625 Unfit for Purpose

by   David Hancock

 The late Alexander Solzhenitsyn once wrote: 'to do evil, a human being must first of all believe that what he's doing is good. Or else, that it's a well-considered act in conformity with natural law.’  Breed enthusiasts who exaggerate their dogs usually argue strongly that there is nothing wrong in muzzleless, legless, elongated, 'overdone' dogs; some claim to be just 'conforming'; all claim to be doing 'good'. The French have a pertinent expression for hobby-blindness, they term it 'deformation professionelle' or being unbalanced by professional zeal, so close to your obsessive approach that reality cannot get in. There are far too many Bulldog, Basset Hound, Mastiff and Dachshund breeders with this affliction. When youlisten to their excuses for exaggeration in their stock, it is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry -laugh at their self-delusion or cry for their dogs.

 It shouldn't need a devastating TV documentary to make a national institution change its ways but that is what happened after the 2008 BBC programme 'Pedigree Dogs Exposed' on prime time national TV. Livestock breeding demands studbooks, registration of progeny and a semblance of control through regulation. Pedigree dog breeders need a registry but they need one that is good for dogs, not just useful for breeders. There has to be a moral dimension to the breeding of animals, even those bred for slaughter, but especially for companion animals like dogs. This TV programme arose out of the lack of moral leadership in the world of pedigree dogs, a world in which the dogs have increasingly been placed second in a human hobby which has got out of hand.

 The long-established hobby of exhibiting livestock, whether it's cattle or cavies, parrakeets or poodles, can be both fulfilling and rewarding. As with all human activities it can be spoiled by human folly and even become harmful when 'hobby- blindness' sets in. The show-ring justifies no human activity, it's just a showcase, for human skill and human excess. Kennel- blindness is often alleged; breed-blindness is not so widely acknowledged. When a registry has to instruct breeders to limit excess, manifested as harmful exaggerations, as in the pedigree dog world, then breed-blindness has been at work, in some cases for a century, but becoming increasingly harmful to the dogs with each decade.

 Gundog men make use of the Kennel Club, both to register their stock and to regulate their field trials, but, despite the KC being founded by sportsmen, there is now a huge divide between the show ring and the shooting field. Terrier-men tend to ignore the KC, run their own clubs and develop their own breeds, like the Plummer Terrier, now more numerous than a number of KC-recognised terrier breeds. The hunting packs, despite the Foxhound now being a recognised KC breed, run their own studbooks, houndshows and all hunting matters. But pedigree dog breeders have unwisely never heeded the pack breeding systems, in which a Fell Hound, a Welsh Hound, blood from America or France can be called upon to improve the stock. A closed gene pool is never a wise stipulation in animal breeding. Yet a closed gene pool is behind every pedigree dog breed and remedying that is the easiest thing to put right in the campaign for a healthier sounder pedigree dog.

 Outcrossing has been permitted by the KC, the use of Springer blood in the Field Spaniel and Greyhound blood in the Deerhound for example, but these are isolated exceptions. The way in which the hunting fraternity developed the English Basset using Harrier blood could sadly never happen in the pedigree show dog world. Yet quite a number of breeds of dog is becoming dangerously inbred, not just losing virility but also concentrating undesirable genes with each generation. This is not sound breeding practice. It also allows exaggeration in physical features to become more exaggerated with each generation; a flat-faced Bulldog becomes an even flatter-faced Bulldog in time. The word picture or breed standard for each breed will never be enough to prevent those breeders who actually prefer exaggerated specimens from succeeding. It demands real guardianship from the breed club or registry. But sadly both have failed.

So where do we go from here? Firstly, no pedigree dog should be bred from without the mandatory health clearances advised for that breed; the voluntary codes are being abused. Secondly, a programme of outcrossing to reduce exaggeration should be instituted under informed scientific supervision. Thirdly, no sporting breed should be able to achieve the title of champion without first qualifying in field tests for function, working tests, run by bodies like the BASC. But most importantly there have to be changes at the top in the Kennel Club; it's time for stronger leadership and demonstrably greater vision.