THE CANINE Alliance met on Wednesday last week to discuss the Assured Breeder Scheme and the furore caused by recent changes. As a result it has come up with a ‘ten-point action plan’ for the Kennel Club to consider.
Many concerns were raised at the meeting, which was attended by about 30 people. One suggested that the integrity of Assured Breeders was being questioned because they could no longer register puppies, as puppies bred under the scheme, who were ready to go to their new homes until such time as the KC chose to inspect their premises and release the puppies’ paperwork.
Another said that nothing had changed in their set up between December and January and yet in spite of payments into the ABS from their time as a founder member they could no longer enjoy the benefits until an inspection visit had been made at a time which was ‘convenient for the inspectors’.
The Alliance’s new chairman Howard Ogden suggested that the KC was in a contractual arrangement with members of the scheme and that it should ‘honour its legal obligations in that regard’.
‘RIP puppy farms’
The meeting was reminded of a document produced by the KC to promote the ABS when it was launched which bore the words ‘RIP puppy farms’. Some of those present suggested that the scheme was seen by many to be endorsing such establishments.
"While it is recognised that there is always a difficulty in defining what a puppy farmer is, the impression has been given that the KC cares more about registration fee income than it does in dealing with this issue,” said an Alliance spokesman afterwards. "One member said that whenever reports have been sent to the KC about alleged puppy farming it just seems to get pushed to one side and no further action taken.”
A letter had been received from geneticist Dr Bruce Cattanach giving his views on the ABS and his concern that rather than rewarding excellence in practice it did the opposite.
"There is a feeling that the ABS has, like another KC fiasco not too long ago, been tinkered with as a result of pressure from outside rather than concentrating on the key issues,” the spokesman said. "Dr Cattanach argues that our governing body is still accepting acknowledged commercial breeders whose husbandry is questionable alongside long-established and respected breeders who take very seriously health testing and general management.
"The feeling that the ABS has actually legitimised puppy farming will take some considerable work to overcome.”
The meeting was reminded that shortly after the formation of the Alliance its representatives suggested to the KC that it should register only puppies bred from parents who had been checked by a vet and who were fundamentally healthy and suitable for breeding. Those present noted that this suggestion had not been acted on, ‘to the Alliance’s regret’.
Many at the meeting said they felt that the KC had made the ABS into a ‘one size fits all’ scheme and had not given thought to the hobby breeder who only had one or two litters a year with puppies reared in the home and well socialised. This could be remedied by a two-tier ABS, giving the large commercial breeder who has kennel staff different criteria to the majority of hobby breeders who breed only occasionally, it was said. Many said they believed Assured Breeders had opted to leave the scheme not because of the rise in fees but because they did not want to be part of a scheme ‘where breeding healthy puppies was less important than paperwork being uniformly correct’.
A Bullmastiff breeder present said it had been acknowledged that her breed had health problems but the KC had recommended no health tests for it. Victoria Woods, who has recently been appointed to the Alliance’s board and who is undertaking veterinary training, said the KC registered puppies bred by Assured Breeders from parents who had been through breed-specific health tests even when the results had been less than ideal. Maureen Taylor said that this was something that needed further examination given the implications it could have for numerically small breeds with correspondingly small gene pools. Comments from the membership have been invited.
The general feeling of the meeting, the spokesman said afterwards, was that the KC was in danger of misleading the general public in promoting the ABS as a ‘guarantee’ of quality puppies when no such guarantee could be given on the present basis, and that the scheme needed ‘a complete revamp’ if it was to keep the country’s most responsible breeders as members.
Some members told the meeting of their dissatisfaction with their inspections, while one said that their experiences had been ‘entirely favourable’.
There was lengthy discussion on how the ABS could be improved ‘in a practical and acceptable manner’.
"One observation was that the KC could do much more to inform the public about health issues in breeds by using plain English so they are better equipped when they come to buy a puppy,” the spokesman said. "This was met with universal approval from all those present.
"It was also clear that the KC should be made aware of the overwhelming desire that the scheme should be more about health and welfare of breeding stock, rather than a ‘tick box, paperwork’ exercise.”
Those present came up with the action plan for the KC to consider, ‘based around a scheme which does what it is supposed to do and assures the puppy purchasers that every step possible has been taken to ensure the stock is healthy’. The ten-point plan is:
That more emphasis should be placed on the health of the breeding stock with inspectors asking more rigorous questions regarding breeding plans etc;
That the MyKC web pages add a function to allow breeders to identify which dogs they own, which are spayed or going to be bred from and so on;
The addition of a puppy buyer-based accolade – to be based on realistic feedback provided by the purchasers regarding their experience;
The KC to ensure that before inspection a list of requirements on the day is clear and available for ABS members;
Public education needs to improve – the KC needs to ensure that the public has a better understanding of health issues and testing which is undertaken by responsible breeders;
The KC must ensure that relevant breed tests are made mandatory – some breeds have no recommended or mandatory tests in place and this could be discussed with, for example, the breed clubs and other interested parties;
The KC should consider allowing ABS members to withhold registrations if they are implementing a spay/neuter endorsement/requirement as part of their sales contract. Registrations to be withheld until presented with the appropriate certification that this has been carried out;
The KC should require all breeding bitches and stud dogs to undergo a basic/rudimentary health test with a vet before being bred from. This will ensure that breeds with no recommended health tests at least have a demonstrable level of health before breeding;
Placing a clause in the registration information given to new puppy owners advising them to contact the KC if they experience a problem. This would complement the current process of inspections;
The KC should take steps to ‘properly recognise’ foreign health test results and to include these on the website/registration certificates.
"The Alliance will be writing to the KC with these proposals and will be asking to meet up to discuss them in more depth,” the spokesman said.
In addition to Mr Ogden’s appointment as chairman, Tony Taylor has become vice-chairman, Mel Sharples was elected secretary, Ron Stewart treasurer, Eileen Peers membership secretary and Marita Rodgers has joined the board.
The KC’s health and breeder services manager Bill Lambert, who manages the ABS, was invited to the meeting but did not attend due to short notice. Mike Gadsby noted that Mr Lambert had been given more notice than had been given to ABS members about the changes to the scheme.