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Karen Wild: Festive dog adverts harm welfare

Karen Wild with her class
Karen Wild with her class

Today two huge online advertising media gaffes caused a lot of upset for many, and a lot more work for others in the dog world.

It can be hard to get the message right on social media, which tends to blurt out advertising in snippets, but in the excitement of retailers selling us Christmas goodies, the dogs in our care take another damaging hit.

Firstly, House of Fraser published a picture on their facebook and twitter account of a Pug puppy with a Christmas bow around his neck. The caption read "What's on YOUR Christmas list this year?". If the implication to buy a dog for Christmas had perhaps been mistaken, that would have been reasonable. However, House of Fraser then sent a tweet (twitter message) to someone suggesting that two Pugs might be even better.

Beverley Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today and Dogs Monthly, magazines I both write for, ran these stories. When you work with dogs, you find many of them were bought on impulse, just like many instantly attractive gifts on offer. The difference is that dog must never be on a Returns policy. A dog is not like a pair of ugly socks or a comedy Christmas tie. They are not like the latest Disney Frozen merchandise. They could be a 15 year investment.

I have worked in this job for the last 20 years and it becomes tiring to hear the same tales (tails) from humans who didn't think it through. Eventually the compassion starts to burn away. I think working in a rescue shelter is one of the toughest jobs out there, caring so much when dogs arrive when there is just no more room. It would be great if advertising could present welfare-friendly messages about dogs; even just selling an extra pair of Wellington boots and a nice harness and lead to encourage owners to take the dog out more.

The day continued with another 'Fail' (as my kids call it) where Asda posted an image of another Pug (obviously the breed of choice at the moment, themselves suffering at times from serious health problems and in need of proper health checks if you plan to buy one). This time, hapless Asda posted about looking forward to tasting your first mince pie, with said Pug at the Christmas dinner table. The picture was adorable, but the message was deadly. Raisins and grapes can be toxic to dogs, even in very small quantities.

I suppose we could say that these excitable tweets were all in good spirit and did not intend harm. And yet, dogs are used widely in marketing, from two leading retailers in this case. Used without sufficient checks for their welfare in messages that reach, for House of Fraser, 276 000 followers; in Asda's case, 357 000 followers.

Imagine if those same retailers could now send a better message, about rehoming a dog or feeding him safely. Now that would be a great, and welcome, start to Christmas.

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