Paws for thought

Vikki Goodings.
Vikki Goodings.
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This Saturday, Wearsiders are invited to walk for a campaign seeking tougher sentences in animal cruelty cases. Alison Goulding reports.

MAN’S best friend will march for justice tomorrow, thanks to a campaign called Alfie’s Law.

Vikki Gooding with Billy the Bearded Dragon, Galaxy the Albino Hedgehog and Sherman the Tortoise from Scales  and Tails, and 6 year old Natalie Coates at the Lisa Dixon Centre Halloween funday.

Vikki Gooding with Billy the Bearded Dragon, Galaxy the Albino Hedgehog and Sherman the Tortoise from Scales and Tails, and 6 year old Natalie Coates at the Lisa Dixon Centre Halloween funday.

The campaign has collected more than 10,000 signatures for a Government petition calling for changes to sentences for animal cruelty, but needs to be signed by 100,000 people to be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee.

To raise awareness of the petition, a fun walk for dog owners and animal lovers will meet at East Durham College’s Houghall Campus at 11.30am tomorrow.

The campaign was founded by a Durham mum, who wishes to remain anonymous because of the nature of her job.

Instead, her bearded collie Alfie is the face of the cause.

People walking dogs

People walking dogs

She said: “I set up a Twitter account for Alfie as a bit of fun but I kept seeing all these horror stories about animal cruelty and lenient sentences on there and decided I had to act. You can either sit and do nothing or get something started.

“Alfie’s very cute so we thought he’d draw attention – we didn’t want the petition to disappear like hundreds do.

“There are many campaigns against animal cruelty but often I can’t bear to look at them so this is a friendly event where we can educate children and families. If you want to reach people you can’t use the horribly graphic images of animal cruelty that are out there.

“Alfie wasn’t a rescue dog but I have two rescue cats. Badger was shot in the face and lost an eye, his teeth and a leg, and George was starving. He was so hungry he was going around licking barbecues in gardens.

“Just before Christmas we took in a third cat. It took weeks for her to come near us, she has obviously been abused. We are now working with the Blue Cross to find her a home but often when you ring the animal charities they are full or cannot help. People don’t know who to approach when it comes to animal cruelty. If it’s a problem with a person you call the police but there’s nothing clear in place for animals.

“Animal shelters are bursting at the seams with unwanted and abused pets and it is time for the Government to tackle this issue as thousands of healthy animals are being put to sleep.”

Murton dog owner Vikki Goodings, who lectures in animal care at the college, will be attending.

Vikki, who also runs an animal encounters business, said: “There’s so much animal cruelty it’s scary. If people sign the petition then it might encourage the government to take action.

“It’s an ideal walk, around Houghall woods, to raise awareness and encourage people to sign the petition. The more the merrier. There will be lots of people who work in the animal industry coming along so it will be good to get together.

“Something has to happen and tougher laws would make a difference.

“Many of my animals came to me needing a new home and we have rescued reptiles too.”

After the walk, the college is holding an open day from 1pm to 4pm. The Durham Awareness Walk for Alfie’s Law starts at 11.30am, meeting in the car park behind the college.

The Houghall Campus is situated on the A177, just south of Durham, near Shincliffe.

Well-behaved dogs on leads are welcome and participants are advised to wear suitable footwear as the walk is muddy in places.

•To sign the petition go to

•For more information go to

•Twitter @AlfieBeardie

Cruelty figures

LAST year’s figures from the RSPCA showed an increase in cases of cruelty in the North East.

The number of people convicted for cruelty and neglect to animals rose by just over 12 per cent in the North.

A report, released in April revealed a rise in bans on keeping animals in 2011 and showed courts handed down more prison sentences.

More than 70 people were put behind bars in 2011 and calls to the RSPCA control room hit 1,314,795 in 2011.

In the North of England, 529 people were convicted for cruelty and neglect compared to 471 in 2010 – a rise of 12.3 per cent.

Convictions for cruelty to dogs fell to 728, compared to 800 in 2010 – a decrease of nine per cent. There were 458 disqualifications for keeping animals imposed by courts compared to 415 in 2010 – a 10.3 per cent rise.

Courts imposed 22 prison sentences in 2011, compared to 19 in 2010, which represented an increase of 15.7 per cent.