300 Is the KC going to the Dogs

by   David Hancock

All over the developed world, the pure©bred dog business is confronted by common problems, ranging from deceitful breeders submitting false pedigrees to puppy farming in disgraceful conditions and from the ever©increasing number of inheritable defects arising in pure©bred breeds to the disappointing quality of exhibits at the top shows. These are problems to be faced, and in some countries they are. In an attempt to reduce the number of dogs registered with them coming from 'puppy©mills', the American Kennel Club now inspects over 700 kennels each year. Our Kennel Club inspects none.

 Even the kennel clubs of countries less prominent in the pure©bred dog industry, such as Poland, Mexico, Croatia, Slovenia, Colombia and El Salvador have mandatory health clearances for breeding stock. Our KC, the longest established, does not. It does have a voluntary health scheme which covers around 20,000 dogs a year; but with another 250,000 dogs being registered every year, this is hardly taking effect. Alarmed by fraudulent registrations, the American Kennel Club instituted random DNA tests and found that 13% of their registrations were false. Our KC carries out no random DNA tests on dogs registered with them.

 We are rapidly becoming a 'third World Country' in our care of pure©bred dogs, with the KC accused of arrogance, indecision, a lack of leadership and, its staff, of shamelessness. The KC, for example, boasts that its top dog show, Crufts, exhibits 'the best of the very best', as their slogan pronounces. The judges they appoint to officiate at this show beg to differ. Here are some judges' reports on last year's show: Bloodhounds; "...we have lost, with a few exceptions, the beautiful heads as described in the standard...Good reach of neck also seems to have disappeared." Briards; "Fronts as usual have not improved. I think they are getting worse. I counted 9 that had really good forechests in the whole entry." Greyhounds; "I was absolutely dismayed with incorrect movement, lack of broad, square backs and powerful hindquarters." Irish Setter bitches; "...the movement of some to be at fault ©© a disturbing aspect to encounter at this level. ”I wondered how these young dogs could have qualified in the first place with such obvious faults•." Old English Sheepdogs; "I found movement not good in far too many...Still far too many are weak on the hock joint."

 In other words, a scenthound like the Bloodhound lacks the good reach of neck essential in a tracking breed, only 9 out of 91 Briards, valued French sheepdogs, entered had good heart and lung room, our most famous sighthound, the Greyhound, lacks power behind, a distinguished gundog breed displays faulty movement and our native drovers' breed is now weak in rear drive. And this, the KC claims is 'the best of the very best'! I don't know which is worse, the arrogance, the complacency or the ignorance.

 When the badly©framed Dangerous Dogs Act was being drawn up by the Home Office, the KC supplied advice on foreign breeds of dog, such as the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro. But the KC has no knowledge of these breeds and doesn't even recognise them. All three were subsequently banned from Britain either under the Act itself or the import restrictions in its wake. No other kennel club in the world took such action. The international kennel club, the Federation Cynologique International, recognises these breeds and has extensive knowledge of them but does not recommend their exclusion. What possible basis could the KC have had for their action, apart from supreme arrogance?

 Last year, the KC published a glossy expensive tome entitled 'The Kennel Club's Illustrated Breed Standards', costing áœá35, describing every breed of pure©bred dog registered by them. Each breed description contained a brief history of that breed. But rather than seek the wisdom of an acknowledged dog historian, the KC gave the job to two of its own officials, resulting in every fairytale, every over©romanticised fable, every invention of over©enthusiastic breed fanciers being solemnly recorded as fact. The book describes the KC as the 'world's oldest authoritative body dealing with dog breeds'; there is little that is authoritative in this further example of their arrogance. 

 But more damaging than their arrogance is their indecision. Last year the Belgian Shepherd Dog was recognised by the KC as one breed with four varieties; this year it has to be bred and exhibited as four distinct breeds. Imagine the outcry if the Belgian Kennel Club decreed that our four native breeds of setter would henceforth be regarded as one breed, judged as such and interbred! The KC decided not to recognise the brindle colour in Basenjis and then changed its mind. How can breeders keep pace with such policy reversals? In reversing this decision the KC discovered that "brindle is a naturally occurring colour in Africa"; did the oldest kennel club in the world really not know such a well©established fact until 1999?

 Even more tiresome for breeders is the refusal of the KC's registration department only to record the colour of dogs according to their breed standard, of which the KC holds the copyright. It is possible, for example, to register Bullmastiff pups as being apricot, tan or mahogany, whereas the KC©approved breed standard only allows brindle, fawn or red. Researchers studying Bullmastiff pedigrees in the future will lack any data of value over colour inheritance. The Breed Councils of breeds like the poodle, the mastiff and the Rhodesian ridgeback have represented against this successfully, but they shouldn't have to, the registration department of the KC should not be contradicting their own Breeds Standards Committee.

 The lack of leadership from the KC leads to countless anomalies. A dog which attempts to bite a judge in the show ring is rightly banned. Its future progeny is also refused registration. But its past progeny can continue, either as exhibits or pets, and be bred from. How can future progeny be considered potentially harmful and past progeny not? The genes for suspect temperament are in both. The breed standards of breeds recognised by the KC contain a note stating: Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum. But castrated males, obviously without testicles in their scrotum, can be shown, can win prizes and gain entry to the studbook. Of what possible value is that, if you accept that one of the main reasons for showing dogs is to identify future breeding stock?

 The KC recognises at least 40 breeds which were customarily docked; dogs of these breeds featuring a full tail can however be exhibited. But how can they be judged when the breed standard only covers docked tails? The standard of the Dobermann, for example, expects a tail to be docked at first or second joint. I have seen this breed displaying full tails which can curl tightly over the croup, spitz©like, hang down between the hocks or be carried gaily like the stern of a foxhound. Which type of full tail should Dobermann breeders be aiming for?   

 The KC claims that it takes every possible step to produce a valid registration system. Last year a breeder submitted registration forms for two puppies which did not exist. Result? A warning, a censure and a fine of áœá50, with no ban whatsoever. Is this really the way to ensure the future integrity of a registration system? What kind of message does this send to the cheats? For the tenth of the value of one pedigree pup, you can deceive and then carry on. But a judge who incorrectly totalled the number of dogs she had judged on a KC form received a five year ban. Which is the greater sin?

 At their bi©annual general meeting held in November 1999, 161 members of the KC overwhelmingly rejected the principle of compulsory micro©chipping of all KC©registered dogs as a means of permanent positive identification. The distinguished former vet who proposed this step part justified his proposal on the grounds that it would help preserve the integrity of the KC studbook and the registration system as a whole. This proposal was seconded by another eminent vet. Its summary rejection undermines any attempt by the KC to promote greater responsibility and to enhance public confidence in its registration system. And how can carriers of inheritable defects be traced without a foolproof system of identification?

 This lamentable lack of forward thinking is outmatched only by the sheer shamelessness of KC officials themselves. In 1998 a KC trustee, general committee member and chairman of a key KC committee was fined áœá300 by his own club for 'harsh handling' a seven month©old puppy he was judging. He was stated to have struck the young puppy twice across the head in full view of the public. He retained his KC appointments. A year earlier, the External Affairs Executive of the KC, when acting as a dog©dealer, was found against in a County Court and made to pay áœá250 over a transaction with a wheel©chaired customer in which he provided a dog which was 'not fit for purpose' under the Sale of Goods Act. Despite this he remained in office. When he did retire in 1998, he was replaced by the daughter of the puppy©hitting KC trustee!

 How can any organisation retain respect when its officials behave so shamelessly? For how much longer are those in the pure©bred dog business, especially those risking their cash in it, going to tolerate such goings©on? A few years ago, the eminent geneticist and German Shepherd Dog authority Dr Malcolm Willis was writing: "...the Kennel Club never believe they make mistakes. It's always someone else, usually the Press, never those who rule us." Years before that, that most knowledgeable dogman and greatly respected Irish setter breeder, the late Bill Rasbridge, was writing: "The KC has come to be based financially on maintaining pedigree records which contribute only, as a fraction of them, to quality dog breeding." These words were written under the headline "Whom does the Kennel Club serve?"

 Wilson Stephens, doyen of gundog writers, wrote some years ago, after Group Captain Sutton's resignation from the general committee of the KC: "How long the Kennel Club can keep cohesion and credibility as a governing body is now seriously in question." More recently, Dr Willis, in an article concerning the relationship between the breed of German Shepherd Dog and the KC, and headlined "Split with KC cannot come too soon", wrote: "...the authority of the KC is a self©appointing authority wherein about 600 people are given power over the rest of dogdom without being elected...The KC has power...because it has not yet had its legality questioned in the civil courts." Is it now time for such a legal questioning to be tried?

 In Finland, their kennel club has a membership of 110,000 from a population of 5 million; our KC has a membership of 750 from a population of 56 million. In the United States there are half a dozen kennel clubs; our KC has a monopoly. Is this healthy? For such a long established institution, the KC is disappointingly prickly over criticism of any kind, lacking the maturity and magnanimity expected but perhaps displaying understandable insecurity. Distinguished and knowledgeable dogmen don't criticise the KC out of malice but out of despair. The inability of the KC to move with the times is producing a revolutionary rather than an evolutionary climate in the world of the pure©bred dog in Britain. If the KC is by©passed by a new organisation, it will be both timely and well deserved.