Poll: Should it be compulsory to have your dog micro-chipped?

The micro-chipping of the Beano’s Gnasher has been praised by the animal welfare minister for raising awareness of forthcoming regulations making it compulsory for dogs.

Gnasher gets a microchip. Pic: The Beano
George Eustice commended the Dogs Trust, which teamed up with the famous comic on a special strip last year.

Ukip MP Douglas Carswell (Clacton) asked about the new regulations which will require all keepers in England to get their dog micro-chipped by April next year.

He said in the Commons: “In a number of western countries where micro-chipping has been compulsory, fewer dogs are micro-chipped than in the UK, where it has been voluntary. What is the maximum penalty that will be imposed on anyone who fails to comply?”

Mr Eustice said 70% of dogs had already been micro-chipped under the voluntary scheme, but added: “Our judgment is we need it now compulsory to get to the remaining 30%.

“We will be taking a proportionate approach when it comes to penalties. In the first instance, someone will be given an enforcement notice, not a penalty, and given 21 days to comply. Charities are doing a great deal to raise awareness. A recent edition of the Beano included a storyline put there by the Dogs Trust where Gnasher had a micro-chip installed.”

Speaker John Bercow said: “That is useful to all of us and, in particular, the honourable member for Clacton who wouldn’t otherwise have known of it.”

To take part in the poll and cast your vote, click here: http://www.shropshirestar.com/news/2015/01/30/poll-should-it-be-compulsory-to-have-your-dog-micro-chipped/


Paws for Thought: Men who exclude creatures from compassion and pity…

“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”
― Francis of Assisi


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Puppies aren’t presents – let’s end puppy farming at Christmas

As we’re nearly approaching Christmas, it’s the time when many people might be thinking of buying a puppy as a present. The demand for puppies at this time of year means thousands of puppies are bred in illegal puppy farms up and down the country, with thousands more trafficked in horrendous conditions from EU countries.

Tricolour Border Collie pup

RSPCA are urging people to write to their MP and help stop these unscrupulous traders before even more puppies and dogs suffer and die. Puppies are not presents – having a dog in your life might be a gift, but that doesn’t mean they should be bred to order so they can be unwrapped at Christmas time. A new Early Day Motion has been tabled in Parliament which calls for an overhaul of breeding legislation and systems of enforcement within this lucrative yet damaging ‘trade’. The EDM asks the government to “introduce modern comprehensive laws to cease the illegal trade in animals, with improved enforcement, monitoring and a legal accountability set in stone to ensure proper welfare conditions apply to any breeder.”

To contact your MP and ask them to help clamp down on puppy farming by signing EDM 381, visit this campaign page: http://campaigns.rspca.org.uk/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=143&ea.campaign.id=33580

If you do decide to give a puppy or kitten this Christmas, a great way to do it is to give a card with a puppy on, or even a fluffy toy that looks like a puppy, along with a note that says after Christmas you will all go choose the puppy together. This will give you and your family enough time to come to terms with the imminent arrival, as well as testing the waters as to how the idea of a puppy will be received. RSPCA say around three pets an hour are abandoned each year as unwanted Christmas presents. That great idea of a puppy might just not go down as well as you think. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home have said they tend to get most animals dumped on their doorstep around March or April, when the puppies have grown up and are no longer thought of as small and cute. This is desperately sad and shows a worrying lack of awareness around dog ownership and the massive responsibility it entails. Many dogs will live up to 20 years old and it’s worth giving some thought to the fact that little ball of fluff could very well turn into a huge, slobbering, adorable mess.

And please remember, don’t buy ANY animal online from an unregistered breeder and encourage all your friends and family to follow suit. Millions of gorgeous creatures are languishing in animal shelters up and down the country – why not give one of them the gift of a lifelong, loving home? Or if you do choose to buy a pedigree, please ensure you do so from an established breeder who is registered with either the Kennel Club or Governing Council of the Cat Fancy. Always insist on seeing the puppy or kitten’s mother and ensure a valid certificate of registered pedigree accompanies any purebreds you get. Let’s clamp down on these greedy, oblivious money grabbers by eliminating this market altogether. We have the power to prevent thousands of puppies suffering – let’s start now.

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Paws for Thought: 12 Reasons You May Never Want To Eat Turkey Again

As we’re now into December (I know, I can’t believe it either) the shops will be filling up in no time with plump white turkeys for families to take home and munch on. For some reason, turkeys seem to be so synonymous with Christmas that for many people it’s inconceivable to think a festive dinner could actually be made up of anything else. Up and down the UK turkeys are reared in appalling conditions, crammed in together and subjected to stress and pain, before being casually slaughtered and dumped on tables nationwide.


One worker describes his brief stint at a turkey hen breeding facility in Missouri: “The birds were terrified, and beat their wings and struggled in panic…Having been through this week after week, the birds feared the chute and bulked and huddled up. The drivers literally kicked them into the chute…”

This has to stop.

How about we all take a minute and spare a thought for these sentient, intelligent (yep, it’s true) creatures who never asked to be associated with this nonsensical festive tradition. This article shows some of the many ways in which turkeys have been found to be soft, tactile, clever and cute. Have a look at some of the videos of turkeys bonding with humans and if you still want to eat one of these birds at Christmas, then frankly you’re the biggest turkey of them all.


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Should we cull grey squirrels to save the native red?

Red squirrel

Under threat: ‘Red squirrels are one of nature’s cutest inventions. Delicate and inquisitive, I would love to have them in my garden.’ Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

What should we do about grey squirrels? Introduced from America in the late 19th century, the grey has made itself very much at home in Britain, with a population of around 2.5 million. The problem is that our native red squirrel suffers. And while the greys do out-compete them, the real worry is that the greys carry a disease – squirrel pox virus – that leaves the immigrants untouched but is lethal to the reds.

So what to do? The BBC reported this morning that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is planning to overhaul the advice it gives about grey squirrel control – and on the table is a legal obligation for landowners to cull. Is an attempt to eradicate this species from our shores the right solution?

I find myself conflicted. It seems that leaving grey squirrels alone will result in the population of reds diminishing even further. Red squirrels are one of nature’s cutest inventions. Delicate and inquisitive, watching them at garden bird feeders in Berlin was an utter delight. I would love to have them in my garden too.

Yet Defra’s policymakers seem to have a remarkably ropey grasp of science, if their actions on badgers, buzzards and bees are anything to go by. I worry about a response to wildlife management issues that seems to have been scripted by leader writers at the Daily Mail – so that when there is trouble we are directed to blame the illegal immigrants first before checking to see if there are any underlying societal problems.

Could individual landowners do more to undertake local control? Yes. There are areas where red squirrels are still in the ascendency. Some of these are islands – others are remote areas less affected by greys. Should the control be lethal? I believe, reluctantly, that until there is an alternative, the answer is yes. But this should be done specifically with the aim of protecting red squirrels.

Creating barriers to protect native species has been done with some success in New Zealand. There, one of the illegal aliens is the species I have studied for nearly 30 years, the hedgehog. And I have agreed in that case that killing is a legitimate form of control, as it is for mink in Britain.

As for the alternatives, there is talk of developing contraceptives for the greys, and there is a research programme looking at a squirrel pox vaccine that needs funding. Perhaps, if the real motivation is the protection of the reds, this should be reinstated. Though I wonder whether the call to cull, like the badger-madness, is more of reaction by entitled landowners wanting to go back to the way it was always done.

There is one possibility that is not being discussed, and that is to look to nature. If we were to provide our predators – pine martens, buzzards and goshawks– with proper protection, perhaps even encouragement, then squirrels would be controlled and biodiversity enhanced.

None of these alternatives would be a silver bullet – they need to be undertaken alongside habitat reclamation. While we wait, the islands need protecting.

Just stop and think about the reality if the grey-haters were to get their way and all hell and fury were unleashed on this alien rodent – what would be the result?

What non-human, wild mammal are we most likely to encounter in our daily lives? The grey squirrel. We cannot ignore the fact that they are now a part of our fauna – as are other introductions including rabbits and muntjac. We stop and watch them in the park. In many cities they are so bold as to be happy to take food from your hand. They give people – including children – an opportunity to get close to a genuinely wild mammal. This is important.

The biggest threat to the natural world is our lack of understanding – without understanding, without a connection, we simply cannot care deeply enough to make the changes needed to ensure wildlife and humanity can live together.

Article taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/28/cull-grey-squirrels-save-native-red

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Paws for Thought: Do animals have emotions?

Happy dog with boy

‘Sit. Stay. Roll over. Tell me about your innermost feelings.’ Photograph: R Nelson/Getty Images/Flickr RM

In July 1932, a rhesus monkey at the recently opened Chester Zoo was seen by visitors gnawing at a length of rope. After tying one end to a branch, he made the other into a noose. He put it over his head and jumped, dying instantly.

“Monkey commits suicide!” screamed newspaper headlines, while pictures showed the animal hanging, looking horribly human. It sparked a heated debate over whether it was deliberate, whether the monkey was depressed and whether animals should be kept in captivity. Yet no one really had a clue about the monkey’s state of mind.

Nearly a century on, we still struggle to unravel the emotional lives of animals. Distress in animals can be easier to spot than happiness but rarely can there be a subject where popular views are so far removed from scientific understanding. Most pet-owners are convinced that when a cat purrs or dog wags its tail it is expressing joy. Surely it would be arrogant and anthropocentric to assume that humans are the only happy animals on the planet?

Most scientists and philosophers, however, are far more cautious. This scientific approach has been articulated by Marian Stamp Dawkins, professor of animal behaviour at Oxford University, who specialises in the study of chickens and farm animal welfare. Animal behaviourists such as Stamp Dawkins do not deny the existence of animal consciousness but say that theories about it cannot be tested in the real world. Only observable behaviour and physiology can be studied scientifically and yet Stamp Dawkins has complained about a “rising tide of anthropomorphism”.

We certainly project human motivations on to animals in clumsy and unscientific ways, as shown by the story of Anne, an extremely well-travelled fiftysomething with gammy legs who has been up the Eiffel Tower and along Blackpool Beach. Anne was the last circus elephant in England and two years ago she was taken from the circus after her owners were convicted of animal cruelty: video footage showed a groom beating her. Anne was taken in by Longleat Safari Park, but when the elderly elephant arrived she began destroying the trees in her enclosure. “The anti-animals-in-captivity campaigners would probably say that’s because of the trauma she experienced in the circus,” says Longleat’s head vet, Jonathan Cracknell. “But Anne’s not a demonic animal, she’s an elephant – she enjoys smashing stuff up because she can.”

We have no scientific understanding of whether Anne is happier freed from the circus, but Cracknell has a clue – he travels the world treating traumatised captive animals for charities including Free the Bears and International Animal Rescue. Anne is physically crippled and, unusually for an elephant, does not enjoy the company of her peers – which may be a product of past trauma. But, says Cracknell: “She’s relatively unfazed by anything and she has good days and bad days from a point of view of emotion and play. She can be a right cheeky chappie – you can see moments when she is totally enjoying being herself.”

Vets tend not to be sentimental, but Cracknell says a certain amount of empathy goes with the job. “If you don’t think animals have emotions and don’t have the ability to enjoy as well as suffer, then you’re not the person to help rescue bears,” he says. “When you’re working in zoos and rehabilitation centres, you get a gut feeling about the behaviours you’re seeing – play, antics, animals interacting maliciously but also sometimes just because they are enjoying themselves. We see mammals behaving as individuals all of the time. Even the small ones – and not just mammals.”

The thrill of being alive

Cracknell has watched crows sliding down snowy hillsides in Scotland and then returning to do it again. He can’t see the “evolutionary benefit” of such behaviour. “They are just enjoying themselves for the thrill of being alive.” Recently, at Longleat, a macaque started swimming: it wasn’t hot, there was no apparent benefit of food, territory or hierarchy. “There’s no advantage to that animal learning to swim but it has.” Is pleasure, or even happiness, the answer?

Charles Darwin wrote about animal consciousness in 1872 but for most of the 20th century we showed little inclination to scientifically explore the inner lives of animals. In recent decades, animal behaviourists have studied pain and suffering in animals but positive emotions, such as happiness, have been neglected. This is partly because negative emotions are easier to detect: fear generally produces observable behaviour while stress, for instance, can be measured through the stress hormone cortisol.

Today, however, there is a growing field of animal happiness studies, although scientists prefer the term “positive emotions”. Here, it appears easier to prove that an animal is experiencing pleasure than happiness if happiness is defined as three processes: a physiological response to certain stimuli, an expression of that emotion, and an ability to reflect upon that emotion. Studies show rats, for example, can achieve the first two processes but there is no evidence of the third.

A rat may be able to “laugh”, however, according to Jaak Panksepp, an American psychobiologist and neuroscientist, who discovered that when a rat is tickled it makes ultrasonic chirps, associated with positive ratty experiences such as finding food or sex. For Jonathan Balcombe, author of Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good, this work is proof that rats “are not just conscious, cognitive but socially adept and mirthful”. Balcombe will next year launch Animal Sentience, the first journal dedicated to the study of animal feelings.

He argues that “new technology is allowing scientists to probe aspects of animal lives that weren’t available decades ago”. Scientists have trained dogs to undergo MRI and fMRI scans. Hungarian researchers recently found that dog brains reacted similarly to human brains when exposed to voices and emotionally charged sounds, such as crying and laughter. A US study showed that the scent of a dog’s guardian is more appealing than other scents, lighting up more reward centres in the brain. “Pleasure,” explains Balcombe, “is nature’s way of encouraging ‘good’ behaviours like finding food, shelter and procreation, which are very useful from an evolutionary perspective.” He’s willing to take a step further than many scientists: “If an animal is playing or laughing, it suggests to me an animal who is more than experiencing pleasure but can be happy.”

Balcombe has been criticised by Stamp Dawkins for making untestable anthropomorphic claims and zoologist Jules Howard, author of Sex on Earth, says it remains virtually impossible to detect even an apparently simple sensation, such as whether animals experience pleasure when having sex. “How would you tell if a dolphin is enjoying sex? You can’t get it in a CT scanner and rub its erection,” says Howard. “Masturbation is an interesting behaviour. There’s no reason to do it unless it just feels a bit nice, but there’s not enough people studying that kind of thing.” Even when scanning brains to detect activity that may denote pleasure, we can only really say it is showing the “hallmarks of happiness”, cautions Howard. Nevertheless, he accepts the logic that it would be amazing if we were the only species who could be happy.

Goat apparently smiling
An optimistic goat. Possibly. Photograph: Alamy

In Britain, some intriguing work on positive emotions in animals is being undertaken by Alan McElligott and Elodie Briefer of Queen Mary’s University, working with goats in a sanctuary in Kent. They trained the animals to discriminate between a location where there was a reward and one where there was none: the goats turned left along a corridor to obtain apples and carrots but if they turned right there was never any food. When the goats were exposed to ambiguous locations – corridors leading ahead rather than left or right – the scientists discovered a surprising result. Female goats who had suffered physical abuse before they arrived at the sanctuary were quicker to explore these uncertain options, where no reward was guaranteed, than well cared-for goats. The abuse survivors were more “optimistic” and the scientists suggested this was because they were more resilient to stress. Balcombe thinks this optimistic demeanour demonstrates goats’ capacity for “happiness” but McElligott is not so happy with that term.

“It’s important for scientists working on this to be really robust and not anthropomorphic in speculating on the data,” says McElligott. “If you go down the anthropomorphic route you lose credibility. If scientists want to write about something, it should be backed up by data. There’s a lot that we can say robustly about animals. I don’t need to go further than our current knowledge.”

Wild animals are so difficult to study that the science of animal happiness only really applies to domesticated animals. Are they different from wild animals? Studies have shown that domestication enables animals such as dogs to better interpret information that is coming from humans. If animal emotions are a product of animals living with humans, have we taught animals to be happy? Are domesticated animals becoming more human? Such questions are a leap too far for scientists. “I would never say that they are becoming more human,” says McElligott. In fact, he says, despite 10,000 years of domestication, goats turn feral within a generation if released into the wild.

The implications of animal happiness studies are profound. If scientists can map out the complexity of animal emotional lives, it becomes harder to subject them to factory farming, or confinement not conducive towards their “happiness”. While some may suspect that animal emotions are not studied widely because so many industries will lose money if we must rear “happy” animals, McElligott argues there is no conflict between better animal welfare and productivity: research shows that emotionally content animals put on weight more quickly and are less likely to succumb to physical ailments.

Many of those working in the field of animal happiness are motivated by a belief that animals have rights and their studies have big implications for meat-eaters. “If you can enjoy life, then death is harmful because you’re having a life cut short,” argues Balcombe. “There is a huge disconnect between our growing understanding of animals and how we continue to treat them.”

Globally we are eating more meat but its consumption is declining in the US, and Balcombe hopes it will continue to do so as we become more aware of the inner lives of animals. “Maybe I’m the abused goat,” says Balcombe, “but I am very encouraged by some of the trends that are emerging now in the US. Ultimately I’d like to see us applying the sorts of principles of respect and compassion to animals that we generally apply to our fellow humans.”

Article taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/nov/13/if-only-they-could-talk-?CMP=twt_gu

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