by   David Hancock

In a letter to Country Life, published on the 14th of January 1999, the External Affairs Executive of the Kennel Club put forward the view that registering the birth of a dog with that body was exactly comparable with the registration of an infant with the local registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths. Such a view, coming from such a source, is extremely disappointing. He was confusing proof of birth with proof of breeding; it is the latter which is of value in the world of pure-bred dogs.

 Last year, there were a number of cases in which pedigree dog breeders were given lengthy bans by the KC because they had submitted false applications for breeding records to be officially certified. They were not banned for falsifying the fact of birth. The birth certificate of a human being gives official recognition only to a life; the name of the sire need not even be recorded! For a KC official spokesman not to appreciate the crucial difference is really rather sad.

 Breeding records are an absolutely essential element in the successful planning of livestock breeding, whether in horse-racing or in the beef industry. Unfortunately dog-breeding seems to have attracted, down the ages, more than its fair share of fraudsters. This provides a pressing reason for greater vigilance, more diligent verification and a real dedication to sound record keeping, if only to provide an honest service to honest customers who pay good money for it. We have probably got to the stage where the KC is no longer competent alone to keep records of pedigree dog-breeding. It may well be time for breed clubs to become involved, rather as they are on the Continent. DNA testing on a random basis has a role but further checking using straightforward human skills has a role too. Such a form of verification would at least have prevented the recording, by the KC, of a dead Bullmastiff as the sire of a litter!

 Any number of breed books devote pages to the early pedigrees of the foundation stock of their breed in the sincere belief that these documents are accurate. It is safer, I believe, to take a very different view, for a number of reasons: firstly, before the days of Anti-Mate all sorts of unplanned canine liaisons took place, creating a need for 'papers' without genuine proof of real male parentage; secondly, many Victorian dog dealers kept large numbers of dogs and knew that certain sires attracted bigger fees and therefore a larger bevy of bitches than one dog alone could cope with. Bitches sent to them were serviced but not by the intended sire. And thirdly, many Victorian dog-dealers were the equivalent of our secondhand car dealers of today who record false mileages on vehicle documents.

 Here are just a few examples from one breed at the turn of the century, based on data promulgated in Britain's Kennel Gazette. In 1901, Mr John Fox's Mastiff Clifton Lass was registered as a Mastiff and as having been born in 1894. In 1903, Mr Fox registered Clifton Terror and Clifton Hall as Mastiffs, out of Clifton Lass by Thorneywood Terror. In 1905, Mr W Blackburn registered Ratcher Hill Bessle as a Mastiff, again out of Clifton Lass and by Thorneywood Terror. There were no caveats on the breeds being mated at a time when cross-breds were regularly registered. In 1912, Mr C Richardson registered two Bullmastiffs, Diamond, born in 1911 and Grip, born in 1907. Both these Bullmastiffs came from a mating between Thorneywood Terror and Clifton Lass, previously listed as Mastiffs.

 Even more startling, the pedigree reveals that Clifton Lass gave birth to Diamond when she was 17 years old! Likely? Here is just one case in which not only are breeds treated in a cavalier manner but human credulity stretched to the limit. Such breeding records are worthless. Thorneywood Terror was considered to be the most effective night-dog in Britain, giving demonstrations of man-catching at livestock shows. He was a brindle, weighing around 90lbs. and had evident Bulldog blood; he was without doubt a prototypal Bullmastiff. He was widely used as a Mastiff sire, of Stanford Busker (born 20 July 1902) and of Allestree Judy (born August 1902) for example.

 In April 1921, Sir Roger, a dog sired by Poor Joe (Bullmastiff) and out of Peggy (Bullmastiff) was registered as a Cross-breed (Bullmastiff). In August 1921, Poor Jerry, from the same litter was registered as a Mastiff. In 1922, Peggy herself was registered as a Mastiff! King Baldur and Penkhill Lady appear as the same sire and dam in both Mastiff and Bullmastiff registrations. The first Bullmastiff to win a prize at Crufts, Farcroft Fidelity was actually sired by Shireland Vindictive but was sent for a service from his alleged father Vindictive, the truth only being squeezed out later. It also later transpired that Shireland Vindictive's sire was in fact a Bulldog called Wellington Marquis, and not Vindictive at all. Farcroft Fidelity had not a little influence on the developing breed of Bullmastiff; are his papers of any value?

 Rudolf Lons, in his book 'Der Deutsche Hundesport, sein Wesen under seine Ziele', of 1913, wrote: "The statements of the breeders, when they cannot be accurately checked, must never be considered as material unopen to criticism...in spite of the thirty years' work of special clubs, there does not exist as yet any reliable material from the breeders which is suitable for scientific treatment." The Danish geneticist Winge examined the records of the Danish Kennel Club in the middle of the twentieth century and found example after example of breeding records which simply could not have been accurate on grounds of coat colour alone. But it is not just the older records that are suspect.

 The American Kennel Club made a random DNA test on some of its registrations in 1998 and found that 13% were just plain wrong. In Britain, we have our KC conducting a pilot DNA testing scheme only on volunteered dogs! Are dodgy breeders at all likely to go anywhere near such a facile scheme? Breeding records are very very important, not just as proof of ancestry but so that carriers of inheritable defects can be traced. It is fair to say that there has been an appreciable degree of dishonesty in the registration of pure-bred dogs over many years and it is difficult to see the value of registration documents as a reliable historical source. It is pointless to argue that most pedigrees are accurate unless you know which ones are.

 This quote from the Rev.M.B. Wynn's 'The History of the Mastiff' of 1886 makes a point or two for me: "...I am sure that any little inaccuracies that he (i.e. Mr Lukey, the famous Mastiff breeder) made at times in his dogs' pedigrees, arose from defect in memory and having no stud book to refer to. When a breeder has had as many dogs pass through his hands as Mr Lukey or myself, it is easy to get confused as to the exact breeding of some..." One man's confusion is another man's misinformation -- and not just in 1886! I don't see how you can have a "little" inaccuracy in a pedigree; surely it's either right or wrong. But the attitude of this writer-breeder speaks reams.

 Precise breeding plans demand totally accurate breeding records for success. In his 'The Mating and Whelping of Dogs' of 1954, Captain R Portman Graham wrote of an example in which "...a breeder might intend to practise a very sound policy of putting a bitch back to its grandfather, a champion dog, and on referring to his bitch's pedigree he finds the grandsire to use. If in fact, the champion dog shown was not the actual grandsire, but entered on the pedigree in mistake for another dog, the bitch's owner's breeding plan is abortive. The author knows of many cases where circumstances similar to the above have occurred through negligence or lack of method." The worry here is the author's use of the word 'many'. Even when errors in pedigrees are revealed, the registration department at the KC is loathe to act.

 When a pedigree contains only parentage, a number, date of birth, gender and coat colour, there are health risks facing any breeder seeking breeding stock. In her forthright and informative 'Advanced Labrador Breeding' of 1988, Mary Roslin-Williams describes how a New Zealand breeder did endless research into a certain bloodline then imported this blood for a carefully planned breeding programme. This breeder was then horrified to find entropion cropping up very badly in the subsequent offspring. Such a waste of time, effort and money could so easily be avoided if pedigree forms recorded familial predispositions to disease or the possibility of inheritable defects manifesting themselves.

 In his excellent 'Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders' of 1992, Malcolm Willis points out: "...This allows us to examine the statement that: 'The pedigree is more important than the dog itself'. It can be seen that this is blatantly untrue. Never does pedigree information become more important than information on the dog itself...The pedigree cannot be more important than the dog and breeders forget this at their peril...A poor animal is not made better because his pedigree is good." Yet just about every advertisement for pedigree puppies stresses the quality of the pedigree rather than the pups themselves. The great breeder Everett Millais once wrote: "A pedigree animal is not an animal which has a pedigree, for as a pedigree it may be that of the greatest mongrel with the vastest extent of blue blood..." A point well made.

 In his 'British Dogs' of 1897, Hugh Dalziel felt obliged to write: "Many dogs -- I believe I might say hundreds -- of cases have come to my notice in which the letters 'KCSB' (Kennel Club Stud Book) have been used with the direct object of enhancing the services of stud dogs, and giving increased value to dogs on sale. The imposition is easy because most people purcahse dogs, not on their intrinsic merits, but on account of the pedigree and prize-winning record of the individual dog or some of his near relations." There are undoubtedly many breeders one hundred years later, who, despite Malcolm Willis's advice as a geneticist, still breed on the pedigree rather than on the 'intrinsic merit' of the dogs themselves. Dogs which have a use are never bred this way; it is always good worker or good runner to another with the same or better performance.

 Dalziel went on to write that: "...when the letters 'KCSB' are used in connection with dogs which are in the Name Register of the Kennel Club only, as is often the case, they are misleading, and the Name Register, unintentionally by its authors, facilitates fraud...and the Club should remember that

     Evil is wrought by want of thought

     As well as want of heart."

This snatch of verse should become the motto of the registration department of the Kennel Club. Dead Bullmastiffs can't sire litters; seventeen year old bitches are unlikely to have litters and the sire and dam from one breed cannot produce progeny for a different breed. Well, perhaps on paper they can. But when that piece of paper forms a breeding record, and not just a certificate of birth, then in future honest people paying good money are being cheated when they are supplied with their pedigree form.

 It is pointless for some smug insouciant executive of the Kennel Club to tell us that most pedigrees are accurate until he can tell us which ones are. The tiny limited DNA sampling scheme being conducted with the Staffordshire Bull Terrier only collects information on dogs volunteered for testing. Are the breeders who cheat likely to take part? We need random DNA testing as soon as possible and as often as possible. And if that puts up the costs of registering a dog, that would be a price worth paying. Does any rational dog owner want to pay £10 for a worthless piece of paper even if it is called a Kennel Club pedigree? Let's stop in their tracks those who 'want of heart' and produce, as a nation, dog breeding records we are all proud of.