Pete Wed­der­burn

Bray People - - NEWS - Pete WED­DER­BURN

A READER con­tacted me be­cause she be­lieves her neigh­bour is be­ing cruel to his dog. "She's a five year old Col­lie, and he never takes her out for a walk. She stays locked up in the yard all day long. She must be mis­er­able. What can I do to help her?"

In the past, it would have been dif­fi­cult to do any­thing. Un­der Ir­ish leg­is­la­tion, it was il­le­gal to be cruel to an­i­mals, but there was no spe­cific leg­is­la­tion forc­ing own­ers to look af­ter an­i­mals well. People could not de­lib­er­ately hurt dogs, but they didn't need to give them reg­u­lar walks. Thank­fully for an­i­mals, this has now changed.

Ire­land's new An­i­mal Health and Wel­fare Act, passed into law in March 2014, has in­tro­duced new obli­ga­tions for pet own­ers that de­serve to be re­peated here in full: "Hav­ing re­gard to the an­i­mal’s na­ture, type, species, breed, de­vel­op­ment, adap­ta­tion, do­mes­ti­ca­tion, phys­i­o­log­i­cal and be­havioural needs and en­vi­ron­ment, and in ac­cor­dance with es­tab­lished ex­pe­ri­ence and sci­en­tific knowl­edge, (an owner shall) take all nec­es­sary steps to en­sure that the an­i­mal is kept and treated in a man­ner that safe­guards the health and wel­fare of the an­i­mal"

To trans­late this to the neigh­bour's Col­lie, her owner has a le­gal obli­ga­tion to safe­guard the dog's health and wel­fare, tak­ing into ac­count her phys­i­o­log­i­cal and be­havioural needs. If he does not do this, he is li­able to be pros­e­cuted.

To some ex­tent, this comes down to a le­gal ar­gu­ment which will have to take place in the courts: how much ex­er­cise is nec­es­sary to sat­isfy a dog's be­havioural needs? I can imag­ine an ar­tic­u­late de­fence lawyer com­ing up with all sorts of pos­si­ble rea­sons why a dog might not need to be walked, but the court should surely strive to find the clos­est ap­prox­i­ma­tion to the ob­jec­tive truth.

To find this truth, it makes sense to con­sult with be­havioural ex­perts who have ded­i­cated their lives to the study of an­i­mals: their gen­eral con­clu­sion is that an "aver­age" dog needs around half an hour of ex­er­cise twice daily. Some dogs need less (such as small toy dogs, or el­derly an­i­mals that are slow­ing up) and some an­i­mals need more (some large, fit breeds would hap­pily run for over an hour twice daily). I am cer­tain that there would be a strong ar­gu­ment that a Col­lie who was never al­lowed out of a small yard is not hav­ing her "health and wel­fare" safe­guarded.

Ev­ery morn­ing, I wit­ness the value of ex­er­cise to a dog's wel­fare when my own dogs go for their reg­u­lar walk. We take them to lo­cal fields, where the two an­i­mals each have their own ex­er­cise style.

Kiko, the small ter­rier, is happy just sniff­ing around. She walks close be­side us, her lit­tle feet trot­ting rapidly to keep up. She some­times darts into wood­land, snuf­fling through un­der­growth be­fore run­ning back to be close to us again. She rarely gets out of breath, but I know that if I mon­i­tored her heart rate, it'd be sig­nif­i­cantly higher than at rest. Kiko's favoured ex­er­cise is the equiv­a­lent of a per­son go­ing out for a brisk walk ev­ery morn­ing.

Finzi, our cross-bred lurcher, has com­pletely dif­fer­ent needs to Kiko. Finzi loves to chase a ball, thrown for her with a sling-like launcher. As soon as we reach open fields, Finzi be­gins to pace back­wards and fowards at my feet, wait­ing for the ball to be hurled fifty or sixty yards away. She'll then chase it at full sprint, try­ing des­per­ately to grab it as rapidly as pos­si­ble. She es­pe­cially loves to seize the ball in mid-air, when it's just bounced up from the ground. You can tell from her de­meanour that when she catches it in flight, she gets huge sat­is­fac­tion, like a rugby player re­ceiv­ing a good pass and scor­ing a try. She holds her head high, with a glint in her eye, as if she's say­ing " Did you see that?"

Finzi will hap­pily chase the ball for twenty or thirty throws on one walk, even­tu­ally flop­ping down in the grass, ex­hausted. When she gets home, she clam­bers into her bas­ket to snooze for the rest of the morn­ing.

“An ‘ aver­age’ dog needs around half an hour of ex­er­cise twice daily”

If I took Finzi's heart rate when she was en­gaged in full-on ball chas­ing, it'd be right up there at two hun­dred beats per minute, like a hu­man sprinter cross­ing the fin­ish­ing line. Finzi ex­er­cises like a per­son who loves run­ning; her ball-chas­ing dashes are the equiv­a­lent of a se­ries of sprints by a su­per-fit ath­lete.

Each of my dogs has ex­er­cise needs that de­rive from their ge­netic back­ground. Kiko, as a small ter­rier, is a snif­fer and a dig­ger, de­signed to seek out ro­dents and small prey in un­der­growth. Finzi is more like a grey­hound, bred to chase faster run­ning prey in open fields. In their in­car­na­tion as mod­ern pets, it's im­por­tant that both dogs are al­lowed to carry out daily phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties that mimic these ac­tiv­i­ties.

What­ever type of dog you own, un­der the law, you need to as­sess what type of ex­er­cise your pet needs, and you need to en­sure that they are given the op­por­tu­nity to do this. If you just keep them penned up, with no chance to ex­er­cise, it's dif­fi­cult to ar­gue that you are "treat­ing them in a man­ner that safe­guards their wel­fare tak­ing into ac­count their be­havioural needs". And as you are break­ing the law, you are li­able to prose­cu­tion.

Now, reader, cut out this ar­ti­cle and pop it into your neigh­bour's let­ter box. I hope this helps that un­for­tu­nate ne­glected Col­lie.

Finzi ly­ing down af­ter she’s brought the ball back in her mouth

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