By Julie Hill
If you were watching Keith Lemon's Lemonaid on Saturday 28th April you'd have seen a dog given as a competition prize. What's your reaction? Did you just think, “Aw!”, or do you know enough about dogs to understand what a disaster the incident was for dog welfare?
Many watching had the latter reaction, and within minutes social media had exploded with outrage. Twitter was awash with protesting comments, and a Facebook page was created to coordinate objections, which attracted one thousand members in the first twenty four hours. Complaints poured in to Ofcom, ITV and a petition to change the law to make it illegal to give any animal as a prize was set up. The Kennel Club revealed that prior to filming they advised against the feature, Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and others issued statements of disapproval, and the RSPCA is investigating the matter.
So just why are feelings running so high?
Objections are not simply focussed on the actual Pug puppy who was given away – although that dog was the result of an accidental mating, his parents had not been health tested, he was at ITV's studios at six weeks old, and he was in his new home at seven weeks old, all of which is disappointing to say the least. ITV has claimed that home checks were carried out on the families competing to win a dog, although an advert for people to compete on the show was posted on 16th April, and the show was filmed on 20th April, so arrangements must have been put in place with great haste.
None of this was mentioned in the show, so the message that went out to watching millions was that it's okay to get a dog on a whim, dogs are inanimate objects that can be paraded around as prizes, and one dog is much the same as any other. This is an extremely dangerous message, particularly at the moment.
The dog world is in a state of flux right now. It was only three years ago that the Kennel Club was rocked to its foundations by the documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed. It's easy to forget the impact that program had, but at the time the Kennel Club had to confirm that Crufts, their major dog show and the most prestigious dog show in the world, was still going ahead. However, the BBC dumped Crufts, after forty years of televising it. Pedigree food pulled out as Crufts’ main sponsor, and the Kennel Club's reputation was at an all time low.
Unscrupulous breeders started advertising that their pups weren't Kennel Club registered so they must be healthy; in fact, pedigree or not the best chance of buying a healthy dog is to do your homework and buy from health tested parents.
Right now the UK, particularly Wales, is riddled with puppy farms. Puppy farmers keep their dogs in appalling, cramped, dirty conditions, don't health test, don’t bother to visit a vet, and sell puppies to unsuspecting members of the public who are setting themselves up for heartache and vet's bills. There is no such thing as a bargain puppy - so buyer beware and learn how to recognise a bad breeder!
At a time when rescue shelters are overflowing with unwanted and abandoned dogs, hoodies use dogs as weapons, and dog attacks regularly make the headlines, it's clear that the dog world needs to take stock and work even harder to promote the right messages to the public. This is why Keith Lemon’s and ITV's thoughtless arrogance have provoked such disapproval, because they come at a time when we have never needed responsible dog ownership more.
This article appeared in Episode 132 of DogCast Radio.