In 2008, the world of breeding and showing dogs was rocked by a documentary called Pedigree Dogs Exposed.  For the first time, film of dogs suffering from often preventable hereditary illness and disease was shown.   The shock wasn’t just in film of an epileptic Boxer or a Cavalier with syringomyelia, distressing though that was, it was in the continued showing and breeding from dogs known to be carrying these diseases.  Last night saw the broadcast of Pedigree Dogs Exposed – Three Years On.

Whilst at the time the Kennel Club persisted in the “we already do enough, there’s nothing we would change” stance, the pressure didn’t, as possibly expected, go away.  I believe there were many people who had been fighting this problem and the KC  for years who had finally found the public engaged too and wouldn’t let it go.  As a result, over the following months, many changes were introduced about close breeding, breed standards and more.  All very welcome and much needed, but there is a feeling that it was only because of this pressure and the continued impact of the show that anything changed at all.

The first show highlighted many appalling practises.  The culling of “ridgeless” Rhodesian Ridgebacks, a Cavalier that has sired 26 litters winning a show despite being diagnosed with syringomyelia (where the brain is too big for the skull and hereditary).  The breeder was asked if he had been diagnosed with it, she refused to comment and looked very uncomfortable. The Cavalier Club subsequently banished Margaret Carter because she was the whistle blower about this problem, yet this breeder continues and still bred from this dog and his progeny. I confess to a sick feeling that this club, and others closed ranks against the show, the principles and the ethics of breeding to allow the continued breeding and showing of dogs carrying serious life limiting painful conditions of any kind.

It wasn’t the only breed or club to refuse to acknowledge the issues either.  I said then and I repeat the same thing now, that there are good breeders and breed clubs doing a fantastic job.  My real criticism of this programme is in the fact that some breeders are doing their job properly and ethically and there was no mention of this or how to safely buy a puppy from an ethical breeder.  To say every breeder is bad is rubbish.  To say the Kennel Club is responsible for all bad breeding is also rubbish.  There are thousands of “back yard breeders”  and puppy farmers breeding pedigrees and crossbreeds with no sign of a health test or registration and yet still people buy them.

The fact that our Kennel Club allows two things to happen is the real scandal and the reason there is so much support for this show:  Dogs with no health tests or poor results from health tests continue to be shown and bred and their offspring registered with the Kennel Club and breeds who cannot breathe easily, see properly or walk far are an accepted standard.  Whatever the complicated issues and behaviour that surround this issue are, this is the crux of the matter.

Sadly it seems that some breed clubs will not accept the limitations of health issues and will not stop unless made to.  We need a Kennel Club and a registration system, but the public feel this is not being used to protect dogs.

Last night showed “Pedigree Dogs Exposed – Three Years On” which did praise the moves made by the KC to improve breeding of pedigrees.  It also showed vets talking about the unnatural skull shapes resulting in the serious breathing issues of flat faced dogs.  A geneticist showing an obvious hereditary link for juvenile kidney disease in a line of Boxers and other professionals speaking about the “mutant” dogs we see now as pedigree breeds.  It concluded that although some improvements had been made, the situation was really just the same.

The Kennel Club were rightly praised for the inclusion of a Dalmatian called Fiona, imported from the USA to help get rid of a hereditary and prevalent problem of uric acid crystals in the breed.  This painful, often fatal and serious problem was so common, it appeared in just about every breed line.  Fiona is the result of crossing a Dalmatian with a Pointer several generations ago and then crossing back with Dalmatians to produce a Dally that is free from the health problem.  You would think the world of Dalmatians would embrace the chance to eradicate disease, but no, they fought the inclusion of this dog for reasons I cannot fathom.   Thankfully the KC rejected their argument and Fiona is here, breeding and rightly so.

My personal feelings have been the same for a long time.  I cannot accept or understand why the KC do not insist on health tests being done for all breeds they are available for.  This happens on the continent, yet not here.  I have spoken to breeders who don’t want it, yet have never justified to me why, other than they have dogs that wouldn’t test well.  I passed my disgust onto Twitter some months ago when a link to a petition was passed around by the KC Twitter team.  This petition called for the introduction of compulsory standards for breeding along the lines of the Kennel Clubs “Assured Breeder Scheme”.  This petition was created by Victoria Brown……. a KC PR person.  Seriously, the KC started a petition (she didn’t mention being in the employ of the KC) to get the government to force standards on dog breeders they won’t force on their own registered ones.

Bad breeding is the responsibility of us all.  From greedy people unwilling to give up the glory of a successful show dog regardless of the misery of passing on disease, to greedy pet owners and puppy farmers out to make a fast buck.  People buying knowing they are giving money to puppy farming or irresponsible breeders and those who simply have no morals and don’t care, all play a part.

This show is about the creation of deformed breeds unable to live a dog’s life naturally and the part breeders and the Kennel Club play in the continuation of this.  It forgot to mention the buyers driving the trade.

If there is a way forward, then I think it lies in better legislation, enforcement, both for breeders and owners and the continuing education of both.

Lobby MP’s, join campaigns, buy, breed and own dogs responsibly and report those who don’t.

Edited to add: if you would like some advice on finding a puppy from a reputable breeder, please do contact us.

Edited to add 4th March 2012:
This post has easily been the most read on this blog, Thank you to everyone who has shared it and emailed us. The RSPCA heavily criticises the breed standards that allow the creation of these unhealthy breeds and a few months ago was condemning the Kennel Club’s written breed standards.  Gleefully Tweeting on @RSPCApolitical about the press release making the criticisms, I tried to make some suggestions.  I asked why they hadn’t written some standards that met their own criteria?  I just got a “read this press release” response.  I asked again, saying I had read it, hence my question. I had to ask again before I got the answer “we believe the people inside the organisations are best positioned to change it”.  Cop out I thought.  Why does the RSPCA so often point the finger but not offer any kind of solution?  Interestingly after quite a bit of Tweeting, they went quiet when I repeated I thought they should be writing acceptable standards, not just cashing in on approaching Crufts publicity.  They referred me back to @RSPCAofficial.

Could the breed standards that describe the accepted and expected look of a breed be rewritten to improve health?

Current News about Vet Checks on our Crufts Post HERE

Do we need a Pedigree Dog Alliance to present rescue, owners and breeders views to the Kennel Club and Government?  Petition HERE

About Safepets UK

Expert Witness behaviourist assessing dogs for court, treating cats and dogs. Covering Midlands to London and other areas.

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