The British, Crufts and pet dogs
A dog show is billed to hold in Birmingham days after I arrive in London. It’s the 125th anniversary edition of the Crufts, which first held in 1891. Crufts is a big deal: this year, there are “around 22,000 healthy, happy dogs” and 200 breeds from 47 participating countries. And 150,000 dog lovers and potential dog owners are expected to attend what is nothing short of a canine world cup.
It probably explains why I saw more dogs in a fortnight in England than I have seen in my lifetime. I mean, the pooches were everywhere, trailing or running ahead of their owners, who had them in cute, designer leashes. At the Grey Square in Newcastle one afternoon, I saw a Border Collie and a Border Terrier charge at each other; both their owners, typically minding their own business, were alarmed and they pulled and pulled to keep them apart. Later in the evening, a young man climbed into the bus I was in cuddling his bull terrier, just like we would cuddle a baby back home.
What if it pooed on him?
While taking a walk somewhere in Walthamstowe, I saw a woman who was obviously in a hurry chill to let her dog pee by the sidewalk; thankfully, there are no dog poop on the streets anywhere and that’s largely due to a strictly enforced law on dog fouling. The law requires dog owners to carry a poop scoop and disposable bag to “clear up after the dog has defecated”. Offenders are fined between 40 and 80 pounds on the spot.
The Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association says that one in four households own a dog. That boils down to like eight million dog owners. That level of canine density comes with its headaches: at least 100,000 dogs stray from their owners annually, most of which end up at animal welfare charities and cost tax payers a hefty 57m Pounds to deal with.
To reduce the incidences abandonment, government has announced that all dogs must be micro-chipped by April 2016, so that they can be re-united with their owners easily. Says the BBC: “The Animal Welfare Act will be amended to reflect the change to compulsory microchipping by April 2016. This will not require a parliamentary debate so is likely to go ahead.”
The British love for dogs dates back centuries, even long before 1873 when the Kennel Club was formed to protect and promote the health and welfare of dogs, and to ensure that dog shows like the Crufts are properly regulated. And according to the Club’s popular rankings, the UK’s favourite dog is the Labrador retriever, followed by the Jack Russell terrier and the Staffordshire bull terrier in second and third positions; the main reason for this, according to studies, is that they can be the most loyal of pets and are easier to train.
Historically in the United Kingdom, dogs were often bred to assist farmers and hunters. I grew up in a neighbourhood where dogs were everywhere, kept more for security purposes, not to be pampered. They were either chained or locked up in cages and would bark repeatedly to alert their owners of guests or, in the dead of night, intruders.
Perhaps, this is a third world reality. According to pooch and company, “These days, dogs are almost exclusively kept for companionship in the West, and we’re aware of the emotional and physical benefits owning a dog can bring.”
A Kennel Club official says: “Dogs enrich our lives in many ways so it is no surprise that dog ownership figures are increasing… They offer companionship, can help to reduce stress levels and encourage us to lead fitter and healthier lifestyles.”
It gets even more interesting. A recent research by tails.com finds that 42% of dog owners in Britain talk more to their dogs than with their partners or loved ones. A pet spa in London has opened to offer tailor-made pet-icure services for dos, ranging from massages to nail trim.
And a news item in an edition of Metro amused me on end. A British couple holidaying in the Caribbean found a sickly and dying dog; unable to look the other way, they paid a vet to nurture it back to wellness and crowd-sourced fund to fly the puppy over to their base in Hampshire. Shortly, “they hope to plan an event soon so Coco can meet those who donated.”