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Peg Loague speech: National Dog Training Assembly

Speech notes 21 October 2005


SPCA and NZ Kennel Club’s dog training clubs are singing out of the same hymn book


I’m honoured to be asked to open your National Dog Training Assembly in Taupo this weekend. This is the biggest event of the year in the NZ Kennel Club’s dog sports calendar, and the biggest NDTA in over 15 years.

While I no longer represent SPCA in any way (although I am the Administrator for the Turangi branch) I come to you tonight as an individual who’s been around critters for a long time. An upbringing revolving around animal welfare and thirty six years of SPCA field experience does not get forgotten overnight. When I was part of the inaugural committee of Taupo SPCA in 1969, we used to divide each months deficit between us so the absolute minimum requirements were met and the bills paid. I’m pleased to say that it was a very different situation I retired from earlier this year, although animal welfare seems to require ever increasing funding and attention.

Now I work as an independent Animal Welfare Adviser, but there are still things that I am really passionate about and two of these are indiscriminate breeding and the overwhelming surplus in companion animals. Perhaps in truth that is only one issue as they go hand in hand.

There is a world wide overpopulation of companion animals. SPCAs everywhere put a lot of emphasis on desexing – Bob Kerridge’s recent ‘Desex in the City’ and on an equal scale for size, Turangi SPCA has run major desexing campaigns for both cats and dogs in the last twelve months are examples from both ends of the scale - and still the animal lovers who work within SPCAs, usually on a voluntary basis, are overwhelmed every year by the sheer numbers of unwanted, abandoned cats and dogs. One of the things the breeders among you can do to guard against this is ensure that the animals you sell are either to be used for responsible and very discriminate breeding . . . . or leave you as desexed pets.

I know that the NZ Kennel Club and your president Lesley Chalmers who is here tonight are putting an emphasis on speaking out for dogs and their responsible owners. You are putting resources into that area and that is well worthwhile. For instance yesterday’s media release on this very issue I’ve talked about.

Over the years I have seen that being a pedigree dog does not ensure pedigree treatment. Probably the first of these to hit home was a report that a ‘scrawny’ dog was being held in a downstairs washroom. It didn’t sound a major, but we investigated it anyway.

Visualise this. A concrete floored room in the middle of a cold winter, constantly wet, the only light from a small, high fanlight window. We found the dog - a pedigree afghan bitch - and removed her from that situation. Her owners had loved her - in the past - but their affections had been transferred on to a new dog. This one was smaller, perhaps easier to manage, perhaps of a breed which had become more into vogue – so the ‘old one’ was left out of sight, out of mind – in fact treated in a worse manner than last year’s discarded coat.

For privacy’s sake, let’s call the afghan Pet. For us, uplifting her was like the terrier chasing the car. Having got her, now what do we do with her? There was no Shelter of any sort here at that time and I cared for dogs as they came in. It was quite late in the evening and she was not in any state to be brought into the house. Her coat was like patches of underfelt glued to her thin and painful body. Most of you would not be able to even imagine the smell.

In my big shed we made her a warm, dry, comfy bed and offered warm food. She thought she’d already died and gone to heaven at that, but better was to come.

I had a friend living here who was a professional dog groomer and her donation to SPCA, through me, was to tend any badly neglected dogs which came in. This was a challenge for her and she spent a large part of the next day meeting that challenge. Came evening time, and she rang to say Pet was ready to come home, but please would we understand we were NOT to laugh at her. Of course we wouldn’t.

She didn’t look a bit like those lovely dogs we see at shows with flowing coats and proudly held heads. The only way to deal with her problem had been to shear her, but she had been left a little bit on the top of her head, so she had a most elegant- if sparse - fringe. She knew she looked and smelt beautiful – we agreed - and that night she shifted into the house.

I had an aunt living with me at the time and I generally arrived home from work in the winter to cooking smells, the fire going and lights on, but I came in one night a few days after Pet shifted in and none of these things were evident. I quietly entered the house, made my way to Aunt’s bedroom, and there, side by side, heads on their respective pillows, under a feather duvet and both sound asleep, were Aunt and Pet.

Pet was home placed with a family who returned her unconditional love where she lived very happily for the rest of her natural life.

As I said earlier, I cared for the local SPCA dogs at that time. I assessed their temperament, health and suitability before doing my best to match them to the right new owners and homes. It was rewarding, especially when really happy families brought their loved canines back to visit and I could see how good the match was. Invariably I recommended puppies and young dogs be taken to dog obedience, explaining that, done properly, this helped the owner understand how best to get a cooperative, well behaved and happy dog..

The people here tonight are important in providing that training. The NZ Kennel Club includes about 50 dog training clubs from Whangarei to Invercargill. You train for competition obedience and agility, and that is why you’re here this weekend. But you also offer domestic training classes where the public can enroll and learn how to train their dog. That is a valuable public good offered by NZ Kennel Club members.

That time was also a heart breaking time though. I refused to home place any dog which had health problems or showed a doubtful temperament, either from aggression or fear, so carried the heavy responsibility of the decisions I made. I’m sure those of you who breed dogs, sometimes face this same dilemma, having to choose euthanasia for a poorly or maladjusted puppy rather than home placing it - albeit with a prayer. I have seen some of these puppies home placed, but trust I heard of the exceptions, rather than the rule most of you would follow.

Of course, just occasionally, one of my lodgers stayed on.

I’d had a rough few months. We had lost aunt’s greatly loved pet dach, we had lost a little old dog I had adopted so she could (and did) live out her final days in peace and quiet, and my son’s dog - all in a matter of three months. We were ‘dogless’ and heart broken. I was not going to own another dog. I was never going to cry as many tears ever again. I’d foster the SPCA dogs but I would NOT own one – no, I would not own another dog!

Buddy was uplifted, along with a giant white rabbit and four cats as a family unit broke down in a really sad way. Buddy was a rough coat collie –a lassie dog – and he had simply been caged, fed and watered, but was totally impassive when he arrived. He learned to play, to have a tug-of-war, chase a ball, visit schools – things he’d never done. I fostered him. Yes, I fostered him for twelve months before I would admit that, in fact, I was not prepared to let him go anywhere. He was mine, and a wonderful companion and friend to me for the rest of his life. Of course we had the tears over again when his time came, but by then we had his adopted friend as well to help lessen the blow.

Because of the work we in the SPCA did, often brindle, bully-type bitches were not put up for adoption. It wasn’t that we didn’t think they were equally as beautiful as any other dog, but the people wanting to adopt them were not usually the owners we wished to see with dogs. One evening I was called out to pick up a puppy someone had found well out on the Napier road – miles from anywhere – and she was a wee brindle bitch probably only four or five weeks old. Why did I keep her? Why did I say someone might claim her? THAT was a wild thought at best! – but she stayed. We had broken nights, chewed bedding, chewed shoes, pot plants demolished, washing torn from the line ... She was called RP – short for Ruddy Pup!

Once she was ready for home placing I ran into all the usual problems – did I think she’d be good on pigs? Did I think she’d throw good pups for pig hunting? Better still, would she fight? She stayed with us much longer than usual, becoming part of our family!

At around five months old, she changed quite dramatically and quite quickly. Her ears came up, her nose extended and it became clear that she’d been hiding some kelpie in her background. We also found a truly wonderful home for her. She went to the South Island to live, was treated as well or better than any child, never left alone, and was brought back to visit from time to time. Never was there a happier ending. Oh, and incidentally, her name was changed to Tess!

SPCA and those involved in any form of dog training and/or control - including the many NZ Kennel Club clubs and members offering obedience classes - are singing out of the same hymn book. A loved, controlled dog is a happy dog, is a pleasure to know and is rarely if ever a source of concern for the SPCA, local authority or any welfare organisation. A controlled dog is in secure housing at night, rather than wandering causing stock or traffic problems.

Yes, I’ve attended some horrendous road accidents - and farms where rogue, wandering dogs have savaged sheep leaving bloodied carcasses in their wake. Yes, I’ve uplifted animals from situations they should never have been in. Yes, I’ve physically helped set up suitable accommodation for pets whose owners were without the strength or resources to do it for themselves. My motivation has always come from an upbringing where animal welfare was paramount and my own ‘not negotiable’ intent to do the very best I could for all living, sentient animals.

So, full circle, you can now see why I became involved with SPCA all those years ago and why I admire you all for the relationship you have with your dogs. I’m sure it’s not only in the ring – it is important that any dog be given credit for what they’ve achieved even if it wasn’t sufficient to win – but also as you return to your vehicle, when you go home and in the training and playing days in between, I know you all maintain this wonderful relationship..

You have three days of competition before you. I understand your numbers are higher than ever before so that competition will be intense. Good Luck everyone! Have a wonderful weekend, enjoy the camaraderie with other contestants, enjoy yourselves, enjoy your dogs, and I am honoured to officially open this, the biggest dog sports event on the NZ Kennel Club’s calendar. I declare open the 2005 National Dog Training Assembly.

Thank you.

ENDS

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