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:
See also: Dog information
“The best thing about being a dog warden is that you can help animals which are really down on their luck.”
Russ Akehurst, 2017
After 13 years of looking out for the welfare of dogs across Worthing, it's unfortunately time to wave goodbye to our superstar dog warden and blogger Russ.
Ahead of his retirement, we sat down with Russ to ask him some questions on his time working at the Councils and hear what he has in store for the future:
I've mentioned previously that even before I became the Dog Warden for Worthing I had a keen interest in the Dogs Trust stray dog survey, which back then was published every August.
Thankfully it showed that year on year the number of stray dogs being handed in to Local Authorities across the four countries that make up the United Kingdom were going down. More importantly, and the reason I took such a keen interest in the figures, the number of strays being put to sleep was also going down.
The figures are collated in various categories. The number of dogs being found stray, those being returned to their owners, dogs being rehomed and dogs being put to sleep.
Little did I know then, that one day I'd be collating the figures for Adur & Worthing Councils and even better, since I've been blogging I've been able to share the figures and successes with you.
In the last couple of months of 2014 when we became responsible for rehoming our own stray dogs, up until now, there's been a total of one thousand and one dogs that have come into our care. Some maybe for as little as ten minutes while we've scanned for a microchip and some for months.
Of those, 862 were claimed by their owners, and 135 (just over seven percent) were rehomed.
But amongst that figure of seven percent lies various different scenarios, don't think that all of those 135 were abandoned onto the streets to fend for themselves. Some undoubtedly were, but in other cases the owners were contacted and on reflection realised that they couldn't cope with their dog anymore - therefore doing the responsible thing and signing them over into our care.
In other cases it was obvious that the person purporting to be the finder was in fact the owner who no longer wanted the dog. In these cases what are we to do? There's no point in saying “take your dog back, it's your dog, your responsibility” because they may well go and do the same thing in another local authority's area, and that council might not have a non destruction policy like we have.
Even if they didn't, why give a dog back to them that they clearly don't want any more? The dog would be better off in a home where it's loved and wanted.
Sometimes, and there's been three in the last few months, I've picked up strays that have been in such poor condition that I've seized them rather than returning them to their owners, even though their owners claimed them and wanted them back.
These dogs were also successfully rehomed after being treated for their various injuries and ailments they had when they came into our care.
Lastly, since late 2014, there have been four strays that on veterinary advice we've had to say goodbye to. Baz and Lulu in 2016, Hamble in 2017 and Bella in 2019 were betrayed by their owners - none of them should have been abandoned.
Instead of their owners being with them in their final minutes on earth before crossing the rainbow bridge, it was the dog wardens and veterinary staff who comforted them and made sure they passed with dignity and surrounded by people that loved and cared for them.
It was being with them when Baz, Lulu and Hamba passed that I shall remember the most from my time as Dog Warden, followed by the number of dogs I've seized from their owners and the 135 strays that I've helped to rehome.
Whoever my successor is, I wish them the very best of luck and hope that they have as much job satisfaction as I had.
Photo: Russ Akehurst, Dog Warden at Worthing Borough Council
Since I announced my decision to retire many people have asked me how to apply for the job. Well yesterday the vacancy appeared on the Adur & Worthing Councils website, with a closing date of 26th July 2021 so if you are interested take a look:
Another question I've been asked is what was the funniest thing that's happened in your job?
Well instead of talking about a funny-ha-ha story I'm going to talk about a funny peculiar one, because it remained a bit of a mystery for a while.
It started in 2014 when Old Clayton boarding kennels in Storrington were still boarding and rehoming all of our stray dogs. I remember being called to collect a stray dog from The Gallops which is a lovely open space in Findon Valley.
On arrival I met the finder who handed me a Brindle Staffordshire Bull Terrier. That was of no surprise whatsoever because back then, well over 50% of our strays were Staffies or Staffie Mix, of those most were brindle in colour and most were male.
Rescue centres up and down the country were full of Staffies, making them difficult to rehome simply because there were so many. At the time I remember thinking that the finder was quite vague as to the circumstances of how and where she had found the dog but thought no more of it.
Some weeks later the same thing happened again, another brindle Staffie in more or less the same location which was handy because it's on the road to Storrington and our kennels!
A different finder but again quite vague about the circumstances in which they had found the dog,
A few weeks later another call in exactly the same circumstances and a few weeks after that two Staffies were 'found' together. This although rare wasn't unheard of. If two dogs live together and a door is left open or a fence has a hole in it both are likely to escape. However it's very rare for two dogs found together not to be claimed!
So over probably a six months period, a total of five maybe six Staffies, mostly brindle, mostly males were 'found' just inside the Worthing boundary at Findon Valley and close to Old Clayton Kennels. It also just so happened that none of the dogs were claimed by their owners.
It was like the Bermuda Triangle in reverse, instead of planes and ships going missing in mysterious circumstances, Staffies were appearing in mysterious circumstances!! But whatever the reason, the law is clear that the local Authority is responsible for any stray dogs found in their area and if they're not claimed after 7 days the local Authority becomes the owner and has the responsibility to rehome them.
Their previous owners clearly didn't want them because they weren't claimed so they became ours to rehome and the staff at Old Clayton Kennels did a great job in finding homes for all of the 'Findon Valley Staffies'
It was some time later that the mystery was solved. I found out that ALL of the dogs had been strays in another council area and hadn't been claimed after 7 days. Not only were they all strays, they had ALL been on their way to a veterinary practice to be put down when they somehow 'escaped' from the vehicle transporting them.
Thankfully after somehow managing to escape, they were picked up by a member of the public and found their way into our care, taken to Old Clayton Kennels and subsequently rehomed.
Call it fate, a miracle or a conspiracy. Each dog was under an hour from death but thankfully lived to be wanted and loved again.
Until next week, my 175th and final blog, take care ...
Firstly thank you all so much for your lovely comments and best wishes. I couldn't have asked for better references to give to any future employer. Since last week I've been asked several times:
“Why are you retiring now?” and “what are the bad sides to the job?”
I think that most of us will agree that the last 16 months have been really hard and that most people have been affected to a greater or lesser extent in one way or another. Time and again we've heard those three well known sayings like:
“You don't know what's around the corner” or “we're only here once” and “we've got to make the most of things while we can.”
In the weeks that followed the first lockdown last March we saw whole communities pulling together to help the vulnerable and I think that we saw the best in many people and what makes our country great.
Sadly though not everyone is community minded, some think only of themselves and what they want, never mind how it affects others in their community.
Last Saturday saw me complete 44 years of service working in the public sector. 30 years in the Police Service and the last 14 in Local Authority. I had intended to retire after 45 years service. However over the last few months there've been a few incidents that have made me recalculate that date. These incidents involved people who put their wants before the community in which they live without regard to the consequences that their actions would have on others. And this is the worst part of the job for me.
We have Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) to make our community a lovely place for everyone to live. Sadly, some people simply choose to ignore the rules; they never pick up their dog's faeces, they let the dog run amok on the beach, in the parks, and they ruin it for everyone else. What's more, they somehow manage to get away with it, which makes my job incredibly frustrating and difficult. See: Dog control PSPOs.
We always try to 'use the carrot' first, explain why certain areas have restrictions in place, educate etc. We rarely have to use the stick (fixed penalty notices) but sometimes it's necessary for the benefit of non dog owners and responsible dog owners whose enjoyment is impacted by the actions of the selfish minority.
Some have mentioned to me that they are worried dogs will suffer after I leave but thankfully the numbers of strays has reduced year on year and in Adur & Worthing Councils' area they're safe from the fate that awaits them in some other parts of the country and so I don't have any worries about this because they'll continue to be safe in Adur & Worthing.
Every year the Councils receive freedom of information requests asking how many of our dogs have been put to sleep and these tend to be reported on publicly.
I'm looking forward to being able to help many more dogs in the future.
I'm involved in Greyhound Rescue in this country, and I'm looking forward to becoming more involved with charities that help street dogs in Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia, because when Covid restrictions cease, I'll be able to visit those countries without the restraint of worrying about how many days of annual leave I'm using up and how many I've got left.
Until next week ...
I have some breaking news to bring you.
It's been more than 13 years since the role of Dog Warden for Adur & Worthing Councils was last advertised, and the post is about to be advertised once again in the job vacancies section of the Adur & Worthing Councils website.
I was in the office recently and my Interim Director of Communities asked me to write this week's blog about what my job involves including the good and bad bits, so here goes ...
The role isn't about being a dog lover or having previous experience of working with dogs, although you do need to be comfortable and confident around dogs. It's more about being able to communicate with the public. Dog owners don't like to be complained about and certainly don't like their dogs being complained about and people complaining about the actions of dog owners are often angry and at their wits end.
Dog barking complaints are worse in the warmer months because people are using their gardens more and have their windows and doors open. It's been even worse this last year as so many people have been working from home and more and more people have obtained dogs.
Talking to distraught owners when their companion animal has been killed or injured by another dog is particularly challenging because you are asking them to relive every moment of the incident to help you to establish exactly what happened and obtain as much evidence as possible.
A large amount of our time is taken up investigating dog fouling complaints, reading social media comments and our own mailbag. It must be everyone's biggest bugbear and yet so unavoidable if only some dog owners weren't so selfish, lazy or distracted when walking dogs.
I've mentioned previously that the number of stray dogs being reported and coming into our care has reduced year on year and so that forms a relatively small but very important part of our role nowadays.
Thankfully over the years the number of dogs being abandoned has dropped in line with the number of stray dogs, but finding a rescue place for our abandoned dogs is especially rewarding.
Some of the dogs come to us with various problems and some rescues haven't got the resources to help them. Thankfully, I've built up some great contacts over the years and as a result even some of the more challenging dogs have been offered a place in rescue.
These contacts have impacted on my personal life though, to get a dog a rescue place with Wadars I have to bribe the Senior Animal Rescue Officer with curry.
To thank New Hope Animal Rescue and their founder Niall Lester I entered a 50km walk through the beautiful Chilterns and raised over £1,100 for his charity.
The biggest impact of course came about after many visits to the Dogs Trust Rehoming Centre at Shoreham, who take most of our abandoned dogs. From 2014 when probably more than 50% of our abandoned dogs were Staffies or Staffie mix, Dogs Trust would rehome them and I would thank the staff with tins of Quality Street chocolates (other brands are also available).
But then the rules changed and they would only take our dogs if I dated one of the managers who is now my partner of over 6 years. Talk about going above and beyond the call of duty!!
My personal favourite part of the job is investigating concerns for an animal's welfare. Not of course because I want there to be such complaints but if they are taking place the job satisfaction gained when you liberate an animal from suffering, abuse, cruelty or neglect is second to none.
I'll leave the bad bits to next week but they are few and far between and involve our duties to enforce the Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs), formally known as Dog Control Orders and, before that, local byelaws.
But to sum up the role requires in no particular order, a lot of tact, discretion, patience, compassion, good communication skills and above all a very thick skin - or for those of you who watched the 70s television series The Sweeney you may remember DI Jack Reagan's famous quote:
“If you can't take a joke you shouldn't have joined.”
So the vacancy will appear shortly, it sounds so good that I might apply for the job myself!!
Last week I witnessed first hand the pain and anguish of an owner whose companion animal has been missing for some time.
It started as a routine call to a Worthing veterinary hospital to collect a stray dog who had been found running along the side of the A27 in Lancing. A quick thinking motorist saw the dog and was able to safely pull over and stop, encourage the dog into her car and drive her to safety.
As in so many cases, the dog was microchipped in the name of a previous owner. Had the details been up to date, the upset, raised hopes and disappointment that followed could have been avoided.
I arrived at the vets to find a lovely young looking Spaniel bitch who had been in their care for some two hours plus whilst they tried without success to contact the owner. When they had exhausted every avenue I took her to our kennels.
On arrival I gave her the name Spice, then my phone rang, which I thought would be her owner, but no, it was her finder. She explained that she had gone onto the Facebook pages of Dogs Lost and seen who she thought was the dog she had just rescued advertised as being missing since early April.
The fact that Spice was in such good condition told me that she hadn’t been sleeping rough for 9 weeks, but I wondered if she’d perhaps been stolen and was then able to escape. Whilst I was still talking to the young lady, the kennel owner was comparing the photo on Dog Lost with Spice who was sitting beside us lapping up the affection that she was receiving.
We both agreed that Spice and the photo on Dogs Lost bore much more than a resemblance to each other so I phoned the owner of the missing dog but was unable to make contact and left a text message. Unbeknown to me, Spice's finder had also messaged the owner and told her that she thought she had found her dog.
Some time later I received a call from a man claiming to be Spice’s owner. He explained that Spice had escaped from his vehicle earlier that day. Obviously I asked him a number of questions, none of which could be verified there and then because he was in another part of Sussex and his vets were closed.
At the same time the owner of the dog reported lost weeks earlier had rung the Council, responding to the message left by the finder. He was obviously delighted that we may have found their dog and was anxious for this to be confirmed.
By this time, our kennels were shut. Spice was safe and blissfully unaware that two families were hoping that she was their dog. Again I need to stress that had the microchip been up to date the distress to both owners would have been avoided.
When I got home the owner of the missing dog rang me and we talked for over half an hour about the events of the day 9 weeks ago when her companion - Pepper - went missing. She explained that she keeps replaying the events leading up to the moment that she realised that her dog was missing. The pain, hurt and anguish in her voice was heartbreaking.
Photo: Pepper has been missing from the RH10 area since April 2021
Whilst talking to her my four were safe and sound lying all around the room and I thought that I honestly don’t know how I would cope if any of mine were lost or stolen, not knowing if they were dead or alive, how they were being treated. Not knowing would be just unbearable.
The following morning the man who had reported his dog lost the previous afternoon was able to prove by means of vet records, photographs on his phone etc that Spice ws his dog and they were reunited. Sadly, in another part of West Sussex there’s a family desperate for news of their beloved companion who’s been missing for weeks now.
One of the saddest and frustrating parts of my job is talking to owners whose dogs have been attacked and injured by other dogs. Rarely does a day go by when I don’t receive a report of a dog being attacked by another dog.
Not all attacks end with the dog needing veterinary treatment but many do and the bills often go into hundreds of pounds, sometimes more.
Even if there’s no physical injury a dog can still be affected by the experience. A shop worker or a motorist who's been subjected to a verbal confrontation will tell you that you don’t have to be actually physically touched to be shaken up by an aggressive person.
I often think that when the owner of a friendly dog sees another dog on a lead in an area where they are allowed off lead, that they automatically think that the dog is on a lead due to poor recall but it could be for any one of a number of reasons for example being young, nervous, reactive, recovering from surgery, getting old and losing their sight or hearing; or having a lack of recall training.
Dogs often behave differently when on a lead, because just like us, they need to protect themselves from danger and keep themselves safe. If presented with a potential danger or fearful situation, a natural response from a dog may be to run…like we would if we were being confronted with something. However when a dog is on a lead it takes away their ability to run. They may then use another one of their fear responses, which is fight.
Unfortunately, many dog walkers have no idea what their dog is doing because they’re talking in a group or are busy looking at their phones instead of being vigilant and aware of other dogs and owners. This can soon lead to problems.
What should you do if you see a dog on a lead?
Regardless of your dog’s temperament and how confident you are that they will be fine, it’s not fair to allow your dog to approach another dog that’s on a lead. It is always best to ask first; and, if that person is too far away, it’s best to play it safe and recall your dog back to you and keep them close.
If the other dog and owner are too far away to ask, my advice is that if you are approaching another dog that is on a lead, give the dog and owner plenty of space.
If you have verbal consent from the owner for your dog to approach, keep the meeting brief. Just a quick ‘hello’ for a few seconds is enough. Then distract your dog away so as not to worry the dog that is on the lead.
What should you do if you’re walking your dog on a lead?
Even a friendly dog will feel vulnerable if they are unable to express and show their normal behaviour. For that reason, if you’re walking your dog on a lead, you shouldn’t assume they’re fine about being approached by another dog. Be mindful of the situation and learn to read your own dog’s body language so that you can respond in these situations.
People often ask what they can do to help their dog feel safer on a lead. Here are some suggestions:
Keep a watchful eye out when you’re walking. This can be very hard if you are limited to where you can walk your dog and are likely to be faced with other dogs on your walks.
Buy one of the special collars or harnesses that are available to indicate that your dog is nervous. However, an owner needs to be reasonably close to be able to read the wording and not allow their dog to approach.
What should you do if both your dog and the other dog are on a lead?
The same applies when there are two dogs on a lead. Each dog is conscious of their own space, and you could now have two dogs that are presented with a situation that brings them tension and fear. Again, always communicate with the other dog’s owner to ask permission, and remember to keep the meeting brief.
Is it OK to let my off-lead dog approach other dogs off the lead?
It’s lovely seeing a group of dogs off their leads, running free and playing with each other and generally, dogs that do meet off of a lead can communicate effectively amongst themselves and will hopefully not feel threatened.
However, stop and think first about whether your dog has a good recall. Will your dog come back to you straight away or will it take a few attempts? Good recall is really important for managing interactions and making sure your dog stays safe when out walking.
After witnessing and assisting with the aftermath of a dog fight, a local veterinary nurse called Zoe Blake has started a campaign called Respect the Lead to highlight the importance of good dog walking etiquette. She realised that more awareness of the issue was needed. You can help to educate other dog owners by sharing this post and telling them about the Respect the Lead campaign.
Whereas years ago we were getting calls about stray dogs at the rate of more than one a day, these days it's a lot less. Thankfully it's seldom the dogs aren't claimed.
So when I spoke to a lady recently who reported that she'd found a Rottweiler running around at The Ilex on its own, my thought was that they had become separated from their owner whilst out walking and by the time I get there, the owner and dog will have been reunited.
So twenty minutes later when I arrived at The Ilex I was surprised to see the lady still standing at the side of the road holding a young adult Rottweiler bitch. At this point I was still convinced that she would be claimed and after scanning her and finding a microchip, even more so.
It was then that things started to go downhill. The chip was registered to a breeder in the Midlands and the phone went to voicemail. So much for me being able to ring the owner and direct them to my location to collect their dog.
Most dogs that need to go into our vans are happy to jump in. Some need to be lifted in and some need to be encouraged in, sometimes using food to tempt them, but this 41 kilo plus Rottie wasn't having any of it. She certainly wasn't going to jump in, I certainly wasn't going to be able to lift her in and the food I tried to bribe her with wasn't doing the trick.
Thankfully along with the rear doors that give access to my fixed cages, the van has sliding doors on both sides which gives access to a large centre section in which I've put a large portable crate suitable for larger dogs such as this one.
Despite the bigger area, she still wouldn't jump in and so I decided to collapse the crate and remove it from the van so that she had the entire centre section to jump into. That was easier said than done, trying to do it one handed whilst holding a nervous Rottie in the other, but eventually the crate came out, food went in but she didn't!!
There was nothing else for it, plan B had to be put into operation. I knew Mike, the Adur Dog Warden, was busy in Shoreham so I called my partner so that she could join me. My plan was for her to be on the other side of the van, entice the dog (who by this time I was calling Alex, simply because she was found at the Ilex) and once she had taken the bait, shut the door before she could jump out the other side. Meanwhile I would shut my side door to block off her escape back towards me!!
Thankfully she answered and gave an ETA (estimated time of arrival) of about 20 minutes. Whilst we were waiting the finder returned from walking her dogs and saw me still in situ. As I explained why we were still there, Alex was pulling to get to her.
The lady saw both side doors open and my folded up cage leaning beside my van and immediately figured out my plan. She offered to try to entice her into the van as it was clear that Alex liked her.
After a few false starts and lots of hesitation Alex finally jumped into the van but went straight out the other side before the door could be shut. This could have been really bad, she now knew our plan, surely she wouldn't fall into our trap now?
Thankfully she did and at the next attempt Alex was secure in the van and we were on our way to our kennels. Fast forward two weeks, Alex wasn't claimed. And thanks to our kennel staff who are really fond of her, she's grown in confidence and is now in the care of a local rescue and will soon be looking for a new home.
Until next week take care.
I hope that you and your companion animals are well.
I hear from more and more people in the animal world reporting that there are many more first time dog owners now and that due to the lockdown restrictions many of these dogs haven't had the chance to socialise with humans or other dogs to the extent that they would otherwise have been able to do.
With this in mind I'm worried that a number of dog owners will have dogs that may find it difficult adjusting to 'normal life' as restrictions ease. This can be anything from visitors coming to the house, attending dog shows, car boot sales, public houses, basically anywhere there may be other dogs and large numbers of people.
Some of you may have heard of the 'Spoon Theory' or heard people talking about running out of spoons, or similar comments and wondered what they meant.
Anyone who lives with a chronic physical or mental illness wakes up each day with a certain number of 'spoons'. Each spoon represents the number of interactions or activities they can handle each day. Once they have run out of spoons they need time to relax and recharge. If they don't then this could result in a mental or physical crisis, or a really bad day tomorrow. It will lower their tolerance levels and impact on their physical capabilities. Depending on the day, they may have more spoons (feeling good) or fewer spoons (bad pain day).
As humans we get to choose how we spend our spoons. For example, if we know we have a challenging day tomorrow we may choose to avoid tasks today that may cause us pain. If we are feeling emotionally overwhelmed or in physical pain we may be able to choose to take a day off work and relax or avoid seeing people in order to recuperate.
Dogs on the other hand don't get to choose how they spend their spoons. We do. We make decisions for our dogs every day; we choose when and where they walk, whether they get to meet a dog, whether someone can come and say hello to them. We decide when to hug and kiss them, or allow children to pull or push them around or even worse sit on them and ride them like a horse.
How many spoons does my dog have?
A dog that has been well-socialised and is happy appears to have unlimited spoons. A fearful or reactive dog however may start out with a very limited number of spoons. A dog that is old, unwell or in pain may have a reduced number of spoons compared to a young, healthy, confident dog.
How does a dog lose spoons?
We remove spoons from our dog's collection every time we expose them to a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable, stressed or frightened. Depending on your dog this could include exposing them to any of the following for example:
- other dogs
- visit to the Vet
- drive in the car
- loud noises
The more things a dog is exposed to during a day that makes him feel uncomfortable, the more spoons he loses, and the less tolerant he will be of situations or interactions that he is normally able to cope with. This accumulative process is called 'trigger stacking' and is what usually lies behind 'the bite that came from nowhere'. If the dog has run out of spoons then he is more likely to resort to using aggression in a situation he is uncomfortable with.
How to conserve your dog's spoons
A dog with plenty of spoons is a happy dog!
As a dog parent it is our responsibility to recognise the stress signals our dogs give and to protect them from situations (or people) that cause them anxiety. For your dog this may mean walking him at different times of the day in different places that are quieter and avoiding other dogs or shutting him away with a nice chew or bone when visitors come.
Most importantly it means being aware of your dog's fears and anxieties and knowing when to remove them from a situation. Remember, a dog is not able to say:
“Hey I only have one spoon left and if this child pulls my tail one more time I'm done!”
Be your dog's spoon-monitor, they will love you for it.
Until next week take care.
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Page last updated: 17 August 2021