For the JC October 11 2019
As a small boy — a self-described “nerdy Jewish geek from Stanmore” — all Marc Abraham wanted to do was to help animals.
Last week, Marc The Vet, as he has become known to millions of TV viewers, was celebrating a double triumph. He has succeeded in getting what is known as “Lucy’s Law” passed into English law, meaning that from next April it will be illegal to buy a puppy or a kitten without seeing it with its mother, in the place where it was born. It will be the end of third party puppy and kitten trading in the UK.
And Marc has just come back from Korea, where, together with a team from the charity Humane Society International (HSI), he helped close down a dog meat farm and bring the terrified animals to rescue centres in America, Canada and the UK.
This particular farm, around two to three hours’ drive from the South Korean capital, Seoul, held 90 dogs, but Marc explained that many such places had hundreds of animals. “Traditionally dog meat is popular among older people in Korea — when you speak to younger people they want nothing to do with it. When we went there it was just horrible, physically and mentally for the dogs. They are kept in tiny cages with wire so that the faeces and urine go through and they are effectively living on pits of faeces. When we went near them, they didn’t know whether we were being friendly or going to grab them — because usually what happens is that the dog is grabbed from the cage and electrocuted”.
Most of the dogs, Marc said, are fairly young and many are from two main breeds, known as “meat dogs” in Korea, Jindo and Tosa, the latter of which is a banned breed in the UK.
“There are two kinds of dog in Korea, meat dogs and pet dogs. A lot of stolen dogs end up in these dog meat farms, and some people even bring their pets, at the end of their lives, to be slaughtered for meat.”
Each of the dog meat farm owners has signed a deal with HSI and a legal document that says they cannot resume the trade. In any case, Marc said, changing trends in Korea mean that it is no longer a profitable trade.
Eight of the rescued Korean dogs have been taken to a sanctuary and will be flown to Britain at the end of November. One of them, perhaps, could become a celebrity rescue dog such as Dilyn, the animal sourced last month by Marc for Number 10 Downing Street, where he has become the pet of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds.
Marc knew Ms Symonds from campaigning — he may well have encountered her in what he reckons were 320 visits to Westminster in the last six years.
For, much to his surprise, Marc became the front man for the “Lucy’s Law” campaign to try to stop puppies and kittens being sold in pet shops, or from farms without their mothers.
He said he had been working as a vet in Brighton and was running an emergency clinic when, in 2009, he found too many multiple cases of puppies with parvovirus, a disease which affects the youngest dogs, “very commonly found on puppy farms and large-scale breeding operations with poor hygiene”.
In one night, Marc saw seven puppies with the disease. “I did research as to where they came from and found they were all coming from the same licensed, legal dealer who was buying them in from a licensed, legal puppy farm in Wales. I thought it wasn’t right and I started to look into it.”
He candidly admits he had no background in campaigning, but says he was inspired by his family — particularly his grandmother, Judy Benton, who escaped from Meissen on the Kindertransport, and his late father, who died three years ago and was an advertising executive.
He knew nothing about Westminster, he said, but began by approaching various MPs and then educating them as to why the situation needed to change. He was “greatly helped” by having a media profile, as a regular guest on the Paul O’Grady Show, BBC Breakfast, and This Morning.
It was a long and uphill struggle but eventually — after hundreds of lobbying hours and at least 20-30 meetings in 10 Downing Street — Marc and his campaign team succeeding in getting the law changed in Wales, Scotland and, from next year, in England.
Lucy was a rescue dog who had three years of freedom before succumbing to various diseases, and it was decided to personalise the campaign using her as its calling card.
With extensive use of social media and celebrity support from Rachel Riley, Tracy-Ann Oberman and Brian May, Marc Abraham persuaded the government to enact a huge change in animal welfare law. As a result, he said, he has even had discussions with the Israeli government, which is seeking to tighten its own animal welfare procedures.
Marc’s mother, Ruth, who lives in Hampstead Garden Suburb, is “immensely, intensely proud” of her son. She has accompanied him on many of the key moments in getting Lucy’s Law agreed.