Tags & Trackers

Time is of the essence when your pet goes missing. Smart tags and collars can help reunite you fast…

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Thousands of pets go missing every year in the UK and not all of them get a happy ending. Many stay missing, others are rehomed, and others are put to sleep: owners only have seven days to reclaim their pets from a pound before they can be legally put down or rehomed. In a month’s time, chipping will be mandatory – but scanning lost dogs with a microchip for dog won’t be. While microchips have allowed many dogs to be reunited with their owners, no system is fail-proof and the fact there is no obligation to scan lost dogs might further hinder the law’s effectiveness. (For more information, turn to page 18). Unlike microchipping, tagging your dog with your details
has been mandatory since 1992. It may not help in the case of theft, as a thief will certainly get rid of it, but if your pet wanders off, it just might be his quickest ticket back home. Here are some high-tech additions that can help reunite you with your lost loved one

Wistiki

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Wistiki is a small tracker that allows you to locate lost objects within a 100 metres from you – and from your phone. If an object is lost anywhere out of that range, you will be able to see the GPS coordinates of the last place where the signal was picked up by your phone. Should it no longer be there, you can use the app to report it lost: should another Wistiki user – or ‘Wister’ – pass close to it, you’ll receive the new coordinates. And, should a Wister find it, they would be able to contact you for an anonymous live chat to return the lost item to you.
Among the models available from December 2016, there will be a medal meant for pets, although the fact it was created primarily for objects means there are some limitations: should a dog wander off, it would be of little use unless another Wister happened to be close by.
It does, however, have a useful feature called Virtual Leash: by creating a 30m security zone, the system will alert you through your phone if the tag (and your dog!) leaves its range. That would give owners some peace of mind when they let their pet out in the garden; with a battery life of three years, there is no risk of it turning off if you forget to charge it.

Price: Currently £39.90, but it might change slightly by the time the product is available

Contact: www.wistiki.co.uk

Semiperdo (IfYouFindMe)

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Semiperdo (IfYouFindMe) is a smart collar equipped with an NFC (nearfield communication) chip, which can be read by a smartphone with NFC technology – which is to say, most smartphones on the market. As the chip is a passive electronic circuit, there are no batteries to recharge. If someone finds a lost pet, all they need to do is tap their smartphone on the collar’s button. This will allow them to call or send an SMS to the dog’s owner, who’ll have entered their details on the website. As it is all done through websites, there is no need for a specific app. On top of that, the system automatically sends the owners an email showing where their pet is through Google Maps.
Waterproof and capable of resisting temperatures up to 90°C, Semiperdo is available in various colours.

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Price: £11.70 plus postage
Contact: semiperdo.com/en/ifyoufindme-smart-collar-withnfc-chip

Dog Tracker Nano

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Dog Tracker Nano is a sturdy, light and waterproof GPS tracker that your dog can wear on his collar or harness. It gives live tracking of your pet’s whereabouts – thus allowing you to find him quickly. The device and app can also be used to track your dog’s daily activity and exercise, and it can give you advice on your dog’s ideal amount of exercise, weight and diet.
It also allows you to track your walks with details of time spent, distance walked and average speed. You can also set up ‘geofences’ around your home or current location like at your best rated mattress  , with audible alerts on your mobile if your dog leaves the set boundary. However, you must charge it regularly: the battery lasts up to 14 days between charges, and you certainly wouldn’t want to realise it’s all used up when you most need it!

Price: Basic price £99

Contact:  For all options and information, visit www.dogtrackernano.com

DogTrac

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DogTrac is a smart tag equipped with both NFC and QR (quick response) technology, allowing smartphones to access to the owner’s information in the event the dog wearing it is found. Such information can include the owner’s name and number, email address, vet’s name, address and number,  insurance details, medical issues and so forth – anything the owner feels may be needed and that wouldn’t fit in a regular tag.
Sarah Baxter, from Twilight Bark UK, tried it on her trusty Dachshund, Ted, and was impressed with the result. “We arranged for one of our friends to download the app and scan the DogTrac Smart ID tag belonging to Ted. Literally within seconds, I received confirmation Ted had been ‘found’ via both email and a text message straight to my phone,” she says. “It was so quick! From looking at our friend’s phone, all of the information we uploaded earlier was available.”
DogTrac comes with an app that allows dog owners to access even more features. One such feature, also available on the website, is a Lost Dog button. Activating it sends a notification to all members of DogTrac’s DogWatch community within a five-mile radius of where the dog went missing, with or without the tag, showing a complete pet profile and a map pinpointing where he was last seen.

Price: DogTrac comes in two sizes – small and medium/large – and costs £14.95, with a special offer in place to receive a second tag for free. UK postage is included.
Contact: For more information on DogTrac, to purchase, or to become part of the DogWatch community – you don’t need to have the tag in order to do so! – visit www.dogtrac.com

Links-it

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Links-it is an easy and quick way to move your dog’s tag, whatever the kind, from collar to collar so that he never goes without. Available in nine colours – red, blue, pink, purple, orange, green, white, black and yellow – Links-it is rustproof and waterproof, lighter in weight than a penny and only slightly larger, and much easier to open and close than old-fashioned metal rings.

Price: £5.90 each
Contact: Can be ordered from Paws By The Lake and paid via Paypal to admin@pawsbythelake.co.uk – just state what colour you want, and that your postal address comes through the payment. For card payments over the phone, you can call 01539 432014.

Cloudy with a chance of… pitfalls (part 2)

Through the cracks

Vets Get Scanning launched its #ScanMe petition on 21 July 2015 to make it compulsory for all vets to scan pets on their first visit, as well as the back log of clients that have registered with them. Dog wardens should scan all strays thoroughly, as should rescues that must cross-check the microchip database registration on all ‘surrendered’ or ‘hand in’ pets. The petition closed with 70,794 signatures, just short of the 100,000 target. The founder of the petition, Debbie Matthews, believes that the new microchipping legislation could be used as a major weapon against dog theft if scanning is also made compulsory and would also like the microchip to become proof of ownership.

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Debbie says, “It is very clear from the Defra response to the petition for compulsory scanning for microchips by vets, rescues and authorities, that they are only thinking of stray dogs. They make it clear that there will be no help from vets to find microchipped missing and stolen pets that have been sold on, kept or passed on. There is still no crosscheck for rescues receiving handovers or seized pets, and for local authorities there will still be no clear-set procedures or guidelines.

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This news is devastating for owners searching for their missing pets. “It’s the word of pet owners, who have been through (and are still going through) the trauma of searching for a missing microchipped pet, against the giant organisations in the animal world. These giants are Defra, BVA, Dogs Trust, RSPCA (central office), Blue Cross, PDSA, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and the Kennel Club. Amazingly, but not surprisingly, there is no support from any of the UK microchip databases. It’s tough but we can’t stop while this injustice carries on. There is a simple solution to this growing problem of missing microchipped pets and there can be no argument from anyone that microchips need to be scanned to make sure owner and pet match!”

Disappointment

When the petition reached 10,000 signatures, Defra were informed to reply, but Debbie waited 163 days for a response. “It seems against the spirit of democracy and petitions, a cornerstone of the people’s rights, to state that the government will reply onattainment of 10,000 only for the government to choose not to do so in the hope that the petition will wither and die,” says Debbie. “The government’s late reply left the organisers of the petition with insufficient time to reposition its campaign, although it gained 13,194 signatures after the response.”

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Defra responded, “Local  authorities and rehoming centres already scan dogs when they are received into their care. To help with this process, local authorities have been provided with free scanners by the Kennel Club. “There are organisationsand agencies who unfortunately may come across dogs that have been killed on the roads or rail network.

The Government have reminded the relevant authorities that as a matter of good practice they should routinely scan such dogs so that owners can be informed. “The Government does not consider it necessary, therefore, to require everyone who comes into contact with a dog to scan it in order to check compliance with the microchipping requirements or to establish whether the dog is lost or stolen.” The Petitions Committee will take a look at this petition and response, and can press the government for action. To find out about the petition and raise awareness for compulsory scanning, go to www.vetsgetscanning.co.uk

Cloudy with a chance of… pitfalls (part 1)

Under the legislation it will only be an offence if you transfer the dog to a new keeper without being chipped; implant a chip without being a vet, vet nurse, vet student or person trained on an authorised course; fail to report an adverse reaction or failure of chip; or fail to comply with the 21-day notice served to have your dog microchipped. In his January Dogs Today column, Richard Allport, owner of the Natural Medicine Centre, gave his reasons why the decision to chip should remain with the owner, who should be made aware of potential problems, particularly in smaller breeds.

Microchipping-Poster

Says Richard, “I think the age by which puppies must be microchipped – eight weeks – is far too young. Most of the serious adverse reactions (including death) have been in puppies or small breeds. “My advice to people who don’t want their dogs microchipped is to sit tight and do nothing. If the police or council jobsworths come knocking at your door, you have 21 days to get the chipping done if necessary,  but if your dog is a senior citizen or is in poor health, ask your vet for an exemption certificate.” Microchipping should be a fairly simple and easy procedure. A microchip the size of a grain of rice is implanted between your  dog’s shoulder blades and stores a unique code, which logs your details with one of the UK approved microchipping database.

Fault reporting

Cases where microchips have failed or caused a reaction have been extremely rare and under the new regulations all faults and reactions must be reported. This includes chip migration – one of the most common faults, as chips can move around the body as the puppy grows. Chips have also been known to stop working altogether, which proved a huge problem for a holidaying Labrador in May 2007. Coco was returning to the UK from France when his chip failed to scan at the borders. Under the Defra Pet Travel Scheme all animals must be microchipped and Coco was  refused entry. Luckily, after two weeks, the Spanish manufacturers were able to confirm her details. Coco had surgery to remove the faulty chip and have a new one implanted. More serious cases claim that the implantation caused cancerous growths to form around the site of implantation.

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The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) Annual Review 2014 showed eight cases where a dog reacted badly in the UK after being microchipped, but there are no clear cases to show the microchip alone was to blame. A spokesperson for the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) said, “The important thing to note is that millions of animals have been successfully microchipped with no adverse reactions and that  pet owners should talk to their vet about any concerns they may have. “The World Small Animal Veterinary Association Microchip Committee reviewed the available evidence and came to the conclusion that from the tiny number of such cases reported, compared to the huge numbers of animals that have been implanted, this effect is extremely small, if it exists at all.” The VMD launched a monitoring scheme to oversee reports of adverse affects. You can now submit a report of any adverse affects online at www.vmd.defra.gov.uk. However, the British  Veterinary Association says on its website, “… we understand from Defra that it is highly unlikely they will pursue prosecutions.

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We also understand from RCVS that failure to report, except in the case of a repeated failure to report, will not be considered sufficiently serious to result in disciplinary measures.”

Scanning scandal

Originally created for animal identification to reduce the number of strays, microchipping is being marketed to owners as a failsafe way to find your pet. But even for owners who do microchip and keep their details up to date, there is no guarantee your dog will be scanned once found, as scanning is still not mandatory. Millie, a three-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross, was microchipped but was still euthanased last year. Her registered keeper, Margaret Grasby, didn’t find out until eight months later. Millie came to North Wales Rescue Animals (NWRA) in 2013 underweight, with probable influenza, muscle wastage to her back legs and a deep open wound across her lower back, possibly from being used as a bait dog, but no exact history is known. Margaret, who owns NWRA, spent 16 months nursing and rehabilitating Millie, as well as vaccinating, neutering and chipping her with the rescue’s up to date details.

In December 2014, Millie went missing while with a fosterer. Volunteers searched high and low, alerting vets and Petlog to her disappearance. In August 2015, Margaret discovered that Millie and another small dog had been taken from a property in Birmingham to RSPCA’s Newbrook Farm for emergency treatment, but at no point was either dog scanned. Seventeen days later, Millie was euthanased. Margaret says, “The RSPCA never contacted me. Petlog confirmed to me that the RSPCA never logged in to their database to look up Millie’s details.

The RSPCA made a lot of assumptions due to where she had been removed from. Millie had a bad start in life, but we had worked long and hard to turn her life around. Had I known Millie was in the care of the RSPCA, I would have informed them of her previous history and travelled to collect her immediately. “Nothing will change what happened to Millie but I feel it is important the RSPCA stand up and admit their wrongdoing and assure us they will put procedures in place to prevent it ever happening again.” The RSPCA responded, “The RSPCA took Millie into our care in January 2015 after serious concerns for her welfare were reported to us. She was very thin and poorly, and living in a dirty environment where there was no food available.Cloudy with a chance of… pitfalls (part 1)

She was signed over into our care by the person who was looking after her, whom we believed to be her legal owner. “The RSPCA was not given any indication that Millie belonged to anyone other than the person who signed her over to the charity, who had insisted to our officer that they had been given Millie by their ex-partner. It later turned out she had been fostered and then left in somebody else’s care. “When we became aware of a problem, we launched an immediate investigation, which showed that the usual back-up procedure of checking the microchip had not been followed correctly and we have put steps in place to make sure this doesn’t happen in future. “Additionally, whilst of course we advocate the importance of microchips, the current legal position is that they are not conclusive proof of ownership.” The RSPCA has also confirmed that the other dog found was scanned before he was rehomed and no chip was found.

How much is that doggie in the window? (part 2)

Infiltration

The UK war on puppy farming has to be fought abroad, too. In January, Defra published statistics showing how our commercial importation of dogs (those not travelling under the Pet Passport travel scheme) from known puppy farm hotspots has reached an incredible new high. In 2014, we imported 1,866 dogs from Ireland; in 2015, that figure was 9,707 – a rise of over 420 per cent. It’s the same story with imports from Romania: from 3,616 in 2014 to 8,113 in 2015.

Of the 93,424 dogs commercially imported into the UK last year, over a third were from five countries, all known for puppy farming: Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Hungary in eastern Europe, and Ireland. The RSPCA was first to seize on the admission, with the head of public affairs, David Bowles, commenting, “Many of the thousands of dogs coming into this country every year may well have started their life in appalling conditions on a puppy farm. “While there is a demand for cheap, purebred and fashionable crossbreed puppies, breeders, dealers and traders will find a way to sell them. “Puppy trafficking is big business, with dealers exploiting the current lack of enforcement at our ports and making huge profits from bringing in large numbers of highly sought after puppies.

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Unknown origins

“Many buyers won’t be aware in what conditions their puppy has been bred and raised nor where their puppy has come from. They are effectively buying blind.“Many of the puppies being imported are too young to have been removed from their mothers and have not been vaccinated against disease. Some puppies die in transit and many fall sick or die shortly after purchase, leaving their owners heartbroken and lumbered with huge vet bills.”

However, it is important to keep some perspective. These named five countries also have severe problems with strays and an overpopulation of unwanted pet dogs, many of which find homes with UK families through the channels of well-meaning international rescuers. The commercial route has to be used to get European rescue dogs to the UK – as generally, dogs travelling via the Pet Passport Scheme cannot be sold on or have their ownership transferred within six months of arrival. This can be demonstrated by looking at the figures for Cyprus.

 This isn’t a country known for puppy farming, yet our dog imports from Cyprus still rose significantly between 2014 and 2015 – from 48 to 2,303. In an attempt to decipher the numbers, the RSPCA has highlighted a gap in the market. No one quite knows how many puppies are sold in the UK annually, but the RSPCA estimates it to be anywhere between 700,000 and 1.9 million. By tallying up the probable numbers produced by Kennel Club registered breeders, licensed breeders, and unlicensed and hobby breeders, the UK is left with a shortfall, which is being picked up by an international network.

How much is that doggie in the window (part 2)

Supply and demand

“The huge gap between the number of puppies in demand and the number coming to market nationwide creates an opportunity for unscrupulous breeders, traders and traffickers to exploit members of the public,” reads the RSPCA report. In a typical case study, puppy dealer Aidas Goustautas was sentenced to 34 months in prison in February for a number of offences, after he was found to have sold over 120 puppies from two addresses in Peterborough via online advertisements.

The underage animals, including breeds such as the French Bulldog and Shih Tzu, were brought in from Lithuania via the Channel Tunnel. In one instance, a buyer was given a refund of £1,000 when a purchased puppy became ill and died within a week, after agreeing not to tell anyone what had happened. This shouldn’t even be an issue – puppies must be at least 15 weeks old to meet the legal criteria to be imported into the UK because of the effectiveness of the rabies vaccination, and at this age they are beyond that ‘ideal’ saleable eight- to 10-week age.

However, we are all too familiar with Defra’s inability to enforce its own laws. We have all heard the stories of falsified paperwork and the border staff unable to tell an eightweek-old puppy from a 15-week-old one, and Dogs Trust’s successful experiment bringing in a stuffed toy unnoticed. Plus, these figures don’t include the young puppies inevitably trafficked in under the Pet Passport Scheme using the same smoke-and-mirrors tactics, or indeed the poor souls boxed up, stacked and concealed in boots and foot wells…

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Fenced out

Defra’s official statement, for the record, is this: “The UK government is committed to cracking down on animal traffickers and putting a stop to the abhorrent illegal trade of puppies or abuses of the EU Pet Travel Scheme. “The UK has one of the toughest pet border checking regimes in the EU. Every pet dog travelling to Britain on an approved route has its microchip and passport checked. We also carry out additional random checks, which helps to ensure puppies are properly vaccinated and are old enough to travel. “We are working with Dogs Trust and Kent County Council to facilitate the rehoming of underage dogs abandoned in quarantine at Dover Port and Eurotunnel.”

How much is that doggie in the window? (Part 1)

Not a whole lot, actually – the margins are really made on upselling with the puppy. Dogs Today visits the neighbourhood pet shop…

Legally speaking, we are still living in a nostalgic 1950s dream world when it comes to puppies in pet shops. The way in which we can sell animals in this country was first laid to law in the Pet Animals Act of 1951, and, apart from a few insignificant wording amendments in 1983, we have done absolutely nothing to update the legislation.
But in the 65 years since, the chain of supply to bring these animals to our garden centres, department stores and local independents at an affordable price has become nothing short of a living nightmare. Over decades we have created machine-like commerciality in producing pet puppies. Margaret Thatcher often stated that her favourite song growing up was ‘(How much is) that Doggie in the Window’, which is greatly ironic, as her government paved the way for the modern puppy farming boom.

How much is that doggie in the window 2The post-war economy had initially driven commercial dog breeding in the UK, when it was cheap to set up a profitable business to provide pet dogs to an emerging middle class with a rising disposable income. But it was with the introduction of EU milk quotas in 1984 that the Welsh puppy farming bubble was created. Farmers were forced to diversify to supplement their income, and mass-producing puppies were – and still is – very easy money. We are, of course, still dealing with the ill effects of Welsh puppy farming today, and puppy farming all over the UK.

Regardless of whether each establishment is licensed or illegal, the cycle of inbred, under-socialised, puppies, and neglected, traumatised parents remains the same. As does the shop front that hides the atrocities. And now one small establishment has borne the brunt of protest against puppy farming. An online petition to Wokingham Council is calling for Linton Pet Store in Hare Hatch, Berkshire, to have its licence to sell puppies revoked. It has received over 11,000 signatures.

Rumour mill

Vikki Novelle, who started the petition after visiting the shop, told Dogs Today, “There are thousands of stories online and on the ‘comments’ section of the petition from people that have bought puppies from Linton’s, that have been sick, have ended up with behavioural issues, or even died. I have read and heard loads of stories and there have been a few cases of people defending the shop, but to be honest the huge number of negative comments outweighs the few promoting the shop.

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“We recently took to the streets in Maidenhead to get more signatures and lots of people that signed were aware of Lintons and had heard bad things about them. The few that hadn’t couldn’t believe that pet shops could still sell puppies.” Dogs Today visited Linton’s owner, Loredana Agius, and manager, Sarah, to gauge their reaction to the internet warriors. They refute that they sell sick puppies, stating that many of the incidents being circulated were related to the previous owners of the shop, and they go through all of the health and veterinary checks to comply with their licence. There is no question here that everything is above board legally, and their permanent base in a shop holds them to a much higher level of accountably and risk than the internet seller who can disappear.

The pairs do not, however, see any issue with sourcing puppies from puppy farms – which they only refer to as ‘licenced breeders’, with an emphasis on the first word that implies they think it’s a fool-proof, cruelty-free system. Loredana says she always visits breeders herself and can see the good from the bad, so we raise a reported case from the Maidenhead Advertiser in December, of a woman who bought Labrador puppy Buddy from Linton’s only last year.

She had traced his origins to try to make sense of her dog’s extreme separation anxiety, and his breeder was found to be Dylan Jones, one of the largest licensed breeders in Wales, who keeps 196 breeding bitches in metal sheds. “I’m not saying that we didn’t buy him from that guy, because I can’t deny it because I give all the details to the actual client,” says Loredana. “We are not working with that guy anymore. Not because of this [story], or because of what happened. “I’m not saying anything about Dylan, because he was very good with the dogs. Any dogs we bought from him were perfectly healthy and we never had a problem with him, and he is a licensed breeder.”

Deluded

Unwilling to comment further, Loredana instead gives an example of a breeder she is still working with. “She is a sheep farmer and is licensed with a dog [breeding] licence as well. If you go to her house and you see her animals, you would not believe it. I wouldn’t mind being a dog in her house.” But from what Loredana says, it’s clear that these dogs do not live in the house. “She’s got kennels, huge kennels, for her bitches. Her kennels have everything that you can imagine.

She’s a breeder; she’s not a disgusting breeder, though. “I think she’s got 40 bitches. She’s got five people working full-time. They’ve got land like you won’t believe. They aren’t just there to make money; they are pets of her own.” “They always put on a front to you,” admits Loredana, when she describes visiting breeders. “Sometimes you get caught up in it and sometimes you don’t.” She says she regularly admonishes her business partner for buying puppies from breeders she considers below standard, as to ‘rescue’ them and keep them. She spits venom when she talks about people who pose as caring hobby breeders. She describes running in to a man outside a vet’s with a car boot packed with around 25 Yorkshire Terrier puppies, explaining he had bought them as a ‘job lot’ from a puppy farmer to sell on. “He would show you three or four Yorkshire Terriers with one bitch – but they are nothing to do with this bitch! He just does that,” says Loredana. “And they give me all the grief?

Because I’m doing it right?” The process of achieving the third-party sale, legal or otherwise, is somewhat meaningless to the breeding dogs. When questioned about what she thinks happens to them at the end of their profitable lives, Loredana seems to think they would slot right in with people looking to rehome an older dog. Given they have likely never lived inside a home or had any prolonged human contact, this simply does not happen. After a discussion in the shop office, we visit the puppy room. It’s light, clean and airy, and its Perspex enclosures are barely stocked – only eight puppies appear for sale and the shop is licensed for 15.

The puppies themselves seem happy and healthy, frolicking in fresh newspaper, although the low price tag of £500 for the Labradors makes you wonder if the parents were fully health screened using the many breed-specific tests recommended, especially since the breeder has already taken their cut. But to the untrained eye, it’s a sweet little set-up, many aspects of which are far above the minimum standards set by law. Sarah the manager cradles a Pug- Jack Russell, and describes herself as the surrogate mother, who becomes the aunt when the puppy finds his new home. If only she would spare a thought for the dog’s actual parents, mysterious, nameless, and likely many miles away.

Up, Pup and Away (part 2)

Film credits

I had to ask about the actors, but she said she had been the most star struck when meeting Kermit. When she worked with Tom Hardy, she had been handling cats, so he hadn’t been overly interested. And poor Leonardo DiCaprio was allergic – so he had to keep well clear.

“You’re very much in the background on set, concentrating on your animals. When I started 35 years ago, thankfully I was never into heavy-handed methods. I was working with horses mainly – you have to be guided by how much they want to do. Instinctively, I always used food to encourage them and I have always worked to the principle in films that if it can’t be done nicely, we won’t do it at all. I have trained lots of cats and you have to be positive; there is no other way. You have to do a huge amount of socialisation to make sure they are comfortable on set.”

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Charlotte is someone who often takes her work home with her. She shares her life with Ralph, a Westie you may remember from the Marks and Spencer Christmas commercials. Plus, there’s a 16-year-old Jack Russell-Patterdale cross who was in Woman in Black; Mouse, a tiny Chihuahua; Dickens, a Labrador who was on Grantchester; and Mable, who is meant to be a foster dog, but will probably stay. The most recent addition is Shadow, one of the contestants on Dogs Might Fly, who graces our cover.

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Did I forget to mention her 17 cats… and the horses? She says it takes eight hours every weekend to look after everyone thoroughly. So how did Dogs Might Fly take over her already hectic life? She admits she had to turn away all her other work for almost a year.

Cat calls

“I was working on another OSF (Oxford Scientific Films) project – the Secret Life of Cats – when I got the first call. That was two years ago. I was asked the very odd question, ‘Could a dog fly a plane?’ and I replied, ‘I don’t see why not.’ There followed many meetings with the series producer, Caroline Hawkins, where the flight plan was agreed. “Initially, I thought it would come to nothing – if we did it properly, who would fund this project? It would cost a fortune. It would need a huge investment in time. I have to say, it was an amazing team. I’ve worked on so many TV and film projects, but this was a dream to work on. “I’d go as far as saying this is probably the best dog TV show ever filmed anywhere in the world.”

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The decision was made fairly early on to cast the 12 contestants from rescues, to show the world how amazing these dogs can be. “We scouted for dogs in rescues all over the country – we had some practical restrictions on size, as the dogs needed to be able to reach the instruments. And we wanted fairly young dogs that were healthy, as we couldn’t risk a dog having HD in the middle of filming.

We worked with lots of smaller rescues, as we thought they’d benefit from the exposure. We needed confident dogs that would be sociable with others, as we wouldn’t have the time to correct those problems. They also needed to be dogs that were very food- or toy-motivated. “The 12 dogs selected then moved into a beautiful house in Sussex for the next 10 weeks, where they would have round-the-clock vet supervision and experience intensive training and bonding to help them do their best in the many tests that lay ahead.

Ultimately, only three dogs would be chosen to go through to Flight School. “Many of the cognition tests you will be able to try at home and I am sure they will make people think about their dogs in new ways. The dogs offered up some amazing behaviours. They really did shine when out of the rescue environment. It shows how amazing rescue dogs can be. “All the dogs ended up getting brilliant new homes – everyone fell in love with them. Most ended up being taken home by the cast and crew or their friends. One dog had already attracted an owner in rescue and the new owner decided to wait and allow their dog the chance to take part in the challenge before joining them. We knew the dogs so well by the end of the show that we were able to totally match them into the right homes.

Some of the trainers

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The perfect 10

“There were a lot of tears when we got to the end of the 10 weeks; we’d all bonded and even though we knew the dogs were off to live wonderful lives, we were going to miss them.

“I am so proud of our 12 dogs, to see them progress. The selection was gently done. If a dog wasn’t happy around engine noise, for example, that was the end of their journey, and we didn’t push them beyond their capabilities. We used a cherry picker to see how they’d react to the sensation of being lifted up; if they didn’t like the wobbly feeling – we’d stop. “I normally talk myself out of jobs, as there are so many things I won’t ever do with animals, but this production team really listened and reacted to every concern. There are so many world firsts. Every week there are new tasks leading up to the final.” You’ll have to watch the show to see if Stanley was right in predicting that you can’t teach a dog to fly. But I am already hoping they do a second series, but what could the next challenge be? Talking? That would be good – then we can ask them what they want to do in the third series!

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Have Sky cracked it? Have they made the first mainstream doggie TV show that isn’t aversive? All will no doubt be revealed when the viewing figures are in. Getting a dog to fly a real plane – not a simulator – would appear to add the element of danger and surprise that the public seems to desire these days. Sky’s new Sunday prime-time show will have already started by the time you read this, but as it’s a series of six hour-long shows, even if you haven’t watched the first couple of programmes yet, I hope you’ll sniff them out on catch-up after reading this. I suspect the media will be all over this story.

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One newspaper has already asked the RSPCA to comment, and it has refused. Another journalist asked Stanley Coren, American dog intelligence expert, for his opinion. He said, “I do consider dogs to be intelligent, with the average dog having a mental capacity equivalent to a two-and-a-half-year-old child, and the super dogs (those in the top 20 per cent of canine intelligence) perhaps reaching the equivalence of a human three-year-old. “Given that we would not expect a human three-year- old to be able to fly a plane, I would not expect that a dog could do so either.”

Grounded

So Stanley doesn’t think this idea has wings. Perhaps the producers should have rung him up before they spent all that money making this series. But who could teach a dog to fly? And how would they do it? I wanted to know who was Oxford Scientific Films’ dream team. Do you remember that amazing New Zealand show that trained dogs to drive cars? Mark Vett was the animal psychologist who made that happen. He came to Dogs Might Fly on another high; he’d just trained an octopus to take a photo! And in his spare time he’s worked on The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Last Samurai. Another scientist you’ll probably have seen on other dog documentaries is Professor Adam Miklósi, the leader of the Department of Ethology at Eötvös University, Hungary.

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He is also the co-founder and leader of the Family Dog Project, which studies how dogs develop attachments to us, communicate with us and learn from us, from neural and genetic angles. ‘Our’ Victoria Stilwell was flown in from America, and Charlotte Wilde stepped into the limelight after almost a lifetime of training animals for film and TV. I caught up with Charlotte just before the series started to air. I was intrigued about how she first got into film work with animals. “I fell into it, really. The stables I used to work at when I was a kid was run by a lady who often worked on films, and I got roped in to help take the dogs, pigeons, horses and cats on set.

It was exciting, but back then it was very much animal wrangling rather than training. “I had to get a proper job to pay for my horses, but after my son was born, I thought I’d give animal training a go full time. I’ve since worked with every director from Spielberg to Scorsese.” Film credits I asked her to recall some of the biggest films she’d worked on and she struggled to catalogue them! “Warhorse, Pirates of the Caribbean, some of the Harry Potters, Inception… 102 almatians was probably the most challenging…”