Is the world of dogs at crisis point? by Sheila Atter
"I feel very sad for the dog world at the moment, as dog showing is our hobby and should be something we look forward to taking part in… With the way the dog world is going it does make me ask the question whether I really wish to continue in the sport that has given me so much pleasure over the years. This feeling I am sure is being echoed by many show people.”
When the person who says those words is someone that has been steeped in dog shows and show dogs since she was a small child, shouldn’t it make people stop and think? The speaker was Marita Rodgers, one of the most talented exhibitors of her generation, with two Crufts BIS wins to her credit among many other successes.
Marita went on to say, "With entries falling at shows, I do wonder how long shows will continue. What I cannot understand is why the Kennel Club just does not listen and understand the feeling of the grass-root breeders and exhibitors. I personally strive to breed and show healthy dogs, but I feel the system the KC has put in place at shows is seriously flawed.”
This is not a rash statement from someone feeling a little out of sorts with the dog show world, but a considered and thoughtful comment from a breeder who has had more success than most. And those words are being echoed all around. It appears to me that the world of pedigree dogs is at crisis point.
This is a far more serious situation than which resulted from the screening of Pedigree Dogs Exposed three years ago. We can all remember the panic that set in then. The feeling that Clarges Street must be seen to be doing something, anything to try and regain just a little credibility. Breed clubs were instructed to hold committee meetings just days before Christmas in order to draw up breed health statements. The results, we were told, would be used to draw up a health plan for each and every breed, a charter by which we could ensure healthy litters and answer all our critics.
Of course, it didn’t quite work like that. The breed clubs did their part, hastily organising meetings and sending material back to the KC as required. And then what happened? Absolutely nothing. The subject was never mentioned again. You can’t blame the KC health department. It was inundated with paperwork from every breed club, statistics that meant little even to the folk that collated them, and even less to those who were supposed to be drawing up these breed health plans. Indeed, did anyone really know what a breed health plan should cover? Being aware of any health problems in that breed? Choosing stud dog and brood bitch wisely, considering their relative strengths and weaknesses and ensuring that all relevant health tests had been done? But isn’t that what a responsible breeder does anyway? So the returns were filed safely, and have probably never been looked at since.
It is a fact that an understanding of health issues is far more widespread in most breeds than it was a few years ago, but there are still too many who refuse to face up to their responsibilities. "Ours is a healthy breed,” they claim. ”All this talk of health testing will put off potential buyers and we won’t be able to sell our puppies.” Hopefully such an attitude is in the minority, and most people do realise that, far from being a negative, health screening is very much a positive in the eyes of the puppy-buying public, who are now far more aware than once they were about issues that can influence the breeding of healthy pedigree dogs.
If the general public are becoming more knowledgeable about canine health and demanding to see test certificates before they commit to buying a puppy, and individual breeders are researching inherited disease, considering co-efficients of inbreeding and making use of DNA tests in their quest to breed puppies that are as healthy as can be, where does this leave the KC and the breed clubs?
Looking at the world of breeding pedigree dogs, the KC is at the apex of a pyramid, with the breed clubs occupying the middle ranks and the breeders as the solid base at the bottom. Looked at from that perspective, the breeders are by far the most important part of the structure. Take away the base and the whole thing will fall apart. Therefore it makes sense to ensure that those at the very top keep everyone else on side. The KC needs to communicate openly with those below them. Breed club secretaries need clear instructions on basic procedure, but don’t need to be inundated with an ever-increasing mountain of rule changes and policy statements. Instead, they need to be supported and valued for the work they are doing and the time that they give voluntarily to the sport. Where there are problems, the KC should be aware – noting the concerns of individual members and taking them seriously. In their turn the breed clubs must represent their members fairly, considering their views and acting on their behalf – not dictating policy without consultation.
Nowhere is this more important than in matters of canine health. Many breed clubs are very pro-active when it comes to health concerns, but some still have little or no input. For example, in these days when eye-testing is easily available and a fairly standard procedure across many breeds, is it acceptable for a breed club to acknowledge that glaucoma is a problem, yet not require members to have an up-to-date eye certificate before breeding? Maybe all their members are highly responsible and test anyway… on the other hand, maybe not! This is surely a case where responsible breeders, not getting the support of their breed club, need to feel that the KC is keeping a watchful eye, and will step in to impose at least a minimum standard.
Over the last few years, the KC has stood aside from any attempts to regularise dog breeding. The motive might be very worthy, but continually trying to take the moral high ground has not achieved anything at all so far. Instead, the KC is now backed into a corner, and instead of taking a leading role is seen merely as unco-operative and sulky. With the launch of the new puppy contract, any vestige of superiority that the KC thought it had has vanished completely. Crossbred, designer litter or unregistered pedigree will all be sent to their new home with a smart booklet detailing every conceivable aspect of the pup’s heritage. Whatever their reservations, the KC should have been involved with this project from start to finish. It isn’t good enough to opt out and then criticise, because those criticisms just sound like sour grapes. Once again breeders have been let down by the KC, the very organisation that is supposed to be representing them. Responsible breeders are doing what is asked of them and more. Is it any wonder that so many are echoing Marita’s thoughts and asking themselves if they really want to continue? Truly we are at crisis point.