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During stressful lockdowns, canine companions can have a positive impact on physical and mental health

During stressful lockdowns, canine companions can have a positive impact on physical and mental health

Credit: Unsplash

4 min read

Having a dog and looking after it responsibly can be such a benefit to both us and our canine friends.

As an MP who is a veterinary surgeon, the only one in the House of Commons, I am passionate about animal health and welfare.

With January being national ‘walk your dog’ month I would like to highlight three areas: the challenges we face in encouraging responsible pet ownership, clamping down on illegal pet smuggling and understanding how pets can have a positive impact on physical and mental health.

A major issue in the welfare of dogs and puppies is what is known as ‘puppy smuggling.’

Sadly, every year many puppies and indeed adult dogs, some pregnant, are illegally imported into the UK for the puppies to then be sold via online adverts to unsuspecting dog lovers, having been transported thousands of miles across Europe in often cruel conditions.

Many suffer significant health problems and/or lifelong behavioural challenges, and some don’t survive, leaving their buyers helpless and heartbroken – as well as out of pocket.

During stressful lockdowns, when we have restrictions on our usual freedoms, having a pet as a companion can really help in fighting off feelings of isolation or separation.

The Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, on which I sit, is actively investigating this important issue and had an evidence session before Christmas on the horrifying consequences of this illegal trade.

We have also just launched a new inquiry into the movement of animals across borders.

I was pleased to join the Dogs Trusts ‘Puppy Smuggling Taskforce’ calling on the Government to stop the illegal importation of puppies into the UK.

The end of the transition period has created new opportunities for cracking down on pet smuggling and improving the health and welfare status of transported animals and animals in the UK.  

I am pleased that Government Ministers are considering a range of options to help with this.

The recent lockdowns have seen a surge in the demand for dogs, as people are spending more time at home.

I would urge anyone who is thinking about buying a dog to really do their research before buying a puppy advertised for sale online, as it’s all too easy to be tricked into buying a dog that has been illegally smuggled into the country or bred in unacceptable conditions.

There is a really helpful Government ‘Petfished’ campaign that can offer advice to folk looking for a new pet.

Public awareness of what puppy smuggling is and how we can spot the abhorrent practice is a keystone in reducing its profitability. On an allied point, I was deeply shocked about the proposed BBC Three show ‘Will My Puppies Make Me Rich?’.

The programme title alone suggests puppies can be seen as a commodity for profit. If profit is seen as the key factor in dog ownership it all too often means that the welfare of the dog slips dangerously down the list of priorities.

Dr Neil Hudson MP and Juno

I joined in a cross-party letter to the BBC Director General urging the BBC to reconsider going ahead with this programme: they would be better commissioning a show highlighting the animal welfare issues related to pet smuggling and promoting responsible pet ownership.

Responsible pet ownership brings joy to huge numbers of pets and owners across the country. Making sure you take your pet to the vet for health checks, to be vaccinated and for deworming, and other preventative treatments, are simple but important steps.

The UK really is a nation of pet lovers and dog walking can have a hugely positive impact on physical and mental health, something which I can personally vouch for; walking my dog Juno is so important to me (and her!).

During stressful lockdowns, when we have restrictions on our usual freedoms, having a pet as a companion can really help in fighting off feelings of isolation or separation.

This is a problem that is acutely felt in rural constituencies such as mine in Penrith and The Border.

Having a dog and looking after it responsibly can be such a benefit to both us and our canine friends.

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Connecting Communities

Connecting Communities is an initiative aimed at empowering and strengthening community ties across the UK. Launched in partnership with The National Lottery, it aims to promote dialogue and support Parliamentarians working to nurture a more connected society.

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