It’s official: “Checking BOB winners tells us nothing about the overall health of a breed” by Andrew Brace
There were 160 people consisting of judges of the 15 ‘high-profile’ breeds, health co-ordinators from those breeds and veterinary surgeons who attended the healthy eye conformation seminar which the Kennel Club had arranged at Stoneleigh on Wednesday July 4 – the irony of this being Independence Day not being lost on some present.
The ambitious day’s proceedings were opened by Kathryn Symns who introduced the first speaker, Professor Sheila Crispin, who is chairman of both the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding and a member of the KC’s Dog Health Group.
Truly Professor Crispin is a dog lover and her concern for the health of all our breeds came across clearly. With the assistance of a PowerPoint presentation she talked us through the various eye conditions which should be of concern, though obviously using examples that were so extreme that it would be unlikely they would ever be seen at a dog show, much less on a dog winning prizes.
It was music to my ears when I heard Professor Crispin say, in response to a question from Vinnie Ness, that she felt that inviting the judge of the breed to attend the veterinary examination of the BOB winners would be "a valuable part of the learning process”. Let us hope that Clarges Street listens to her expert opinion. This facility could be so helpful to both vets and judges, both of whom can always learn from each other.
During her presentation Professor Crispin handed out several bouquets to the breed clubs involved with the 15 breeds in view of the progress they have made in a remarkably short time. She emphasised the need for absolutely clearly terminology when discussing aspects of the dog and its health, and asserted that our show dogs should be beyond public criticism.
It made many of us think when the speaker mentioned that just as unusually short heads can distort the shape of a ‘normal’ eye, so could unusually long heads, something about which we possibly have not thought sufficiently.
Certainly Professor Crispin gave us plenty to ponder and during her question time points were made by members of the audience in favour of utilising the forms that judges are being asked to complete after judging the 15 breeds across the board for all breeds, and also improving health by making the KC registration system more demanding.
It was sad that Professor Crispin had to leave to attend a funeral as I am sure there would have been many more interesting questions from the floor.
As a member of the audience, Will Jeffels spoke as one of the vets who had been engaged at Crufts to carry out the checks, and he did his best to explain what had been their brief.
The first of the breed presentations was given by Rodney Oldham who spoke with passion and experience about the health problems he had encountered when actively breeding Chow Chows, and spoke in detail about how he – and the breed – with the help of key vets had tackled hip dysplasia. As was expected Rod spoke from a dedicated breeder’s perspective and made much of the fact that the high profile breeds need more guidance as to how they can be removed from the list.
Lyndsey Pemberton then spoke for Pekingese; her daughter is the breed’s health co-ordinator. She explained what the Pekingese clubs are doing as regards health issues and paid tribute to the French Bulldogs’ bronze, silver and gold scheme on which they are modelling a similarly structured regime.
Carol Ash spoke at length about the French Bulldog scheme to which Lyndsey had referred and impressed the audience with the way in which the clubs are trying to get all owners involved in basic health testing for hearing, breathing, nostrils, skin, eyes, ear canal, spine, tail and temperament. All tested dogs are over 12 months of age and microchipped and to date 129 dogs have achieved the bronze award, 40 the silver and eight the gold. The breed is now trialling a thermal imaging test of the spine and all health results are freely available on the club’s website. It must concern breeders that registrations of French Bulldogs have soared from 400 to 2,700 in a decade and worryingly the main reason may be commercial.
We then came to a breed that has the reverse problem with registrations in Bloodhounds barely managing 100 hounds a year. Nick Sutcliffe seemed to cause a little confusion with his presentation of eye shapes and it took Jean Lanning to clarify that he wasn’t actually advocating exaggeration.
Denise Bucknall, secretary of the Neapolitan Mastiff Club spoke very positively about her breed that had been mentioned earlier by Professor Crispin in complimentary manner. She had asked the British Veterinary Association to forward any data to the breed club and any health records but have received none to date. However the club itself had arranged to have 165 Neapolitans surveyed, monitoring such problems as ‘cherry eye’, bloat, cardiac problems, cancer, skin infection, ectropion and entropion. She also revealed that the surveyed lifespan of the breed is seven years, unlike the considerably younger ages that have repeatedly been quoted.
The final speaker was Heather Corkill who told us of how the Mastiff clubs are working on their breed’s health and co-operating with breed clubs overseas.
After tea Steve Dean chaired an animated question time which was, however, less stormy than he had apparently anticipated.
There were gasps of amazement when, in reply to the question about further breeds being added to the high-profile list, Prof Dean said that would only happen after consultation with the breeds involved. Many were quick to point out that there was no consultation whatsoever when the present 15 were put on the list, so what had changed?
Apparently candidates for the position of liaison officer for these breeds were already being interviewed and an appointment should be announced by the end of the month, we were told.
Steve Dean gave valuable advice to any breed clubs that were thinking of setting up formal health schemes, suggesting that they consult both the KC and BVA with any proposals, as they could save themselves a considerable amount of time.
The first mind-boggling revelation from Prof Dean came when he actually admitted that vet-checking best of breed winners tells us nothing whatsoever about the overall health of those breeds. This is what many of us have been saying repeatedly. When I had the chance to ask him during question time afterwards if this is the case, why are the vet checks continuing rather than tackling the health of the overall breed, he deftly replied that this had been the decision of members at the AGM!
The second pronouncement that caused open-mouths was his telling those in the room that the KC would never knowingly register puppies bred by puppy farmers. This caused considerable reaction, including the reeling off of at least one breeder whose registration numbers in several breeds should have caused alarm bells to ring. Several audience members claimed to have sent convincing evidence to the KC of ‘puppy farming’ but it had taken no action at all.
This was really a regrettable remark. In the first instance it is impossible to define ‘puppy farmer’ – even if you’re the KC chairman – but we generally use the term to describe someone who breeds dogs primarily for commercial gain, with no thought for their health, welfare or surroundings. The KC is presently being asked by the Canine Alliance that to prevent such people from being able to use the KC registration system to endorse their puppies, simple health checks could be demanded of microchipped parents before any litter is accepted for registration. Let us see how keen the KC is to maintain the integrity of its register and upgrade general health at the expense of its balance sheet.
A two-tier registration system that would still allow puppies from untested parents to be registered is being talked about, but this is again typical Clarges Street window dressing and fails to address the problem. I have said repeatedly – to the pet buyer in the street – a certificate that says ‘KC registered’ still actually means something, whether that registration is class one, two or three.
Stuart Mallard was the perfect final speaker, being the epitome of common sense and calm. He hammered home that repeatedly breed clubs ask the KC for information and help and merely get stonewalled. He emphasised that no breeds should be on a high-profile list as so many breeds across the board are working hard to improve the health of their dogs. He ended by reminding us all that genuine dog breeders act with responsibility and knowledge.
My feeling at the end of a long day was that there is a ray of light at the end of the tunnel and some glimmers of hope as common sense seems to be surfacing, largely down to the breeders, and the KC’s claim that it wants more consultation.
That weekend poor Carla Molinari was facing a nightmare situation in Portugal when, because of a threatened strike by TAP airlines, nine of her 12 judges may not make it to Lisbon for the big shows she organises. I am greatly looking forward to interviewing Carla for the latest An Audience With on the Saturday of the City of Birmingham show. Carla has led a fascinating life and will be sharing her thoughts on so many doggy subjects. Tickets are available from DOG WORLD. Do try to attend, I am sure you won’t be disappointed.
Spotty Muldoon, 12/07/2012
The Swedish Kennel Club has produced an excellent video on what judges should be looking for in breeds that have significant, identified respiratory problems. Quite a few of the "fifteen" are mentioned and several are featured, together with their handlers. Well worth a watch and available via the Swedish Kennel Club webiste and YouTube.