Russ Akehurst Dog Warden
Russ Akehurst is one of Adur & Worthing Councils' dog wardens. After a career in the police, he took on the role more than twelve years ago.
Russ loves animals and takes his responsibilities very seriously. This includes: dealing with stray dogs, investigating dog related complaints, enforcement of laws to dog fouling and regular patrolling of parks, streets and other open spaces within Adur and Worthing.
Outside of work he has three dogs of his own - a Labrador cross Boxer, a Jack Russell Terrier and a Greyhound.
You can read Russ' current blog posts on this page below:
Firstly I’d like to give you all an update regarding Jenny. If you read last week's blog you will remember that she was missing for 3 days, having run off when being handed to her new adopter’s after traveling in a van for some 3 days from Romania.
I’ve just spoken to her owners and she’s bonded well with them during this past week. It’s going to take time for her to gain confidence with new surroundings and situations but her owners are totally committed to the task ahead.
News of Jenny’s escape spread far and wide on social media and so I wanted to raise awareness of nervous dogs being able to slip out of their collar and even a harness, so that hopefully it can prevent similar occurrences in the future.
Here’s some information about the benefits of non slip harnesses for nervous dogs like Jenny. I’d urge you all to read it even if your own dog is comfortable walking on a collar and lead or a conventional harness.
Before Jenny’s escape, my previous 4 blogs had seen me reminiscing about the 3 years between 2014 and 2017 when we housed our stray dogs at Teville Gate, Worthing.
Sadly we all knew that Teville Gate only provided a temporary solution in our quest to find permanent kennels for our strays and that one day the bulldozers would move in. Obviously this worried us as it had been so difficult to find premises back in 2014.
However, we needn't have worried. By the time that we had to move out in November 2017, we had already secured kennel space with our preferred option back in 2014. They weren’t able to accommodate us back then but thankfully were able to now.
More than 3 years on and everytime I drive past Teville Gate I still think about the dogs we saved. Every single one of the 95 healthy strays were rehomed. Looking back they were great times because it gave us continuity, from picking them up on the streets, caring for them and then finding them a rescue place, but there’s no doubt it was emotionally and physically draining.
Constantly worrying about the ones in poor health, if we would have enough kennel space, if we would be able to secure the dogs a rescue place if they weren't claimed. I honestly don’t know how people who run their own rescues or who work in rescue cope year after year.
I’m privileged to know many of the staff past and present from Dogs Trust, Shoreham and the Senior Animal Rescue Officer at Wadars. The work they do is amazing but it takes its toll physically and emotionally over the years.
The smaller charities have the added pressure of having to worry about fundraising. Without donations and volunteers to organise fundraising events many of the smaller rescues would simply fold and I fear for them in the current situation when the traditional fundraising events, such as dog shows, open days, sponsored walks / marathons etc haven’t taken place.
The kennels we use now have been amazing with their care for our strays. Those not reunited with their owners are cared for until we can find them a place in rescue.
As an example, many boarding kennels have sadly but understandably closed during the pandemic because to heat the kennels and pay staff would be more expensive than remaining closed.
Whereas kennels with rescue dogs have remained open, often operating at a loss, such is their dedication and sense of duty to the animals in their care.
Hi Again. I had this week's blog all planned out but as I've said previously, you never know what the next phone call will bring and last Friday was a perfect example!!
I took a call from a lady who described how the previous evening she and her partner were about to welcome a rescue dog into their home. The dog, called Jenny, had been on the road for three days, travelling in a van from Romania along with other dogs when somehow, because the dog was so frightened, she was able to escape when being transferred from the van to the adopters.
Normally the dog would have been taken into the house but because of Covid restrictions Jenny was handed over in the street and because she was so nervous, she pulled free and ran away.
At this point Jenny had already been missing for well over 14 hours and had been out all night. Worryingly there had been no sightings reported to us and so I checked around all the vets to see if she had been handed into any of them, but sadly she hadn't.
Often a dog that runs off will make their way home, back to where they have run off from or to a place familiar to them, a local park etc. But here we had a dog that didn't know anywhere in England let alone Worthing, and hadn't even met anyone, let alone formed a bond with anyone.
The new adopters weren't confident with social media and so I created a post, which was soon shared far and wide and not before long a representative from Lost Dogs UK Recovery South had made contact with Jenny's adopters and offered their expertise help.
The speed at which they worked was impressive; the charity Dog Lost were informed and details were placed onto their website. Posters had not only been designed but printed and were being displayed in shops and other prominent places around the town.
This is so important because as hard as it is to believe Facebook isn't everyone's cup of tea and a good old fashioned advertising poster still has its place in society.
Friday evening saw a sighting of a loose dog near Goring Hall hospital and volunteers targeted the area with posters hoping for fresh sightings, but by Saturday morning no new sightings had emerged.
However, by now everyone in the local dog owning community knew of Jenny's plight and the online poster had been shared goodness knows how many times. Messages of support were coming in far and wide, including Jenny's original rescuer in Romania who was understandably worried sick.
Early Saturday afternoon saw two simultaneous sightings, one not far from where Jenny had gone missing in Worthing, the second in Ferring. With resources about to be split between the two locations, a photo came in of the dog at Ferring. There was no doubt, the dog was Jenny, alive and well after spending two nights sleeping rough.
This was great news but still the hard work was to be done, how do you catch a frightened dog, running on fear and adrenaline? There's only one way and that's to set a trap. This could still take days to work, if at all. The dog might get spooked and move to a different area or just not take the bait so to speak.
Many of you will remember Silk, who went missing in July 2017. Despite a trap being set in the area where she was regularly seen she was never caught and sadly is still missing to this day.
However, after just some 6 hours, Jenny had taken the bait and was secure in the trap set for her. She was transported still in the trap to her adopters home and taken into the house.
As you can imagine, she is still frightened and after her ordeal who can blame her. But with the love and patience of her new family I'm sure she'll soon be more trusting of the world.
Continuing my nostalgic trip down memory lane, someone asked me in the week what the routine was at our kennels in Teville Gate, fitting in caring for the dogs around our other work.
It actually worked really well. During the week our kennel assistant would start work early in the morning to clean, feed and exercise the dogs. Victoria and Homefield Parks were favourite venues due to their close proximity to the kennels.
If there were more than one or two dogs in residence, Mike or I would normally pop down before we started work to help out.
During the day, if I wasn't busy, I was able to call in to keep the dogs company and in the afternoons try to get one or two out for another walk. This helped when it came to place them with a charity because we had been able to assess their temperament.
The kennel assistant would return in the evening and repeat the clean, exercise, feed routine.
On weekends, whoever was on call was also on kennel duty. I would often take my dogs down to the kennel block and leave them in the playroom whilst I exercised the strays.
My girlfriend, who worked at Dogs Trust, had Sundays off but if there was more than one dog in residence she would join me to ensure the dogs got plenty of exercise. It was like a busman's holiday for her.
Our favourite walk was along the prom to George V Avenue and back via the residential streets to give the dogs different smells and mental stimulation.
When Keith Walder, who was my manager at the time, was on call he was able to depend on his wife Kim to join him. It really made a difference to the dogs, us having help. The sooner the cleaning and feeding was done, the sooner the dogs got out for a walk and the longer they could stay out.
So never let it be said that the dog wardens don't know how to show their partners a good time!! And if you hear anyone say that romance is dead you know different!!
Talking about couples, I remember one Christmas it was really busy and we had four or five strays in residence. Paul and Titch, a very well known couple in the Worthing dog walking / rescue community, offered to help me walk the dogs, which was very much appreciated.
More so as they have 12 rescue dogs of their own and also run their own rescue charity, Caring for the Animals Trust (CARAT), which brings dogs over from Greece to be rehomed in the UK, and they fund a neutering scheme for street dogs in Greece.
We really are lucky in Worthing in having such a strong dog rescue community.
Sadly we all knew that Teville Gate only provided a temporary solution in our quest to find permanent kennels for our strays and that one day the bulldozers would move in. Little did we know that that day was just around the corner!!
Photo: Russ and the dogs enjoying a walk on Worthing seafront
Continuing my trip down memory lane, by September 2014 the disused toilet block at Teville Gate was ready for us to move into. Chris Strevett, the council's Maintenance Surveyor and the project manager for the convenience conversion, had done a brilliant job.
The most challenging part was making sure the building was well insulated, to make the dogs comfortable; and installing an acoustic extractor, to allow fresh air but to prevent noise from the dogs disturbing the neighbours. Although there were no residential properties close to the site, this was a requirement by our colleagues in Environmental Health.
Dogs Trust Shoreham had taken the remaining strays from Old Clayton so that no dogs had to be transferred when we made the move to Teville Gate. However we all knew that they wouldn't remain empty for long, and we weren't proved wrong!!.
We soon got into a routine and found there were pros and cons to the new facilities. The pros were that when we picked up a stray dog we didn't have to drive all the way to Storrington. Another advantage was being able to return a stray to the owner out of hours.
Even when we were off duty we were happy to return to Teville Gate after work to reunite a dog with their owner so that they didn't have to be apart until the following morning, whereas previously we didn't have access to the dogs out of hours.
The downside was what to do if we had too many strays in at once. When using boarding kennels we knew that there would always be a kennel for our dogs, but at Teville Gate, we were limited to a maximum of 6; and we couldn't double up unless we knew for certain that more than one dog came from the same house, which was rare.
In our first summer at Teville Gate, 2015, we were full. Stray after stray came in and were not claimed. On the 12th August I received a call reporting that a stray had been handed into a vets. All attempts to trace the owner via the dog's microchip had failed and I was asked to collect the dog before the practice closed.
On arrival at the vet's and wondering where I was going to put the dog, I soon realised that I needn't have worried. The dog, named Womble, was going to find her own accommodation for the night. Having just been given a shower by the nurses and taken up to the reception she set her sights on Mandy Bashford, the receptionist on duty.
Womble, a beautiful white sighthound, took an instant liking to Mandy and performed a play bow and then put her head between Mandy's knees. By the time I got to the reception, Mandy had decided to foster her. Crisis averted and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Thankfully we never came that close to being full again.
Some dogs do far better in kennels than others. As you can imagine, when very young, elderly or otherwise vulnerable dogs came into our care, our instinct was to foster them rather than put them into the kennel environment.
We were lucky that Gilly Tidboald, who became our kennel assistant after the original lady moved away, fostered a number of the strays, one of which she adopted. She was a lovely brindle Staffie bitch, a breed and colour which at the time were ten a penny in rescues everywhere.
When the kennels opened I lived with two dogs and was also fostering one of our strays, a lovely sighthound called Hendy who I really wanted to adopt. The only thing stopping me was knowing that if I adopted him I wouldn't be in a position to foster anymore, so when a lovely home came up I knew I had to let him go.
Over the next three years several more dogs found their way into my home, one of whom (Poppy) was responsible for one of my dogs (Mary) temporarily moving out!! Mary is pictured below:
Photo: Russ with Mary
So for those of you that read last week's blog, I was taking a trip down memory lane to 2014 when the dog warden service needed to find alternative accommodation for any stray dogs that came into our care.
My manager at the time, Keith Walder who is still with the council, explored every avenue and followed up every lead (no pun intended) to secure premises for the dogs, but nothing suitable could be found.
After some two years, with time and options running out, the answer was found right under our noses. A building owned by us, sitting empty and waiting to be put to good use, and under half a mile from our office right in the centre of Worthing.
It was of course Teville Gate, or to be more exact, the toilet block under the multi story car park at Teville Gate.
When we heard the news that this was the chosen site, a few eyebrows and concerns were raised, mainly the location and the reputation that the area had since it had become derelict, apart from the car park itself.
There was so much to be done and first on the list was to obtain planning permission for a change of use. The building had to have sound proofing installed so that the noise of dogs barking didn't affect local residents.
We also had to recruit a kennel assistant and a rigorous selection process was carried out before the chosen candidate was selected.
The Council's building services manager was given the task of converting the building and when Mike and I arrived on the day the kennels were handed over to us we were more than pleasantly surprised at the transformation. The block was totally secure and fitted with CCTV.
The former ladies toilet block had been converted into four individual kennels; the dogs had a communal area with a settee and a bath, while the staff had a washing machine!!
The gents toilets were converted into a playroom which was really useful when we had more than one dog from the same family that we could safely leave together unattended. It was also ideal for nervous dogs that were better suited to being away from the sound and sight of the other dogs.
In between was the disabled toilet block which was converted into an isolation block with two kennels if ever they were needed. Thankfully they were never needed, but on more than one occasion they were used as an extra kennel when the number of strays mounted up.
For those that are horrified by the thought that we even thought of housing stray dogs in former public conveniences there are three things to take into account.
The dogs wouldn't know or care that they would be living in former public conveniences.
According to Google, public conveniences in other parts of the UK have been converted into, amongst other uses, family homes, coffee shops, boutiques and florists.
And perhaps most importantly, we didn't abandon the dogs onto the streets in the first place.We were taking them into our care and loving them until they were found either a home or a place with a reputable rescue charity.
So we were now responsible for caring and rehoming the dogs that came into our care. Little did we know that we would be doing so for the following three years, almost to the day.
Next week I'll talk about those three years and who out of the four of us never once used the washing machine!!
Photo: Some of the many dogs that have been kennelled at Teville Gate over the years
To mark his 150th blog, Dog Warden Russ is taking a trip down memory lane!
Hi, I hope that you, your loved ones and your companion animals are keeping safe and well in these difficult times.
Welcome to this, my 150th blog. My first blog was published three years ago on the 23rd January 2018 and it's still on the Adur & Worthing Councils website, along with all my other blogs if you ever have trouble sleeping!!
In the 13 years I've been here, there's been lots of changes but without doubt the biggest one came back in 2014 when it was announced that the dog warden service needed to find alternative kennels to look after our stray dogs.
Up until then, when we collected a stray dog that we couldn't immediately reunite with the owner, we took them to Old Clayton Kennels in Storrington, who cared for them until the owner came forward.
If the dog wasn't claimed, the kennels would rehome the dogs themselves meaning that we didn't have that responsibility. The staff carried out the advertising, home checks, veterinary checks and pre adoption advice. Very importantly, they also offered full rescue backup and to this day they've taken back dogs that they previously rehomed.
In those days I estimate nearly 50% of our strays were Staffies, Staffie mix, or bullbreeds of another kind. Old Clayton had a wonderful record of rehoming the type of dogs that were being abandoned in their thousands, countrywide, every year.
That system meant that in effect we were like a taxi or delivery service, because unless the dog needed veterinary care, which sadly some did, we would collect the dog from the finder, take them to the kennels and that was our job done.
Sadly the time came when we had to make alternative arrangements for kennelling our dogs. We knew that we had to not only match the level of care the dogs had, but make sure that they were rehomed as responsibly as they had been up to then.
Luckily we had plenty of notice. Every avenue was explored and no stone left unturned in our effort to find alternative accommodation for the dogs that, through no fault of their own, would find themselves on the streets and in need of our help.
As we saw it, we had three options:
- Find alternative kennels that were within close proximity to us, so as to minimise our time away from the area
- Build our own kennel facility from scratch, taking into account they would have to be within easy travelling distance, the time it would take with planning permission, the actual building and the cost involved to the taxpayer, or
- Find a temporary home until a permanent solution could be found
With time and options running out a solution was found. Eyebrows were raised, opinions shared but a decision had been made and our job was going to not only change but become a whole lot more challenging, yet rewarding.
Next week I'll share what happened next!!
I hope that you and your loved ones are keeping well as we enter week three of the latest national lockdown.
Over the years there have been a number of unpleasant incidents that Mike, the Adur dog warden, and I have been involved in. To the point that we have been keen to be issued with Body Worn Cameras, pointing out that the Police and numerous other agencies have been using them for some years now and have only positive things to say about them.
As a result, I’m pleased to report that we’ve now been issued with them and have started using them operationally.
I know that some people will view them with suspicion, but hopefully this blog will reassure you that they are a positive step forward for our service. After all, they can only record what we can see and hear, so there can be no misunderstanding or ambiguity as to what’s taken place.
These days, nobody can venture far from home without being ‘caught on camera’ one way or another? Even if you’re not in a town or city that has street CCTV, many shops are equipped with them. Many cars are fitted with dash cams. Also more houses are fitted with them now as they offer a level of reassurance.
So what benefit would they be to Mike, myself and the public we serve?
Personal safety - in the past both Mike and I have been threatened with violence whilst carrying out our duties. I believe that many of these incidents could have been prevented had we been wearing body worn cameras. This has certainly been the experience of the Police since they’ve been using them.
Securing evidence thus saving council and court staff time and money - In the past I’ve been called to court as a witness in cases where dog owners have pleaded not guilty to various offences. Had the evidence been captured on camera, this may have saved hours of officer time in preparing evidence for court.
False complaints - Previously both Mike and I have been the subject of false complaints, had we been wearing body worn cameras it would have shown exactly who said what and if we had acted unprofessionally.
As you would expect, strict measures and procedures have been put in place regarding the carrying, recording and retaining of any footage. We are only permitted to begin recording if we have witnessed or believe that there is an offence in progress.
The person will be told that the conversation is being recorded and why. This obviously protects both parties and provides a verbatim record of the conversation. So when we are out and about on routine patrol we will not be recording, nor will we be if we engage in routine conversation with anyone.
Footage is automatically wiped after a short period of time unless we need it for cases we pursue. It is uploaded directly onto the cloud so that it can’t be tampered with, edited or deleted if there’s something that Mike or I were ‘uncomfortable with’.
Apart from all of these benefits I believe it will help enormously when we are investigating offences under the Animal Welfare Act.
In the past I’ve taken dozens of photos in an attempt to capture the horrendous condition of a dog or the conditions it’s been living in, but a short video would leave nothing to doubt regarding its potential suffering.
Until next time, take care and keep safe.
I hope that you and your loved ones remain in good health and that you're adjusting to life back in lockdown to protect the NHS and save lives.
I'd like to thank everyone who shared my post last week on dog thefts. The last time I looked there were over 1,000 shares and it had reached 111,123 people, so the message is getting out. If it saves one companion being from stolen it's a job well done.
As a fan of statistics I look forward to the end of each year ( last year even moreso) so that I can compare our stray dog figures with the previous year, and for the 5th year in a row I've not been disappointed as these figures will show.
In 2016 Adur & Worthing Councils took care of 169 stray dogs. 134 were reunited with their owners, 33 were rehomed and sadly for medical reasons some went to sleep.
The following year saw a slight reduction of strays coming into our care but more reunited with their owners. We rehomed 22 dogs but sadly a lovely Collie called Hamba went to sleep having been abandoned with a terminal illness.
In 2018 it got even better. 148 strays came into our care with 134 going home. The remaining 14 were all rehomed.
2019 saw a significant drop in numbers with 108 coming into our care, 94 going home, 13 being rehomed and I'm sure you'll remember Bella, a Collie type dog who was abandoned in allotments in Southwick like a rusty old washing machine.
We were alerted by a member of the public attending her allotment and taken to our veterinary practice where she went to sleep with dignity in the company of people who cared.
Last year saw the figures reduced to double figures for the first time with just 99 coming into our care, 90 of whom went home, with 9 being rehomed.
So in the last 5 years the number of stray dogs in Adur and Worthing has reduced by approximately 40% and a total of 91 dogs were rehomed including 59 to Dogs Trust, Shoreham, 11 to Wadars, 7 to Raystede, 5 to Rescue Remedies, and 2 to Sussex Pet Rescue.
We are forever grateful to those and the other charities who have offered our dogs a place in their care and rehomed them for us.
Also In the last 4 years we have exercised our powers under the Animal Welfare Act and seized 5 dogs, 4 were rehomed and 1 was in our care for over 3 months with constant veterinary care before going to sleep on veterinary advice.
Also, in the last 2 years a total of 16 dogs have been signed over into our care by their owners, 15 were rehomed but sadly one had a terminal illness and went to sleep.
With such a reduction of stray dogs in such a short space of time it can't be just down to one reason, but rather a number of reasons, all of which I've spoken about in previous blogs. Some of the reduction last year will undoubtedly be due to the COVID pandemic and lockdowns, when more people have been at home and with their dogs.
People will point to the introduction of compulsory microchipping, but that doesn't prevent dogs straying. It might prevent them coming into our care if the finder takes the dog to a vet who then scans it, finds the microchip and contacts the owner. Not to mention that it's a legal requirement for dogs to wear a collar and name tag. The finder simply contacts the owner right away thus saving their time, the vets time and the dog stress.
Until next week take care and stay safe.
Photo: Russ with Sadie and two of his other dogs - Button, a Jack Russell Terrier, and Lenny, a Labrador mix
Happy New Year!
As you may have seen on social media recently and at least one national daytime TV show, there has recently been an alarming increase in dogs being stolen.
Lockdown has inspired so many more people to get a dog but there's no doubt that this trend has inspired a far bigger number of dog thefts.
The national charity Dog Lost, report that referrals to them have rocketed this year. The prices being charged by breeders has risen dramatically which has made the trade in dogs even more lucrative and is being driven by supply and demand, with many dogs being stolen to order.
Dog Lost is a national database where owners of lost or stolen dogs can list their dogs with a photo and full details. The charity can also send out email alerts, produce posters and send the details out nationwide on social media. Find out more about them on the Dog Lost website.
It's been reported that some people who have had dogs stolen from their houses have noticed chalk marks, cable ties or other markings on their fences, walls, etc, which would suggest that the property had been under surveillance before the theft took place.
A BBC investigation revealed that at least two criminal gangs had given up drug dealing activities to concentrate on dogs. They have made this decision as they believe they're far less likely to be caught and if they are the penalties in terms of imprisonment, fines etc. are far less and worth the risk. For a crime making millions the fines are described as “small change”.
An RSPCA spokesperson said: “Puppy farming is a big business and we have uncovered large criminal gangs making millions of pounds”.
It's no longer a case of dogs being stolen, having been tied up outside a shop or lifted from a garden when being left out there alone. Sadly gangs are breaking into houses and well secured kennel blocks in order to steal dogs.
Although pedigree dogs and working breeds are really popular amongst thieves, any dog regardless of age, breed and sex can be sold as company for someone or sadly to be used as a bait dog for those involved in dog fighting. My blog is not intended to alarm anyone, but it's better to be aware of what does happen and how to try to minimise the chance of it happening to you.
If your garden can be seen from public view please make sure that not only is your garden secure but that any gates are fitted with bolts on the bottom so that thieves can't just reach over and unbolt them, you should also consider a padlock.
Many people plant hedges, bushes etc to screen the garden from public view and you could consider prickly ones to deter anyone from climbing in!!
Dogs are often stolen during a burglary in the owner's home. Sometimes whole litters of puppies have been stolen. Many homes are targeted after advertising puppies for sale.
Thieves or their accomplices have been known to phone and enquire about the pups and after finding out when a good time was to view them, any time not convenient to the owner could mean nobody would be at home. Others actually visit in advance to carry out a reconnaissance of the address, security measures, where the pups are kept, etc.
Be wary of what information you share! When arranging pup viewings with people over the phone, ask for a name and landline number from them and call it to verify. You may be able to write down the registration number of those coming to view your dogs.
There have also been reports of dogs being enticed away from their owners whilst out walking, often in isolated areas. On occasion dog owners have been approached in the street by people who have brazenly tried to snatch the dog. Train your dog to come back to you on command and don't let them out of your sight when they're off lead. On lead be wary of people engaging you in conversation about your dog.
Please ensure your microchip details are up to date and make sure you have your pet's microchip number and the contact details of the microchip database to alert them if your pet is lost or stolen.
Last, but not least, have lots of good quality photos of your dog, taken from all different angles. Concentrate particularly on the dogs markings - two of my dogs have completely unique markings which would positively identify them.
I hope that you and your loved ones are safe and well.
Last week I spoke about keeping your companion animal safe during the Christmas period; this week I'd like to talk about keeping them calm and happy so that everyone can enjoy the festivities.
With Christmas fast approaching and the stress levels rising I wonder how many people consider their dogs stress levels?
All too often we see on social media photos of people putting their dogs in stressful situations, usually to raise a laugh. But is this the right thing to do?
Every day we make decisions for our dogs. We decide which route our morning walk will take. We decide whether we want them to 'meet' that new dog in the neighbourhood. We decide whether the children's friends can come over, knowing how noisy they are and how inappropriate they are with the dog. We decide when we hug and kiss them. We decide whether to let the kids use the dog as a pillow, a play thing or a horse.
If we make the wrong choices we are putting undue stress on them.
A well-socialised, happy dog will be able to tolerate more than a fearful or reactive dog. But every time we expose all animals to a situation which makes them uncomfortable we are raising their stress levels.
Christmas only heightens that. There's so many things happening at this time of the year that your dog may not have been exposed to before, or, if they have been, they don't like it. This is why most reputable charities don't rehome dogs around the Christmas period.
On the Christmas walk there's likely to be kids playing with new bikes, skateboards, scooters, etc. At home there may be more visitors and noise than usual, kids running around shouting because they're so excited. There's the bangs from Christmas crackers, lots of tempting food within reach which they may try to steal from someone's hand.
A stress-free Christmas
Many adults and children don't know how to act appropriately around other people's dogs and so the best bet is to take them away from the situation.
If your dog is used to spending time in a crate, they can relax there with a Kong, chew or favourite toy. Be it a crate or just another part of the house, every dog should have a place of sanctuary where they can go to eat, sleep or just relax and feel safe.
Being a good parent to your dog means being able to read your dog's signals. That's why it's also worth keeping an eye out for some of the signs that show they are stressed and knowing when to remove them from a situation.
This includes: include yawning, blinking, nose licking, turning their head away, standing with their tail crouched under, and the most important one because you can call it a dog's final warning: growling.
I've heard it so many times: “I'm getting rid of this dog, it growled at the kids and I'm not having that.”
The key is to remember that the growling dog is not being aggressive; the poor animal is just trying to tell the people around that it's had enough of the situation it's been put in and can't take any more.
Think of your dog growling as your boss saying “If you're late for work again you're fired” or your partner saying “If you come home from the pub again in that state you're out on your ear”. If your dog is telling you he's at his wits end, please listen.
By being in tune with the feelings of animals around us, we can make sure that Christmas is fun for all the family humans and canines alike.
Have a great Christmas and stay safe!
I'm sure everyone wants to see the back of this year and as it's coming to an end I think it's time to mention the other C word because I think everyone's mind is now on Christmas.
But sadly this time of year is anything but joyous for many animals, dogs included.
I don't think there are many people who won't be familiar with the slogan “A dog is for life not just for Christmas” but fewer people will be aware that all too often people 'part with' the family dog. This is either to make way for a new puppy, to prevent kennel fees or, more commonly, because of all the extra stress involved with arranging the perfect Christmas, the dog becomes a problem that some see as easily solved by giving the dog away.
Also emergency veterinary hospitals see a number of dogs that have become ill over the Christmas period due to accidental poisoning. For example, they report a 780% increase in chocolate poisoning cases over Christmas Day and Boxing day alone.
For that reason I've put together the following list as a guide to help you keep your pets safe this festive time. Christmas foods poisonous to dogs and cats include:
- Chocolate: it contains a stimulant called Theobromine, a bit like caffeine, which, while tasty, is severely poisonous to dogs and cats
- Mince Pies, Christmas Pudding and Christmas Cake: due to the ingredients of grapes, raisins, currants or sultanas, which are poisonous to dogs
- Macadamia Nuts: often lurking in biscuits or eaten as a Christmas snack, these nuts can cause severe illness in dogs
- Blue Cheese: it contains Roquefortine C, which dogs are extremely sensitive to
- Leeks,Garlic, Chives and Onion: all allium species are poisonous to dogs
- Alcohol: it can cause severe liver and brain damage in animals, and as little as a tablespoon can lead to problems for your pet
This list is not exhaustive but these are the most common items that vets report having to treat our pets for over the festive period.
Of course it's not just our food that can harm our pets, vets also treat a number of animals that have chewed or swallowed Christmas decorations or toys, etc.
The list of dangerous items include:
- Tinsel: can cause blockages in the stomach
- Baubles: often made from glass, these can cause injury to the dogs mouth or worse if swallowed
- Snow globes: imported versions may contain anti-freeze which can be fatal to pets
- Candles: Flames can burn paws and the noses of our curious furry friends
- Fairy lights: electrocution and burns
- Salt dough ornaments: made from flour,salt & water, these can cause salt toxicosis and should be treated as an emergency
- Christmas plants such as Mistletoe, Ivy, Poinsettia, and Lilies: all are mildly toxic to both dog and cats, however lilies are potentially fatal to cats
- Wrapping paper: eating large amounts may cause a blockage in the stomach
Please remember, your own vet may be closed over some of the holiday period so find out in advance who is covering for them if they do not provide their own emergency cover and in the case of pet poisoning remember S.P.E.E.D. is of the essence:
S - Stop the pet from eating any more of the suspected poison
P - Phone the emergency vets
E - Emergency appointment (if necessary)
E - Evidence - bring labels/samples/vomit (in a safe manner)
D - Don't delay
Please keep your pets safe and have a wonderful time!
I hope that you are all well as we come to the end of the second lockdown. For the dog owners amongst you, no matter what restrictions have been put in place around your work, social life and hobbies, thankfully you've still been able to get out and exercise your companions.
I think we can count ourselves lucky living where we do, with the South Downs and the coast on our doorstep social distancing shouldn't be a problem.
This week I wanted to talk about a working Belgium Malinois named 'Kuno' who was many miles from the peace and tranquility of the South Downs National Park when he was out exercising with his handler one day last year.
Photo: Retired Military Working Dog (MWD) Kuno (Courtesy of PDSA)
He was actually in Afghanistan. Along with his handler, Kuno had been deployed to support elite Special Boat Service (SBS) forces during a night raid targeting al-Qaeda extremists when they came under attack.
The forces, pinned down by grenade and machine-gun fire from an insurgent, were unable to advance.
Kuno was sent in to break the deadlock and without hesitation, he charged through a hail of bullets while wearing night vision goggles to tackle the gunman, wrestling him to the ground and halting his attack.
Kuno's actions are said to have ultimately changed the course of the mission, saved lives and helped the forces successfully complete it.
Sadly during the assault he was shot in both his hind legs and was treated by his handler and medics in the back of a helicopter as they made their way to safety.
He suffered severe injuries - including a bullet narrowly missing a main artery - and needed several life-saving operations before he could be flown back to the UK for further treatment.
Vets from the Royal Army Veterinary Corps had to amputate part of one of his rear paws to prevent a life-threatening infection taking hold and after returning to the UK on an RAF plane, he underwent extensive reconstructive surgery.
Describing the incident, his handler said:
“I moved over to him, he was hobbling around, he was clearly in a bad way, his paw was all mangled up, it didn't look good, so we bandaged that up. He had what we call a through and through meaning the bullet had gone straight through his thigh and out the other side.”
To honour his actions that day that day, Kuno was awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal at a ceremony at Woolwich Barracks last week.
Photo: Kuno poses in his PDSA Dickin Medal (Courtesy of PDSA)
The medal, named after the PDSA's founder Maria Dickin CBE, was introduced in 1943 and is awarded to animals serving with the Armed Forces or Civil Defence, that have displayed outstanding acts of bravery or devotion to duty. The medal is recognised worldwide as the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
Kuno's handler, who can't be named, went on to say:
“Kuno receiving this medal just makes me feel massively proud of him, and he completely deserves it. It's well justified and it's really good to see his efforts and his courage recognised.”
The vet who treated Kuno said:
“The problem with treating Kuno's injuries wasn't the severity of the wounds, it was the combined injuries because both rear limbs were injured.”
Kuno began a lengthy rehabilitation programme to restore function to his nerves and muscles, and particularly enjoyed his sessions on the hydrotherapy treadmill. Within months he was fitted with custom made prosthetic limbs to replace his missing paw and an orthotic brace to help his injured limb.
Kuno, who was on his second deployment when he was injured made history by being the first UK military dog to be fitted with such devices, which allow him to run and jump unencumbered - giving him many more happy years in retirement.
Photo: Kuno running (Courtesy of PDSA)
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, himself a former soldier said:
"Without Kuno, the course of this operation could have been very different, and it's clear he saved the lives of British personnel that day. This particular raid was one of the most significant achievements against al Qaeda in several years”.
I'm pleased to say that Kuno is now in retirement, and I'm sure you all agree he deserves it!!
Next week I'll be talking about keeping your pets safe at Christmas and until then take care.
PDSA Video: Military Working Dog Kuno is awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal
Photo: Staff Sergeant Chris Byles with retired Military Working Dog Kuno (Courtesy of PDSA)
A couple of weeks ago I told you about Honey, a lovely, but rather nervous 6 year old Rottie, Rhodesian Ridgeback mix who was handed into the Dogs Trust Rehoming Centre at Shoreham having been abandoned nearby.
Finding a space in rescue for Honey wasn't straightforward because she had been untrusting of strangers when she first came in and so we had to find a rescue organisation that was willing to take her on for as long as it would take to rehabilitate and hopefully rehome her, and if not keep her for the rest of her life.
Thankfully a charity called Foal Farm Animal Rescue Centre was recommended to me. I looked on their website and saw that no healthy animal is ever destroyed, and if no home can be found, the animals become a resident for the rest of their life. This is exactly the reassurance I and of course Honey needed.
When looking at charities' websites, I find it interesting to learn their history and what event or occurrence prompted the founders to form the charity. I found Foal Farms history particularly interesting.
It all began one day in the 1950s when a Mr Carl Anthony Baker spotted Rex, an outsized German Shepherd dog, chained to an old van in a yard.
With a broken and bleeding ear, fur coated with oil and grease and his pads raw, he was a pitiful sight.
His owner occasionally threw him scraps of food but nobody ever went near or touched him, until Carl Anthony Baker spotted him that day.
For Carl Baker the thought that this wonderful creature had been condemned to a life of chained misery and starvation sowed the seed of what was to come. With some difficulty Carl persuaded the owner to let him take Rex home. Rex snarled once as he walked towards him but soon seemed to realise that Carl was there to help and he allowed himself to be taken off the chain and put in the car without a murmur.
Rex went to live with Carl and his wife Penny on a sailing barge moored at Sunbury on Thames. Not long after they took in another neglected dog, Bess, and the Bakers began to spend more and more time combating cruelty and distress that many animals were suffering.
On 1st August 1960, 20 people met in a disused kitchen and agreed to form a rescue centre, called Friends of Animals League (FOAL), with the simple aim of saving as many animals as possible, to care for them until fit and well and then place them in good permanent homes.
Initially, the unwanted animals that were brought in were 'shared' around the members' homes, but when 10 ponies, rescued from Waltham Marshes, needed urgent accommodation, it was obvious that premises were needed. Fortunately, a kind hearted farmer in Westerham came to the rescue in this instance, lending 40 acres and a Dutch Barn, but the search was on for Foal Farm.
The location of the new premises was critical if the enthusiastic volunteers were to be available to assist in the conversion work, but this meant limiting the search to the home counties where property prices were at their highest.
Eventually on 23rd May,1962, after selling everything they had including their home to raise the £36 ,000 needed the Bakers took possession of Foal Farm in Biggin Hill.
It was described as “an ugly, god forsaken place, well away from main roads and bus services and with no railway station”, but it did have a cottage, 20 acres of grazing and 3 acres of woodland!
The animals began arriving at Foal Farm faster than the Bakers could build kennels, faster than they could raise money for food and faster than they could rehome them. Because of this need to appeal for money FOAL decided to apply for charity status and on 22nd September 1962 became registered charity number 201654.
When they arrived at Foal Farm they had 6 rescued animals and now they accommodate around 400 animals at any one time!!
So thanks to the vision of one good Samaritan, his wife and eighteen friends, Foal Farm was born and evolved into the rescue it is today and so many animals owe their lives to them.
Until next week take care.
I hope that you are all keeping safe and well as we approach the halfway stage of the second lockdown.
I’ve often been asked if the lockdown has affected our workload at all and my answer is, “not as yet but I think it’s the lull before the storm.”
Rescue centres and behaviourists are worried that a lack of social contact during the pandemic has led to an epidemic of canine anxiety, particularly among puppies that have never seen anyone other than their owners in their homes.
One behaviourist commented...
“Dogs are developing anxiety around new visitors, whom they see as invading their territory. Dogs have become an important source for stress relief among owners during the pandemic, but the result is that they become clingy with their owners and growly towards new people.”
Puppies bought during lockdown are thought to be the most vulnerable because they may have never seen a “stranger” in their home. Many older dogs have regressed to bad behaviours such as barking or snarling at visitors.
In normal times owners would build up their dog’s confidence, starting with short, frequent visits from new people who are familiar and confident around dogs. The dog can be told to sit and be given a treat during the visit so they make a positive association with new people. When dogs lose their confidence in a house-guest situation, it can lead to problematic behaviour, such as excessive barking or lunging at people.
Sleep problems in dogs have also become a problem, partly because families are at home and may overstimulate their pets by taking them on several walks a day and not allowing them the 12-14 hours’ sleep they need.
The charity Dogs Trust reported that many dogs have had less walks and been on a lead more. This means they've had less opportunity to meet other dogs or people. And many will have got used to their human companions being around all the time.
Unwanted behaviours are the single biggest reason that dogs get handed into their centres and they want to change the tale for any dog that’s struggling to cope with the changing world around them.
Dogs can develop separation anxiety if they’re not used to spending time on their own. Signs include dogs becoming upset or destructive when they're left alone. They might bark or howl, or go to the toilet indoors.
Puppies adopted during lockdown might not have been home alone yet. Leaving them on their own as and when we go back to our ‘new normal’ lives may well lead to separation anxiety. Older dogs may have seemed fine with being alone before lockdown - but they'll have become used to everyone being at home over the last six months.
If your dog was used to being alone before lockdown you could start to get them used to it again. Build it up slowly, to prepare them for being alone in the house when the rest of you go back to work.
Puppies’ early experiences in life influence how they behave when they’re older. Lockdown has meant less time out and about for pups. So many of them will be less prepared for new experiences as life approaches a new normal.
Playing with other dogs is important for puppies’ development. It helps them understand other dogs’ body language, and learn how to behave with them. Puppies that miss out on this might not be able to communicate well with other dogs when they're older. This can be a reason for aggression between dogs.
It’s important for pups to have positive experiences with other dogs as soon as possible. Keeping to the social distancing restrictions you can arrange for your dog to meet up in a local park with other well-socialised and vaccinated dogs.
And lastly, some good news. Honey the Rottweiler Rideback mix I told you about last week has been accepted by a local rescue centre and our thanks go to them for offering her a place and the chance to find a loving home.
I hope that you're all keeping safe and well as we enter a second lockdown.
Carrying on from last week's blog where I mentioned that I was disappointed that I wouldn't be able to attend the remembrance service at the war memorial last Sunday, I decided that my dogs and my daily exercise would be from Worthing pier along the promenade and back.
It just so happened that I found myself walking past Worthing Town Hall at 10:55am. After stopping with my dogs to look at the poppy wreaths and read the tributes it was close to 11am.
Many other people were taking their daily exercise in the vicinity at the same time, some of whom were proudly wearing their regimental berets and their war medals.
The spontaneous event - with everyone complying to social distancing guidelines - was of course really moving and I'm really glad that along with others I was inadvertently able to pay my respects after all.
As I've said in previous blogs this year, the number of strays has reduced significantly this year. Whether it's because more people are at home to look after their dogs or have come to value their dog's company or any number of other reasons it's impossible to say.
Obviously this is good news, particularly as a number of rescue centres had to stop taking in and rehoming dogs during the first lockdown and had only just started again and have now had to suspend their operations yet again.
I think it's fair to say that it was many people's fear when the country first went into lockdown that dogs would be abandoned but thankfully it hasn't been the case. In the Adur & Worthing area not one dog was abandoned - that is up until now.
Last Monday I received a call to attend the Dogs Trust rehoming centre in Shoreham to collect a dog that had been found by a member of the public and taken there. This does happen from time to time as understandably some people think they, not us, are responsible for caring for stray dogs.
On my arrival a member of staff went to collect the dog from her kennel and the dog started behaving aggressively when approached with a lead. It was clear that she was worried by her predicament, but after some time I was able to place a lead on her.
Thankfully she willingly jumped into my van and although clearly worried at our kennels she allowed the kennel owner to walk her to a kennel and has been gaining confidence with all the staff during the last week.
She has now completed her seven days with us and I am in the process of placing her with a rescue centre.
She is microchipped, so we know she's a 6 year old Rottweiler Rhodesian Ridgeback mix who at one time was named 'Honey'. What we didn't know is how she would react to strangers when approached in a confined space.
This meant the staff at Dogs Trust and myself were put in danger. This ultimately places the dog in danger because, due to her initial behaviour, some councils wouldn't even try to rehome her and a lot of rescues wouldn't take the risk of taking her on.
Why would they? If they've one kennel and were offered both a cute fluffy lap dog or a nervous 30 kilo dog which would you take?
Obviously we won't be giving up on her and I'll update you in future blogs.
Until next week take care.
This is my last blog before Remembrance Sunday. Up until 2 years ago I’ve always made a point of attending the service and the Armistice services at the War Memorial outside Worthing Town Hall, but for the last 2 years I’ve been on holiday and although I attended the Remembrance Sunday Service abroad it was strange attending the service without my dogs.
So this year I made sure when I booked my holiday to avoid the first 2 weeks in November so as to be at home to remember and pay my respects to my friends and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us all. So along with many of you I was disappointed at not being able to do that this year.
Some of you may have seen or even wear a purple poppy, but for those of you who haven't and wonder what it symbolises, they were first introduced in 2006 by the charity Animal Aid to commemorate the animal victims of war. The aim is to make it clear that animals used in warfare are indeed victims, not heroes. They did not give their lives, their lives were taken from them because obviously animals cannot volunteer and have no choice in becoming involved in war when they serve alongside human military personnel.
I'm sure you've all seen military dogs working as guard dogs, sniffer dogs etc. During the war they were used to take the wounded from the battlefield, to deliver messages and move arms and food to the front line. But at least one country used them as suicide bombers, strapping explosives to them and training them to run towards enemy tanks where the explosives would be detonated by soldiers a safe distance away. Another method was for them to lay on railway tracks and the explosives were detonated when an enemy train was approaching.
It's impossible to say how many animals have been killed directly or indirectly as the result of war but it is estimated that nearly 750,000 domesticated animals, mostly cats and dogs, were euthanased in Britain over the course of one week at the start of the 2nd World War. This came about because in the summer of 1939, just before the outbreak of war, the National Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee (NARPAC) drafted a notice: Advice to Animal Owners.
The pamphlet said:
“If at all possible, send or take your household animals into the country in advance of an emergency.”
“If you cannot place them in the care of neighbours, it really is kindest to have them destroyed.”
The advice was printed in almost every newspaper and announced on the BBC. The pamphlet set off a wave of panic. As there were no rations provided for pets, it was thought euthanasia was a humane decision rather than watching a beloved animal die slowly from starvation or disease. As the war progressed across Europe, this same trend went with it. Personally I couldn't see a British government issuing that advice now and I certainly couldn't see many, if any of us, following it; that's for sure.
On a more positive note, in recent conflicts dogs and British forces have come together and helped each other through the horrors they both faced. If you want to read an inspirational tale of compassion and dedication and find out how one man's encounter with a stray dog changed both of their lives forever and how it led to the charity Nowzad being formed, I can recommend Pen Farthing's books 'One Dog at a Time' and 'No Place like Home'. But a word of warning, you may well need a box of tissues on standby!!
I’m sure that various TV stations will have something up their sleeves for next Sunday so that we can remember our friends, family and all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in our own way from our own homes but I’m sure that like me, many of you will be thinking of the non human animals who made that sacrifice also.
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Page last updated: 02 March 2021