613 Cruelty has Human Heart

by   David Hancock

Indirect cruelty, cruelty through indifference, recklessness or dishonourable actions, kills more dogs than appalling acts of direct cruelty, which are so easy to spot as well as quick to arouse anger. But the past indifference of most breed clubs towards the health of their breed, the recklessness of so many breeders who simply do not care about the genetic health of their dogs and the dishonourable way in which inheritable diseases are concealed, undermine the pure-bred dog business. In the past very few breed clubs felt it important to have comprehensive health surveys conducted in their breed. The Kennel Club, to its credit, is trying to rectify this.

William Blake, writing in the early part of the 19th century, wrote a poem which contained the line: Cruelty has a human heart. I sometimes recall those words when I read yet another case of human cruelty towards dogs. Cruelty can of course take many forms, both direct and indirect. It is rare nowadays, thankfully, to see someone beat a dog in public; in the Victorian era it was not. It was less likely then however for someone to inflict an early death on a dog through over-feeding than it is now. Both are forms of cruelty and both emanate from the human heart. A pet dog can so easily die from the unchecked over-kindness of its owner, perhaps more so in these days of endless types of 'treats' than in previous centuries. It is the 'human design' of some breeds which discomforts them.

 On mainland Europe, concern over dog welfare has resulted in the much-criticised ETS 125 or European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. This Convention, presented under Articles 5, 10 and 15, aims to counter the harm inflicted on dogs by breeders in pursuit of human whim. It seeks to have those breeding policies changed where dogs deliberately bred for great size and weight or, conversely, for sheer tininess, suffer the consequences. It wishes to stop the breeding of dogs with such long backs and abbreviated legs that they suffer from disorders of the vertebral column. It wishes to stop dogs being caused discomfort from the extreme shortness of their muzzles. It seeks the discontinued breeding of animals carrying semi- lethal genetic factors or recessive defect-genes.

 I don't see such legislation as a threat to breeds, breed-type or breed characteristics. The legislation is aimed at exaggeration, harmful exaggeration. There is a genuine difference between a longer-backed breed and a breed so long backed that breed-members suffer discomfort. At the risk of sounding superior, I nevertheless take the view that we have a moral duty to subject creatures, whether they are battery hens, crated calves raised for veal or breeds of dog. I am saddened and amazed that veterinary surgeons, who see the harm done to dogs by breeders every day, don't speak up more vigorously.

Small animal vets are under no obligation to report inherited defects or exaggerations in breed design which cause suffering in dogs. I understand that the RSPCA has never prosecuted a breeder who has knowingly and intentionally bred a dog with inheritable features which cause pain and suffering. In Australia it is now an offence to do so under their dog welfare laws. If those in the animal welfare business here do nothing to reduce suffering in such cases, is it not unsurprising if politicians stick their oar in? You shouldn't have to persuade dog breeders to change their ways; but those who claim to love a breed are often the ones causing the greatest pain in their dogs. Scientists too can inflict pain, on us and our dogs!

I am suspicious of vets who don't hesitate to castrate a dog but aspire to ethical objections over docking a tail. Moral vanity is usually dishonest and highly subjective. I am more than suspicious of dog breeders who protest loudly about a perceived threat from Brussels to their breed --and then breed dogs with harmful exaggerations! When I see breeds struggling to cope with legs which are too short and backs which are too long I welcome legislation from anywhere which enhances the quality of life of future members of that breed. When I see breeds which regularly feature red-raw eyes from excessive haw I look forward to interference from Brussels. We have a duty to dogs ahead of any duty to breeds.

 In dogs, despite the careful recording of pedigrees, there is no system for recording causes of death in breeds, for identifying prevalent diseases in dogs at anyone time or for notifying owners of areas of infectious diseases. If I had known what my dog's ancestors and litter mates had died of then earlier diagnosis would have been possible. Deaths from cancer in some breeds are alarmingly high but puppy purchasers are rarely informed of this. Health surveys have been resisted for years by most breed clubs, clubs established to care for a breed.

Why are the people who tell you how much they love their breed loathe to promote such schemes? Why should the KC have to pressurize breed clubs into taking more interest in the health of their dogs? Why should anyone have to shame the veterinary profession into recording diseases breed by breed, so that some kind of data-base is established. Whenever I challenge vets on this issue I meet the same limp excuse: Who is going to collate this information? Is there not one determined individual in the veterinary profession who could draw up a national scheme, with support from canine charities and pet food manufacturers, to set up a scheme?

When as a teenaged kennel boy I worked for my local vet, inheritable diseases were not a talking point. Attitudes to cruelty have changed too in that time. I watched innumerable tom cats being neutered by the vet: it took a couple of seconds, two quick incisions, two brief miaows and back to the waiting room. Anaesthetics were not used. It is now obligatory to use an anaesthetic when castrating cats, under The Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act, 1964; one of my colleagues recently lost a beautiful young male cat, not to the surgery of castration but to the anaesthetic. A cruel death.