Celebrity vet and animal welfare campaigner Marc Abraham is busier than ever this season. The man behind the PupAid campaign against cruel puppy farming just hosted a documentary movie premiere at the House of Commons – only the second such event to ever take place there. The screening of Dog by Dog saw animal welfare campaigners from the US and the UK come together to discuss the global animal welfare movement, with MPs and celebrity patrons in attendance.
As the film’s producer, Marc collaborated with an American team for Dog by Dog, which acts as a powerful exposé of the industry players benefitting from the battery farming of millions of puppies every year in the States. It’s an interesting move for a campaigner so deeply involved in the frontline of UK animal welfare campaigning, and testament to the enormous public support behind the movement on both sides of the pond.
As the pioneer of the fight against cruel puppy farming in the UK, Marc Abraham shares the frontline in awareness-raising with Ricky Gervais, Peter Egan and Brian May, and was recently named Daily Mirror Animal Hero ‘Vet of the Year’. His 2014 e-petition calling for a ban on puppy sales without their mother present gained over 100,000 signatures and became something of a game-changer in the movement, triggering a three-hour Parliamentary debate on the topic last year.
The Metropolist: Dog by Dog had its UK premiere recently at the Houses of Parliament, making it only the second movie premiere to ever take place there. Why choose that location – and how on earth did you pull it off?
Marc Abraham: I managed because I’m there all the time, lobbying. It was all about giving back to my fellow animal welfare campaigners who are in Parliament all the time doing stuff to help the cause, such as the All Party Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW), of which I’m proudly a member. And, being associated with such an important – potentially game-changing – documentary movie that centres on legislation, it made sense that the first place it was seen was in the mother of all democracies – the Houses of Parliament. Also, with an American director and executive producer I wanted it to be a big deal for them and it couldn’t have been bigger. It was really a thank you to them as well for including me in their movie.
TM: They were really impressed weren’t they – the director Christopher Grimes commented that when you first suggested “let’s take it to the Houses of Parliament” he considered that as realistic as “let’s build a spaceship!”
MA: They still can’t stop talking about it. I was amazed and I’m there all the time – I can’t even imagine what they must have thought. They were taken out onto the terrace of Parliament as special guests and made to feel so at home by all the staff and MPs – it was very special.
TM: What inspired you as a UK campaigner to get involved with an American documentary?
MA: Basically, I was contacted by the director to brainstorm some ideas – we hit it off because we had so much in common. A few more chats, emails, exchanges were to follow, and then he sent me the rough cut when it was done. I was really impressed with it and he asked, would you do us the honour of being named as a producer? And I said err really? And he said yeah. And I said err really? again. So, yeah, I’m now named as a producer. I didn’t really do a great deal in terms of producing the movie, but I’m incredibly honoured that they want to list me in the credits and imdb..and… I’m a movie producer! Who knew, eh?
TM: Just one of your many roles!
MA: It’s so funny! I’ll take it.
TM: Christopher Grimes mentioned that UK donors were the second biggest contributors to the crowd-funding campaign behind the movie. What are the parallels between the US and UK in terms of puppy farming?
MA: There’s legislation in place to allow the third party sales of puppies, which basically means those born on large scale commercial breeding establishments -commonly referred to as puppy farms – where welfare is compromised. The legislation that is allowing/encouraging pets and puppies to be sold by third parties is influenced greatly by industry, money, and profit – not welfare. So I think that the expose is the same here in the UK; legislation is influenced by industry and those organisations dependant on industry.
TM: If those are the parallels, what are the possibilities for collaboration between US and UK campaigns?
MA: The potential in both cases is for increased awareness – educating people on why not to buy puppies in pet shops, why not to buy puppies without their mums, and also to consider rescue as an option when choosing a dog. There are so many parallels and its all part of the global movement to end puppy farming, which means to help educate and make people aware of the corruption that happens behind the scenes on a legislation level, which may not be apparent to normal people – or indeed anyone!
TM: Executive producer Christina Ksoll and Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns spoke at length about making the financial/business case against puppy farming directly to industry stakeholders. What’s your opinion on this?
MA: If you reduce the number of puppies born from questionable sources and you make sure everyone has to see the mum, the majority of dogs will then be well-adjusted: they’ll fit into society better, there’ll be less abandonment, there’ll be fewer dog bites, and you’ll have a society where dogs are actually valued and honoured. That can only increase the number of dogs that people want, which in turn helps the industry. So, why is the industry still so very pro-pet shop? They are only reducing the number and quality of dogs by defending the ones that are bred badly, which is detrimental to the industry in the long run. Whereas, if they promote well-adjusted, well-bred dogs, there’ll be more nice dogs, people will want them, they’ll last longer, and more people benefit. I’m no Alan Sugar, but surely, by defending poorly bred dogs, they’re actually harming their own industry? It makes sense!
TM: What’s the current state of play with your campaign work here in the UK?
MA: Just two days ago, the Government invited a Consultation on the Review of Animal Establishments Licensing in England, and there were a few press releases from Government and some big animal organisations – most of which seemed to be putting up a smokescreen. Current animal welfare campaigns talk about the illegal puppy trade and the problems with back street breeding – but, focusing on these actually misleads the public, implying that: illegal puppy farming is bad, therefore legal puppy farming is okay. Legal commercial puppy farming is in fact a lot worse than back street breeding!
The government seems to want licensing and more licensing, which of course is nothing more than a placebo. The problem is that big organisations are backing licensing because they can’t, for whatever reason, be seen to be anti-pet shop or anti-industry. So everyone seems to be protecting their own assets. There’s a lot of misleading going on and it’s not fair on the public and certainly not fair on the dogs.
When I was collecting signatures for my e-petition all the big animal welfare organisations backed me and it was very clear – we want to ban puppies and kittens being sold without their mums. However, now the major stakeholders are preferring licensing over a ban and I’m intrigued as to why they have now u-turned? On what grounds is selling puppies and kittens without their mums justified when previously they said yes to a ban – what’s changed their mind?
TM: That’s the only answer, right – the banning of all puppy sales unless seen with their mother?
MA: Yeah. The demand has to be met, which I don’t have a problem with – the more dogs, the better for everyone. But, opening up large scale commercial dog breeders to public scrutiny means a stream of visitors coming in unofficially ‘inspecting’ 24/7; far better than an inspector who also inspects strip joints and pubs once a year. It can only improve welfare standards. There is a solution there. It’s progress. As long as puppies are seen with their mum with complete transparency, you’ll more likely achieve adequate socialisation resulting in well-adjusted dogs.
Marc Abraham’s PupAid campaign works to end cruel puppy farming practices in the UK, with an awareness-raising event in Primrose Hill every September. You can follow campaign developments on Twitter, via @pupaid and #wheresmum.