For one of my five picture stories, the SDA (Self Directed Assignment) I am doing a project called “Saving Death Row Dogs”. I’m very passionate about animals, and a strong advocate against animal cruelty and support ‘adopt don’t shop’ and feel very strongly about this project. I chose to do this project as my SDA five picture story because the SDA project goes into another class project for a different module in which an article is written to go with the project photographs that I will design, write and send to a publication. I have lots to say about this subject matter and lots of ideas for it.
I met with dog warden and rescue charity founder Niall Lester again, this time to do the shoot I had originally planned unlike last time, and set out to begin the project.
There are boarding kennels all over the UK known as ‘dog compounds’ and ‘pounds’ that are employed by councils to place lost, stray, abandoned and wandering dogs found by members of the public. A dog will be kept at a dog pound for seven days and after those seven days, if the owner is not located and a rescue space can’t be found the dog will be euthanised. More often than not, a dog is killed as apposed to being rescued, rehomed or reunited with their owners. From the second these dogs step paw into the pound the countdown begins and they officially become Death Row Dogs.
Dog pounds vary but overall they are very basic and substandard. Some dog pounds are in extremely horrendous conditions. Death Row Dogs spend their last seven days scared and miserable before their lives come to an end. Some pounds run on a non-destruction policy, meaning that they don’t euthanise the dogs that end up in the council’s care but sadly the number of non-destructive pounds are greatly outnumbered. Even though a dog may be sent to a non-destructive pound, it can still end up on death row as non-destructive pounds can easily become overcrowded whilst attempting to find rescue spaces for the animals under it’s roof and will be forced to turn away new arrivals to other pounds, destructive pounds.
Thousands of dogs in the UK are murdered every year. It is estimated that over 150 per week will suffer this fate. It is a great shame to realise that so many dogs end up being killed just because they are not wanted.
The pounds are not discriminatory towards which dogs are killed, big, small, stereotypically more aggressive breeds, timid breed, sick and even perfectly healthy dogs will all meet the same fate if they are not recovered from these pounds despite many pounds promising to only destroy a dog if it can’t be rehired due to illness or behaviour.
Sadly, more dogs are still purchased from breeders and puppy farms (which are often in the same state if not worse than pounds) than they are adopted from rescue shelters and pounds. There are many reasons for this. The most common reason is that people simply do not know about the atrocity of pounds and the struggles faced by rescue centres to save these poor dogs as education is lacking in this area. The phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’ is also a factor as people don’t like to talk or think about dogs on death row. It is also easier to buy a puppy online with few clicks of a button than it is to adopt a dog and although owning any dog is a huge responsibility there is often an added extra responsibility when it comes to owning a pound and rescue dog. Dogs who come from pounds and rescue shelters often have sad pasts, ranging from being dropped and abandoned at a pound by their owners to being beaten and dumped in the streets with life-threatening injuries, and they require extra care as a result. Even if they have had a pretty happy life before being taken to a pound, their time at the pound can be enough to traumatise the dog and making them more fragile than most. However, it is much more rewarding owning a rescue dog and the dogs are often much more grateful towards their owners as they are not oblivious to what has been done for them.
The country is in an epidemic of unwanted dogs that results in masses of euthanasia of perfectly homeable animals. Councils don’t openly advertise the problem and inform people what goes on behind the metaphorical curtain as it isn’t an image they particularly want to be associated with since it can negatively impact their reputation but it is important to speak out about the problem.
The seven days that a Death Row Dog has to live once they enter a pound is shocking and, frankly, not enough and I think that it is criminal for so many dogs to be murdered through no fault of their own.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom for all dogs who are unfortunate enough to end up in pounds. The owners of escaped dogs are often tracked down and reunited with their dogs due to microchips and contact numbers of collar tags and rescuers do their best to save as many dogs from death as possible.
Niall Lester collects dogs on their last day on death row from dog pounds before they can be destroyed and takes them into his rescue. His efforts have been so remarkable that there is a local council-run pound celebrating a decade of non-destruction as Niall and his rescue sweep in to save the animals on their last day to live.
I was introduced to several of the Dogs at New Hope Animal rescue who were successfully rescued from death row after being sentenced there for varying reasons. It’s a real shame because these dogs were lovely. I met, played with and photographed them. Niall told me their stories and some of them were really sad. These dogs still haven’t found their forever homes but they are at least safe now, and not at risk of being euthanised anymore.
Here are a selection of the best images from throughout the day I spent with the saved former Death Row Dogs at New Hope Animal Rescue:
The dogs featured are named: Hope, Tigger, Tio, Champers, Braxton, Valerie, Gus, Lola and Archie.
I approached this shoot in three parts. Part one was he dogs behind bars, their sad faces and their longing to be freed from captivity and have human contact. Part two was the dogs with human contact from Niall but removing Niall’s face and only including his hands and feet to keep focus on the dogs. The final part, part three, was the dogs outside, free and playing, to show that there is nothing wrong with these dogs, they are normal dogs who’ve been dealt a rough start in life and deserve better.
When selecting the images I want them to tell a chronological story, starting with a dog behind bars and ending with them happy and playing outside. For the selection for this project I want to show off each dog, whereas the selection for the article project will be slightly different because it needs to be more emotive.
I think this is a project that although will be done for the five picture story, I can continue on into the future.