331 Wake Up KC

by   David Hancock

 One day in the future, perhaps around 2050AD, a fairy tale written about a private West End club for dog fanciers, the Kennel Club of Clarges Street, Piccadilly, which fell asleep for one hundred years, will be told to wide-eyed and perhaps unbelieving audiences. Unlike traditional fairy stories, it will sound harmful instead of harmless, charmless rather than charming. The essence of the leading character, Rip Van Clarges Street, will be: sleeping whilst others worked, reacting rather than being pro-active, chasing the bus rather than catching it, never setting the pace, being secretive and resenting both change and criticism. Rip Van Clarges Street could identify  a problem and then tell you what he wasn't doing about it. But who could have woken Rip Van Clarges Street? 

 What is actually being done, for example, to oversee incompetent judges, who can do so much harm to breeding programmes by making up unworthy champions? Flawed champions get bred from--a lot! Ordinary citizens wanting a companion dog are often dazzled by the presence of champions in a pedigree. False champions made up by incompetent judges, judges with no credible qualifications at all, still achieve breeding kudos. The KC has now appointed 'assessors', again without credible qualifications, to keep an eye on judges. Paradoxically, this could lead to a new generation of course-trained, seminar-educated bright and informed aspiring judges being left in despair by the rather less than profound, often surprisingly ignorant senior show judges about to become their assessors. Some would argue that the very people who created the need for identifying bad judges now stand a good chance of actually being elevated by it. Making up unsound champions for five years is no basis for promotion. Rip, wake up! YOU are the watchman!    

 In far too many aspects of the custodianship of pure-bred dogs, Britain is being left behind and unwisely wallows in the benign torpor favoured by those who should be providing answers but don't.  Judging dogs is about having sufficient knowledge, not to be confused with having the opportunity for lots of experience. Why should someone who has bred 100 pups automatically  have special knowledge of anatomy, breed points and locomotion? Breeding skills and judging skills are different. The Judges Sub-Committee too seems to favour judges who have judged a lot rather than those who know a lot. A bad judge judging frequently is a bigger menace than any novice. In some breeds there are over 100 judges recommended to award C.C.s; does each of them really have the knowledge to launch a champion? Rip, wake up! We have burglars!

 What is being done about over-breeding? The Kennel Club will register blind and deaf puppies from parents with high hip scores and hereditary cataracts. The Kennel Club will register any number of pups from one kennel as long as the kennel owner registers the pups under the names of different so-called breeders; this legitimises thinly-veiled puppy-farming. The Kennel Club will register pups from a rat-infested, excrement-coated, damp and dingy, unheated outhouse on some remote Welsh puppy farm. Will Rip van Clarges Street go on sleeping or be shamed into waking up and honouring a stated mandate "to improve dogs" by decreeing some urgently needed quality control? How about: Puppies will only be registered from premises inspected by KC field officers, when both parents have health clearances, when the breeder possesses an affix and is a member of a breed club with a mandatory code of ethics, and, then only register 20 puppies a year from one such breeder. Likely? Hush, you are waking Rip!

 Loud groans of protest from a stirring Rip will no doubt be picked up by those with an axe to grind or vested interest to protect.  But what are other countries doing? The Swedish and American KCs inspect hundreds of breeding establishments every year. In Switzerland, a dog cannot be used for breeding unless it passes tests for conformation, health and temperament. In Finland, each breed organisation is required to compile a breeding programme covering health, character, performance and appearance. South Africa has introduced a requirement for hip dysplasia clearance for dogs of all breeds. In Sweden, a litter is registered when the parents meet specified criteria; if they do not, the litter cannot be recognised.

 Poland, Colombia, Mexico, Croatia, Slovenia, even El Salvador, have clearance requirements. When Rip fell asleep we were the leaders in this field -- some solace! The Canadian KC has a strategic planning committee looking at an advanced registry of pedigree dog breeders. Is Rip having bad dreams? Who wants to be a Third World country in dogdom? Who wants to be governed by a Kennel Club which deals out punishment to those who break its rules but never looks to its own performance. I'd like my country to show the world how things are done. Shouldn't the first Kennel Club in history try to set the pace, lead the way, be the 'brand leader'? Wake up, Rip!

 For any kennel club to claim "but we are only a registry" is lame and more than a little pathetic. Any worthwhile organisation wants to tell the world how much it is doing not how little. For an organisation with a capability to improve the well-being of subject creatures to hide from responsibility is simply unacceptable. If a self-appointed governing body cannot cope with the demands of modern society then it should step aside. Perhaps the more powerful canine clubs should be more vocal and set out their stall for the KC to respond to -- who is going to wake up Rip Van Clarges Street? 'Sleeping whilst on sentry' is a serious military offence; does Rip even know of his 'sentry' role?

 Between 1989 and 1991, nearly half the dogs referred to the Royal School of Veterinary Studies with aortic stenosis were Boxers. This is now the most common congenital heart condition in dogs in the UK. There is a control scheme for use within the breed of Boxer and whilst only murmur-free dogs should be used for breeding in an ideal world, there are other merits in afflicted dogs, which the breed gene pool could benefit from. But shouldn't the public know if their expensive purchase has a condition with a genetic component? Not all dog breeders are honourable people. Who's in charge? Who runs the register?

 An increasing number of breeds is experiencing whelping problems. If pups born by caesarean section had their papers marked to say so then their reduced value would soon make breeders look more closely at head and pelvis size. The free for all in dog-breeding may suit irresponsible owners, money-grabbing vets and lazy registrars but what does it do for the well-being of dogs? Who controls the register? --Rip! And who should spot that breeders are registering much bigger litters than a breed normally records so that, for the phantom pups, papers can be illegally obtained for future fraudulent records. If you cannot spot that old dodge, Rip, then you shouldn't be in charge of the national pedigree dog register. Do wake up!

 Haemophilia A disorder is disturbingly high in German Shepherd Dogs. The breed council is involved in a screening and certification programme. Roughly 10,000 male GSDs are registered each year and the disorder is seen more commonly in males. In the first four years of the scheme less than 1,500 animals have been assessed. Is this good enough? Are we making our best endeavours to assist this breed, at every level, including the top? Shouldn't affected males and carrier females have their papers marked? Sadly, as always, the responsible breeders who take part in voluntary schemes pay the price. Why is policy in such matters forever left with the better breed clubs to make 'on the hoof'? Where are you, Rip?

  Breeds are supposed to be safeguarded by breed clubs: every breed club has to be registered with the KC. What an opportunity for instilling accountability! If every breed club had to have a comprehensive rescue organisation and a credible health scheme, both to a KC design, before it could be registered, then the welfare of breeds would be better ensured. But the KC prefers to stand aloof from such authoritative and responsible custodianship. And woe betide anyone daring to  criticise them! The Kennel Gazette, the house-magazine of the KC, recently printed this statement: "Sniping at The Kennel Club, as this column has pointed out before, is cheap journalism" -- so much for freedom of speech!

 One past chairman of the KC, went as far as to draft a 'personal statement' around six years ago when a perfectly harmless questionnaire was circulated. His personal statement included these opening words: "The canine press, together with many Kennel Club critics take every opportunity to try to damage the reputation of myself and ipso facto the Kennel Club." So much for any hope of constructive debate! He went on to admit being the author of a much-criticized Gazette column, claiming that: "it reflects my views and is the voice of the Kennel Club." Not much room for democracy here! He later in this personal statement claimed to have dragged the club into the 20th century adding: "I have ensured that homosexuals and the freemasons are kept well within their place, and corruption is controlled." He ended by threatening legal action. His words tell you more about this club, its internal pressures  and its attitudes to society than any of mine ever could. Do wake up Rip Van Clarges Street, you've overslept!

The KC is a private members' club; it has no charter, is not a company, is not a charity. It charges owners of registered dogs £M4 a year to run a service for them. It bases this 'service' entirely on the truthfulness of dog breeders, yet bans several every year for behaving unacceptably. It states that its main object is the general improvement of dogs, but is unable to produce a definition of what that actually means. It spends £M3.5 annually on its own staff (a figure which has doubled in less than ten years) but only gives a miserly £100,000 to its own Charitable Trust and £50,000 to its Health Foundation Trust. It makes an annual deficit. For how much longer can Rip be allowed to sleep?