They ship ’em out and they ship ’em back in again

Fitzpatrick gives me deep concerns

I realise that to challenge the work of self-appointed “Super Vet” Noel Fitzpatrick is on a par with dissing Mother Theresa and casting dark shadows over the memory of the Queen Mother, but I must because I have so many deep concerns about his contribution to dog health and welfare.

His latest plan is a week long live broadcast from Newcastle Dogs and Cats Home during which they hope to find homes “for all the pets” in that shelter. Who could argue with that? Well I wouldn’t if it’s a series of programmes designed to highlight the tremendous work that goes on in dog rescue up and down the country year in year out. Work done by and large by an army of unpaid volunteers. For example, the breed clubs as recognised by the Kennel Club, manage to rehome in the region of 10,000 dogs annually, all on a voluntary and unsung basis. That’s a similar number to those rehomed by the Dogs Trust (but without the 10 salaries over £60k, and 5 salaries over £100k and without the advantage of a £98 million plus budget).

Easy-come easy-go pets

The notion of clearing a shelter of all its residents by finding them permanent and loving homes is immensely attractive, but loses it gloss when you realise that the sooner that shelter clears the sooner it will be replete once again with a full house of unwanted animals. The reason for this is that in the UK we have somehow created an easy-come easy-go attitude to getting pets. And we should be ashamed of this.

I find Channel 4’s interview with the show’s presenters Noel Fitzpatrick and Steve Jones deeply troubling. For instance, Fitzpatrick says:

“My job is to act as a messenger for societal responsibility, to inspire families of all ages across the United Kingdom that one small gesture, which is to bring an animal into your family, not only will bring your family fulfilment, love and hope; but also speak to a wider picture of what puts the ‘great’ in Great Britain.”

Is it me? Or do others wonder whether he feels he is the Archangel Gabriel or something? The signs of a god-complex aside, what is of more concern is the idea that getting a rescue pet is “one small gesture” – er no it isn’t. It is a big and serious commitment. He makes no mention whatsoever of the welfare needs of the animal and the demands this makes on family life over a lifetime.

Millions of pets suffer in silence

Fitzpatrick goes on to say:

“We are fortunate that on the whole we are a nation of people who really do take moral responsibility for animals, in a way that is exemplary on the global stage.”

Again, I believe his assumption is wrong. I feel that the UK is a little deluded about its standards of animal welfare and a look at the excellent annual report from PDSA makes for very sobering reading. By and large as a nation we enter into pet ownership not having a clue!! PDSA concludes “millions of pets suffer in silence” – millions!!

The Steve Jones part of the interview offers no reassurances. Steve says

“We’re live for an hour, we’re going to ship as many of these glorious rescue animals as possible.”

Ship?

Oh yes that would be good – ship them all out, then ship a whole load more in. Stemming the problematic culture around rescue pets demands much more serious thinking and much more dedication, than either Jones or Fitzpatrick have the time or ability for. Jones continues:

“You might think, ‘I can’t have a dog because of x,y and z’, but there still might be a specific type of dog that could be suitable to you: a dog that doesn’t need human attention all day long, that you are okay to leave in your house for a few hours”

This is a prescription for more dysfunctional dog ownership not a recipe for “and they lived happy ever after”. Dogs do not come with batteries that can be switched on and off at the family’s convenience.

Well paid bromance

For Jones pet ownership is about having a heart and “cuddling something cute and furry” – seriously! Charities like the PDSA and RSPCA are having to invest millions into awareness campaigns because the nations pets are so poorly looked after.

But one of my biggest objections to what Jones has to say is this about “Super Vet”

“Personally, I think he’s a National Treasure. This guy is doing stuff at his practice in Godalming that people come from all over the world to see. Things that baffle his contemporaries, if he has any. People bring animals from all over the world for him to help. He’s just a marvel”

Things that baffle his contemporaries if – he – has -any!!! From this one might conclude that the nation’s veterinary profession is one left in the dark ages with no centres of excellence other than those in GU7 and GU2, and all other specialists are bumbling incompetents. This is such a travesty of a view I don’t know where to begin. Fitzpatrick does love dissing his profession whenever he can, whether it is jibes about the quality of the X-rays he receives from other practices, or the claims he makes that he is single-handedly advancing veterinary medicine on our behalf. There is more than a touch of narcissism here. It simply is not true. There are many world class centres of excellence in this country. There are dozens and dozens of veterinary specialists working tirelessly to advance veterinary science and they do it without the need for national plaudits and braggable viewing figures.

We learnt recently didn’t we, of the exorbitant salaries and fees earned by people on television. Fitzpatrick is not doing this week of broadcasts for free. Nor will he, I can guarantee, miss an opportunity to advertise his services during it. No doubt the “stories” they feature will be heart-breaking and heart lifting in equal measure. That is because their work relies on emotional manipulation (as does all good storytelling). No doubt they will raise awareness of the plight of this tiny number of abandoned animals. But they will do very little to address the root cause of our dysfunctional pet owning habits.

A strong narrative within the week will undoubtedly be the bromance between Fitzpatrick and Jones; Fitzpatrick describes Jones as a “volcanic eruption of enthusiasm” (indeed, for matters he knows absolutely nothing about) and Jones described Fitzpatrick as a “legitimate genius” whatever one of those is. By all means watch it, if for nothing else than the smug satisfaction of two guys earning shed loads of money by doing something “worthy” like rehoming cute animals (and believe me they will have worked hard to locate the cute ones in the system). Watch it to see all the corporates desperate to latch on to this appealing scenario such as Pet Plan (themselves not the knights in shining armour for dog welfare they claim to be) who are said to be sponsoring it, and there will be others paying large amounts of their marketing budget for ads during the commercial breaks.

Watch it by all means, but do so please, in the knowledge that this is just another example of how our culture commodifies rescue animals, and exploits them for commercial gain. Revenues, of Channel 4, Fitzpatrick, Jones, Blast Films, will be well fuelled by this project but only a very few animals will ultimately benefit.

 

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Philippa Robinson

Philippa Robinson

Philippa’s career as a management and training consultant spans thirty years. Her clients have included HSBC, Royal Mail, Kodak Manufacturing and Swiss Re Insurance as well as a large number of smaller commercial enterprises. She attained a Masters in Human Resource Management with Distinction from Sheffield Business School in 2012 where she was the recipient of the SIG Prize for Excellence. She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

10 thoughts on “They ship ’em out and they ship ’em back in again

  1. What a brilliant article, there I was thinking I was the only one sceptical of this vets path to saint hood !!!

  2. Hi,
    I don’t have a TV so am not familiar with the programs. I do have 1 client that has been to him on referral but nothing more came out of it than I had already spotted.I do dislike these programs that influence people into rescuing dogs without too much thought. The exception is Nando Brown who works with the dogs to help them be adopted. His Rescue dog to Super dog involved a lot of work.
    I did have 2 enquiries from people that had watched this program and took on rescue dogs for similar reasons but the Rescue centre involve made certain that the situation was the right one with lots of visits prior to adoption and home visits once adopted, The people are still seeing me and everything is going well.

  3. Anyone that helps any animal find a loving home should be thanked! This article is a complete disgrace!!!! All the animals in rescue have strict adoption procedures, some way too strict but like that for a dam good reason!!!! To talk about noël this way is shocking! I hope karma comes after you with a vengeance!!!!!

    1. I’m afraid I really don’t share your confidence in the rescue industry. ADCH, for instance has been established since the late eighties, yet even now it is an organisation that does not collect vital management information about the sector it is meant to be supporting. How can good decisions be made without that data? They cannot answer even some basic questions such as how many dogs go through the rescue system?, what is the median length of time dogs are held in the homes?, what is the return rate of dogs rehomed? What are the trends in why dogs are relinquished?etc. etc. Even how they police their code of practice is unclear.

      As I stated at the beginning of the piece, I realise my views on Noel Fitzpatrick will be unpopular, however I hold them sincerely and feel they are justified. As for your final remark, all I can say is the love espoused by Fitzpatrick is clearly not yet practiced by all his fans.

  4. I don’t watch him every week or anything (too busy ) but some of the operations I’ve seen have been amazing like the deerhound with the broken neck. Blew me away, don’t know any other vet that would have taken the risk and did what he did…mind boggling stuff. Don’t know what he’s like as a person or to work for but anybody who can help the pressure on rescues and educate the public is welcome and wether it’s his charisma or talent the public love him.

  5. You wrote quite a list of complaints before the show even aired. That is impressive. If you’d bothered to watch the show, you would have seen that each shelter is putting adopters through the same screening process as they always do. Noel emphasized having a proper match between the adopter and the dog numerous times on episode one. It’s bizarre that you managed to write your (misleading) objections about this before the show even aired in what is a highly unfocused and meandering blog post. What exactly is your issue? Re-homing dogs improperly? Unrealistic expectations for dog ownership? UK culture of dog ownership? Dogs Trust staff salaries? Noel Fitzpatrick’s ego? Breed standards? Shouldn’t you learn to communicate a bit more clearly if you’re a seasoned business professional?

    As for your personal “issues” with Noel, it sounds like you’re a scorned woman or something. I am not any kind of obsessive fan of the Supervet, and I’ve noticed some of the issues you’ve pointed out int he past. But, again, is your concern about animals or about writing a hit piece on Noel Fitzpatrick? It seems like the latter is really your intention, for unclear reasons – other than perhaps YOU think you’re the “Archangel Gabriel” of animals and are jealous that someone with actual credentials is helping them? To be clear, he’s done more for animals than you have or ever will. Where are your veterinary publications? You accuse him of being arrogant when he’s made it through a difficult veterinary program and surgical boards – but you think you’re qualified to judge him from your perch of having “business experience” (Donald Trump has business experience honey). Look in the mirror for to see a “touch of narcissism” perhaps?

    Finally, as for your breed purity initiative, backed by your supposed “HR experience” (however those two are linked, I have no idea) – how do you propose to stop the poorly bred £100 million in dogs that come in from trafficking gangs from Eastern Europe? Where exactly will you be getting the manpower to stop this? Why do you think anyone in the UK is interested in listening to you? Oh, I see you deleted your “HR credentials” from your biography in the last week… why is that? Perhaps you realize they’re vastly inferior to those of Noel Fitzpatrick with regard to animal welfare? Trying to hide behind “business savvy” now? If you have so much business savvy, why are you so surprised (aka bitter) that Noel is earning money? People who make appearances on TV generally earn money from advertisers – this isn’t very complicated. He may be earning very little compared to how much he earns from surgery, but the bottom line is that you don’t know the amount. If it were a high or low amount, it is irrelevant. The price of his time is what it is. If you became famous, I’m sure you’d donate all of your time – right… ?

    Finally, you had the nerve to repeat a false and libelous quote on twitter that Noel liked the fact that breeds had issues because it made him more money. That makes absolutely no sense. He is more busy than any vet in the country, and hardly needs the money. His income and time spent in surgery is hardly just due to breed issues. Animals have cancer, animals age, and animals get into accidents – among other things that could keep a veterinary surgeon busy 24/7. The practice would still function even if you could wave a magic wand and make the breed issues disappear (which you can’t – even well-tested parents do not always have offspring that are problem free…aside fro the whole puppy-farm issue from Eastern Europe and other countries coming to the UK).

    Ok, that’s all. Also, in the future, you might WANT to consider STOPPING with the BOLDFACE of every other WORD on your WEBSITE. It makes it hard to read and makes you sound like you have touch of bipolar mania.

  6. Wouldn’t post my comment? Coward. The entire week, this show has proven your central premise wrong beyond a reasonable doubt. Every episode, the emphasis on what commitment it takes to adopt an animal could not be missed. It was repeated over and over again, and every animal that was applied for required the same screening that these shelters always do. People saw shelters and animals they never would’ve otherwise known anything about. Shelter attendance was up 100% in this week. It must be sad to be so cynical and bitter about everything. I didn’t even want to check back at this page because even if you did reply it would just be full of your unsubstantiated bile.

    1. I publish all comments. But sometimes not immediately because of time issues (this is the first time I’ve been able to sit at my desk all week). I was pleased that Animal Rescue Live did highlight the work of rescues that rarely get a mention and I am working on another blog post in which I will be comparing this programme with BBC 2’s 10 Puppies and Us. Both say a great deal about our puppy buying culture (which in my opinion has become highly dysfunctional). As I said at the beginning of the post I know my concerns about Fitzpatrick will be unpopular with his unquestioning large body of fans, but we need to cut through the hagiography, and we need to address the worrying commodification of rescue animals. No amount of “outraged” comments from any of his legion of followers will change my mind on that. Now that you know where I stand on NF perhaps you can save yourself some time and not stop by here again.

      The tragic part of Animal Rescue Live is the fact that the best part of 100 spaces the team helped free up this week will be very quickly filled once again next week. Getting to the root cause of why pets are relinquished so readily is what should be addressed but we have an entire industry working, albeit inadvertently (I’ll be generous with that point) in a way that creates an easy-come easy-go culture. If the end-game of emptying the rescue centres more quickly was to close them for good because there was no need for them anymore then we could all celebrate that. But emptying them more quickly so that they can be filled up again just as quickly solves nothing. Much more responsible pet ownership is what is needed.

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