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.

20 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.

      1. Yeah, you do and it’s annoying.

        I have to agree with everything Jennifer said – it’s like you’re on a personal mission to discredit everything Fitzpatrick is trying to do. Rehoming dogs? THE HORROR. Apparently you believe that for every animal that gets rehomed makes money for him. How do you arrive at that? Don’t rehome rescue dogs because there’s just going to be another in its place? What world do you live in? Easiest way EVER to stop the population boom? Stop AKC breeding and spay every dog in the world. We’ll put you in charge of that.

        He IS single-handedly changing vet medicine and I’d be damned proud of myself if it were me doing it. You shit all over the program before it even aired – and yet 88 animals found homes that week because of it.

        Some of us look at Fitzpatrick, see his passion AND his tremendous skill and understand that he sees his world in a pretty black and white situation. There is a right way and a wrong way. He has long-standing employees, and if he were truly the horrible person you want him to be, he wouldn’t have any. When you are truly gifted (BTW, you’re not), you can be mercurial and still be a decent person. He’s a perfectionist that expects you to be one too. And he can’t teach you to have a heart (BTW, where’s yours) but he can teach you skills. I’d rather my vet hire someone who cares with all their heart that needs some training than a trained monkey with no heart at all. And I have yet to meet a surgeon who doesn’t have an ego – you have to have one to believe you can fix whatever is wrong. How hard is THAT to understand?

        Noel is passionate about animals, and has ethics far beyond yours. The fact that he’s become very, very successful is apparently very hard for you. His profits go back into all of his clinics and to creditors; he’s clearly stated that anything he makes on top of that goes back into the Humanimal Trust when he’s dead. Is he supposed to live a paupers life to show how much he cares? Ooh! He owns an expensive car! He buys concert tickets and owns a house! HOW AWFUL! I truly am tired of hearing people talk shit about him, because it shows how truly jealous people are. You talk about hagiography, yet you believe you have all the answers. It must be hard for you not to get the recognition that you are so desperate for.

        Noel IS a national treasure. VetFest, DogFest, OneLive, Humanimal Trust – all created for the benefit of animals and student vets. People don’t take to visionaries well because people like their little boxes and staying the status quo, and that’s really sad. It’s easy to sit behind your computer and take swipes at people you know nothing about, while the person you’re bitching about is out doing revolutionary things and trying to bring love and hope into the world.

        We need so many more Fitzpatrick’s in this world, and so many less of people like you. Ending your comment to Jennifer with “Now that you know where I stand on NF perhaps you can save yourself some time and not stop by here again” makes me want to stop by every day to tell you how wrong you are.

        Jennifer, I’ll meet you outside and we’ll both go give Noel a high-five and a hug.

  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.

    1. As I’ve said before, but happy to patiently reiterate: I publish all comments as long as they are not using abusive language. As I stated before I approve them as soon as I get to them but have been away from my desk these past few days. In your previous comment you do use some foul language but I will overlook that on this occasion.

      Nothing you have said here changes my mind on my deep concerns over the commodification of rescue dogs. We have created an “industry”. Noel is intelligent enough to know that challenging that is both legitimate and justified.

      The key issue here is: what happened at Newcastle Dog and Cat shelter the week after the film crew left?

      1. Wow. I used one curse word. Are you truly that sensitive?

        Apparently so, as you nitpick over “every other word”. Let’s put it in a way you can understand: Your use of bolded words makes you look manic. We’re adults. We can understand your biased copy regardless of whether you bold words to your own emphasis.

        Your abject refusal to “change your mind” about your opinion of Fitzpatrick is telling. You have an agenda.

        In answer to your “key issue” – Newcastle Dog and Cat shelter continued doing what they do – receive and adopt out animals. Animal Rescue Live told its audience that animals go out, but animals also come in.

        Regardless of your obvious hatred of animal shelters and practices, go ahead and make your lists. The rest of us will be busy finding homes for the animals.

        1. Happy to keep posting your comments despite the fact they completely twist and misrepresent my views. But let’s be clear about one thing there is no abject refusal to change my mind about the conclusions I have drawn regarding the work of Noel Fitzpatrick. It’s just that your arguments, such as they are have failed to persuade me otherwise.

          My key issue is summed up nicely in this comment “but animals also come in” – yes they do. That is what should be tackled. Let’s get to the root cause of this dysfunctional culture we have around pet ownership. I do not hate animal rescue centres. But I am greatly concerned about the industry they have become.

          1. Maybe part of the answer is public education about the usefulness of providing help for “good enough” owners to stop the cycle of people getting pets, relinquishing them, then getting replacements? There’s often a kind of puritanical attitude that people shouldn’t have animals if they can’t afford them which makes it difficult to have a sensible debate about using charity funds for something that’s seen as helping the undeserving poor rather than on doing rehoming.

  7. Re the Jones and Fitzpatrick programme. I thought the same as Philippa before I read this article. You always stand to be heavily criticized if you question anything about a popular person. But what she said makes a lot of sense. I have been involved in rescue work and it’s 365 non paid days of the year. This is the same for probably thousands of rescues. After homing our thousands of dogs, what we are really looking for is commitment to ban puppy farms. This will take far more effort (and money, which is sadly lacking in most of the supporters) than jumping about in front of adoring audiences and homing just a handful of dogs compared to the whole terrible numbers that are streaming in all the time.
    Get to the source of the problem. A ban on third party sales would go a long way towards this. I would have been far more impressed if Fitzpatrick had used his status and his television programme to bring this campaign to the publics’ attention free of charge, or if he did get paid, donate it to this very worthy cause.

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