Make a date in the diary for Saturday 5 September: PupAid returns to Primrose Hill. As well as featuring celebrities and their gorgeous pups, there’s a serious message behind the event – and one that really drives PupAid founder, Marc Abraham, on
Sitting outside Opso in Marylebone ahead of my interview with Marc Abraham, I see quite an array of dogs in a short space of time: there’s a Chow Chow, soon followed by a British Bulldog, with a Yorkshire Terrier yapping not too far behind. I can see why Marc decided to bring PupAid to North West London. ‘It was one of the reasons,’ the man himself says when he takes a seat opposite me. ‘Everything has a back-story and one day I will write it all up in a book.’
That’s destined to be some book. I have met plenty of passionate people – but Marc Abraham is on a whole new level. Known as the ‘TV vet’, a moniker that began with a five season stint on Paul O’Grady’s chat show, he says he prefers ‘animal welfare campaigner as that’s what I do full-time now’ these days. We are here to talk about that and also the impending fourth PupAid on Primrose Hill (there’s a back-story about thatcoming to London too, so read on). Expect trade stalls, ‘best in show’ style awards like Waggiest Tail and Coolest Dog, celebrity fans and hopefully lots of sunshine, all with the intention of raising awareness about the fight against puppy farming.
‘There was a trigger moment,’ he says about taking up the fight in the first place. ‘I was working at an emergency practice in Brighton, in a place where other practices would shut around us later in the day and we would take in all the animals. One Friday about seven puppies were admitted, each one from a different practice. They were the same breed, had the same history and were all suffering from the Parvovirus, which is a really horrible virus. It was just too much of a coincidence. I discovered they were from a puppy farm dealer just outside of Brighton. I went in undercover as if I was buying a puppy and I was amazed at how good they were at selling the puppies. But that’s when I looked into the legislation…’
What Marc found horrified him. The Pet Animals Act 1951 hasn’t been changed for over 60 years and, as such, means puppy farming is now a huge problem. Kept in horrific conditions, puppies are usually unvaccinated, sent long distances cross country and sold en masse to pet shops, private dealers, and for both sale and re-sale through various websites. ‘I didn’t know about its scale as a vet, so how would the public know about it?’ he reflects. ‘In the US they hold a Puppy Mill Awareness Day, which is what they call puppy farming there, so I decided to do a puppy awareness day in the UK.’
The first PupAid was held in Brighton and was a ‘nightmare’ recollects Marc. ‘I lost thousands of pounds,’ he grimaces. ‘I had no idea what I was doing. We built stalls inside and it was the most beautiful day, so nobody came inside. The venue was also a racing track, which wasn’t the ideal place to raise animal welfare issues. I had to pay for carpet in case the dogs had a wee – and then the carpet was delivered on the wrong day!’ But there were uplifting moments, including a parade of rescue puppy farm bitches that brought a tear to everyone’s eye. ‘I thought it definitely had legs – well, four legs!’ Marc grins.
Slowly, thanks to one event after another, Marc started to build up celebrity interest, from Brian May to Meg Matthews, and it was the latter who visited PupAid in Brighton and suggested he should bring it to London. ‘I realise that now,’ he says on making the move. ‘I am from North West London so knew about Primrose Hill. I knew how special it was. It’s a unique place for both humans and dogs. The first one there was amazing. Ricky Gervais was there, Sarah Harding, Brian May, Joanna Page, and they were all staying around for the day.’
It was a huge success – but Marc wasn’t satisfied. ‘Doing something once a year wasn’t enough for me,’ he recalls, ‘so I started to lobby. I soon realised that the only way to get on the radar was to have an e-petition, where you need 100,000 signatures to have something debated in Parliament.’ So he got to it. Ricky Gervais, who Marc describes as his hero, quickly backed the idea and the e-petition had 12,000 signatures after just a couple of days. ‘Easy,’ Marc says on his reaction back then, before admitting it was anything but.
It’s clear, however, that Marc doesn’t let anything go easily and campaigned tirelessly to get the required numbers, which finally saw him present to No. 10 Downing Street an e-petition with over 110,000 signatures asking for a ban on puppies and kittens sold without their mothers present. The subsequent debate then took place on 4 September 2014 in the Main Chamber of the House of Commons, hopefully the first step in eradicating points of sale of irresponsibly bred pets.
Many would sit back and admire their efforts, but since then Marc has launched the Where’s Mum? campaign, which aims to educate potential owners about the cruel trade of puppy farming and make sure that they only buy from a reputable and honourable breeder. Expect to hear more about it at PupAid on 5 September – and, fingers crossed, in written form in the near future. ‘As soon as I bring about a change in the law, I will write that book – how to go about campaigning…’ I have bookmarked that one already.
Words: Mark Kebble
PupAid will be held on Primrose Hill on Saturday 5 September, 2015 – see more at pupaid.org