Nottingham Open Day – and…

The first part of this post can only be to say one thing: I just sent off my application to Nottingham, RVC, Liverpool and Bristol Universities! I was (am) so nervous just to do it, I read and re-read my personal statement so many times and then had to make a bunch of last minute changes to fit the 3,999 characters onto those 47 permitted lines. But eventually UCAS accepted it, I made Tom double-check all my details, paid my money and pressed the red button. Aaaaaargh!

On an equally exciting note, we spent yesterday at the open day for the Nottingham vet school. I am a little bit in love with this one. The facilities were modern and expansive and their teachings methods sound really varied. They also integrate more practical work and clinical skills into the early years of the course compared to the other schools. Although I have every intention of applying myself to anatomy and physiology textbooks, it would certainly help to be getting regular insight into why I need to know it from the very start.

Unlike the open days I attended five years ago and the more recent Bristol and RVC visits, Nottingham didn’t offer a free-form day where you went to two talks and could optionally go to the farm or have a campus tour. Instead we were given our itinery and taken though a busy afternoon of educational activities. After a talk about the school we went straight into ultrasounding the hearts of four very tolerant dogs. Our group had a brown lab with a tendency to lie down but we all managed to get some images of atria and valves from between the ribs via an “acoustic window” near the right elbow.

(I didn’t take many photos during the day as I wanted to get stuck in to the activities and chat to the existing vet students and other applicants. It seemed a waste of time to stop for pictures even if they’d have improved the blog post! But Tom did take some later on.)

From there we went to a whirlwind obstetrics class where we delivered toy lambs and diagnosed pregnancy on “breeding betsy”, a model cow rectum/uterus. Here I had a chance to talk to some other potential vets and it was really interesting to hear their views on the universities I haven’t applied to, such as Surrey and Cambridge. Before long though we were off on a tour of the campus, a quiz, a mock emergency situation and a sutreing lesson!

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I so enjoyed this open day, but best of all was the visit to the huge university dairy. It featured an incredibly high-tech indoor system: robotic milking, automated slurry scrapers, individual feeding programmes, cow mattresses and my favourite – cow wash brushes. Tom had to elbow me to point out a cow using one. Although I appreciated the advantages of the robot milker I got very frustrated watching it try to find a cow’s teats with the lasers and was tempted to try and lend a hand. We couldn’t take photos in the dairy or I would be bombarding you with them now (you know – how I do with sheep photos).

For me, Nottingham has two other advantages besides the amazing facilities and course. First is its proximity to beautiful Derbyshire where I grew up and am always going home to. Second, the entire veterinary course is based on one rural campus in Sutton Bonnington. Tom and I keep talking about buying a house when we move to wherever I end up studying, so to be on one campus for the whole course in what seemed to be a lovely area would make that much easier.

This weekend cemented Nottingham as one of my choices and saw the start of my application process. I also dropped in on one of the vets I’ll be shadowing in farm practice next month to make sure the arrangements would all work out. It’s been busy and nerve-racking but hopefully very worth it! Thanks for reading and good luck if you’re applying too at the moment 🙂

 

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Pigeongate 2k16

It seems it’s that time of year… once again, our little flat has been home to a racing pigeon.

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I saw him/her when I got to work on Tuesday and he hung around all morning. Due to the warm weather we had the office door open and he kept wandering indoors, clearly not fased by people but unwilling to fly at all. Eventually due to the number of cats who come through out car park we caught him and our customer complaints lady rang his owner to ask for advice. He said the pigeon was meant to be racing from Cheltenham to West Yorkshire but as he’d got stuck on the ground, would we feed him up for a few days and send him on his way? We couldn’t see any injuries but he really didn’t seem willing to take off at all; apparently this time of year is the “young bird season” and birds get “flown out” or over-exhausted due to their inexperience.

For the rest of the day we made him an enclosure in the workshop and the end of the day I took him home. He ate seeds and peas and drank water from a mug. By Saturday he was flapping around in his specially adapted rabbit cage, but the weather was terrible so we waited until Sunday morning to send him off.

We have a top floor flat, so he had to be packaged up to get outside.

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(Honestly, he was in the box at this point – just getting his act together!)

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He sat by the bins for a bit before taking off in roughly the right direction. I hope you got home in one piece pigeon!

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A local puppy farm welfare case

The Dog Rescuers on Channel 5

The link above is to a documentary on puppies and the work of the RSPCA – featuring my local branch and the dogs I’ve been walking during my volunteering there!

Apparently there has been a lot of interest in the dogs shown and the centre have posted on their Facebook page to remind people that, due to being part of an ongoing case against the owner, they’re not yet available for adoption. I’ve been really careful not to share any photos or videos of the case dogs but now they’re on national TV I think it should be okay to provide a link to the show! The particular dogs shown in the video may not be up for rehoming but the centre has MANY, MANY dogs in need of forever homes if you’re looking for one.

The problem with puppy farms

Last month saw the start of the #SeeThemSuckling campaign against the production and sale of farmed puppies. Puppy farming is one of the big challenges in companion animal welfare at the moment, so today’s post looks at what it is, why it’s a problem and what can be done to tackle it.

What is a “puppy farm”?

The name refers to businesses commercially producing pet dogs. It’s commonly used to describe fairly intensive breeding and implies profit being put before the welfare of the animals. BBC Panorama filmed a great documentary about these “farms” which shows footage from inside some commercial dog breeders’ kennels. It’s still available here on iPlayer and I’d definitely recommend watching as I hadn’t realised the set up and scale of some of these breeders until I saw the film.

So what’s the problem?

Although it’s possible in theory to raise lots of dogs well to sell as pets, puppy farms can often pose the following problems:

  • Puppies are not socialised during crucial periods of their development, leading to future behavioural problems with other dogs and humans.
  • Puppies are not habituated (used) to experiences they will have in later life, such as going for a walk outdoors or riding in the car, which can lead to fear and more behavioural problems.
  • Dogs are kept in small kennels on inappropriate bedding so not get the level of care that pet dogs in the home should ideally receive.
  • Dogs are bred too often with no time for bitches to recover from a litter.
  • Puppies may be weaned too young.
  • Lack of hygiene and disease controls in large, multi-dog operations cause health issues.
  • The dogs may not all get prompt veterinary attention when required.
  • Some breeders are known to use inhumanely small or closed cages for dogs, especially when they are about to give birth to puppies.
  • Long distance transport is required to supply puppies to dealers and buyers, sometimes crossing borders illegally – which has huge repercussions for health and disease control.

Several of these problems are caused by obviously illegal actions, such as the tiny boxes some breeders use for bitches giving birth to puppies. Others are roughly within the law – although neglect and abuse are legislated against, whether or not a dog is sufficiently socialised and exposed to stimuli as they grow up is much harder to prove.

Another huge problem is wilful deception by dealers claiming that their stock of farmed puppies is home bred. Misled customers buy these dogs without realising the health problems they could have and the industry that they are supporting. No one advertises that their puppies are farmed but the dealers go further than omitting this key fact and may claim that the puppies’ mother is out for a walk, that they are an accidental litter from a family pet or that you can’t come to their home for an innocent reason like renovation work so need to collect the puppy elsewhere. The BBC even uncovered breeders supplying a “show bitch” to dealers, of the same breed as unrelated puppies, to convince buyers that they were buying a homebred pup.

What’s the legal position?

To “keep a breeding establishment for dogs” (described as producing 5+ litters per year) businesses must be licensed by their local council under the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999. Breeding and selling dogs without a license can lead to fines, imprisonment and disqualification from keeping dogs, but that’s not the whole problem – as well as unlicensed breeders, welfare at licensed outfits is also an issue.

Each year to renew their license a breeding establishment must have an inspection by a vet to ensure that the dogs are well cared for. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 sets the standards for this care but as with all the animal welfare scenarios I write about, sometimes these are allowed to slip even if they were in place during the annual vet inspection. In these cases, the RSPCA can inspect and prosecute if a crime (such as neglect, which the Act above lists as a criminal offence) has been committed, but only if they have enough evidence to do so. Gathering evidence takes a lot of resources, so the problem with poor welfare on puppy farms continues.

What can be done?

Puppy farms remain because there is a huge demand for puppies. The popularity of certain breeds, such as pugs and bichon frise, plays a part in pushing would-be owners to buy these puppies rather than adopt a shelter dog or mongrel. But ignorance on the part of buyers and wilful deception by puppy farmers and dealers means that demand for puppies in general is often met by “farmed” dogs.

With the problem attracting more and more media attention, there are few excuses left for would-be owners who buy a farmed puppy. Somehow though a big, profitable market for breeders and dealers remains so sharing the message and educating your friends is important. I was really shocked to learn about Dogs4Us which is literally a puppy shop in the North of England. Make sure your friends and family know all about farmed puppies and how to ensure they never buy one!

The simplest advice if you are buying a puppy is from the #SeeThemSuckling campaign, that if you can visit your pup with his/her mum and see them interacting the chances your new companion has been farmed are much lower. Never agree to have your pup delivered alone or collect him/her from a location like a car park or motorway services. If you have any doubts, it’s better not to buy the puppy – although it feels like rescuing it, you might be supporting the neglect and abuse of his/her family. You can report someone you think may be selling dogs from puppy farms here. Of course, you could decide not to buy a dog at all and instead take one of the thousands who are awaiting homes in rescue centres!

The government are currently reviewing feedback on their plans to update several types of animal establishment license in England. This would modernise licensing of pet shops, kennels and dog breeders amongst other business, so it will be interesting to see what changes are made.

It’s horrible to think that many dog lovers are unwittingly supporting abuse of the species we all agree is “man’s best friend”. Through educating dog buyers and cracking down on the breeders and dealers who supply the dogs, there’s a huge opportunity to make a change. Spread the word to your friends and family, #PoutforPuppies and adopt your pets from shelters whenever you can. Thanks for reading!

Want to take action?

  • The Puppy Love Campaign suggest writing to your MP and letting them know your view. They provide a letter template to show your support for an updated Pet Animals Act, preventing the sale of puppies in pet shops.
  • The RSPCA see the next step as being compulsory licensing of everyone selling a puppy and if you want to sign their petition, you can find it here.
  • Post your #PoutforPuppies selfie on social media (if that’s your sort of thing!) to promote the #SeeThemSuckling campaign.

References/further reading:

The Kennel Club – resources on puppy farming

RSPCA page “Scrap the Puppy Trade”

RSPCA report “Sold a pup? Exposing the breeding, sale and trade of puppies.”