Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Holiday horrors

This poor elephant's right front foot toenails are very overgrown

I know, I’m on holiday – I shouldn’t be blogging, but I feel the need to share a very disturbing experience.
We’re staying in Mallorca, which will make some of you groan. There are loads of pretty uncivilized Brits out here demanding their full English breakfasts, lager round the clock and still wanting to watch all their soaps and footie matches in the numerous Irish bars (we even spotted a Liverpool bar in our travels!)
And when I clocked Rent-a-bike operating next to a lap-dancing bar, I had to smile. There are indeed some areas of the island that are so ravaged by tourism it does feel like you’re in a documentary - but away from the tourist hot-spots there still some wonderful unspoilt places – honestly! Quiet bays, beautiful expensive boats in classy marinas and some breathtaking villas.
As we have two young kids to entertain, we are always on the look out for stimulating days out and a trip to the island’s only Safari-Zoo sounded just the thing.
You could tell from first look it wasn’t the best-resourced establishment. It certainly wasn’t Longleat! But we’d come a long way, so we had to go inside.
For those who don’t have cars, Safari-Zoo provides an open sided vehicle - painted in zebra stripes – to take people around.
We set off directly behind it. The carriages were nearly empty holding only a handful of people, I remember wondering how the place survives, it couldn’t be taking much money– and I’m afraid it showed. The park looked bleak and unloved.
But the zebras were really friendly and you could get very close to all the animals, we put our windows down and gave them a stroke. The zebras followed us for a while; I got the feeling that they don’t get to see that many cars these days - we seemed a bit of a novelty.
The handful of zebras were mixed in with a few wildebeests, and a couple of ostriches. It all seemed a bit random. And there wasn’t much land for anyone, or shade or anything remotely green.
The baboons were next and they seemed very lively. They were excited by the arrival of the zebra-striped train. Monkeys were inside the carriages in a flash and jumping on the roof even though the vehicle was moving quite quickly. It was a hot day and we’d expected most of the animals to be snoozing,
As we came nearer, we saw one of the baboons was now lying in the middle of the road. My husband Graham said perhaps it was a trick by the cheeky monkeys to make us stop. But as we approached it didn’t move, and as we drove around it we could all see it was lying in a pool of fresh blood.
Luckily I had my mobile with me – so I phoned and told them there was a baboon down, expecting a vet to be on the scene very quickly or at least a park official to check it out.
Just then a very angry baboon jumped on our car – giving us a start, she was obviously the matriarch. She was pretty upset by one of her family being injured, so were we.
As we drove on, we never did see anyone rush to the poor monkey’s aid – and the park was very small so we had it in vision for what seemed like ages.
When we finished our upsetting tour we decided to look around the rest of the zoo on foot and I’m afraid things didn’t get any better.
Kieran, my six-year-old son remarked, “Mummy, why do they have such small enclosures? ” Cameron (aged 8) said, “They have nothing to play with – poor things. Someone should close this place down.”
I’m not a vet, but one of the lions looked to be in particularly poor shape, very thin and shaky on his legs.
But the two elephants really did bring a tear to my eye. The space they were in was so small, bare and dull. One of the elephant’s toes looked badly overgrown and they both just looked so very sad.
I made eye contact with so many miserable creatures that day; I really did feel so helpless.
The tannoy announced a magic show was starting soon, and we hoped this would cheer everyone up.
On the way to it, I bumped into the driver of the zebra train and asked for news of the baboon. In front of both children she just said, “It’s dead. They are just so aggressive, always fighting between themselves and jumping on the vehicles.” She seemed so matter of fact, no pretence of regret at a life lost. I wondered to myself if it had committed suicide. How long had it been left on that road?
I spotted our boys’ bottom lips trembling. We hurried them along to the arena, hoping that the magic man could do the trick and restore their holiday spirit.
But it was magic like you probably used to see in the Victorian age, with live animals and dubious contraptions that probably squashed them into small spaces. We watched open-mouthed as birds, rabbits and big cats were used in ways I’m sure that no circus would permit in Britain today.
An hour later, there was another show, only this time just involving big cats. We decided to stick around – was Mallorca the last place on earth to welcome acts that exploited animals?
The big cat show involved three leopards and an elderly female lion. The heavily tattooed promoter seemed to have difficulty keeping them all awake and he held a big stick, which he used repeatedly.
My son Kieran shouted at him to stop hitting the cats, but it made no difference. The cats looked old and lumpy - apart from one young one that still had the spring in its legs to do some stunts. Without the stick they’d have all been fast asleep.
I got the feeling that this bloke probably loved his big cats in a weird way and this was the last place on earth where he could live with them in this strange way. The magic man seemed to live on site, too with his brood. Could Safari Zoo be the last refuge on earth for those who make their living out of dodgy animal acts?
It all felt very uncomfortable. Like stepping back into an era where animals really did have to jump through hoops to earn their dinner.
I can’t see how the Safari Zoo makes enough money to feed their animals, let alone pay for vet fees. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe it needs to turn itself into a sanctuary and ditch any pretext of providing any entertainment. Give the animals back their dignity and try to improve their standards of living by just asking for donations.
Safari Zoo certainly educated our kids to care about animal exploitation – so the day wasn’t a total disaster. I’m pleased to say their instincts were strong and passionate.
I’ll be contacting WSPA to see if they can keep an eye on things, surely I’m not the only person who has left Safari Zoo worrying about the animals’ futures. Let me know if you’ve ever visited or know any more about the zoo.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Holiday!

I'm of on hols for two weeks, Mallorca and, no the dog's haven't got pet passports - so it's only the humans packing their suitcases.
Oscar and Tess have already gone off to Tarbay, their second stay at the Windsor kennels. Last year they came back just as we left them - which may sound something unremarkable, but it was a considerable improvement on our previous experience with another establishment! Even though Tarbay wasn't the nearest, it was worth the trek. I remembered Cleo and Pops (two of my lovely old Beardies from years ago) had really enjoyed their stay at Tarbay.
The other kennels we tried managed to give us back one toast rack of a beardie pup and one roly poly Springer. Someone obviously wasn't supervising the mealtimes! Plus, they also gave the poor dogs a nasty dose of kennel cough each - despite having the jab.
I'm taking the laptop and the Blackberry - so I may still blog from the pool if I have the energy! But last time we went to Mallorca nothing remotely most doggie happened. Don't think I saw more than one dog come to think of it!
I'm hoping by the time I'm back we'll be ready to launch the Two Poodle Martyrs on-line petition - if they're not released already that is (fingers crossed).
Also while I'm away, we're putting to bed the October edition. So I will be reading proofs - so don't think I'm completely putting my feet up! See you soon and hope the weather in UK brightens up - thought we might flood again last night!

Monday, 13 August 2007

Inspector Potter & the Poodle Prisoners of darkest Sussex

The latest email from Jill and those poor Two Poodle martyrs:
"Well, our MP's Secretary has had a phone call from Inspector Potter.......he has said, and I quote 'The investigation is still on going, and because of the severity of the charge, the dogs have to continue to be held by the Police. He has also confirmed that everything is being done to speed things up' I am afraid that 'No Comment' springs to mind!
"Peter has also been in touch with the Dog Handler, and we are allowed to see the girls on Wednesday. He was meant to contact us today (Mon) to tell us what time, but as yet, we are still waiting. No surprise there then!
"Take care, 64 days and counting................"
There are plans for an on-line petition - keep watching this space.
Perhaps even JK Rowling might add her name? This is certainly harder to believe than any work of fiction.

What price love? (There are discounts for midweek!)

I've just written my next issue's editorial about FlexPetz - the pet rental service about to come from San Francisco to London. I won't repeat what I’ve written verbatim, but I'll just pose the question, "What precisely is it about pet rental that makes people so very angry?"
Puppy farming, dogs in pet shops and animal abuse all hardly get any media coverage these days. But some dotty American lady loaning out dogs to consenting rich adults gets everyone raging and being outraged.
Marlena Cervantes who started FlexPetz is a behaviourist. She's also studied the affects of dogs on autistic children.
She doesn't sound the typical Cruella de Ville-type to me.
But unconditional love for rent does sound incredibly sleazy.
But, she takes unwanted dogs from rescue shelters, trains them to a very high level, socialises them to expect constant changes of surroundings and then rents them to people who might otherwise unwisely impulse purchase a pup.
Marlena spends quite a bit of money on some of the dogs, too - Jackpot (a rescued Lab) needed a 2000-dollar vet bill to sort out his kidney problems before he was fit enough to rent.
Then very rich (dare I say also shallow, fickle and possibly stupid) people pay a lot of money for the convenience of a time-share pet.
Often the dog has as few as three 'share holders' and a permanent caretaker (for any days when no one wants to pay for the dog). Mondays to Thursdays are much cheaper than weekends, as with a rental car – but work commitments mean they’re quiet times.
The clients pay an annual membership; a monthly sub and then they pay per visit, too.
The dogs are fed a consistent supplied diet; all wear GPS devices on their collars and get three monthly check ups at the vet.
Am I a very bad person, but it sounds better than being stuck in a boring kennel or being on doggie death row.
Perhaps we can see these dogs as assistance dogs. They assist Marlene in taking lots of money away from people who are too busy and important to ever train their own dog!
These lovely dogs then give love to some pretty much unlovable rich professional types - but equally, some previously unwanted dogs are spoiled rotten by a succession of people very happy to pay for the privilege.
I'm sorry, but there must be something very wrong with me. I'm finding it quite hard to work myself up into being completely outraged.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Does the law care more about sheep than women?

Jill emailed me late last night. She's normally quite bubbly, no matter what - but she seemed really down. Here's her email:
"Peter went to the police station, with our stand in solicitor and came away even more depressed. They are keeping the girls under the Police Evidence Act, even though they haven't issued us a receipt, and are going to hold another doggie line up...I don't really know what to say. They wouldn't let us bring the girls home and then bring them back for the line up. As the stand in solicitor said, it really does smell like collusion. What is this farmer doing to incite this sort of response from the police, and why are they doing it? Sorry, but can't cope with saying much more."
Having followed a case a few years back where the police dropped a very serious case against a man who was known to abduct and harm young girls due to a 'lack of evidence' (despite one young woman being fully prepared to give evidence in court) the Sussex police here do seem to be going more than that extra yard to keep this one farmer happy.
They've now spent fruitless months trying to find some evidence to link these two dogs with the farmers' dead, probably fully-insured sheep.
No one is condoning sheep worrying here, but these dogs were forensically examined by the police when they were first taken away and they found no traces of blood or wool. The only 'evidence' they have is circumstantial.
The two dogs were at large that night due to some cows breaking down their garden fence - they were not even serial strayers.
There had to be more than two dogs at large in Sussex that night; there are even big wild cats that have been known to attack sheep!
The list of possible suspects should be a very long one - not such a pathetically short one.
Imagine if every murder case were solved as soon as the police found a person without an alibi? Wouldn't our crime figures look so much better!
Perhaps you might imagine the earlier case about a man who worried women wasn't all that serious?
But the young woman in question looked very much younger than her years - making this man obviously attracted to children. The female police officers assigned to the case actually cried when they broke the news that they had to let the accused go. They all knew he was guilty, but they said they just lacked the forensic evidence needed to prove it in court, that the crown prosecution service wouldn't let them proceed when it was one person's word against the other.
So why isn't that the case with two harmless Poodles who escape from a garden?
Those dogs get banged up for months without a trial, without a shred of evidence.
It would seem that the law much better protects sheep than women in this country! And that Poodles have no rights at all.
Jill - please be brave - the oxygen of publicity would put the police in the dock here if you tell your side of the story. They surely can't be allowed to hold random dogs hostage with no evidence.
And what court of law is going to accept an ID parade so long after the dark, windy night in question. And if the 'witness' is the same one as last time - since when do they get two goes at picking the police-favoured suspect?
Will the police keep having these ridiculous parades until someone picks the dog they want picked?
I don't know much about the Evidence Act - there appears to be overwhelming evidence that someone at Sussex police is losing the plot!

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

A doggie year in clink for the Two Poodle Martyrs

Jill, the long-suffering owner of the Two Poodle Martyrs, has emailed to remind me that tomorrow her partner Peter is due to appear back at the police station as part of his arrest conditions. Their best solicitor, who they call "the Bulldog" can't be present, but they have a stand-in.
One of Jill's friends has a new boyfriend who has 30 plus years experience at Scotland Yard in the CID. He is shocked at what has been going on, I quote from Jill’s email:
"He is urging us to put in a formal complaint to the Chief Constable, under the Police Act, that firstly the investigation has not been conducted in a proper manner, and that Peter was arrested without due grounds. Secondly that proper procedures have not been followed, and that this has resulted in extreme distress to us. If these procedures had been followed properly, Peter would have been exonerated at an early stage, and our girls back home with us. I have forwarded the email to the Bulldog, and am awaiting a reply.
"We did have a message left on our home answerphone on 1st August, from the PC in charge of the case. He stated that we wouldn’t be getting the girls home till they had finished their investigation. What more can they want and what good is it doing keeping them? The 'Police-assisted blackmail' phrase springs to mind once again!
"Well, 65 days down the line, we wait, and Peter and I both feel that if we get no joy tomorrow, we are going to try and get some publicity for the girls. The farmer is quite happy to plaster his story across the papers, so why not us? We have been holding off, thinking that hope was just around the corner, but matters just seem to be going on and on and on....
"I was just working out how long the girls have been in jail in 'doggie years'. One human year is meant to be about 7 doggie years, which means that 52 human days are equivalent to one doggie year. This means that our girls have been in prison for over one year of their lives. Depressing or what?"
I think Jill and Peter have shown tremendous reserve.
Sanity must surely prevail and these two poor dogs will be returned to their homes.
Let us all wish them luck tomorrow - and should they not get good news, let's wish them strength in letting the media do their job and get the police to stop wasting everyone’s time – including their own!

Sunday, 5 August 2007

No show

All last week I was getting emails from people trying to buy tickets for the Wag and Bone Show. I wonder if anyone actually just turned up at the Great Park? A few minutes ago, we just nipped into the office to pick something up and there was a message on the answerphone from someone who was trying to get tickets yesterday.
It would have been a glorious day for it, perhaps a little too warm - but probably the first proper weekend of summer.
Can't say I've missed doing all the work, though. It's been nice to have a year off.
But if anyone did go and found there was no show, I'm really sorry. We did all we could to tell everyone it was off - but we know from our own experience this week that plenty of people still hadn't heard. I was told off by the charities solicitors for passing on the news - but I think perhaps they all needed to do more to communicate that the Wag and Bone 2007 was off.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

I believe in miracles

When I arrived at work this morning I was told by a BT guy untrained in delivering bad news to hysterical women that, "it wasn't going to happen today".
An hour on my mobile talking to people who were equally cautious and pessimistic left me close to breaking point.
But, it has happened.
It's 2pm and we have phones and Internet.
I need a lie down.