Marc Abraham, or “Marc the Vet” as he is commonly known, wanted to be a vet from the age of three. His mother often reminds him of a story about him removing a maggot from his injured tortoise’s leg with a twig – it got better, and it was his start in animal welfare.
He worked as hard as he could to get into vet school, qualifying in 1995 from Edinburgh University with a degree in veterinary medicine and surgery. “I then worked at a mixed practice in Watford where I gained a wealth of experience, deciding that I wanted to take the small animal route. I also spent a snowboarding season in France, serving behind a bar. Unknown to me at the time, this was… an excellent learning curve guiding me in the all-important task of perfecting communication skills, which would come in handy later in life.”
Back in the UK in the summer, Marc began practising mainly as an emergency vet in a couple of out-of-hours practices in Brighton for a total of 10 years. This proved to be another golden opportunity to gain the knowledge of meeting new owners in stressful situations and reassuring them about the condition of their pet, “utilising communication skills to gain trust, as I wasn’t any of my clients’ daytime vet”.
Travel beckoned again and Marc witnessed welfare conditions around the globe first-hand, including helping injured dogs and cats in post-tsunami Thailand, vaccinating dogs against rabies in the Mumbai slums, rescuing dancing bears in Ukraine, neutering pets in the Amazon, working with pitbulls in a US prison, closing a dogmeat farm in South Korea, operating on street dogs in Udaipur, India, as well as performing dental work on a rescued moon bear in China. Like many people, there comes a time in life when one reflects on the past, and Marc often reflects on memories of the hardships and suffering, but also the love shown for companion animals in all of these countries.
One night in 2009, eight puppies arrived at Marc’s emergency vet clinic, all of which sadly had parvovirus. “That was far too many considering on average it was rare to get even one a week. They’d all been purchased from the same licensed legal dealer who had purchased them from a licensed, legal puppy farm in Wales. This to me was far from OK, and this was to be the exact moment that my life changed forever, and the origins of Pup Aid and Lucy’s Law began.
”The journey had begun, and it was now all about encouraging prospective dog owners to buy direct from the breeder or rescue instead, and a few years down the line, changing the law to turn those options into actual legislation. Getting support from and working alongside other grassroot campaigners was essential and Marc began to touch base with the right people in Parliament. “It was important to get my ‘mission statement’ right from the start, and never veer off track. Politicians, as I have found out in my 300-plus visits to Westminster since I started campaigning, are all very much individuals, contrary to public opinion. Sadly, I also encountered organisations and egos within the pet world that would constantly put barriers up to my campaign. At times it was a huge uphill struggle, hitting many brick walls, but I’d gathered the right people around me and we took our time taking those all-important next steps forward.”
Local Brighton MP Caroline Lucas, from the Green Party, made a concerted effort to guide and help Marc, and was the first MP to invite him up to the House of Commons. She explained the best way to get onto the political radar was to start an e-petition, which he did. Every time Marc was off duty, he travelled up to London to lobby as many MPs as possible. From ministers to lords, Marc never gave up: “It was a mixture of doing everything possible, and if or when that didn’t work out, I’d try another route instead.”
Veterinary medicine still came first, and Marc’s practice work gave him the opportunity to gather even more support. “If clients knew you were campaigning for animal welfare, as well as being their vet, that really helped support the campaign, which all played a part in getting the law over the line.
“Those eight puppies with parvo worried me a lot, so I felt the need to investigate,” Marc explained. “I tracked down the source of the puppies, a licensed legal third-party dealer who purchased them from a licensed puppy farm in Wales. In life if you see something you don’t like you try and do something about it. They had a licence issued by the local authority to sell puppies away from where they were born and without their mum, in spite of the golden piece of advice when buying a puppy, to always see them interacting with mum in the place they were born. This really needed to change!”
So Marc set up “Pup Aid” a celebrity-judged fun dog show to educate the public about the right way to source a dog. “It was the beginning of my campaign and a massive learning curve, and I was lucky to have support for Pup Aid, and later on Lucy’s Law, from some respected personalities such as Ricky Gervais” (Figure 1).
Over 100,000 signatures were collected for Marc’s first e-petition. Marc went on to say, “I then met a lady called Lisa Garner who often attended my Pup Aid dog shows in London. She had one of the most endearing dogs I have ever met, called Lucy (Figure 2), an ex-breeding dog rescued from a licensed puppy farm that sold her puppies via licensed third-party sellers – just using her as a breeding machine. Poor Lucy was crippled with arthritis, she had epilepsy, dry eye and separation anxiety too. She passed away in 2016 after three years of freedom. Discussing the campaign to ban third-party puppy dealers with Lisa, she gave approval for the campaign to be rebranded, so Lucy could be honoured, and we launched the ‘Lucy’s Law’ campaign in December 2017 with an event at Westminster (Figure 3), supported by media partner The Daily Mirror, complete with regular weekly column written by journalist Andrew Penman. My grandmother was, and still is, my biggest inspiration as she’s a Holocaust survivor and always told me to never give up.”
Marc did just that and campaigned tirelessly for change, whilst becoming quite a TV celebrity in the process: This Morning, Sky News, BBC Breakfast, Alan Titchmarsh and Claire Balding at Crufts all seeking his company on their programmes. More government discussions and meetings in Westminster abounded, and then one day Defra minister Michael Gove MP contacted Marc requesting a quote for a government press release, confirming that Marc’s 10 years of campaigning had been successful and Lucy’s Law was going to happen. Marc was even responsible for sourcing Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds’s new rescue dog Dilyn (Figure 4).
Here we are now at the start of 2021 – worrying times indeed with COVID and regulations that could change after Brexit. How does Lucy’s Law stand now? For Marc, it is about the source of the puppies rather than the increased numbers that now are currently being purchased. Many are coming in sick and dying from overseas puppy farms, legally and illegally, so there is now an urgent need to increase the minimum age for puppy import to six months as their adult (secondary) teeth are visible at border control, and therefore can’t easily be falsified unlike passports and other documentation. He is hoping that this will be approved in the summer of 2021. This new law will also help end puppy smuggling.
Concerns are also being shared about puppies bought on a whim in lockdown, which now appear to be being abandoned or resold online to recoup extraordinarily high purchase prices. Plus, with social distancing, lockdown pups haven’t been socialised adequately with dogs or humans, which could potentially give rise to serious lifelong behavioural issues, sadly more reasons for dogs being dumped in rescue.
“One spectrum of life that has changed for me is that when I started out campaigning, I had no idea about politics, law or English literature. I’ve now changed the law, written a book about the campaign and after a personal phone call from the Prime Minister in 2019, helped him and his fiancée source their rescue dog Dilyn (Figure 4). My Lucy’s Law team of grassroots campaigners were also awarded a garden party at Number 10 with a few rescued ex-puppy-farm dogs allowed to run around the garden as well (Figure 5). It just shows anything is possible.
“Having briefly semi-retired from full-time veterinary practice to concentrate on campaigning and writing more books, I do plan on returning to more vetting in the future, whilst still continuing with my Westminster activities as secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for dog welfare called ‘APDAWG’ which I would encourage all dog-lovers to check out.”
One of Marc’s most inspirational quotes that helped him get the Lucy’s Law campaign into law was from the Dalai Lama who said “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” His advice to anyone who sees something they don’t like in practice and wants to change it, is to “Be more mosquito and make that difference happen for the animals!”