Animal Welfare Commissioner, Labour’s not so new idea.

Just a case of maintaining standards or championing their rights and interests?

The Labour Party’s new animal welfare manifesto has been welcomed and praised by all according to press reports and its content  makes gratifying reading, but unfortunately most of it has been visited before and has never been implemented so what chance now. One of the main proposals is to introduce an Animal Welfare Commissioner. This is not a new concept and many countries have implemented a commissioner, minister or Ombudsman for many years. We continue to lag behind as always. I have been arguing that England should have one and have written on the subject before.

There has been debate for several years on whether it is time for the UK to have some form of official legal representative or watchdog solely responsible for representing the rights and welfare interests of animals. Noel Sweeney, a Barrister and well-known advocate of animal rights has lectured and written about the need for an animals’ ombudswoman for a decade. He has suggested that such a person could represent all animals in Court and Parliament where any action affects their welfare and future and meet with the Law Commission to introduce a new Act with the paramount principle of granting animals a legal personality.

Furniture counts higher than living animals.

It is strange that we haven’t had such a person years ago particulalry as we have an ombudsman for virtually everything else including various industries and state organisations like communications, energy, finance, the motor industry, health, housing and even ones for the removal trade, estate agents and the furniture industry. Obviously bits of furniture count higher than living animals, but there is nothing for the pet trade industry which appears surprising particularly as it brings over £7 billion to the UK economy.

We can complain to our heart’s content when we feel we have been hard done by, but animals literally cannot voice their concerns and complaints and even if they could there is no ombudsman representing them. As owners or keepers of animals we cannot put their case for them either.

A case of maintaining standards or championing their rights and interests?

The role of the Animal Welfare Commissioner is to ensure:

“that animal welfare standards are always considered as legislation is introduced and as Britain takes part in international bodies, trade deals and obligations”

and also

“responsible for gathering the latest scientific evidence on animal sentience and animal welfare” and “work alongside Government to assist in the promotion of best practice in animal welfare internationally”.

Of course, maintaining “animal welfare standards” is a far cry from taking into account the rights and interests of animals which is not mentioned.

Many people feel it is a silly idea and taking things a bit far, but we have already taken a step towards this by establishing ‘independent’ Committees such as the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC) and the National Companion Animal Focus Group (NCAFG) who supposedly safeguard animals’ interests.

Impossible to be independent

The main problem is whether such a person would be allowed to remain independent on many of the issues presented to them, particularly those that effect human interest as we all know that human precedence is the creed when it comes to laws protecting animals. When any new policy, regulation, law or amendment to an existing law is considered by the Government all the vested interests that it might affect have their say in lessening the impact it might have on their livelihood or on what is called ‘legitimate human interests’. Governments consult with all these different interest groups such as agriculture, commerce, industry and science and consider their objections and suggestions.

But when the policy, law or issue affects the rights and well-being of animals, such as in the case of culling protected badgers, there is no one to speak up for them. Animal charities and campaigners can put their points forward, but there is never a truly impartial person to speak up for them with the power to investigate and research all the evidence and decide on the validity of any proposed actions. An animal’s commissioner or ombudsman or woman could do this.

What about a actual Minister for animal welfare?

Although the UK has a Minister for almost every area of commerce and industry including a Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which covers mainly livestock issues, there is no specific Government office whose sole purpose is to look out for the interests of animals, so it could be argued that we also need a Minister for ‘animal affairs’ who could intervene in issues that might affect large numbers of animals.

Dog in kennel, sad dog
Can any Government official ever be truly independent and stand up for their welfare and rights.

Many countries, cities and industries already have them.

Australia has shown some interest in the concept and there was a petition at one stage and Austria is one of the few countries which actually has an Animal Welfare Spokesman and an animals ombudsman service following a referendum there. Each State elects an independent, non-governmental representative and although not a perfect system it is pioneering in its intentions and beyond anything most counties have.

The City of Lisbon in Portugal appointed a ombudswoman for animal welfare in January 2018 who was reported to have made fast work of getting stuck into her job” by immediately announcing a plan to solve the overcrowding in the city’s dog pounds and making an appeal in Parliament for the country’s policymakers to create laws that better meet the needs of animals. At her swearing in ceremony she stated, I want to seize this opportunity to reach out to the population and raise awareness of the issue of animal welfare.

Back in 2014 the DPZ German Primate Centre in Göttingen, which houses 1300 research primates, appointed an “outsider” ombudswoman which the 43 animal keepers can go to with any welfare concerns instead of the in-house animal welfare officer and welfare committee. The fact that she is a scientist makes it debatable how impartial she is, but it shows that industry, science and governments are not averse to the idea of ombudsman or women.

Who could fulfil such a role and be truly independent?

It is definitely time for this nation of animal lovers to have an ombudsman or woman or commissioner, whichever you want to call the role, but we want a person with the power to consider and argue the rights and interests of the animals on their behalf and the legal power to defend this right in court or parliament if necessary otherwise the role has little meaning. Animals need an independent legal representative and a spokesperson with the ear of the Government to investigate suspect decisions, conflicts of interest and policies on the well-being of animals and if necessary instigate prosecutions of any institution that by its actions cause unnecessary suffering.

But any person who takes on the role must have the interests and rights of the animals as their first priority and will need to be able to withstand all the lobbying and economic considerations which presently impeded animals getting a fair deal. It is doubtful such a person would be considered as it is odds on we would end up with a scientist, a barrister, a politician, a businessman or an academic who will toe the line. Lets hope not.

What to do with dogs in hot weather.

Pets naturally know how to keep themselves cool

We love our dogs so much that we cannot bear to be without them, mainly because they are part of the family and our children’s best friends. That is why we thoughtlessly put them at risk by insisting on taking them everywhere with us during hot weather. If we are going to the beach with our children, to the shops, going running or jogging, cycling or for a drive they have to be by our side.

Dogs do not need a suntan or play beach volleyball.

Most of us love a day on the beach or the park during hot sunny weather, but when we exert ourselves, what happens? We get hot, we sweat and we feel lethargic even in the shade. We can sweat it out and have access to shade and cold drinks whenever we wish, but dogs do not always have this luxury. We selfishly believe that despite being unable to sweat our dogs will enjoy the heat in the same way we do. But dogs do not need a suntan or to play beach volleyball.

To make matters worse we often drag them behind bicycles, take them jogging, tie them up on the beach or outside shops and cafes, leave them in cars despite all the warnings to the contrary and get them to run around and play with us. We think that just because we have thoughtfully brought water and a bowl and let them jump in the sea or a lake occasionally everything is O.K. But it’s not.

Dog, car, sun, heatstroke, dog cruelty
We insist on leaving dogs in hot weather despite advice to the contrary.

Dogs do not understand the weather forecast.

We strangely think that dogs have the reasoning powers to decide they will enjoy a day out in the heat when they have no idea where they are going, how hot it will be or how long they will be out. If they did, many might say no. They do not understand the weather forecast or where we are taking them and depend on us not to put them at risk. They are just eager to be with us and have fun with the family and ignorantly go forth relying on us to be sensible and make the right decision for them.

If they did understand what they were about to go through they might say “Just give me a huge bowl of water and cool breezy place to sleep and you go off and enjoy yourselves”. Sometimes it is more sensible on really hot days to take them out for a short walk early morning or not at all as even the evenings can be hot and humid. Breaking their routine, if they have one, for the odd day does no harm but heatstroke or suffering from too much heat or humidity does. It is reckless ownership to do otherwise.

Left to their own devices most animals have a natural and instinctive sense of how to stay as cool as possible in hot weather and will seek out the most comfortable spot to laze out the day. Ever noticed that herd of cows or sheep flopped in the shade of trees or bushes and on the highest point to get the breeze. Or the cat lazing in the shade on a nice cold stone surface.

Stray dogs instinctively know how to stay cool by remaining inactive and lying in the shade on a cool surface. Photo: animalrightsandwrongs.uk/johnbrookland

If we are all sensible and responsible pet owners we shouldn’t need advice every summer.

Whenever we get unusually hot weather in the UK the media drag out the same experts who give the same inane advice on how to care for our pets, particularly dogs. This normally involves paddling pools, ice lollies and ice packs, but rarely suggests not inflicting the hot weather on them in the first place.

Whenever I am out in hot weather I get extremely frustrated at seeing dog owners who appear oblivious that their dog is excessively panting and is looking miserable. I can see it, so why can’t they. If we are all sensible and responsible pet owners we shouldn’t need advice on doing the right thing for our dogs every summer as surely it is common sense?

So, forget the paddling pools, the special ice lollies, the ice pack coats, hats and bandanas. Just don’t take your dog out during the hottest part of the day, never in a car or tied up in the sun and don’t exert them. Move your rabbit, hamster or rat cage somewhere cool. Provide plenty of water. Its common sense methods without the cost and frills which the pet trade want you to buy to boost their profits and encourage you to take your dog out.

“When its hot let them flop.”