Fickle owners and affluence make a dog's life deeply hairy

Where have all the Rottweilers gone? Graham Ball on victims of pet fads
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The pedigree pet is no longer a pampered pooch. The dogs which were once the elite of the canine world are now as likely as mongrels to end up abandoned.

Increasing affluence has also fostered a new breed of dog owner who regards his animal as a four-legged fashion accessory. These designer dogs often experience a high rejection rate.

"Where are all the rottweilers today? A few years ago every street seemed to have one, now they are completely out of fashion," says Beverley Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today.

"The new fad breeds include huskies and Japanese akitas. The demand appears to be for any dog that resembles a wolf. In fact some dealers are selling wolf-hybrids, wolves that are crossed with dogs, and people are paying up pounds 500 each for them.

"It would be a lot healthier if a dog like the King Charles spaniel became a fad. They at least have been bred as a pet for generations. People buying wolf hybrids as a guard dog are in for a disappointment and huskies cannot sensibly be kept in towns and on housing estates."

Ultimately, says Ms Cuddy, "it really is time we got the dog out of the pet shop."

Those involved in the care of stray dogs say that, paradoxically, growing prosperity has led to greater discarding of animals.

"It seems that as soon as people get some money in their pockets they want a pet," says Lisa Tooley of the National Canine Defence League (NCDL). "Dogs have become a commodity - you can literally dial-a-dog as easily as ordering a pizza.

"The trouble is that no matter how kind-hearted their original intentions, many find that they can not balance their lifestyle with the responsibility dog-owning entails.

"I am afraid that what we are seeing is the downside of the consumer society," she adds.

Last year there was a 13 per cent increase in the number of stray and abandoned dogs on Britain's streets. A survey of local authorities has revealed that together they handled 106,000 cast-offs. And the NCDL, which commissioned the survey, estimates that 17,000 of them were needlessly destroyed.

The increase in the numbers of discarded dogs represents a sharp departure from the trend. Every year that Britain's economy was in recession the number of abandoned dogs fell.

"Our flourishing economy does seem to be bad for dogs. With more disposable income we take more holidays, move house more frequently, buy new furniture and become more house-proud" says Beverley Cuddy.

"Another aspect of the problem is that it has never been easier to acquire a dog. Dealers and breeders are open long hours and all day Sunday, they take credit cards and it becomes all too easy to make an impulse purchase.

"Too many families end up with totally unsuitable dogs," she says. "Many breeds have been developed for special working purposes and were never meant to be pets."

The NCDL survey revealed that some parts of the country take less care of their dogs than others. Northern Ireland , for example, has one stray dog for every 100 people and there is one deserted dog for every 250 of the population in the North-east.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the London area has the lowest ratio of stray dogs to the community , with one for every 2000.

But even there the problem is growing. Holidays are often to blame. "We have noticed a seasonal variation and the summer months are now among our busiest" says Shirley Piotrowski, of Battersea Dogs Home.

"People go on holiday and they do not want the additional expense of kennel fees, or else they farm their pets out to people who are not equipped to handle them"

The Battersea Dogs Home, a 137-year-old charity, manages to find new owners for as many as 94 per cent of the strays that it takes in.

"Some people believe that we put dogs down if we can not find a home for them but this is a myth," says Mrs Piotrowski. "We have no policy of destroying animals. We had one dog, a greyhound, with us for two years before he found a home. We will only put a dog down if it very old or infirm."

Would-be dog owners visiting Battersea follow a strict induction process. The first step involves the viewing of a video that high-lights all the drawbacks of keeping a dog. The applicants are then interviewed and assessed by the staff before touring the kennels. Once they choose a dog they are left alone together is a special room to gauge their mutual compatibility.

"We ensure that the right dog goes to the right home. For example, we will not let a Jack Russell go to a home where they have not had Jack Russells before", she says.

"People assume that with a Jack Russell they are getting a small dog and are often appalled when it starts behaving in a big dog fashion."

Mrs Piotrowski also detects a change among her charges. "Once, pretty well all the dogs here were mongrels. They still make up the majority but in recent years pedigree breeds have been turning up with greater frequency. I think the owners believe that a pedigree dog will be less trouble somehow or better behaved than mixed breeds but a dog is a dog no matter how aristocratic his background."

t Battersea Dogs Home is holding its third annual reunion for owners and their pets in Battersea Park , south-west London, from 11am this morning. A thousand dogs are expected to attend the day-long event which will feature competitions, side shows and family entertainments.