Bad British…..

I am not trying to be overly insensitive to the UK, (Britain) in any way, but recently they have attracted a lot of negative attention in the animal world.

Firstly, thanks to lifewithdogs.tv I found that the British government had a hay-day with an alarming rate of military dogs euthanized. 

“807 brave dogs who served on the front lines with British soldiers have paid the ultimate price for their service.

The scandal was revealed after government officials confirmed the figures in response to Freedom of Information requests from the Daily Mirror. Saying that many of the dogs are too fierce to be retrained as pets, the UK government has been quietly killing them off in droves. Ironically, the dogs survived the dangers of war only to die from the prick of a vet’s needle, and dog lovers worldwide are mourning their loss while demanding answers.

Of the 807 dogs killed in the past decade, the majority were put down after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Defense said twenty canines were euthanized in 2002: that figure rose to 89 in 2003 when the Second Gulf War began. 95 dogs were killed in 2006, but the worst year for British war dogs was 2009, when 125 of them were put down.

Labour MP Kerry McCarthy called the practice a tragedy. “This is shocking. It seems a great shame that animals are destroyed in this way. We need to make sure that every effort is made to find them new homes.”

The Ministry of Defense claims that more recent euthanizations were prompted by behavioral issues or old age, and that sniffer dogs do typically retire with their handlers. But in a recent statement, a government spokesperson admitted that retraining is considered ineffective for many dogs, who are often ‘too dangerous’ be rehomed.

The Dogs Trust, one of the largest and most respected British animal welfare organizations, has issued a strong statement against the ‘premature euthanasia’ of working dogs when retired, and said that every effort to rehome the dogs should be made before taking their lives.”

I was truly saddened and touched by this article. I believe that just like any soldier, army dogs deserve a chance to be re-homed and cared for like any other animal. They shouldn’t be tossed aside because they can no longer work. As if this wasn’t saddening enough, during the famous Grand National, although the winning horse won in a remarkably narrow margin, his winnings were overshadowed yet again by not one by two deaths of equine contenders.

Grand National: Horse racing’s shame?

Posted: 1519 GMT
CNN's Alysen Miller with Synchronised during the week before Saturday's fateful Grand National at Aintree.

CNN’s Alysen Miller with Synchronised during the week before Saturday’s fateful Grand National at Aintree.

For 10 minutes every year, British horse racing attracts worldwide attention when the prestigious Grand National takes place. It is a UK tradition that dates back to 1839 – the one day of the year when even those who don’t normally watch racing will have a bet.

It is shaming, therefore, that – once again – this year’s race will be remembered not for the heroics of Neptune Collonges, who cemented his place in history by winning in the narrowest margin in 173 years, but the deaths of two other runners: According to Pete and pre-race favorite Synchronised.

It is not the first time that the race has been overshadowed by an unacceptably high number of equine fatalities. Since 2000, 11 horses have died in the Grand National – about twice the figure in as many starts as for steeplechasing in general. That’s in spite of – or perhaps because of (more of which later) – modifications by the race organizers to make the race safer.

Now, once again, the Grand National finds itself under siege from animal rights groups, with the result that the inevitable backlash is becoming as much as a tradition in its own right as the race itself.

For the truth is that, as a spectacle, the Grand National has become indefensible.

As a racing journalist I often find myself having to defend the sport against accusations of cruelty. It is important to distinguish between cruelty and risk; contrary to popular misconception, no-one in racing wants to see horses get hurt. No responsible jockey would deliberately push his or her mount past its limit; no reputable owner or trainer would consider running their horse in the Grand National unless they firmly believed it was up to the task.

And yet the risks are great: horses are required to leap 30 flights of jumps, some as high as five feet tall, over a grueling four-and-a-half-mile course.

The best-known and most difficult of these jumps is the notorious Becher’s Brook. Named after Captain Martin Becher, who fell at the fence in the very first Grand National and then took shelter in the brook that ran behind it to avoid injury, the jump features a six-foot nine-inch drop on the landing side, leading some jockeys to compare the experience to jumping off the edge of the world.

Although it has undergone several modifications over the years, Becher’s Brook is still a treacherous obstacle. It is responsible for nearly a quarter of all falls in the Grand National. It was at Becher’s Brook that According To Pete was brought down, breaking his back.

It was also at Becher’s Brook that Synchronised fell, unseating his rider, A.P. McCoy. Synchronised did get back up and continued riderless for five more fences, but fell again and fatally broke his leg at fence 11.

But the focus on Becher’s Brook threatens to detract from other alarming aspects of the race. It is instructive that fatalities in the last decade have actually increased, coinciding with reductions in the size of the fences. Some jockeys argue that smaller jumps just encourage horses and riders to take them faster. In recognition of this, Aintree chiefs do their best to maintain slow ground.

But perhaps it is not the size of the jumps but the size of the field that is the real issue: 40 horses start the National (although typically only about a third of those finish). When you’re surrounded by 39 other horses, there is no margin for error. Just one faller can cause a fatal pile-up as horses coming through behind have no chance to jump clear. This is what happened to According To Pete – he had been jumping well until he was brought down by another horse on the second circuit of the race. According To Pete’s owners have said they will not be entering the National again.

But it was the death of Synchronised, the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner who was seeking a historic double, that was even more shocking. I was at Jonjo O’Neill’s yard last week to do a feature on the horse who was aiming to become the first since Golden Miller in 1934 to win the Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same season. He was clearly a stable favorite. Before I left, his exercise rider Coral told me that her only hope for the National was that he came back safely. Sadly, this was not to be.

The inconvenient truth is that one of the attractions of the race for punters is the element of danger. This callous attitude is aided and abetted to a large extent by the BBC, the UK’s national broadcaster which continues to televise the race despite the fatalities.

Although official investigations into the deaths are currently under way, the first instinct of an understandably disgusted public is to blame the jockeys, owners and trainers. But perhaps anyone who bet on the Grand National should consider whether they, too, played a part.

Until the National is contested between 20 or even 15 runners instead of the current 40, which will inevitably make the race less unpredictable and therefore less exciting, I predict According To Pete and Synchronised will not be the last fatalities of Britain’s most controversial sporting event.

I left out pictures for obvious reasons…they weren’t pretty. This takes me back to my horse racing post. I understand the need and attraction of animal related sports, but had this been a human sport…it would no longer be played. Think about it. Since 2000, at least 11 horses have died in the Grand National. That is essentially a horse a year. In just this race. It is not looking at all the other races that do not gain as much publicity. It makes me wonder why people aren’t doing more to ensure the safety of their animals. If the Becher’s jump is so dangerous, why haven’t they removed it completely?

I don’t want to end the post on a sad note, so instead I will share an email I recieved: ALL CATS SHOULD HAVE THEIR OWN DOG (Munchkin has hers…and I added her and Zuzu to this)

Have a happy Tuesday!

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