This is a photograph is of Jake, taken shortle arrived at our home, a true bundle of black fur and fun, the perfect cocker spaniel puppy.

 


Jake enjoying some happy times - before it all went sadly wrong for him.

At 12 weeks of age, Jake had already enjoyed one home, purchased by young couple who due to an unexpected house move were unable to keep him.  A friend, knowing that we had recently lost our beautiful Labrador of 14 years, thought as my Birthday was approaching that maybe I would like to offer a home to this little fella.  He kindly paid the couple the asking price and bought this lovely puppy to our house. Jake as we called him, was welcomed into our home with open arms; we were filled with joy.

We took Jake to the vets for a routine check, he said his general health was good but he was suffering from ear mites and a skin irritation, caused by a flea infestation. This was rapidly resolved initially by medication but the ear problem continued to cause distress and later Jake was admitted to the Vets for surgery.

During the next months we enjoyed Jake's puppy play and training was in earnest. He was a bright little puppy and learnt quickly. He was regularly groomed, something he did not really enjoy but necessary to try to keep the shine to his coat and in good condition. Later when a little older we took him to be groomed professionally.

By the time Jake was a year old, changes had started to appear in his demeanour, he had become quite possessive over food and his toys. There was no apparent reason for this, our household consisted of just two, my adult daughter, myself and a cat that was indifferent to his presence and went about his business unperturbed.

Then one day something happened that took us completely by surprise, Jake suddenly sprang at my daughter as she approached to stroke him, chasing her across the room, furiously trying to bite her. We put this down to one unfortunate incident, no food was about at the time and we dismissed it as a one off.

A few months later a similar incident happened, my daughter was sitting on the floor. Suddenly Jake went into an unprovoked attack, my daughter managed to get to her feet and get away but not before she was bitten on her upper thighs. Once more a visit to the doctors was required for treatment.

There was no reason why this should have happened. We both loved Jake dearly and were kind to him we could not understand why this young dog, who at all other times behaved normally, would suddenly attack without  a warning growl or bark. We kept recalling past events and asking ourselves why did this happen,  we could recall nothing of importance. We wondered what we could do to prevent this occuring again. We decided to continue with dog training, as Jake in between an attack appeared a normal, jolly, cocker spaniel, just full of life and very willing to learn. 

We also decided to acquire a personal screech alarm, firmly believing that should a similar incident happen again we would at least could be prepared and prevent it. As this turned out, it was a very false sense of security as in April 1994 Jake had yet one more unprovoked attack on my daughter.

If you can, please try to visualize the situation.  My daughter and I were in the kitchen, we were facing each other talking. I was standing ironing at the ironing board, my daughter was leaning against the work surface she called Jake towards her and asked him to sit (we always made this command before stroking him, thinking we would always be in control if he was in a sitting position). From sitting Jake went into a frenzied attack, my daughter pulled herself up onto the kitchen work surface directly behind her but not before Jake had bitten into both upper thighs.

At this time we both had a screech alarm at hand, within arms reach but neither of us had time to reach out to grasp it to prevent the attack, the incident was so quick. I will never forget the awful screeching noise that Jake made in those seconds. When I recall the incident the blood curdling noise still rings in my ears today. Jake just walked away as if nothing had happened.

My daughter, after cleaning her wounds needed immediate hospital attention, stitches were required and both legs were heavilly bandaged. The following morning the bruising on both legs was extensive.

At this point we knew this situation could not continue, we needed advice in respect of Jake. We made an appointment with our Vet. My daughter, who could hardly walk, due to the intense pain of bruising and stitches and myself, we left Jake at home. We described to our vet the incidents, the unprovoked attacks, the horrendous noise that accompanied the last attack and Jake’s behaviour in detail. In fact our consultation lasted over an hour, we were both very distressed. The Vet diagnosed ‘rage syndrome’ something neither of us had heard of before.

It appeared that a dog with this condition would attack without provocation, warning or reason. Usually the target of the aggression is a member of the same household. The dog does not growl, bark or curls its lips, which is the normal behaviour of a dog before acting aggressively, just as we had experienced. The dog, our vet enlightened us, normally tries to attack the face of its victim, that is why on reflection my daughter was attacked on her upper thighs, as an adult it was the highest point in jumping that Jake could reach.

Our Vet advised euthanasia, he said there is no effective treatment and no cure. We left the surgery, disheartened and traumatised, we loved our dog dearly but we knew we could not continue. To rehome was not an option; we could not be certain that in a new home that he would not attack again. Next time it could be a fatality. Had my daughter been a toddler or young child her face and neck would have been in the direct line of his attack. As hard as it was, we knew there was no choice.

The following morning after saying our goodbyes and shedding buckets of tears, I walked Jake to the Vets, which was to be his last walk. Our Vet understanding our trauma was very caring, Jake was sedated first and fell to sleep in my arms. I walked the two miles back home having made this decision to have a young, otherwise healthy dog put to sleep. A dog is for life, that is the rule I live by but my conscience told me when I looked at my daughter's injuries that we really had no choice.

As grief turned my despair into anger, I decided to research Jake’s condition and background, to find answers, I desperately needed to prevent others going through the same experience.

When Jake arrived in our home, he came with all paperwork, Kennel Club Registration documentation, pedigree and receipt from the retailer that sold Jake to the previous owner.

Firstly, I contacted the retailer, Casmac Boarding and Breeding Kennels, Rayleigh, Essex. Pat Scott the owner, who, when asked about ‘rage syndrome’ and whether anyone else had contacted her with a puppy diagnosed with this condition said No, no-one had and she had not heard of the condition before.

Next, I contacted the breeder of Jake (Barry Minstrel) Dam, (Ladi Bargoed) Sire, (Teifi Night Cruiser) Mrs M M C Evans of Llandysul, Wales, who advised me that she too had not heard of the condition. Although she did tell me that she had sold the mother of Jake (who was in whelp) to another breeder, a Mrs J Williams, of Lampeter, Wales. This would now be the third litter by this dam registered with the Kennel Club.

I managed with some difficulty to contact another puppy purchaser of a cocker spaniel also from the same litter as Jake and sold from the same retail outlet. That young dog too was diagnosed with ‘rage syndrome’ and euthanased, after repeatedly biting the son of the family. They too had contacted the retail outlet to advise them of this and received the same response from the owner as myself.

My fear was and still is that ‘rage syndrome’ could have a genetic component, researchers into the condition also suggest this. Dr Anthony Podberscecker of the University of Cambridge researched this condition that not only effects English Cocker Spaniels, mainly solid colours, but it is also found in Golden Retrievers and English Springer Spaniels. Dr Roger Mugford and John Fisher MAPBC have also studied this condition.

I contacted the RSPCA in Wales, to ask their advice and if this was a common occurrence amongst dogs originating from their area. They were aware of problems relating to extensive dog breeding, but were not specific in their findings relating to ‘rage syndrome’ only acknowledging its existence.

Still, desperate to find out more and to alert others purchasing puppies from retail outlets I contacted a local newspaper that was interested in running a story. This resulted in a large number of readers contacting me that had purchased puppies, many originating from the same retail outlet as Jake. Many puppy purchasers could empathise with my story, having also owned puppies and dogs diagnosed with ‘rage syndrome.’ It soon became very apparent to me that puppies purchased from retail outlets suffered massive problems relating to both physical and psychological health. These included gastro enteritis, parvo virus, fox mange, sarcoptic mange, ear mites, worms, epilepsy, Perth’s disease, hip dysplasia, but what was particularly noticeable were the amount of puppies that suffered aggression and severe behaviour problems. Some reports were extremely sad, as so many puppies died of sickness within a few days of purchase. Others, young dogs like my own, had to be euthanased due to aggression and biting attacks. This outraged me.

Thinking it would be helpful to collate this information I created a questionnaire that puppy purchasers willingly completed, signed and returned, agreeing to the information being passed on to interested parties. This has been extremely useful in identifying not only the health problems of traded puppies, but also identifying the breeders who have sold to third parties. Some registering their puppies with the Kennel Club or Irish KC, breaking both KC’s code of ethics. When a breeder registers a litter of puppies with the KC they agree to abide by their code of ethics by not selling a puppy to a wholesaler or dealer.  The breeder of Jake sold him and his littermates to a dealer and this was the outcome for us and many others who purchase a puppy from these type of premises that 'buy in' puppies to resell.

 *Casmac Boarding and Breeding Kennels is in new ownership and now called 

Daws Heath Kennels, they are in possession of a dog breeders licence only, issued by Rochford District Council.  They do not have a pet shop licence.