officers" enter a person’s premises and remove their animals merely on the suspicion of cruelty being perpetrated. Plans to licence all animal sanctuaries and charities – and in the process see many of these close down which will adversely affect animal welfare. And the powerful lobby groups in the Committee examining the draft AWB want to licence all ‘pet fairs’ – that’s animal shows to you and me folks, reptile shows, rat shows, dog shows. They want to tell us when, where and how we can stage our shows, if at all.

However, let’s drop that tricky clause about not allowing goldfish to be awarded as prizes at funfairs, because The Sun and the Daily Mail think we’re a bunch of nannying killjoys. Let’s get our priorities right!

Straying From The Facts

Or there’s the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill. This was passed ‘on the nod’ thanks to the Opposition parties’ compliance with the promise that the clauses will be debated in full in the next Parliament. And the dog clauses? Well, local authorities can charge you fifty quid if your dog poos in public and the police are no longer responsible for stray dogs out of hours. This now falls to Local Authorities and, by definition, the dog warden service. But there’s no extra money on the table to fund a 24 hour dog warden service, so maybe there will have to be private contractors, all at increased cost on the council tax – council tax that you and I pay. And guess what? The Government wrote this clause without even consulting the people who have to do the job, the dog wardens themselves. Why bother? It’s only dogs, what does it matter hat a few dog owners think?

Another bad law. And bad laws beget bad laws in other areas of society.

Don’t Do Politics?

So when you go to cast your vote next Thursday – and please DO vote - whoever you’re voting for, just think of this: You are a dog owner. You pay your taxes, you have civil rights. There are 6.1 million dogs in the UK and a lot more dog owners! That’s’ a significant proportion of the electorate. You ARE important. Your dog is important. Your vote counts. Tell the politicians that!

Don’t do politics? You do, you know.