Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The man with four dogs...

I met a man at the Beagle Hunt who owned four dogs - three beagles and a basset. Two of his beagles had been rescued. One was from the SPCA, the other from owners who wanted to get rid of their 5 month old puppy. But these dogs' background stories were heartbreaking.

One had been rescued after jumping out of a taxi in Johannesburg. She had a microchip (her original owners must have cared enough to implant one in her as a puppy). The chip was traced to Cape Town but the company that had registered it was now defunct. So the SPCA was unable to find her original owners. Imagine losing your dog and never knowing what her fate was. So check that your microchip in your dog is still traceable!

"She still bears the scars to this day" said her new owner and it was really upsetting to see such a "sad" looking beagle. Beagles are usually so cheerful and friendly by nature. But at least this beagle has finally found a caring home.

His second beagle is now a 13 month old male. The circumstances surrounding how he ended up being re homed were very disconcerting. He was bred by Onderstepoort Veterinary University where they use beagles to educate student vets. They sometimes sell their male puppies to raise funds for the university and these puppies are not cheap nor are they plentiful.

He was bought by a couple who wanted a puppy as a playmate for their 4 and 6 year old children.

Mistake Number 1: A puppy is not a soft toy to be handled by children too young to know what they are doing. This family decided to get rid of their 5 month old puppy because it apparently "bit" one of the children.

Now anyone with half a brain cell knows that puppies are highly active, destructive chewing machines. They chew all the time on anything and everything.

Bite inhibition is learnt by puppies when they interact with their litter mates. If they bite too hard, it hurts and so they learn to play more gently. But we owners remove them while they are still learning and it is up to us to continue their bite inhibition education. That's why puppy school or socialisation is so important. We learn how to teach "cute looking" puppies to grow up into well behaved, happy dogs without destroying their spirit or essential nature. It takes many scratches and bites before your puppy learns that when you squeak "Ow" and ignore them for a while that they must be more gentle while playing with you.

But it takes an adult to teach this and other lessons to your puppy. It's an adult responsibility. How ignorant can you be to think you can hand over the care and education of a small puppy to a small child?

Mistake Number 2: Puppies are usually sold at 2 months. After having the puppy for only three months, the new owners decided "Oh Dear! we've made a mistake. Let's get rid of it". This puppy's most important "imprinting" period, his first 4 months when he learns how to behave through socialisation and habituation, were mismanaged by thoughtless humans. The puppy was very nervous and insecure when he arrived at his next home. Luckily he has been taken on by someone who is patient and understanding.

Perhaps Onderstepoort should vet the people who buy their puppies as stringently as do many of the top breeders?

But while dishing out the onions on this issue, I also have to give Onderstepoort a bouquet. Two of their students came along to observe the beagle hunt. My understanding was that they are looking at possible ways of enriching the lives of the dogs they keep there. It is good to know that Onderstepoort is trying to improve their beagles' quality of life beyond cages and concrete floors.

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