637 Health Interest

by   David Hancock

  In February 1981, I wrote a piece in Shooting Times, which stated: 'The whole question of the ethics of dog-breeding needs attention from all those concerned, at every level.'  I lamented the lack of health checks in breeding stock and the remorseless advance of exaggerated features. It drew a considerable postbag, all in support. For nearly thirty years, in half a dozen different national magazines, I have pursued the same line, almost pleading for something to be done, if only to protect the good breeders. I am in favour of a national kennel club, dog shows and breeds of dog, but only when the 'goodies' are winning. Some years ago, I acted as the presenter for a commercial video on the Labrador Retriever, interviewing admirable knowledgeable people like Gwen Broadley, Carole Coode and Jo Coulson. It would sadden me if their like were penalised, in the long term,  by the contemporary foolishness of the Kennel Club. How can the 'goodies' prosper when those at the top lose their moral compass?        

 In May 2007 I wrote in Dogs Today:   "One day soon, a few brave veterinary scientists will be given a national forum, perhaps entitled The Great Pedigree Dog Scandal, to expose the bad science and propaganda that drives the pedigree dog bandwagon. This will damage the pedigree dog industry and undermine public confidence in it, and damage any credibility claimed by the Kennel Club. It may not be fair and need not happen."   In writing those words, I wasn't attempting to play the soothsayer merely anxious for some coordinated action within the world of the pedigree dog to prevent such a prediction from coming true. But when the national registry for dogs consistently and persistently takes the view that: The KC is faultless, every criticism of it is ill-founded and outsiders really must just leave the KC and show breeders alone to plough their own furrow, then the danger flags need to be hoisted.

 Then August, 2008, surprise, surprise, four distinguished professors and four other eminent highly-reputable scientists, gave a view on pedigree dogs on national TV, prime time. No surprise over the entirely predictable reaction from the KC: it was all distorted, exaggerated, sensationalised, totally biased, one-sided tendentious tosh! The national press didn't think so however, and who suffered the greatest damage? Pedigree dog breeders, not the KC! Good breeders deserve better, pedigree dogs deserve better, and it's not a matter for more professional PR or more weasel words from on high. It needs honesty, the sort exemplified by another scientist Bruce Cattanach, one involved in pedigree dogs, who wrote: '...I think it would be a very negative action to nit-pick and find flaws in the presentation. The wake-up call is the important thing and should not be dismissed.'

 Having dismissed the BBC programme as totally unfounded, the Kennel Club, quite shamelessly, rushed to a hasty schedule of immediate breed standard revision and imposed its own code of ethics on breed clubs. I applaud both steps but would they have been actioned with such energy without the wake-up call of the BBC programme? The KC also asked the government for statutory powers in dog breeding matters. But the KC has spent a great deal of energy striving to convince DEFRA that it should not ratify European Council legislation (ETS 125) banning the breeding of harmfully exaggerated breeds of dog. Over 20 other European governments have ratified this legislation, on the advice of their national veterinary bodies.

Gundog men may regard such matters as peripheral but every gundog breed has been continuously inbred, albeit very often by breeders with the knowledge to carry out such an activity. Anyone familiar with livestock breeding will wonder why the breeding systems utilised there are not made use of by pedigree dog breeders, if only for enhanced virility. Now, no owner or user of a pedigree breed of dog can look away when measures being taken to produce sounder dogs become available. We have produced the very best gundog breeds the sporting world has employed; now we need to acknowledge that we all need to be involved in this issue and not airily dismiss it as a show world problem, it isn't. We owe it to these splendid breeds of sporting dog to support wholeheartedly any measure being mooted to make them sounder and healthier. The moral compass on such matters is only indicating one direction.