247 For Dog's Sake

by   David Hancock

 It must be depressing to work at the sharp end of a canine charity or in breed rescue and then read the sustained opposition from within the world of pedigree dogs to any legislation being proposed to improve the lot of dogs. The expression 'sustained opposition' could so often read 'sustained self-interest', for it is rarely the best interests of dogs which are at heart. Any attempt to revise our rather dated quarantine laws causes uproar, usually amongst those with a vested interest, whether at Ministry or at boarding kennel level. No concession is made to facts and figures, scientific progress or the trauma for the wretched canine imports. Every attempt to control breeders who over-produce or owners who abandon their unwanted and untraceable pets is met with quite dishonourable arguments falsely based on a strange concept of freedom and democratic rights. Dogs may not have rights but we ought to strive ceaselessly to acknowledge the simple needs of subject creatures.

 The incidence of recorded cruelty to dogs in Britain is still running at a rate which is frankly a national disgrace. It is tempting to think such cruelty is confined to isolated puppy-farms, anarchic council estates where everything else is out of control too or to owners with severe personality disorders. But at just about every show you go to, you can pick up details of the wholly undesirable treatment of dogs which is never reported. We all want a quiet life. We don't want to inform on our colleagues, neighbours or relatives. So cruelty is condoned by cowardice, apathy and weakness. Concealment of indirect cruelty is commonplace.

 In the breed of Bullmastiff, there is a worrying incidence of lymphosarcoma which screams out for investigation. Through carefully planned breeding programmes, based on a scrutiny of pedigrees, this fatal disease could be, if not bred out, substantially reduced in frequency. But no scheme has ever received the support and cooperation of the breeders. So Bullmastiffs are bred carrying fatal genes. Their short lives are precious but their suffering is needless. There is a parallel situation over hip-scoring in the breed, which has a high mean score. But only just over 400 Bullmastiffs have ever been hip-scored; some irresponsible breeders might well be using stock with scores of over 80! They don't seem to care. Who can make them care? Sadly not their dogs.

 I strongly believe that the Kennel Club should insist that all litters need both parents to be hip-scored before registration will be permitted. South Africa has introduced a requirement for hip dysplasia clearance for dogs of all breeds. In Switzerland, a dog cannot be used for breeding unless it passes tests for conformation, temperament and health. In Sweden, a litter is registered when the parents meet specified health criteria; if they do not, the litter cannot be recognised. In Finland, each breed organisation is required to compile a breeding programme covering character, health, performance and appearance. (How would our breed societies handle that mandate?) Colombia, Poland, Mexico, Croatia, Slovenia and even El Salvador have clearance requirements. In Britain you can breed from blind and deaf dogs and register the progeny.

 Every summer, dogs die in overheated vehicles, sometimes at dog shows. The Kennel Club has now issued guidelines for dealing with the latter. Under these, it is advised that show secretaries may consider putting ring numbers on car park stickers; a notice of possible remedial action should be published in the show schedule and posted in the car park; arrangements should be made for outside bodies to patrol car parks and a show official should take 'appropriate action' after a time lapse of 10 minutes and if a vet's opinion supports it. There is nothing mandatory in any of this decision-avoiding subterfuge.

 Research from New Zealand shows that the temperature in a car left out in the sun rises by 18 degrees in 20 minutes. As the maximum tolerable body temperature of a dog is 42 degrees (which is when tissue damage starts), death or permanent injury occurs quickly; a plea of "I only left him for a few minutes" is merely gravestone material. Any compassionate human being should immediately smash the windows of any vehicle containing dogs which are in a distressed condition. And they should be supported in such action all the way by the Kennel Club. Dying dogs demand dynamic action.

 The national press is now taking greater interest in irresponsible breeders than ever before. If this interest is not to reflect badly on those 'in charge' then some urgent changes of official attitude have to take place, and quickly. The Kennel Club has announced that it registered 129,471 puppies in the first half of 1996, compared with 123,705 in the same period of 1995, an increase of nearly 5%. If you take just one breed, the Bullmastiff, and look behind these figures, you will note that: two-thirds were registered without affix, one wretched bitch, herself born in November 1993, produced her fourth litter in April 1996 and many bitches were mated in successive seasons. Is there no regulatory body in the world of pedigree dog breeding? Who is caring for the best interests of the dogs?

 Can more really not be done by those with the power to curtail over-breeding? The Kennel Club registers puppies at the rate of over 1,000 every working day. These puppies could be blind, deaf or otherwise malformed. There are no mandatory clearances for breeding stock in Britain, unlike most civilised countries these days. There are no inspections of breeding premises by our KC, unlike the American KC which inspects hundreds every year. The income from the registrations of dogs is the key element in the KC's finances; a registration of moral responsibility would be more impressive in a body established for 'the improvement of dogs'.

 Take the case of Dr. Helen Hein, vet and GSD breeder, who pleaded guilty in 1996 to eight charges of causing unnecessary suffering to her dogs. In a period of twelve months she registered 128 puppies, selling most of them, perhaps receiving £30,000 in this way. Some had malformations consistent with incest breeding, some were extremely neurotic, some were described as pathetically undersized and at least one malformed from birth. All were registered by the Kennel Club; the identification of  incestuous breeding and the breeding from a bitch each and every time she comes into season does not exactly demand the attention of an Einstein on a sophisticated registration system! Who is actually 'improving dogs'?

 'The Canine Code', published by the Kennel Club, advises the public to "try to buy direct from the breeder...if buying a pedigree dog always go to a specialist breeder, not a dealer." Dr. Hein was a specialist breeder. A breeder in Basildon was recently prohibited from keeping a dog breeding establishment for ten years, after advertising puppies of five different breeds within a year, from unlicensed premises. Why only ten years? Who is going to lobby hard enough to remove such breeders permanently?

 Is anybody with authority in dogdom going to do something about such a scandalous problem, or will clumsy measures be imposed by an outside organisation? I read recently that the Greyhound Rescue kennels from the Scottish border to the Midlands were full. At the same time I read of the annual issue of EU funds to Irish farmers to breed greyhounds. (And scientists say that dogs have no real intelligence!) The paint advertisement has done untold harm to the Old English Sheepdog breed. What pressure has been put on the commercial company concerned to counter the over-production of puppies such an artificially-created demand leads to? Their small contribution to breed rescue is dirty money. Dalmatian fanciers who care about their breed are already dreading the inevitable consequence of the remake of '101 Dalmatians'. Where is the strong voice consistently speaking up for dog's best interests?

 It is distressing to read of the mass export of Miniature Dachshund puppies to a commercial breeder in Japan, who is reported to have auctioned them at the arrival airport. Why isn't the breeder's other stock deregistered and the organisation granting the export licence pilloried relentlessly? A lady recently bought two pups from a Cornish breeder, one of which later developed hydrocephalus and the other could not retract its tongue. She had to resort to the law to obtain redress. A Shih Tzu pup, bought from a kennel recommended by the KC, was so badly crippled that its front legs needed to be broken, reset and put in plaster. What suffering this little dog must have undergone.

 What is the response to such outrages? Hands thrown up in mock horror and cries of "but we're powerless". Who has the power and why isn't it being exercised? No doubt a sub-committee of the Puppy Farming Advisory Panel will come up with a new set of proposals to be watered down, damned with faint praise and then ignored. Studying a problem doesn't solve a problem; there needs to be action whilst the study is being conducted. But bureaucrats and committees love problems more than solutions -- the former give them their favourite occupation: talking.

 There is immense power in the control of the pedigree dog registration system. The Kennel Club is a long-established private institution not renowned for responding to today's pressures. But such an organisation could do so much in the field of animal welfare simply as the custodian of registrations. But it would mean stepping outside the comfort zone which all too often cocoons such an institution. Cynics might say that the income from registrations underpins the lifestyle favoured by a core of club members, a lifestyle which does not include rocking boats. But other kennel clubs in other countries, all without the long and noteworthy traditions of ours, are doing so much more.

 The United Kennel Club of America, for example, has introduced hi-tec DNA registration for dogs. Already, problems involving paternity of litters have been solved. The mother KC has been beaten to it once again and is now, later than necessary, going down the same avenue. Britain is becoming the world's leading expert on dither. Need a decision on brindle Basenjis? Wait two years! Code of Practice needed? Make it voluntary! MAFF's parliamentary secretary is writing personally to ask quarantine kennel owners to sign up to a new voluntary code of practice, to be monitored by the State Veterinary Service. How many voluntary codes of practice is the motor car subject to? They don't work, do they.

 Let's have a millennium plan for pure-bred dogs. By the year 2000AD: no dog can be registered unless it is bred by and only sold to a member of a breed society which has a mandatory code of ethics; every breeder wishing to be KC-approved must undergo an annual site inspection by KC-appointed field officers; no breeder may register more than twenty puppies a year; all registration documents must contain details of health clearances, known carriers to be clearly identified. Quality not quantity is to be the cry. And before some problem-lover or fan of the status quo  comes up with all the reasons why these things can't happen, let every dog-lover shout loud and clear: "For dog's sake -- do something!"