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A brief thing about dogs


UPDATE, 10 May:

This really blew up. Lyst have revealed the “true” purpose behind this foolish and cynical stunt. I still think it’s wrong, and the stats they are using to “prove” their “success” are fundamentally flawed. Read more here.

Original post:

I’m really busy today and things have been going a bit wrong. Power went down for hours, and all I had was a phone to keep up with emails and Twitter. Then someone I know tweeted about a company called Lyst who are selling dogs online as fashion accessories.

I hope beyond hope that it’s a PR thing. I hope it’s something they’re doing to raise awareness of the number of dogs needing rehoming, or the issues with puppy farming. I asked about their process and they told me that they’re only using Kennel Club registered breeders: which is something, I suppose, but still open to abuse.

I had an MG Midget once. A young London girl bought it from me second hand as a fashion accessory and then threatened me with legal action when she couldn’t use a manual choke the next day and it wouldn’t start. She had no idea what it’s like to own a 30-year-old car and had bought it on a whim. Can you imagine someone like that buying a dog? Dogs are a commitment for years – depending on the breed, up to 15 or even 20 years. They need to be fed and walked every day of those 20 years (ours get about an hour a day of exercise – and they’re only little dogs). Time needs to be spent with them. Money needs to be spent on them. They need training and boundaries and vaccinations; you need to clean up after them, stop them eating the many many things in your house which are poison, stimulate them mentally. They cost a lot.

We have two dogs. One we got as a pup from a KC registered breeder. We were vetted by the breeder, quizzed about everything from our work (I work from home, otherwise we’d not be able to have a dog) to what would happen if we divorced. We plan our lives around having dogs now, and not leaving them for more than 4 hours at a time. People come in to see them for us if we’re out, or we have to go to dog friendly places. We don’t go abroad on holiday. I’m holding back on finding an office for my business so I can take them with me.

The second dog is a rescue, and she’s the main reason I’m so angry about this whole thing with Lyst.

She’s an ex-puppy farm dog. She was used from a young age for nothing more than breeding. She will die young because of this.

When she was rescued, she was 4kg overweight – for a dog meant to weigh about 8kg that’s a lot. She’d been kept in a cage and not exercised. She had infections in both ears, a skin infection, a bladder infection, arthritis in her hips, rotten teeth, and a range of behavioural issues – and she was listed by the rescue team as one of the easier rescues they’d had in. She’s also got a lifelong genetic issue called dry eye, which all her puppies will have, which is an autoimmune condition causing her to slowly produce fewer and fewer tears as she ages.

Since we’ve had her she’s been on a strict diet. She’s had one hip removed (not replaced – she had a femoral head excision). She’s had hydrotherapy for her arthritis, and I need to carry her in a backpack on long walks, which makes me feel like an idiot but which does mean we’re not held back by her legs. Every day – every day – of her life we have to wash her eyes and put artificial tears in three times a day, then put medication in twice a day on top of this (the medication costs £70 a tube from the vet – not covered by insurance – although we get it much cheaper online). She gets regular ear infections due to damage done by all the past infections she had.

Then there are the behavioural issues. The other rescued dogs we saw were much worse, terrified of everything and going into a cowering freeze pose if you went to pick them up. Tubs is mostly OK. She gets obsessive in the garden if she smells mice, probably because for a period of her life that might have been her only food or only source of stimulation. If she’s unhappy, if her legs are troubling her or she gets another of her chronic ear infections, she “nests” in the garden. She has awful separation anxiety, sticking to my wife like glue, and getting incredibly worked up if she wakes up and realises she’s alone in a room (or just forgets that I’m upstairs while she’s downstairs). It’s not nice for anyone. I videoed it today just to drive the point home – bear in mind that coming to her when she does this and trying to settle her reinforces the behaviour, so we have to let her get it out of her system:

The point of this post (and I have to come to it quickly, my file uploads are finishing) is this: whether this is a “provocative” PR stunt or the real selling of dogs online it’s idiotic. It’s cruel and heartless. It sends the message that dogs are accessories; it promotes underground and unregulated breeding and leads to more dogs like Tubs needing to be rescued, or – much worse – never being rescued, just living their lives in pain and distress. Look, I’m all for provocative PR but it has to be done well, in a way which doesn’t make a proportion of your audience think it’s real – because those people are now going to go out and actually buy a dog, probably from an unregistered breeder, while the rescue centres are unable to cope. There’s been a huge number of “fashion” dogs being abandoned because people aren’t prepared to shape their lives around a dog like you need to (and yes, it’s worth doing, dogs are wonderful). Dogs which have had little or no training and are now aggressive, scared, overweight, uncared for messes because their owners only cared about the fashion aspect and not the rest of it. Be provocative with people who can answer back. Be provocative about something else.

Lyst – and your PR company – you should be ashamed.

Update:

It’s a PR stunt, almost certainly for charity Dog’s Trust:

What I said before still stands, though. What’s going to happen is obvious: idiot looks at site, believes it is true, balks at prices or lack of immediate response, Googles for puppies for sale, buys a dog from a puppy farm, gives up after a month. You might think I’m cynical but it’s all too close to the truth: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/13/pet-profit-grazia-breeding-dog-cat-animal-rescue for example. This, of course, is the message that they’re trying to get across, but in doing so they have planted the seeds. How many people will see the setup but not the punchline? How many will agree with the setup and dismiss the punchline as not relevant to them, because they’ll be responsible, honest? The satire is too close to the truth and the payoff is too delayed: by the time of the reveal it’s going to be too late for at least one dog, I guarantee it. It’s sick and it’s stupid, and it’s damaging to Lyst, to the charity they’re working with, and to dogs and responsible dog owners and breeders.

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