374 Who Cares for pedigree dogs

by   David Hancock

What is to stop a blind and deaf dog winning best in show at a Kennel Club-authorised dog show? With a skilled crafty handler and an obedient confident handsome dog, nothing, is the answer. Now, disabled dogs must always receive our heartfelt compassion, but a dog show is about assessing future breeding material, not just rewarding the best-looking dog on the day. Breeding material surely, in the hands of top breeders, must be good. Don't you believe it! The public are being misled. A blind and deaf dog, even if these afflictions are inheritable, can be registered with the KC, shown in the ring, and bred from, provided the owner doesn't confess. Is that good enough? Are breeders of pedigree dogs too honest to do such things?

The KC has no procedures in place to record and take action in cases reported to them of dogs registered with them carrying lethal genes. The KC boasts of its health scheme which involves 30,000 dogs a year. Since an additional 270,000 dogs are registered each year, how effective could such a limited scheme ever become? Commendably the KC initiated a health survey; 23 different breeds produced returns from under 15% of its members. Over a hundred breeds could not muster more of a response than under a third of its breed club members. What value does such a survey have? Do the majority of breed club members have any interest at all in the health and well-being of their own breed? Who cares about pedigree dogs?

A Bullmastiff has been banned from the show ring by the Kennel Club after being operated on for binary entropion. This dog can however still be bred from and its progeny registered, despite carrying a disabling gene. A respected Labrador breeder noticed that a KC accredited breeder had registered a litter from two dogs with different hereditary eye conditions and reported this to the KC. She was subsequently notified by the KC secretary that the Accredited Breeder Scheme only stipulates that breeding stock is tested and does not require a specific result in order to inform potential puppy purchasers. How low can a so-called governing body stoop? Not so low as to reduce income from registrations is the short answer!

The court reports each year tell us how some show breeders behave: "A Boxer breeder's reputation was in tatters last week after a court ruled that he was guilty of fraud, having falsified the pedigree of a pup he had sold as 'show quality' to a trusting couple." And, "A prize-winning exhibitor was shamed by magistrates last week after being convicted of causing unnecessary suffering to his German Shepherd Dog."

Not so long ago, a dog show judge was jailed for four months after being found guilty of appalling cruelty to her own dogs. A well-known judge and winning exhibitor at Kennel Club shows, admitted to Chelmsford magistrates to ten charges of causing unnecessary suffering to her dogs. There was also the case of the vet and dog breeder, who bred German Shepherd Dogs in great numbers and in great discomfort. Some of her dogs were deformed as a result of incest breeding. She was struck off and banned. This breeder has recently been back in court for similar offences. One of the country's leading breeders of West Highland White Terriers was found guilty of a catalogue of abuse against her dogs, in kennels with no running water or electricity and covered in filth and excrement.

Writing in the canine press a few years ago, a veterinary surgeon and KC member stated: "For over thirty years I have acted as a veterinary expert in cases of alleged cruelty involving pet animals, both dogs and cats. In that time I have appeared both for the prosecution and the defence. Over the last few years I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the number of high profile breeders...who have for whatever reason found themselves the subject of charges under the 1911 Cruelty to Animals Act." The American KC inspects kennels of dogs registered with them; our KC does not.

Whenever man makes use of dogs, it is important to guard against misuse too. Recent years have produced yet more disgraceful incidents in the show fraternity. Yet another breeder was banned by the Kennel Club's disciplinary sub- committee from either registering or competing with any dog for five years. This breeder had falsified his Rottweiler dog's hip score, which was too poor to justify the dog's use for breeding, and then used him as a stud dog, knowingly passing on his dog's poor hips to countless pups. But because the hip scoring of breeding stock is not compulsory, thousands of pups are being registered with the KC from such unworthy parents and then sold to the unsuspecting public as 'KC-registered', which the man in the street mistakenly sees as a kite-mark.

Half a dozen exhibitors again were disqualified for entering dogs for shows under the wrong name. Until a mandatory identification system such as tattooing or microchipping is introduced, only a tiny minority of such offenders will ever be caught; can you tell one Old English Sheepdog from another! Such deception means that the whole system of making dogs up as champions is highly suspect. These examples of cheating or misbehaving in the dog show world are hardly isolated.

A Reading breeder who had made up a German shepherd dog champion some years before, was banned by the KC for ten years, after being found guilty of selling mongrels as German shepherds. The KC also banned: a Manchester man for breeding pit bull terriers deceitfully, a Colchester man for interfering with a badger sett, a Northumberland couple for causing unnecessary suffering to a bearded collie, a Berkshire woman for supplying false hip-score certificates and a Lincolnshire man for allowing his premises to be used for dog fights. Every year breeders are banned for falsifying registration documents. Behaviour at dog shows continues to disappoint --and to amaze!

Incidents in the recent past, range across a bizarre spectrum: a Bearded Collie had his "beard" cut off, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel had his ear feathering cropped, a Maremma was drugged at Crufts, a Rottweiler was poisoned at the Three Counties show, acid was sprayed on the back of a Puli at the Midland Counties' show, another Puli died after being fed an "ecstasy-type" tablet at another show, a Deerhound exhibitor received death threats, a Pomeranian and a Newfoundland died after being poisoned at shows as did an Anatolian Shepherd Dog after Crufts, two Afghans had water thrown over their immaculate coats at the Driffield show and a couple showing Grand Bleu de Gascogne hounds arrived at their allocated bench to find a death threat to one of their dogs fastened to it. The culprits clearly love winning, not dogs.

Exhibitors caught misbehaving at shows have been fined by the KC for: aggressive behaviour and foul language, assaulting a fellow competitor, verbally abusing a judge, using obscene language, threatening behaviour and fighting. One judge was called over to the car of a departing exhibitor and then with his head inside the car found the vehicle rapidly accelerating! Four exhibitors of Soft-coated Wheaten Terriers returned to the car park after a Midlands show to find their tyres had been slashed. Discord in breed clubs is rife, not so long ago in the Bouvier des Flandres Club of Great Britain (with the AGM described as "well-attended but acrimonious" with mention of rudeness, dislike and hostility) and the Bernese Mountain Dog fanciers, with Dr. Malcolm Willis the distinguished geneticist commenting that: "The atmosphere at many shows leaves much to be desired".

The lack of co-operation from breed clubs in schemes to combat inherited diseases is simply a disgrace and shames all dog lovers amongst their membership. But then the Rottweiler breeder who falsified his dog's hip score was secretary of his local breed club. It is the breed clubs which nominate judges, who then decide which dogs win and have value. It is a fair summary of this situation to say that dog show judges are nominated by their colleagues, are never formally tested or examined, with many being incompetent, some biased and a few open to bribery. There is widespread discontent amongst honourable dog show exhibitors over this unacceptable judging scene but the KC ignores the need for change, unlike the other leading national canine clubs overseas.

A winning dog at Crufts, unfairly or incompetently placed, is widely used for breeding purposes. It then passes on its weak points to the detriment of its breed and could carry more than one inherited disease and go on to sire 500 pups which could pass on that defect. Half the international kennel clubs now no longer rely on the integrity of the breeder and require clearances. How can anyone reading of the misdeeds of show breeders in the above paragraphs expect integrity? Pedigree dogs are being bred with defects and registered with defects. And how we are breeding pedigree dogs !

A study of the Breed Records Supplements issued periodically by the KC reveals the following: some West Highland White bitches having had nine or ten litters at only seven years old; a Pembrokeshire Welsh corgi having five litters before her fourth birthday; a four and a half year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier bitch having had seven litters and 55 bitches in this breed mated on successive heats; one Dalmatian bitch producing 33 pups before her fifth birthday. One Papillon breeder has 38 breeding bitches. One English springer spaniel dog has sired nearly 200 litters. What if these dogs carry hereditary diseases? Who knows that they do not!

One breeder, on being informed that his dog had a defect, an inheritable cataract condition, snatched the report form from the desk, punched the eye specialist in the stomach and stormed from the room. So much for breeder co-operation! Breeders would have to co-operate if they couldn't register their stock without clearance certificates. Do you fancy paying £500 for a puppy of a breed you admired at Crufts, only to discover that it was deaf? No less than 37 different KC-recognised breeds are afflicted with hereditary deafness. Yet there is no mandatory KC scheme to assess, record and reduce the incidence of the disease.

When you look around at KC dog show, you will be looking at many dog breeders who have defective stock and knowingly breed from such stock. You will also be visiting a show authorised by a body exercising power without responsibility. No, these are not just my strong views. In May 1988, there was a symposium on Heredity and Disease in dogs and cats at Lord's conference centre attended by the leading UK experts in this field. Their conclusions were crystal-clear: "The reduction of genetic defects depends upon motivation and concerted effort by breeders. For reasons of vested interest, ignorance and sheer intransigence some breeders, often allegedly quite prominent ones, will do absolutely nothing"; "If, for example, breeding stock in certain breeds had to be hip-scored before the Kennel Club would register stock, there would be a marked reduction in the incidence of the problem. The British Kennel Club refuses to do this..."; "...the obvious deficiencies of control (i.e. of eye diseases inherited by dogs) may not be properly addressed until knowledge of disease status becomes an essential part of any official registration procedure."

There is nothing new in such advice. Twenty two years before this symposium, Burns and Fraser were writing in their authoritative "Genetics of the Dog": "...it must be stated that if there is a serious desire to reduce the suffering caused by hereditary defects in dogs then certain measures should be taken. It would not be impossible for the Kennel Clubs to insist on thorough veterinary examination of all breeding stock..." The authors went on to advise the tattooing of tested stock and a note in their registration papers. But there is no serious desire to reduce the suffering.

Is this surprising when you recall the behaviour of breeders at shows and towards their own dogs listed earlier? Is it any sense at all for the Kennel Club to expect breed clubs to regulate their activities and act for the good of dogs when the members of suchng clubs quite clearly dislike each other? Far too many show breeders do not like dogs either; they only like winning.