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The Battersea ATU

November 6, 2015

Did anyone see the Paul O’Grady programme last night, “For The Love of Dogs”. It’s set in Battersea Dogs’ Home and each week features 3 or 4 dogs that have been abandoned and their search for a new home. It gets huge ratings and goes way over the top in its emotional manipulation but is saved by Mr O’Grady’s waspish humour and deep affection for all the dogs. It also gives Steven a weekly chance to tell one of his favourite jokes: “Dad – it’s Lily Savage Dad. It’s not Lily Savage. Paul O’Grady doesn’t wear a dress. You’re doing silly talking Steven Neary”.

Last night’s show featured a staffie called Sidney. I missed the first few minutes, so am not sure how Sidney ended up in Battersea but it was probably the same reason as most of the other dogs. Paul and staff were worried about Sidney because he seemed to be “withdrawing from life”. He was showing little interest in mixing with either the humans or the other dogs and was off his food too. There was a bizarre moment when they brought in Tom Hardy to give Sidney a cuddle but Tom wasn’t on the lookout for a new dog and quickly left again (By the way, Mr Hardy doesn’t sound a bit like Bane in real life). After that brief moment of contact, Sidney started to withdraw even more until it got to the point when one of the vets said solemnly that he was worried that Sidney was “becoming out of reach”. As the days progressed, things got even worse and the voiceover informed us that Sidney had started “snapping” at the staff. The same vet popped back up again and said baldly that “Sidney’s behaviour may have become too challenging for Battersea”. The programme uses lots of nice euphemisms – I suspect “snapping” meant Sidney was having the staff’s hands off. But there’s one phrase that is completely off limits in the programme – “we’ll have to have him put down”. Sidney’s card is marked but it’s never made explicit. But we, the viewer, know. Paul’s voice starts cracking up and we get a few bars of Coldplay at their most grave.

Then a miracle happened. One of the senior vets decided to have ” one last throw of the dice”and called in an independent behavioural expert. Think ABA for canines. Thankfully for Sidney the dice came up with a double six and after an hour of doggy assessment, the expert came up with her diagnosis. The problem was the environment, not Sidney. Battersea was the wrong place for him. He couldn’t cope with the communal living. His anxiety was increased by all the noise. Mixing with other dogs was too stressful an experience for him. The expert opened up a new care pathway and Sidney was moved to a small, rural placement. His behaviour immediately changed and he started to reconnect with the world.

And then the bombshell. As the credits rolled and Coldplay had a key change, we saw Sidney with his new owner, chasing a ball in a park in Tower Hamlets. Paul delivered his final line: “Four weeks after arriving at Battersea, Sidney has a new life opening up for him”. Four weeks!

You can see where I’m going with this.

Just imagine, if for all those humans trapped in ATUs, care pathways opened up so quickly.

Just imagine if Tizane, Chris, Stephen and Eden had four legs instead of two and had Paul O’Grady fighting their corner.

Just imagine if the clinical psychiatrist’s were open to the idea that the environment may be causing the behaviour that they are so keen on medicating.

Just imagine if the senior staff were concerned about the person reconnecting with their world.

Just imagine we loved our learning disabled as much as we love our dogs.

I just can’t imagine a programme ” For The Love of Autistics” ever making it to prime time television.


From → Social Care

  1. Cathy B permalink

    Several years ago, when I was still well enough to work and look after my assortment of pets, I adopted a dog from a rescue centre (not Battersea).

    Staff said that the dog was disobedient, wilful, un-socialised and apt to bolt without warning. She had a ‘nervous’ stomach so could only tolerate Brand X dog food and because she was an odd cross-breed (staffie x lurcher) was ‘highly strung’ with ‘too much strength and speed for her own good’. I was told she would pull me into traffic if I attempted to walk her along busy roads. The inference was that she was un-adoptable and likely to be euthanized (for her own good!).

    I knew they were wrong. And they were. Until I became too ill to care for her (my ex bf gave her a wonderful new home) she was obedient, attentive, loyal, joyful, loving and had a bomb-proof stomach that handled pizza crusts (her favourite) as well as any brand of dog food.

    The sad thing was, that barring specific adjectives, the comments of the centre staff mirrored the things I heard colleagues and residential care home staff say about their elderly clientele. I was working in social services at the time.

    I heard the same thing when later I worked for the NHS at a mental health hospital. Not from everyone, true, but the system made it difficult not to think in these terms.

    When I think of my amazing dog I wonder who saved whom from being institutionalised.

  2. lisa permalink

    ‘Just imagine we loved our learning disabled as much as we love our dogs’.
    Too right Mark.
    I always think this.

  3. Lizzie D permalink

    People who care for animals love animals. People who work in Social Care seem to love their jobs. I am sure KP loves her job, and wakes up every morning thrilled to bits with herself. Somehow though the people the job is supposed to be about get lost in all the conferences and inititatives and whizzy new training initiatives. Maybe people just aren’t as …rewarding as dogs?

    How hard is it, really, to understand that people will disintegrate if taken away from all that matters to them and forced into models of inappropriate “care” that ignores their individuality? I am sure – I think I am sure – that there are good people who try to do their best. But, to be honest, most of my experience has been of people who have some very rigid ideas of very simple answers to difficult issues, based on assumptions that don’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

  4. Heather permalink

    Mark, several years ago Enable Scotland ran a shock ad to make people think – it showed the picture of a young man, i think he had Down Syndrome, the speech bubble said ” if i was a dog, you would care more and give money” there was outrage from some folks ! missing the point in the message… About 5 years ago some research was done and a report published that showed animal charities are far more successful in fundraising/getting public sympathy and donations than human ones, especially adult ones. They ranked the charities for income and the top 5 were animal ones…
    Excellent observation re the programme last night as i was watching it and thinking something not dissimilar
    to yourself 😦

  5. Judy permalink

    Always makes me think about horses – horse owners accept that if a horse doesn’t get what it needs to keep it content – which can vary dramatically between horses, then you will end up with a dangerous horse. So, generally, owners make sure that horses have an environment and routine that makes them content. Why is it so difficult to accept that the same is true of people? Maybe it helps that an unhappy horse can be half of tonne of fury with iron shoes on its feet, which tends to concentrate the mind a bit!

  6. Sally permalink


  7. My vote would go for getting Paul O’Grady doing a follow-up on Panorama programme – progress since and maybe he might make some parallels with how we treat our dogs and people! Maybe we should ask him and tell him how it is! Maybe they could have the programme do 2 in one so people watching see both and the parallels……

  8. Adele permalink

    As per Heather’s comment – all LD charities should marry up with the Donkey Sanctury!!! Start knitting donkey’s for the donkey sanctuary (in time for Christmas) and ask for a donation to the LD charity of your choice.. see if Donkey lovers will buy into it. ….

  9. Shonagh Mc Aulay permalink

    great article, thank you Mark

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