Dog Theft Action, the lobby group campaigning for organisations and individuals to unite in a concerted effort to reduce the rising statistics of dog theft, held its first symposium to great acclaim on Saturday 1st October.
The venue was the charming and intimate Guide Dogs for the Blind Association Training Centre at Edmondscote Manor, Leamington Spa. The sun shone brightly as if to welcome visitors from all aspects of the canine world and displayed the beautiful surroundings to best advantage.
Host Neil Ewart of GDBA - also a DTA advisor - introduced the speakers and the programme promptly at 10.00am. His gentle voice disguised his firm grip on the reins as he steered us through the proceedings. He took no prisoners – he kept everyone to time and chaired the question and answer session with calm and measured control.
Steve O’Brien from the National Dog Warden Association was the first to speak. His presentation on the responsibilities and procedures of the local authority dog warden was both graphic and informative. He described the various laws relating to strays and missing dogs and made reference to the impact of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act as the police give up responsibility for stray dogs to the dog warden.
Next Nick Mays, Chief Reporter of Our Dogs Newspaper and DTA advisor asked the question "Are dog owners getting a bum deal?" In a thought-provoking though frequently humorous speech, he cited dog theft as yet another example of how dog owners are being failed by governments, along with the Dangerous Dogs Act, Breed Specific Legislation and Compulsory Registration. Nick described how "Bad laws beget other bad laws, more discrimination, more criminalisation of the innocent, of the responsible dog owner, more demonising of the dog. And when we want the law to protect our dogs, well – it’s not there. In short, dog owners get a bum deal."
The more insidious side of dog laws was touched upon too, with reference to the so-called ‘Six Dog Rule’ whereby local authorities can decide that if someone keeps a ‘large’ number of dogs, they need to apply for planning permission for a ‘change of use’ for their home. Frighteningly though, the number of dogs that are deemed to change the nature of ordinary pet ownership or use of a dwelling place is totally arbitrary.
Nick went on to remind those present about the many contributions to society made by dogs; assistance dogs, search and rescue dogs and pat dogs are all "part of our Anglo-Celtic culture and should be cherished and respected."
He reminded the audience that there are 6,000,000 dog owners in the UK with the right to vote. He challenged them not to be passive but to demand protection for our property – for our dogs.
Dog theft victim
After the break, show judge and breeder of GBGV and Petit and Grand Basset Griffon Vendeen, Vivien Phillips, described her experience as a victim of dog theft when six of her dogs – one a pregnant bitch - were stolen earlier this year.
She expressed the horror she and her kennel staff experienced as they realised the extent of the theft. The thieves had even helped themselves to dog leads! Vivien discussed the various measures she took to get her dogs back – claiming publicity as vital. She explained how she prevailed upon all forms of media to publicise the theft and to beg the assistance of the public to help in the search for her dogs.
With the help of Luton Dog Warden, Melanie Gould two of Vivien’s dogs: Grand Basset Griffon Vendeen, multi-European Champion; Debucher le Barbu known as Barbu and Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen UK Champion and stud dog; Mioche [little brat in French] who incidentally was one of the stolen dogs, demonstrated how this rare breed was useless without registration papers as the general public would not identify them as valuable and therefore they would be unlikely to raise vast sums of money for the thieves.
Vivien’s efforts paid off and the dogs started to return to safety. Her amusing description of how she left a trail for her dogs to follow did not detract from the emotion the memory still conjures up. All present were relieved to learn that Barbu’s daughter Vi later gave birth to ten adorable puppies and is none the worse for her ordeal.
and a few Answers
Next up was a lively Question and Answer session with a panel of experts, which included most of the speakers, together with other attendees who were knowledgeable in fields relating to dog theft. Many of the panel were added on the day, including Duncan Askew, a serving police constable for Hertfordshire, who was able to give those present a good insight into their rights as dog owners when reporting the theft of a dog.
A point was raised that maybe the DTA could help in promoting responsible dog ownership, by making sure that dog owners ensured their dogs had nametags and were microchipped, and were not left unattended. Dog Warden and DTA Advisor Brian Milligan pointed out that dog wardens undertake educational talks on responsible dog ownership in schools, dog clubs etc. and often help conduct assessments for the KC’s Good Citizens Scheme.
The various methods of identification of dogs were discussed in depth, although microchips came in for some criticism in various ways. Vivien Phillips urged everyone to have their dogs regularly scanned to ensure that the microchip was still working or had not ‘migrated’ elsewhere in the dog’s body. Nick Mays added that far too many people were "blinded by the white heat of technology" and considered microchips to be a "panacea to dog theft". He pointed out that ears tattoos were a good, visible means of identification for many breeds of dog and, if properly done, a tattoo would not fade. A question was asked from the audience about tampering with tattoos and changing numbers, although no specific cases of this were cited.
Duncan Askew added that the cost of microchips might be putting many people off having their dogs microchipped. He cited one vet in the South east as charging £60. Steve O’Brien said that the RSPCSA and dog wardens both charged £15 for microchipping, so it paid for dog owners to ‘shop around’.
There was a great deal of discussion on the role of the police and their response – or often lack of response – to dog theft. Duncan Askew said that if anyone felt that their report of dog theft was not being taken seriously by their local police, then they should make a complaint. This was countered by DogLost member Candy King who said that many law-abiding people were quite intimidated and in awe of the police and were thus put at a disadvantage.
Laura Lucas added that it was very much a ‘postcode lottery’ as to where one lived if dog theft was taken seriously by the police, and had the distinct impression that there was a move by the police in some areas to ‘downsize’ the importance of dog theft. Hertfordshire is obviously one of the better counties to have one’s dog stolen, as Duncan Askew pointed out that all dog thefts are recorded properly and all police stations in Hertfordshire have scanners with which to scan stray dogs for microchips.
This led to the point being raised by Nick Mays that not one senior police officer from the Association of Chief Police Officers or similar bodies, nor any minister or civil servant from the Home Office or DEFRA had attended the symposium. He added that ACPO had declined outright to send an officer to DTA’s summit meeting’ in November and that this was a disgrace – a point agreed by all present.
Solicitor Trevor Cooper, who was in the audience, pointed out that in law a dog is a chattel, the same as a car. If it is stolen and the police have proof that someone has taken the dog illegally, they can be arrested.
There followed a great deal of discussion on the need for greater co-ordination between all agencies involved in dog theft and the establishment of a central computerised network for the recording of dog theft and missing dogs which can be shared by all agencies and easily accessed.
Margaret Nawrockyi of DTA said that this would be a key point to be raised at the ‘summit meeting’ between DTA and other organisations and agencies at the Kennel Club in November.
Neil Ewart then closed the discussion for lunch, during which a lot of networking took place between those present, further cementing good relationships between the different agencies and groups represented.
A Nose for Trouble
After lunch the audience were treated to a rare insight into the work carried out by HM Prison Service National Dog & Technical Support Group. Operational Manager Andy Watts described how the dogs specialise within the prison service. He and his dog Mason, a two year-old yellow Labrador, work in firearms and explosive search, others might work in drug search, whilst others sniff and scan prison visitors for drugs. He said that in the past dogs had found it particularly difficult to endure the oppressive environment of the prison so all dogs now live at home with their handlers as part of their families.
Andy admitted to being concerned about dog theft, as no dogs are exempt from this aspect of law and order. The cost to the taxpayer comes into thousands if a service dog is stolen. A drug search Springer spaniel was in fact stolen by drug addicts once who obviously didn’t realise the dog’s potential. They couldn’t understand why the dog continually sat down in front of them!
There then followed a demonstration by Andy and Mason who carefully scrutinised every bag, corner, nook and cranny in the lecture room. Finally Mason barked to indicate the presence of ‘something suspicious’ to Andy who recovered the package. He threw Mason’s ball for him and the transformation into a playful two year old lab such as might be seen in any park in any corner of the country took place before our eyes. OUR DOGS is happy to report that no other firearms or explosives were discovered in the lecture room at Edmondscote!
Peter and Petra
The next speaker was Peter Purves who has been a DTA advisor since the campaign group was launched in January. Peter delighted the audience with tales of the dogs in his home and professional life. He described life with Petra the first Blue Peter dog whose antics were followed weekly by every child in the country. Peter revealed that Petra wasn’t really a friendly dog after all and she wasn’t averse showing her displeasure if she had a mind to. He had everyone in stitches as he recalled Petra leaping over the back of a 70s floor level sofa to grab a guest at his home one evening. Peter explained that her teeth had fallen out when she was quite young after an illness and this was fortunate for the guest.
Peter is a devotee of Newfoundland and Pekingese having had several dogs of both breeds throughout his life. He told the audience that he would be absolutely devastated if any of his dogs were stolen and declared his support for DTA’s campaign. He referred to the front page of that week’s Our Dogs (September 30th) which featured the heartbreaking story of little Bentley, the boxer puppy who was so cruelly abused and then stolen by three youths who are still at large! Peter pronounced the need for Dog Theft Action and urged dog owners everywhere to demand a response from the authorities to this horrendous issue.
The final speaker of the day was Allen Parton accompanied by his adorable Canine Assistance partner Endal, both DTA advisors. Allen described how, after a tragic accident in the Gulf War in 1982, he was left with horrific head injuries that devastated his life. Allen had spent five years in hospital and though out of danger he was left with a huge disability and appalling depression. He then related how a yellow Labrador puppy, that hadn’t quite made the grade as an Assistance Partner, was introduced to him at his day centre, and the rest is history.
Endal is now one of the most famous dogs in the country. He has scores of accolades and trophies to his name which Allen proudly displayed and he was the only winner of a Blue Peter gold badge in the room! We were treated to a day in the life of Allen and Endal as they get on with their daily chores and activities – Endal busily fetching and carrying necessary objects when required. This was illustrated by a short film of this perfect partnership.
An hilarious story about how Allen and his wife Sandra went shopping on Christmas Eve for a washing machine that could be opened by a dog had the audience laughing loudly. After carefully ‘testing’ a row of washing machines in the store the one selected was the one Endal could open with ease. The store manager, staff and shoppers looked on with amazement as the trial was carried out, and the washing machine was delivered in time for Christmas!
United We Stand
DTA Co-ordinator Margaret Nawrockyi summed up the success of the DTA’s first symposium, expressing her great delight at how well the day had gone.
"The dogs that accompanied their owners to the DTA symposium represented three of the many, many aspects of the canine world," she said. "Vivien Phillip’s two dogs Barbu and Mioche represented breeding and showing, impeccably, Mason skilfully represented service dogs and Endal graciously represented assistance dogs. On Saturday we were given a glimpse of the beauty, potential, skill, loyalty and devotion that these dogs offer without question.
"We share our lives and our home with them; they share our work and our leisure. For centuries we have enjoyed a unique symbiosis with dogs. Yet they are considered the lowest of the low when it comes to the law – less important than cars and lawn mowers.
"DTA invites, not just dog owners, but all those who appreciate dogs for whatever reason to unite with us in asking for laws that will protect our dogs and for the implementation of those laws without delay."Website: www.dogtheftaction.co.uk