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.”
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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