The wrong end of the stick by Andrew Brace
As I was compiling my potted bio as requested by the Canine Alliance’s very efficient webmaster, I found myself facing a strange irony. As I was writing ‘my first official post in the dog world was that of veterinary steward for the South Wales Boxer Club’ I suddenly realised what I’d written.
Back in the middle 1960s when I first got involved with pedigree dogs, all dogs had to be vetted in at every show. My memory started rewinding and I recalled how honoured I felt just to be able to hold Peter Lonnen’s soap and towel! Now here we are, almost 50 years on, discussing the possibilities of returning to those days when no dog who showed any visible signs of disease or discomfort would be allowed into a dog show.
Strange how things so often go full circle.
One of the strengths of DOG WORLD is that it has a varied team of columnists, each of whom is free to express his or her opinion. While I agree with most of what they write, sometimes I don’t.
I have never actually met my page-neighbour Kevin Colwill, but I usually enjoy reading his Alternative Viewpoint, as he invariably sends me scuttling off down memory lane to when I was a total novice. He talks a lot of sense and tends to keep everyone grounded.
Consequently I was rather sad to read his column where he asked: "Will the KC be stifled by Canine Alliance?” – though rather chuffed that in less than a fortnight the words ‘Canine Alliance’ have nestled into every serious dog person’s vocabulary – internationally.
Clearly Kevin was not at the open meeting in the Motorcycle Museum. Had he been, he would have been in a much better position to comment on the proceedings. It would also appear that he has not watched my interview with Marina Scott in which I outlined the intention of the meeting.
Kevin writes: "In an ideal world there should be no conflict between the interests of the dogs and the interests of dog people.” Exactly Kevin; that Utopia is what we outlined on several occasions during the meeting ... a kennel club that insisted on every dog shown or bred from being satisfactorily healthy, and a governing body in which its customers have total faith. Not too much to ask is it? Kevin – and others – seems to have completely missed the point. The Canine Alliance wants MORE veterinary examinations, but we want them to be fair and unbiased.
I take great issue with Kevin when he writes: "We have to acknowledge that the world of show dogs does not exist in splendid isolation from the world of pedigree pet dogs,” the implication being that ‘show people’ believe it does. Does not Kevin realise that the vast majority of dogs taken to dog shows are first companions and second exhibition competitors?
The other thing that he never mentions is the fact that most of the really ill pedigree dogs who are treated by vets do not come from breeders who exhibit. They come from breeders whose prime motive is commercial gain, and who, because our KC is not strict enough to enforce rigid health requirements before anyone can register puppies with them, blithely exploit the situation so that they can genuinely advertise puppies as ‘KC registered’ when those puppies may have been reared in squalor and have blind, crippled parents. The KC’s criteria for registering puppies is simply that the parents were registered with them and the breeder pays.
What the KC says about keeping an eye on commercial breeders appears to be total spin. What Clarges Street is terrified of is losing a huge amount of revenue. Even though the KC has just produced a DVD that has been widely distributed which includes a film entitled Stop the Suffering, Stop Puppy Farming, it still refuses to insist on minimum health standards from the parents of any litters that it registers.
I don’t know what kind of breeders Kevin mixes with but he appears to have little grasp of the average exhibition breeder profile when he says: "There can be very few breeders who never need to place at least a few puppies with pet homes,” as if that is a poorer option than selling to an exhibitor. When I was breeding – which I never did on a large scale – I only ever bred when I wanted something to show and then usually when I had made my selection the other puppies were allocated to people on my waiting list. These were virtually all people wanting happy, healthy, good-looking companions and had no desire to ever attend a dog show. Sell to an exhibitor and there is always the danger of disappointment if the dog doesn’t come up to scratch with full maturity.
Those owners who buy a puppy purely as a pet are a joy. You get regular updates, letters, photos, Christmas cards, and inevitably it is the pet owner who gets your tears flowing when you receive that letter telling you that the eight-week-old puppy you sold has just died at the age of 16, and now they want that gap filled by one of its close relatives.
I imagine a lot of readers were upset by Kevin’s assumption that, ‘dogs who have failed to perform in the ring or who have come to the end of their show careers ... they too have to be moved on to pet homes.’
Many of our most successful exhibitors have their ‘oldies’ living in the house, for example, the Yakee Pekingese kennel of Bert Easdon and Philip Martin house dozens of show dogs and further breeding stock but once inside Middlegill House you will see around a dozen elderly Pekingese ladies, some as old as 16, all of whom sleep in Philip’s bedroom at night.
"I’m worried that the new Canine Alliance can’t or won’t see that bigger picture,” says Kevin. I’m sure once Kevin has ploughed through the most recent DOG WORLD, especially the nine-page statement from Steve Dean that was signed by him as chairman, he will realise that it is Clarges Street that is failing to see the bigger picture. On the subject of what is probably the longest press release in history, a friend of mine at the American Kennel Club was dumbstruck when he saw the size of it and commented that no self-respecting business would ever put out a press release longer than two pages, as they could guarantee it would never be read. And much as I tried, I failed to find one mention of any of the following words ‘sorry’, ‘apology’, ‘mistake’, ‘misjudged’ or ‘regret’. What was it Kevin said? ... "A little humility wouldn’t go amiss.”
Kevin proves that he has totally got the wrong end of the stick when he accuses the Canine Alliance of condemning the Crufts veterinary examinations. We could hardly have done more to make the point that we were not against what he refers to as ‘vet checks’. What we wanted was checks that were carried out exactly as the chairman and secretary promised – in print and on film – and we wanted them for every breed.
In the Veterinary Times of March 26, even the veterinary broadcaster and consultant who so enraged dog breeders with his allegations in Pedigree Dogs Exposed, Mark Evans, was quoted as saying: "I’m gobsmacked by what’s unfolded over the weekend – it’s like the KC just can’t help itself, it initiates something potentially really good, but screws it up. Very sadly, the more I hear and read the more it appears that this year’s vet checks were implemented to be seen to be doing something rather than to achieve anything with long-term benefits in terms of pedigree dog welfare.”
"The KC must defend the important precedent of independent scrutiny,” demands Kevin. What can possibly be impartial about excluding the experienced Crufts veterinary team in favour of applicants who put themselves forward for the job?
Possibly the greatest indictment of all in the eyes of so many was watching Steve Dean on television commenting on the exclusion of the segregated six.
Clare Balding says to the chairman: "We are going to see the toy group very shortly and I understand that in the toy group a similar thing, the Pekingese dog did not get its best of breed confirmed?”
Steve Dean replies: "That’s my understanding too.”
Clare than suggests: "So they just go home?”
Steve’s next comment really twisted the knife: "That’s correct ... they’re welcome to stay and watch but probably won’t”! So insensitive doesn’t even come near.
Jessica Holm is one of my favourite DOG WORLD columnists; she always makes common sense sound so exciting.
In her column in March 23 she comes up with exactly the same idea as Mike Gadsby did at the open meeting, even though she wasn’t there, and that was some kind of annual canine MOT – a concept in which I personally feel there is huge mileage. However, in the interests of accuracy, when she says that, having discovered that a BOB winner has failed the veterinary examination anyone could consult the catalogue to see who the shamed dog was, this is so as the BOB winner’s number would clearly be marked on the signed judge’s slip that was pasted on the ring award board. However, anyone not at the show and merely following the judging via the results on Fosse Data’s website would not have that luxury. All they will see are the winners of best dog and best bitch, alongside the now famous wording BEST OF BREED – NOT AWARDED. This is no accident on Fosse Data’s part. Bill Moores at the Motorcycle Museum meeting confirmed that this was the specific wording the KC decided to use and gave to Fosse.
After a hectic week I flew across to Dublin where I had been invited to give a seminar on judging, grading and critique writing hosted by the All Ireland Tibetan Breeds Association. I got in early so l could spend most of the day dealing with urgent CA business and later Wes McCrum, whose suggestion the seminar was, and Adrian Dornford-Smith who is a computer whizz, arrived at the Airport View Hotel which was just perfect, as was the dinner that followed. After dinner Wes took himself off to the airport where he was collecting Heidi Brunes who had travelled all the way from Norway for the seminar – now that’s enthusiasm!
About 50 people attended and needless to say there was a lot of talk about Canine Alliance and a great deal of support; many present were already paid-up members and others were keen to complete their membership application forms and pay on the day.
Clearly, the aims of the Alliance have struck a chord with people all around the world and it was interesting to discover how many at the seminar had actually been at Crufts.
I spent most of Sunday working on other jobs that had been overlooked during the past week and left Dublin late in the evening. This week I have been ploughing through endless articles written by vets in the wake of Crufts. One, written by Harvey Locke, contained these words: "If members of the public only bought puppies from health-screened parents ... poor breeders would be put out of business and fewer dogs would require rehoming or euthanising.”
convict 225, 05/04/2012
My column was a reaction to a series of dramatic and fast paced events. If parts of it caused offence then of course I apologise for that. Words can be blunt tools when writing with passion. I think all Celts (Welsh, Irish, Scots - or in my case Cornish) know all about passion.
My comments on the interdependency of the show ring and pedigree pet homes were laboured only because I was criticised in some quarters for supporting the Dog Advisory Council when they made the point that we were all producing pet dogs. I was challenged by breeders who insisted they were breeding purely for the show ring. My aim, then and now, was to demonstrate that cannot be the case.
I never wished to imply that any individual in the CA had a callous attitude towards their dogs. It is clear that the vast majority of show dogs are family pets when not actually competing and many show dogs live with their exhibitors from puppyhood to their last days. The fact remains that the show world would grind to a halt if dogs at various stages of their lives/careers were not routinely moved on to non-exhibiting pet homes. I wasn’t making any sort of disparaging point but simply demonstrating that showing walks hand in hand with the world of pedigree pet dogs.
I sought to demonstrate the legitimacy of the pedigree pet owner’s interest in their breed. A breed is vastly bigger than relatively tiny numbers of dogs competing for CC’s or BOB’s but is disproportionately affected by what happens in the ring.
My position is that showing has done a massive amount to preserve breeds and keep the unique diversity we see in pedigree dogs. We owe showing a great debt and those of us who show, however lowly our efforts, are in a great and noble tradition. Sadly, there have been some wrong turns taken and I think we should all accept that rather less grudgingly and without the caveats we usually hear.
I’ve long since concluded we need an outside pair of eyes looking over the show scene. The KC may not present the vet as the representative of the outside world but that is how I see their role. The vet is putting the interests of the dog first and therefore the interests of the breed outside the show world.
I wrote my article before the CA meeting video became available on YouTube. I applaud Andrew Brace’s opening remarks and wholeheartedly support a lot of what was said. The section featuring the lady Bassett exhibitor was, however, a deal breaker for me. She said the vet had told her he was looking at her dog as a dog and not a Bassett. There was shock, laughter and confusion in the room. Clearly the meeting wanted the dog assessed as a member of its breed rather than as a dog in the round.
I can’t support, even as an interim measure, the idea that you must let certain features that affect a dog’s welfare go. I do think the vet should check all dogs as dogs. Equally I think the vet check for the 15 breeds must stay until something better can replace it. I’ve never suggested it was the final word but always said it was a valuable start.