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Pet welfare on our screens

Written By: Jane Davidson RVN

We are used to seeing pet welfare on the numerous animal rescue and veterinary shows we have in the UK, and I always hope that these can demonstrate good welfare that people can emulate with their own pets.

Yet pets crop up in many TV shows and as they are part of a general storyline it appears to me that the welfare aspect of what is portrayed is sometimes not considered.


Different realities

I have to now confess where I have seen several of these incidences - it’s on reality TV, in particular US reality TV. Yes I love KUWTK, RHOBH and all the joys of the reality genre on the Hayu app.

For those who don’t know these initialisms, they are Keeping up with the Kardashians and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. TV shows showing the wealth and luxury of some people’s lives. Friends are often surprised I watch these shows but they are an escape from everyday life and very easy to watch. Yet they have a certain power as all TV shows do and while thousands of people watch the ‘stars’ of the shows, millions then follow them on social media, creating a huge sphere of influence.


What is the message?

Many of these types of show are based on the demonstration of a luxurious lifestyle which then also shows that human relations are the same regardless of your wealth or status. We all feel the same emotions and have imperfections or anxieties. Yet the message of animal welfare is confusing as there are often both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ messages being conveyed.


Sharing the good news

I’m happy to report that in KUWTK there have been a couple of really important messages shared - hold onto your hats as my Mastermind level of reality TV knowledge makes an entrance.

Back before her second and third marriages Kim Kardashian was dating football player Reggie Bush. Although it wasn’t a great advert for pet purchasing that she had bought him a dog he couldn’t care for (due to travelling as a pro footballer), Kim was caring for the dog. The episode that showed this also showed the dog escaping to a neighbour’s garden to find their in heat bitch and the decision then to get him neutered. There was also a discussion on “neuticles” – the testicle implants available to make a neutered male dog still look like he ‘has balls’ (not allowed in the UK due to welfare concerns! - Ed.). 

Then there was also a story of Kim finding a ‘puppy’ which was actually an adult female dog that had a pyometra. The episode showed her trying to find the owner, get vet treatment for the pyometra, and get the dog rehomed.

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills also has good news stories as Lisa Vanderpump has the amazing Giggy the Pom and his numerous outfits to protect his skin as he has alopecia. Lisa has also campaigned against the Yulin dog festival and has opened a dog rehoming centre in Hollywood.

This all sounds rather fabulous so why am I worried?


How can you spot the messages?

Sharing good welfare requires you to know what is deemed good welfare and what is bad welfare. I think in many of these TV shows the message of animal welfare comes AFTER the ‘storyline’, so decisions on ensuring only good welfare is shown may not be considered. Result? The welfare aspect shown is not researched to see if it’s suitable.


Sharing the bad news

Both incidents I’ve noticed of poor welfare have been showing issues that are not uncommon, but are both known to cause poor welfare for the animals involved.

The first incident is possibly one that is yet to become well known and involves yet more balls I’m afraid - but this time hamster balls! Yes, the plastic balls we are encouraged to put them in to allow exercise outside of their cage. In KUWTK Khloe impulse-buys a hamster for her goddaughter, North. This is a poor welfare message on its own, and the crazy coloured small plastic cage purchased for it was not large enough to provide enough space, but worse was to come. To make Khloe think the hamster was missing Kim put it in a hamster ball and let it roll around one of the large neutrally decorated corridors in her home. The ball is witnessed banging into the walls several times before Khloe finds it.

These have been shown to have several issues that affect hamster welfare. The banging against walls or furniture is traumatic to the hamsters and can cause injury. The balls also remove the ability to sense their way around by using whiskers and scent. The curvature of the ball means when moving the ball around the hamsters spine is hyperextended. Finally the small slits in the ball are there to prevent toes getting trapped but they reduce the amount of oxygen that circulates in the ball. You can find out more on hamster ball issues by clicking here to read more.

Secondly the aggressive way of reprimanding dogs that has become popular in the US was shown in a RHOBH episode when Kim’s new dog required training. The dog trainer was shown walking into the house for the first time and walking quickly up to the obviously fearful dog and shouting at it to further increase its fear. Unsurprisingly this dog later went on to bite a family member and the outcome for the dog was not reported. This happened over a number of episodes so it would not be clear that the fearful behaviour has displayed itself in the biting of a person.


Spread the word

Shows that involve animals usually have welfare and veterinary advisors yet as these shows are based in the participants’ homes I wonder if these are required? Therefore we are relying on the welfare knowledge of the participants in the shows that influence millions. While none of these people declare to be experts in animal welfare, they do have a responsibility as influencers to ensure that what is portrayed on their shows promotes good welfare. I haven’t seen an outcry about the hamster or the fearful dog but the backlash against Kylie using walnuts in a skin scrub was HUGE! 

Imagine if we could get even just a few more of these ‘stars’ to join in for animal welfare and achieve positive change not just for Hollywood dogs, or those at Yulin but for everyday pets who still need us to fight for good welfare.


PS if anyone wants to hire me as a pet welfare advisor for Bravo TV… its @JaneRVN ;)

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