29.10.14; Menier Gallery, London.

The exhibition

The exhibition was well-attended, with well-presented information on the stray dog situation in this country and abroad. The extremely helpful organisers are to be commended.

The featured photographs of stray and rescue dogs, some lucky ones in the homes of their celebrity owners, others in pounds or on the streets, are the work of Jo Sax (http://josax.com/#), who accompanied dog wardens in the UK and Romania. They are by turns heart-breaking, harrowing and joyful images, and each strikingly conveys the individuality of its subject, the depth of their suffering but also their undeniable resilience and dignity. Readers can view some of these powerful images in the Independent’s online coverage at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/haunting-images-lay-bare-britains-invisible-stray-dog-problem-9821513.html

These dogs have extraordinary stories, and extraordinary, too, the persons who look after them, as best they can. Dogs in Bucharest and other population centres were kept mostly in backyards, but when the incoming regime knocked down houses en masse and moved citizens into apartment blocks, many dogs were inevitably abandoned, becoming the first massive generation of strays.  Their descendants are paying the price today, as government policy is brutally straightforward (though ultimately ineffective): round them up and put them down, essentially.  Many people of course became de-sensitised to animal suffering, even indulging in cruelty themselves, whilst others – like the group of factory workers who harbored the dogs they fed during the day in a disused shed at night, to prevent their being shot (or worse).


The organisation

“Our campaigns aim to achieve lasting political and social improvement in the living conditions of farm animals, wild animals and companion animals, at a national and international level”.

This is the opening statement in 4Paws leaflet, ‘Working Internationally to Improve Animal Welfare’ . they see considerable overlap between welfare and rights, but use ‘welfare’ because many members of the public and politicians are sometimes alarmed at the term ‘rights’ and associate it with acts of civil disobedience. They would also say that by being concerned with welfare of an animal, one is indicating a concern for the right of that animal to welfare.

Four Paws was established in 1988, in Austria. The founder, Heli Dungler, trained as a vet but gave up his work when he saw what was happening in Austria’s once-thriving fur trade. The organisation developed from there. They now have a presence in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Netherlands, Romania, S. Africa, Switzerland, Ukraine, UK and the USA.

  1. A) Campaigns

Wild animals:     to stop canned hunting*; fur-trading; animals in entertainment and in private captivity (PC)

Farm animals:     to improve animal welfare in down industry and provide sustainable solutions to end force-feeding in foie gras production and live feather plucking of geese and ducks.

Replace animal testing with non-animal testing which is anyway more reliable and human relevant.

  1. B)   Projects

Bears:     Four Paws has five bear sanctuaries in five different countries, for those bears kept in unsuitable conditions in circuses, zoos, PC. And a bear orphanage in Romania. For first time in their lives, they can hibernate!

Big Cats:     Miserable conditions for big cats in zoos and PC caused FourPaws to build a sanctuary in S. Africa, Lionsrock. This is a safe house which meets their natural requirements for the rest of their lives.

Stray Animal Care:     Animals are neutered, vaccinated, de-wormed; given medical care and food and water – in Lithuania, Jordan, India, Sudan, with on-going work in Romania and Bulgaria.

Orangutans:       FourPaws operates a rescue station in conjunction with Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. Orphans are nursed back to health and returned, prepared, to wild.

Horses:     Protection of Europe’s last wild horses in Romanian Danube Delta. Further, reveal abuse of horses in their keeping and transportation, while collaborating with governments and communities to secure and improve horse protection.

Disaster relief:     When a disaster strikes 4Paws provides help with their Disaster Relief Team. They also provide funds for smaller projects and return animals to the wild whenever possible.

For more information, please see http://www.four-paws.org.uk/projects/

Four Paws appear to accept certain practises, e.g. down collection, providing the conditions are good, and do not totally seem to accept animal rights as opposed to welfare. This would make them more acceptable to the authorities. People might argue that this is a better short-term solution.

*Canned hunting – lions are bred to be hunted and kept in pounds until ready, then put into an enclosure wherein men – usually men – pay in the neighbourhood of USD $15,000 to ‘hunt’ the animal along with trackers and porters. The shot lion is taken away as a trophy .

Thom Bonneville