274 Registering Discontent

by   David Hancock

 "For Sale: Black Labrador puppies. Excellent pedigree. Ready now. Telephone..." Such an advertisement often catches our eye, especially when our old gundog has moved on to higher pastures and the urge to own a sound well-bred dog resurfaces. But when you pay £500 for a pedigree pup, what are you getting?

 The first point to make is that there is no such thing as an excellent pedigree. In Britain there are no mandatory health clearances for breeding stock and no checks on the validity of the pedigree. Dealing with this latter point first. Expensive pure-bred dogs are expected by potential owners to be registered and their breeding thereby verified. In response to this expectation, our Kennel Club runs a registration department which certifies the breeding of around 1,000 dogs every working day. But no checks are made on the facts supplied by the breeder.

 As a result of this astonishingly casual approach to record-keeping, we have the ludicrous situation in which a dead bullmastiff is certified as having sired a litter and in which pedigree puppy purchasers are often invited by breeders, on expressing an interest in showing their purchase, to choose a pedigree from "that pile over there". In the first few months of 1998 alone, a German Shepherd Dog breeder and Crufts judge has been convicted in a Swansea court of supplying false pedigree details and a prominent show breeder banned by the KC for twenty years for falsifying pedigrees. A Labrador breeder was recently banned by the KC for ten years for supplying a customer with false hip-score certificates. A golden retriever breeder was also investigated by the KC for supplying a hip-score certificate which had in fact been issued for a different dog. Certificates of breeding and health matters issued by the KC are the bedrock of our pedigree dog breeding system. It is something which clearly needs to be tightened up.

 It costs £80 to register a litter of 8 puppies with the KC and a further £7 to transfer that registration to each new owner. The KC obtains two thirds of its income from annual registrations. Without such income the KC could not survive; how dangerous to put such core financing at risk or at least not do your best to safeguard it. Scrutiny by the American KC of its own registration system has revealed that 13% of its registrations were false. If such a level of deceit were being obtained here, this would mean that some 30,000 of the dogs registered with our KC each year could be registered under false pedigrees.

 At the very least, this situation could lead to the pedigree form you pay for when transferring ownership of your newly and expensively acquired Labrador pup being valueless and to your being deceived. At its worst it means that all subsequent breeding records are false and, most important of all, when inheritable diseases are being traced  through breeding stock for carriers, false data is being used and wrong conclusions drawn. It is touching that the KC still insists on relying solely on trust when producing their registration certificates, based entirely on information provided by breeders. But is it fair to those who pay for such a dubious service?

 In firm measures aimed at validating its own registry, the American KC has launched a DNA Compliance Audit Programme. Since January 1998, the AKC Investigation Services and Compliance Division began using DNA as part of its routine kennel inspection programme (our KC has no such kennel inspection system). In the first two months, a total of 2835 DNA samples were taken from 268 kennels. These totals include samples from 573 litters (embracing sire, dam and progeny). Laboratory tests of 271 litters showed that 34 litters had to be excluded from the registry because the parentage claimed for them by the breeder simply could not be correct. No such routine scrutiny is being carried out by our KC, only the recent launch of a small pilot study in one club in one breed which will take a year or two to produce results. In the meantime the KC continues to issue hundreds of certificates daily whilst fining and banning breeders who, unusually, get caught falsifying applications. Why no random testing?

 You can then link that remarkable tolerance with the fact that one breeder alone registered 230 puppies with the KC in 1997. If that breeder had supplied false applications for the pedigrees of those dogs, and half of them were bitches subsequently bred from, it could be that even in the next generation, the best part of a thousand offspring could spread that inaccuracy onwards. If in due course that particular kennel were to be found to feature say a disabling eye disease, genetically transmittable to future stock, how can any veterinary research be conducted in order to eliminate or reduce the likelihood of the disease, when the parentage is falsely recorded? Breeding records form a vital element in tracing carriers and then reducing the future incident rate of disabling diseases.

 The problem is made worse by the fact that dog identification is not mandatory in Britain. This means that not only is it difficult to identify the dog in the flesh with the dog on the certificate but it is also easier to cheat, both when submitting papers and entering dogs for shows. How simple it is to enter a champion dog in the name of  a novice dog at a show, under a judge from overseas who will not have seen either dog before, and get a ticket for a dog not even present. The wrong dog becomes a winner, gets bred from as a direct result and its progeny prized. In this case registration may not be untrue but the reputation of the dog is. "My dog is sired by a champion" may be a proud boast but an unwise one.

 If you ally false registration, false hip scores and false show records with the absence of any mandatory health clearances, then the purchase of a pedigree puppy in Britain is a dicey business. There is nothing to stop a breeder here from registering 19 litters a year with the KC, containing stock possessing the likelihood of developing hip dysplasia, distressing eye diseases, a wide range of cancers and savage temperament. A German Shepherd Dog researcher recently found a litter with over a hundred lines to a well known epileptic of the past. How can healthy pedigree dogs be produced without checks on the genetic health of their parents? Even Croatia and El Salvador insist on health clearances for breeding stock; we do not. The KC will ban from registration the future progeny of a dog shown to be savage, but not its past progeny, which can be freely bred from. To take such a risk with dogs likely to become family pets is irresponsible.

 The Kennel Club registers another quarter of a million dogs every year; many will be falsely recorded, some will pass on inheritable diseases which will later cripple the dog and financially cripple the owner. This is tantamount to neglect. It would not be difficult to remedy this situation. The mere threat of random DNA sampling would scare dishonest breeders into changing their ways. The introduction of mandatory health clearances for breeding stock is a straightforward procedure, easily achieved already by nearly all other European countries. Pedigree dog breeding has to be rooted in the pursuit of excellence; even the pursuit of income is prejudiced when this is not so. Perhaps it is time for lawyers who earn a living from cases brought under the Sale of Goods Act to look hard at business prospects for them in the dog-breeding industry; there would be rich pickings.

 At a time when American KC field inspectors are inspecting an average of 3,000 breeding establishments a year, the chairman of our KC reported to his 1998 AGM that: "Unfortunately, the Kennel Club does not have a police force and cannot physically inspect the sources from which come applications to register puppies." With such a negative approach and total lack of vision, it is hardly surprising that puppy farming in pedigree breeds is rife in Britain. The evidence of pedigree breed puppy farming is easily spotted from the KC's own records. Here is one example: In an area where puppy farming is rampant, a Golden Retriever dog has sired 75 litters totalling 552 puppies in just over 2 years. Five of these bitches were under one year old, one bitch had produced four litters in the first 3½ years of her life. You don't need an external "police force" to examine your own records!

 A survey of these records by one of the weekly dog papers indicated that there are about eight breeders using 40 or more different names producing 600 litters a year. Two of them produce more than 150 litters each! An analysis revealed that 1% of breeders are producing 12% of all registered litters; 92 breeders produced 3,097 litters. This at a time when the RSPCA is having to rehome 28,000 dogs every year.

 The remedy for this quite disgraceful and unacceptable over-production of pedigree pups is only in the hands of the KC. This organisation is good at taking the money, but, for a body set up for the improvement of dogs, not so good at observing its own remit. The time has come for a dog-loving entrepreneur to set up an alternative kennel club, one that provides a real service and strives to improve the lot of the pedigree dog. In the meantime, think twice before the expression "excellent pedigree" seduces you. It may well be an excellent piece of paper, but what about the dog!