Thursday 9 November 2023

Do people care more for dogs or cats? Recent research puts this age-old question into focus


It’s a debate as old as time – dogs versus cats – and how much their owners care for them.

Are people really either a ‘dog’ or cat’ person? Do they have to be different, and must they be one or the other?

Now new research published in Psychology Today sheds light on owners’ attitudes and devotion to their beloved companions, investigating whether dog or cat owners have a stronger emotional attachment for their respective pets.

A difficult thing to determine, you would think, as it would be based on loyalty, devotion and love for the companion animal. However the study quantified it by asking how much an owner would be prepared to spend on their dog or cat on life-saving veterinary care, should it be needed.

Owners, were asked “if your pet had a life-threatening problem and could be saved by a medical procedure, what would you be willing to pay for treatment?’. 

The amount dog owners were prepared to spend was approximately double that of cat-owners on cats!

However, certain factors need to be considered...

For example, dogs, on average, are taken to the vet twice as often as cats, and are more likely to receive preventative care such as vaccinations and dental treatment. This could show that dog owners are more used to the financial demands of ownership, and therefore more willing to accept that they will pay more for an emergency medical procedure.

Many owners of both dogs and cats have medical insurance, and this is also likely to affect their answer.

Dogs can also be ‘high maintenance’, with owners willing to pay for regular grooming and in some cases day care for walking or drop in visits for their dog. Cats, on the other hand, are usually more ‘low maintenance’, can be groomed by the owner or groom themselves, and being more independent, can be left without company for longer periods.

Whilst the findings are interesting, it is hard to accept that simply because dog owners are willing to spend more on emergency care, it means they are more devoted to their animal companion.

Many cat owners are utterly devoted to their pets, and will do whatever is necessary for them if needed. As a lifelong cat owner, I can certainly vouch for this. The bond that a cat and its owner has is every bit as special as dog and owner. Cats are sometimes more selective about who they give affection to, so to be ‘chosen’ by a cat is indeed special. Cat owners are more likely to have more than one pet, too.

Many people have both cats and dogs (or have owned both but not simultaneously) and love them equally. Those who have both would be unlikely to prioritise one over the other, as they are all part of the family.

So, whilst the research produced interesting findings, it is difficult to quantify by money alone how devoted owners are to their animals. The bond between any good owner and companion, no matter what species or breed, is priceless.

Thursday 28 September 2023

Greyhound racing - dogs deserve better than to be put at risk in the name of 'sport'

A night at the dogs… a traditional evening of eating, drinking, maybe a little wager on a winner, watching excited greyhounds chase round a track after an artificial prey that they never catch.

Fun? Or cruel, exploitative and potentially fatal for the Greyhounds?

There are only 10 countries in the world where Greyhound racing takes place legally, and four of those are in the UK. It is a minority interest activity, with research showing that 91% of the British public don’t follow or participate in Greyhound racing (source YouGov poll).

So it would seem that only a few people enjoy a ‘sport’ that causes thousands of injuries to the dogs that are bred for racing and have no choice but to participate (22,284 from 2018 to 2022). Sadly there are many fatalities too: in fact, 2,392 in the same time period. The average age of a racing Greyhound is 2-3 years.

Greyhounds are sighthounds – a type of hound with amazing vision, bred to run fast and with a hunting instinct, so it would seem that they are naturally adapted to racing. However, there is nothing natural about running on a curved track at speed, in close proximity to up to five other dogs. The conditions are inherently dangerous, as running on a curve puts unnecessary pressure on their bodies meaning a high risk of injury to their left fore-leg and right hind-leg. With the curve of the track and the uneven forces on their bodies as they run at up to 45mph, the dogs have no option but to slow down or run wider on bends, and this can cause fatal collisions to happen. A study in New Zealand found that 68% of injuries and 75% of fatalities occurred on or approaching the first bend of the track. Some tracks have moved to using sand instead of grass to increase running speed even more.

Greyhounds enjoying energetic play

Greyhounds are by nature gentle and make good family pets when correctly socialised. However, concerns remain around the conditions that racing Greyhounds are kept in from puppyhood. Their kennelling, care standards, lack of socialisation and exercise may all be inadequate. Dogs are only suitable to race for a limited time, then as they age they became superfluous and require rehoming, rehabilitation and medical treatment. Many do not receive this and are inhumanely destroyed.

It would be impractical to ban or close down the industry overnight as thousands of Greyhounds would become homeless and may be unnecessarily euthanised. However, charities such as the Blue Cross are campaigning to bring Greyhound racing to an end over a five year period, so that dog welfare organisations can support the requirement to find Greyhounds suitable loving homes and owners, where they can be safely rehabilitated.

Organisations such as Seaside Greyhounds already exist. It helps retired greyhounds to be re-homed into suitable loving environments with patient owners who can offer them the chance to socialise and live out their retirement happily.

Let’s hope that legislation changes for the better, to give Greyhounds better lives in the future, without fear of injury in the name of sport.

Thursday 31 August 2023

Beagles used in animal testing experience freedom for the first time

Sadly, many animals are still used in laboratory testing across the world, never experiencing freedom or the love of owners in a domestic setting. 

Photo credit © Beagle Freedom Project UK

However for seven lucky Beagles, life is about to change for the better. They were rescued from a European testing centre by Beagle Freedom Project UK, and have been taken to start a new life at The Retreat Animal Rescue Sanctuary in Kent.

Photo credit © itv News/Beagle Freedom Project UK

Heart-warming footage appeared on the UK news channel itvX of the Beagles (pictured above) shortly after they arrived at the Sanctuary. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like for them to see the sky and sunshine for the very first time: to feel grass under their paws, and have kind and compassionate people to care for them.  Some of the dogs were born in the testing facility and spent their entire lives there until their rescue.

In the group of seven rescued dogs, five are male and two female. Three of the males, Jonesy, Davey and Ringo, are 11 years old and so have spent a large part of their lives in the laboratory. 

They were checked by vets outdoors, as taking them back into a clinical environment could be stressful for them. The rescuers at the Beagle Freedom Project UK described them as “new-borns in adult bodies” as they have never been properly socialised, learned to react to other dogs, or respond to cues to walk on a lead. They also suffer from PTSD.

Foster carers, carefully selected for their patience and skills, will be identified to eventually help the dogs to adapt to their new way of life.

Beagle Freedom Project UK offer full support throughout the fostering process, and funds all veterinary visits. It also look for fosterers to have a ‘normal’ well-adjusted dog in the home already, as this helps with the transition and teaches the Beagle how to ‘be a dog!’

All of the dogs will go through vet checks and receive any treatment they need. They appear to be generally in good health, despite their confinement in laboratories, however some have dental problems and dermatitis, and a few have ruptured cruciate ligaments, for which they will receive veterinary treatment where needed.

One of the rescued Beagles enjoying freedom. Photo credit © Beagle Freedom Project UK

Beagle Freedom Project is part of a worldwide organisation that rescues and re-homes animals used in experimental research: since 2010 it has liberated thousands of animals. It campaigns to end their abuse and has received endorsement from UK-based celebrities including Will Young, Graham Norton and Deborah Meaden. Find out more about the Project’s work here.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex even adopted a Beagle called Momma Mia from the US-based arm of the organisation. Momma Mia was rescued from a research facility in Virginia, but now lives with the VIP couple in California!

Momma Mia, rescued by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex photo © Beagle Freedom Project UK

Beagles are often chosen for animal testing as they have docile natures. Sadly, whilst animal testing continues, the role of the rescue and campaigning organisations like Beagle Freedom Project is key in increasing awareness, and helping to save innocent animals like these Beagles, and give them the chance to experience freedom to live as they should.

There are many ways to help the Beagle Freedom Project, you can find out more on its website:

Thursday 6 July 2023

Pet food banks - helping those struggling to feed their animals


Most people have been affected by the increasing cost of living in the last couple of years. With interest rate rises, price increases on essentials such as food and heating, and having to make income stretch further than ever, it is a challenging time for many.

Sadly, this includes pet owners, who may struggle to feed and care for their animals as the cost of pet food increases, and are having to make tough decisions.Feeding themselves, their family and their pets can be difficult. Ultimately it can lead to heartbreaking choices, with pets being abandoned or taken to rehoming centres, simply because there isn’t the money for pet food. 

However, some animal charities and pet food retailers have stepped in to help. 

Pet food banks are being established nationally as drop-in centres where people can pick up supplies of donated food, equipment, and other essentials. 
By searching online for ‘pet food banks near me’ local collection points can be found in your area. The RSPCA, Dogs Trust, Blue Cross and Animal Friends are amongst many charities that have set up drop-in centres for concerned owners, who don’t need to provide proof of any benefits claimed or vouchers; they can simply visit to collect what they need.

Some of these organisations have partnered with large supermarket chains, and there are donation points near the tills where customers can leave pet food to be collected and distributed to local rehoming centres and pet food banks.

A Blue Cross charity pet food bank (c) image thanks to Blue Cross

Local to us here at Hubble & Hattie in Dorset charity Dorset Dogs have 23 drop-off points for food donations across the county, and can even arrange to collect! 
Dorset Dogs also has seven dog food banks – a lifeline for local dogs and owners in difficult times. 

Thanks to all those charities helping to keep pets and owners together by providing much-needed food!

Thursday 4 May 2023

Emotional support animals - a trusted friend providing companionship and comfort

All animal lovers know how well a beloved pet can ‘tune in’ to our moods, sensing when we are unhappy, upset or stressed and offering reassuring snuggles and warmth. However, more recently, animals have been more formally recognised as being able to provide a key therapeutic role in helping people with a mental health or psychiatric disability. They are known as ‘Emotional Support Animals’ (ESAs).

The comfort provided by an emotional support dog

An emotional support animal is first and foremost a companion animal, not a service animal. However, in some countries, for example the USA, they have a legally recognised status, whilst in the UK they currently do not. This means, for example, that some US airlines are more lenient about having a support animal onboard a flight, whilst in the UK most don’t allow it. The majority of ESAs are dogs, but other animals can fulfil the role, too, including cats and other small animals.

The role of an ESA is distinctly different to that of a ‘service animal,’ and providing emotional support and companionship to someone with mental health or emotional needs is their key role. Service dogs generally require extensive training to do specific tasks for someone with physical or mental needs. The difference is that, as an ESA, just the animal’s presence helps the person to cope. Whilst the value of the comfort that an emotional support animal provides cannot be denied, it’s important to remember that the welfare of the creature should not be overlooked. Most people have a great bond with their animal(s) and treat them with respect, but there have been examples quoted in the media that throw into question whether the animal in the role of ESA was in a stressful situation. A peacock was denied a seat on a US flight although it was said to be an ESA, and in the UK an ‘emotional support’ cat was banned from a supermarket when accompanying its autistic owner. Not all creatures are happy in the company of strangers, and in busy and unfamiliar situations.

Cats can ‘tune in’ to emotions and provide comfort

A valuable role in emotional support

Several studies have shown that animals help to bring health benefits to humans. Through companionship, exercise, comfort and caring for another being, all have proved to lower blood pressure and increase the hormone levels associated with bonding. Research by the University of Toledo paired eleven people with mental illness with a rescue dog or cat, and results showed an improvement in their mental wellbeing. There is certainly more work to be done in this interesting area, but it does appear to confirm what animal lovers have always known: that the love and companionship of a companion animal is indeed therapeutic and life-enhancing, as long as the animal’s needs are respected, too.

Thursday 9 March 2023

Dogs help to find earthquake survivors, and animals rescued by charities

No one can fail to be moved by the scenes in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes that hit      

Turkey and Syria last month. Sadly, the number of those who lost their lives has been high in 

both countries, and the the damage to buildings and infrastructure huge.

In the following days, countries around the world rallied to send resources and expertise 

in search and rescue to help find survivors.

(c) Twitter M_Ebrard  One of the Mexican dogs sent to hlp in Turkey

International search and rescue dog teams help find survivors

Mexico sent 16 experienced search and rescue dogs to Turkey. The country is itself prone 

to earthquakes and during one in 2017 the dogs saved many lives and won the hearts  of Mexicans.  

A yellow Lab called Frida was credited with saving 12 lives across Mexico, and other quake sites in 

Haiti, Guatemala and Ecuador.

Dog teams and handlers were also sent from Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, 

Libya, Poland, Switzerland, the UK and the US. If a dog detects signs of life, debris often has to 

be moved away very carefully and quietly, due to the risk of collapse and danger to those searching.

The dogs are highly trained to sniff out survivors, and can differentiate between them 

and bodies, enabling the prioritisation of rescue of any people still alive in the rubble.

Amazing stories of survivors being rescued from collapsed buildings after many days have emerged, 

thanks to the help of the dedicated rescue teams and their dogs.

(c) Twitter M_Ebrard  Search dogs and thier handlers waiting to board a plane to Turkey from Mexico

Charities help rescue animals from the quake devastation

Not only people but animals have been rescued from collapsed buildings, sometimes weeks after the 

earthquake. Charities such as Ernesto's in Syria, the Humane Society International (HSI) are 

still rescuing both domestic pets separated from owners or sadly orphaned by the quake, and 

farm animals found wandering or injured.

(c) HSI/facebook. Humane Society International worker rescuing a dog from the devastation

Amazingly, a dog was found alive in the rubble 23 days after the earthquake in Turkey (pictured 

below), and a horse was also rescued, having survived after 21 days under rubble.

In Syria, the team from Ernesto's, an animal rescue charity, have been scouring the damaged towns

and villages for animals who need help. They either provide medication and food onsite or take 

abandoned or orphaned pets back to their sanctuary where they can offer them a safe and happy life,

along with many other rescued cats, dogs and farm animals.

Amidst the heart-breaking loss of life, it is heartening to see that animals are both helping to 

save lives, and themselves being rescued by caring people.


Members of the team from Ernesto's helping a young cat after the earthquake

Below, the dog found alive in Turkey 23 days after the earthquake (screenshot from film footage)

Thursday 26 January 2023

Amazing medical alert and assistance dogs - trained to save lives

Animal lovers already know that many creatures, including dogs, have the power to calm and de-stress humans, and they can often sense our moods. But some can do something even more amazing. 

With training, they can detect a potential medical episode or emergency before it begins, giving enough time to alert the person to take preventative action. They can also be trained to provide valuable support to those requiring physical or emotional assistance.

There are different types of training depending on what type of assistance the dog will provide. 
Broadly, these are the three types of support dog:

Assistance dogs provide support for various conditions, including Autism, where they are trained to
provide a sense of safety and reduce stress in social environments. Below, you can read about the rigorous process for training dogs to ultimately become assistance dogs, and how they help to keep their owner safe.

Medical alert dogs are trained to provide a reliable alert for those who experience potentially dangerous medical conditions, such as epileptic seizures, for example. Some can even detect various types of cancers from a urine sample.

Disability assistance dogs help people with physical limitations and disabilities, as they are trained to
perform specific tasks.
Training an assistance dog can take up to two and a half years, and most animals are acquired and trained by special charities that rely on donations.
In the UK, Helpful Hounds, Support Dogs, and Medical Detection Dogs are all charities that provide
training and support for the identification and training of dogs, and for their future owners.

The journey to becoming an assistance dog

Puppies destined to become assistance dogs are identified at a very young age. Pups need to be sociable and confident, as well as enjoy human interaction. They must also be healthy and active.
Some charities have volunteer breed stock holders who own special breeding females whose pups are temperamentally suited to assistance. They live with a volunteer family at home, and are mainly
Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Working Cocker Spaniels, as these breeds are well suited because they love to carry and retrieve, and are happy to work with people.

Puppies are trained from a young age to become an assistance dog

Aged around 8 weeks, the puppy is placed with a volunteer puppy socialiser who looks after him for the next 18 months. As well as the usual responsibilities of looking after a growing puppy, the socialiser begins to develop the pup's training. They are socialised, are acclimatised to meeting different people, and learn to become comfortable in different environments.

At around 14-18 months of age the youngsters move to a training centre, where they begin to learn tasks such as walking next to a wheelchair, and picking up dropped items and handing them back. It is here that the matching process with a potential owner begins. The dogs get plenty of 'downtime' where, just like any dog, they can play, run and interact with other dogs.

During advanced training the dog will learn to meet the specific needs of the person for whom he'll
provide support, and also learn to feel comfortable with that person. He or she needs to learn that
mobility aids are part of the owner's needs, to retrieve items on command, to provide an alert if the
owner requires it, and help with, for example, dressing or getting up.

Some dogs help support children with Autism, and learn how to distract the child during behaviour that a parent wants to interrupt, helping the child to focus and stay calm in a challenging environment.

There is ongoing support through a transition period of settling into a routine with the new owner, to help to develop this lifelong partnership.

Image (c) Medical Detection Dogs

Dogs who will be used for medical detection are trained to employ their incredible sense of smell to
identify minute changes that indicate a particular medical episode (for example an epileptic fit or a
diabetic coma) is imminent. By alerting the owner, he or she can take preventative action to avert danger.
Again, long and specialist training is required to ensure that the dog's scenting skill is accurate, and that mutual trust exists between dog and owner.

Service dogs come in all shapes and sizes

All of these dogs are highly skilled in specialist areas, using their amazing senses to support people, and providing valuable help as well as being much loved and loyal companions.