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THE HIGH-profile breed veterinary checks had been ‘something of a distraction’, according to Kennel Club chairman Steve Dean, who in an interview with DOG WORLD said he understood they had made people feel upset and angry.
He had not been surprised by the reaction to the introduction of the checks at Crufts, he said, but he believed that some of the negative reaction had been caused by a ‘total misunderstanding’ of what the checks were for.
This was disappointing, he said, and his message was to ‘stop bickering’ and to get together to move canine health forward. And he said the dog-showing world should not be depressed but should get out and enjoy pedigree dogs.
"If a dog fails (the check) you expect a reaction. I’ve been disappointed, in fact, that many people don’t seem to have understood what the health checks are about,” he added. "We spent over a year talking to breed clubs and judges and show societies and I would have hoped that it would have filtered out to the wider dog-showing community but it appears that this is not the case.”
He said Crufts had proved there was a ‘massive gap’ between what vets were looking for with regard to healthy eyes and judges’ and exhibitors’ understanding of it, and a seminar was being organised to address that.
On the subject of eye health he said: "I’m not saying vets got it absolutely right”, but that a common agreement had to be reached between the vets, judges, exhibitors and breeders. And he revealed it was likely that one of the breeds would be off the list by Crufts 2013 – the Chinese Crested, which had been put on the list only because of ‘over-zealous’ shaving and use of depilatory creams.
He was asked his views on the fact that six of the 15 breeds checked failed at Crufts, but only two dogs have done so since.
"I don’t doubt that the vets have learnt a great deal, no doubt exhibitors learnt a great deal and I’m pretty certain judges are being particularly careful about which dogs they put forward, so there has been something of a learning curve,” he said. "And I suspect that that has influenced which dogs are taken to shows and which dogs are put up.
"I regard that as entirely good news – the whole point of the high-profile vet check, which is to confirm that the dogs going forward into the group are in good health and that justifies the show ring being used as a show case for health, and I think that is to be applauded.”
He said the high-profile breeds had made ‘huge strides forward’. "And we have to make sure that the dogs who go forward into the group demonstrate that point.
"It’s very disappointing that some exhibitors are deciding not to challenge. The whole point is to prove the dogs are healthy, and unfortunately by not competing they have reduced the opportunity for the breed to establish evidence to show that dogs going through are healthy. From a KC perspective if they don’t challenge and don’t get looked at by a vet it doesn’t help us very much to defend the breed to the outside world. So it’s a somewhat pointless exercise. I respect that people have strong feelings about this, but that sort of demonstration is not for the benefit of the breed.”
He added that the number of BOBs undergoing and passing the check would be one of the factors towards that breed being removed from the high-profile list.
Prof Dean was asked whether the General Committee would be reviewing the health-check system.
"We realised after Crufts that the vet’s guidance was written largely in vet speak, so we have said about turning that into a form of words that judges and exhibitors understand, so it is absolutely transparent what the vet is being asked to look for,” he said. "That redrafting is coming to a close and will most likely go to the high-profile breeds first so they can be comfortable with it... We will make sure we learn from what happened in the run-up to Crufts and make sure the wider show community sees it as well… We realised after Crufts that there was massive gap between what vets are looking for with regard to eyes and what judges and exhibitors are looking for, and we are putting together a seminar to bring vets, judges and exhibitors together to talk about canine eye health.”
He said that some breeds had made huge steps forward with regard to eyes and that the top-winning show dogs were at the better end of the scale.
He continued: "We have to put judges in a position where they are certain what they’re looking for, and that is the bit we have to get right. We have to reach a common agreement. I’m not saying vets got it absolutely right but we have to come to a common agreement so that judges, exhibitors, breeders and vets all have a common aim.
"What we are interested in is healthy dogs, and I want to see dogs who I’m fairly confident aren’t walking around with sore eyes.”
Prof Dean was asked about the Canine Alliance, formed by those unhappy about what happened to some bests of breed at Crufts and which now has 1,800 members.
"I don’t have any particular message for any particular group of people,” he said. "I think the message is the same across the piece. We all seem to agree that we want our dogs to be healthy. What we need to do is work together and make sure we achieve that.
"If the introduction of these checks has come as a shock I would urge people to make sure that in aftermath of that shock they make sure they fully understand why they’re being done and how they fit in to the overall objective on health, because these checks are just one aspect of making sure the show ring is a showcase for healthy stock.”
He went on: "My message is we stop bickering and get together to make sure we’re moving health forward, and I personally think the BOB health checks are something of a distraction. I understand it has caused upset and quite a bit of anger, but quite a bit of that has been through misunderstanding.”
The real issue was canine health, he said.
"Out there we have the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, who keep a very strong eye on what pedigree dogs are doing, and the Dog Advisory Council which is also busy working away putting ideas together, and we need to band together and make sure we’re ready to counter that, because I’m sure we all agree most of the health problems don’t come from the core of breeders who exhibit dogs.
"We have to remember that we are in good order and then we can take the battle to the people who are really the problem, the puppy farmers, and the only way we can do that is work together. At the moment we are distracting ourselves and putting energy into the wrong area when we should be making sure we’re dealing with indiscriminate breeders who are the big problem.”
He said that if a breed is removed from the list it will be put ‘on probation’ to be kept an eye on but during that period BOB winners would not need to be health checked.
"Whether we can make progress to get any other breeds off is questionable, only because there’s not a great deal of time to go between now and next Crufts,” he said.
He went on: "My postbag is slightly in favour of health checks. Some people feel we should be checking every dog as it comes into the showground. But one of the people at the AGM from one of the big shows explained that that would be very difficult to achieve.
"There is a move or an opinion that we should be getting people to have health certificates done once or twice a year but the point was made at the meeting that this would only be valid at point of vet check. There is nothing to say that a dog who’s in good health on January 1 will be in good health on December 31.”
He said the point of the checks was to look for areas of exaggeration.
"That’s how we ended up with 15 breeds, because certainly 14 of these breeds are typically criticised for exaggerated conformation relating to health.”
Prof Dean was asked about the recent annual meeting, which attracted 25 per cent of the membership, and he said the KC had booked the larger venue of the Royal Institution of GB, which held up to 400. He said he thought members had been given plenty of time to discuss hot topics such as the high-profile breed veterinary checks and a two-tier registration system.
He saw no reason to move the meeting elsewhere, such as Stoneleigh, and that the majority of members were keen for it to stay in London. About a third of the number present in the morning were there for the veterinary checks debate, he estimated.
After the interview he was asked whether he thought the more contentious agenda items, which would prompt lengthy discussion, should be heard sooner.
"The rules of the KC are quite clear that reports from the General Committee, consideration of the accounts and auditor’s report, election of president, vice- presidents and members of the General Committee, and appointment of auditors, all come before matters of general business duly submitted to the meeting – in other words the main points of business are required to be dealt with before discussion points,” he said. "I would add that, as you will be aware, it is extremely unusual for the meeting to go on as long as it did so it would seem rather unnecessary to change the rules for what amounts to a ‘one-off’ situation.”
During the interview with DW in London, he was asked whether he thought it hypocritical that the KC, having introduced the checks, was still registering dogs from breeders who did no health tests relevant to their breed.
"We need to make sure our registration system is fit for purpose for the future,” he replied, "and that the registration system should in some way recognise people who are doing all the right things when breeding dogs. From a General Committee point of view the Assured Breeder Scheme is what we would point to as achieving that.”
Referring to the two-tier registration system proposed at the AGM, Prof Dean said he had ‘no great objection’ to something like that. "But the point was made at the meeting that we need to make sure we don’t turn into some kind of boutique type of system whereby only certain dogs are allowed in,” he said.
At a time when many dog people are depressed, did the KC have any plans to encourage new people into dogs and keep the interest of those already in it, Prof Dean was asked.
"I’ve been around dog shows for more than 30 years and even then people were depressed about the dog show world, so it’s nothing new,” he said, adding: "I don’t think people should be so depressed. We’re in a tough time – money’s tight and life’s pretty difficult, so we need to get out there and enjoy a little bit of fun.
"Maybe we are going to see a reduced entry because people can’t afford to travel so far, but we shouldn’t be so depressed. We’re now increasingly seeing the world of pedigree people breeding healthy stock and people wanting pedigree dogs.
"The number of hits on the KC’s website by people looking for pedigree dogs or rescue pedigree dogs is enormous. People want them so why are we so depressed? Let’s get out there and enjoy them!”
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