How many Cruella de Vils are there in the UK? Well 300,000 dogs have owners using “barbaric torture” devices on them. These people are “electrocuting” their pets with “shock” collars. So Defra righteously wants to protect England’s animals from such evil.
At least that was the line Defra officials swallowed in March, when in their most knee-jerk proposal since the Dangerous Dogs Act, they decided to criminalise the multitudes who had previously been under the misapprehension that they loved their pets.
Then reality bit back. Michael Gove realised he was about to make an outlaw of Chris Grayling who used e-collars to protect his cats from being run over. Collateral damage? Maybe. But it wasn’t just Chris. Andrew Lloyd Webber used them for his cats – and he composed the musical. Steve Redgrave had an e-collar to protect his Old English Sheepdog. Middle England was revolting.
And so a handbrake turn. E-collars used with containment fences were now fine. But those used to train and restrain dogs on country walks retained their “barbaric” status. Yet this policy remains in enormous trouble. For three reasons:
First, Defra officials cannot provide evidence of a problem that needs solving. Despite huge numbers using remote training collars there has not been one prosecution concerning them. That is despite the RSPCA investigating 149,000 cruelty cases a year. For its part, the British Veterinary Association says it has “no direct evidence of abuse” from its 17,000 members. So where is the problem? Why is this a priority instead of all the real animal welfare issues?
Secondly, officials cannot find the science to justify the policy. They squirm about what they said in February; that scientific research, which they had commissioned, did not justify a ban. The following month, with no new research, Defra officials were suddenly promoting the ban.
Thirdly, there is no public enthusiasm for this policy. Despite the whipped-up campaigning from Dogs Trust the consultation found 64% of its respondents opposed banning e-collars. Of those who took the trouble to give written responses only 8% called for a ban.
So no problem, no science, and no support. Apart from that it’s a brilliant policy.
This is the first of four articles. Tomorrow at 09:30 – a dog’s perspective: Cui Bono? Not Fido.