THE HIGH-profile breed veterinary checks, coat testing, the single CC and a two-tier registration system (ABS) were all covered by Kennel Club chairman Steve Dean in his ‘state of the nation’ speech at the Welsh Kennel Club’s annual dinner.
It was not surprising that the failure of six bests of breed at Crufts had stimulated a strong reaction from exhibitors, he said, ‘especially given the experience following coat testing at Crufts the previous year’.
"Much has been said already, sometimes factual and sometimes fanciful but it is sufficient to say here that this resulted in a debate at the AGM,” he said.
"There is disagreement about how widely veterinary checks should be applied, as well as with the process and timing. There is some confusion about how vet checks fit together with the current health schemes and genetic testing many breeds undergo.
"However, the key point is nobody seems to disagree that health checks are a good idea, with at least one group calling for them to go much further than the current system. Before considering how this might be done we will have to wait for the consultation to provide further information. "
He said that since Crufts, the BOBs had ‘consistently passed’ the check, and that failures had been ‘very few’. However, following his speech two failed at KC – the Neapolitan Mastiff and the Chow Chow.
"The simple fact is the dogs winning BOB in the high-profile breeds are passing because they are free from signs of ill health related to exaggerated conformation,” Prof Dean went on.
"In some sectors outside our world of dogs this has come as a surprise, but we should be delighted that the hard work put into reducing harmful exaggeration in these breeds has demonstrably borne fruit so rapidly.”
He said that credit should be given to the breeds for their achievements.
"They have, understandably, not been happy about being placed on a high-profile list, but to their credit they have moved on and worked hard to improve breed quality and many are producing the evidence to show the extent – or otherwise – of health problems related to exaggerated conformation,” he said.
"We recently announced the removal of the Chinese Crested from the list and the KC has just appointed a new member of staff who has the responsibility of working with the remaining breeds to identify the information and data they need to produce to enable their status as a high-profile breed to be reviewed at the earliest opportunity.
"I look forward to the day when the high-profile breed list is redundant.”
Prof Dean said that in many ways the ‘veterinary check experience’ had illustrated the political challenge breeders and exhibitors faced.
"Outside agencies have tried to suggest that pedigree dogs are generally in poor health with some suggesting our dogs are mutants and dog showing should be banned. All living things are mutants in one way or another, but then I risk straying into a lecture on genetics and anatomy and this is not the place for that.
"We have to show that we are collectively in control of the health and welfare of registered pedigree dogs. There is no doubt that breed-associated diseases are a constant challenge, but those who put the blame solely on we who breed the registered pedigree dog miss the point about health and welfare entirely.
"As responsible breeders we can and do act on inherited disease because, thanks to the work of our KC and our breed clubs, we know a lot about dog breeding and the genetic history of our breeds. Inherited conditions in the crossbreed and mongrel are overlooked because of a naďve belief that they are by default without fault and healthy but chiefly because their ancestry is not recorded in any reliable way.
"However, we cannot ignore the criticism we receive and must prove that we are doing all we can to ensure the health of the breeds we cherish. The veterinary checks are a single step in that process and they have served to awaken a renewed imperative in the 14 breeds to pay attention to their perceived reputation for producing dogs with poor health.
"Their work and the successful outcome of the veterinary checks thus far has caused some of those who criticise the show ring as a poor influence on dog health to think again, but we have more to do before we are able to fully counter our critics’ views.”
Prof Dean said the General Committee had listened to criticism from exhibitors and show committees and had announced the end of the single CC, ‘even though the statistics show that they worked in increasing the entries of the smaller breeds’. Single CCs will be finally phased out in 2015, he said.
"And we have used our own version of quantitative easing so that, in 2014 and 2015 CCs will not be removed from breeds that are experiencing declining entries. However, this can only be a temporary measure to buy time for further discussion, if we are to preserve the value of the CC in the long term.
"Therefore, breed clubs and group and general championship shows will be asked to contribute to the debate about how we allocate CCs in the future to cater for breeds where entries are in decline while at the same time attempting to avoid unnecessary disruption of the show schedule for show committees and the exhibitor.
"In a similar vein, the General Committee agreed to trial a different approach to the requirement for compulsory benching. This followed the request from some of the smaller, one-day group championship shows for a more flexible approach.”
He explained that working groups are about to consider a two-tier registration system – as suggested at the KC’s AGM – which would identify dogs bred by exhibitors who ‘pay attention to health and welfare, above those who breed more generally’. Another working group will consider the ‘ongoing process’ for checking dog health before competition and how this might be improved and extended.
The consultation on coat-testing is nearing its end, he said, and the General Committee will consider that working group’s report in the autumn before making recommendations which will be presented at the next AGM.
Prof Dean told those present that he considered the most significant challenges to their hobby was still the economic climate and the social and political views about dogs and how these affected breeders and exhibitors..
"For the responsible breeder it is about finding sufficient good homes for puppies and dealing with the reputation they unjustly inherit from the actions of less responsible breeders,” he said. "For the exhibitor it is the cost of living increases, with car travel being a significant factor, limiting their financial ability to enter shows.
"For the show society the challenge is balancing the ever-rising cost of running an event against a declining level of entries. In addition, 2012 has added an environmental challenge for all outdoor event organisers in the shape of the weather – it has, let’s face it, been a difficult few months for dog shows.
"There is one other group of dog people worth mentioning, for the breed rescues are also suffering a significant strain on their resources as increasing numbers of dog owning-families have parted with their dogs as home economics turned sour.”
He said the General Committee was aware of the pressures and that the KC was working hard to help.
"I am becoming accustomed to being told we are moving too quickly on actions that people do not like and acting too slowly in areas where people think the answer is simple,” he said. "However, change takes planning and time to achieve and the issues are always broader than one might think at first glance.
"Nevertheless, as examples we have made some changes on CC allocations, benching requirements and removed some show fees. On the rescue front, our Charitable Trust has been quick to support a number of dog rescues, thus giving much-needed financial support to help them continue their important work of rehoming dogs. We will continue to look for areas where the financial burdens on dog shows and exhibitors can be contained, but the solution to the economic constraints we share with the rest of the world are beyond the KC’s remit.”
Over the past year there had been evidence that the KC was winning battles to change the political view on dog breeding, he said.
"There are significant signs that opinions have matured in several areas towards our point of view. The influence and opinion the KC has brought to the table at both the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) and the Dog Advisory Council has demonstrably modified attitudes in both forums. For example, there is increasing recognition of the positive contribution the pedigree dog breeder can and does achieve in terms of dog health and welfare.
"In addition, the responsible approach to dog breeding represented by our ABS and the work of our many breed rescue organisations has also been acknowledged.”
Moving on to puppy farming, he said, many struggled to distinguish between those who bred responsibly and those who did so commercially ‘with little interest in the health and future welfare of their dogs’.
"Even within our own sport there is poor agreement over the definition of a puppy farmer, so there is clearly much work still to be done to root out the uncaring and encourage those who act in the interest of dogs,” he said. "The KC will always seek to support the responsible dog breeder and discourage irresponsible dog ownership and breeding.”
For the general public and many politicians and vets, he said, responsible breeders who registered their progeny with the KC are not ‘readily distinguishable’ from those who do not.
"As a result we are all tarred with the same brush and we have little choice other than to stand up and make sure the facts are clear to all,” he said. "The last APGAW report demonstrates how this message has been received. APGAW gives praise to the hard work of the KC and the many breed organisations that work with us. It also draws attention to the detrimental effect of puppy farming but then frustratingly proves their basic misunderstanding of the issues by proceeding to recommend actions that are heavily focused on the pedigree breeder rather than facing up to the larger challenge of irresponsible breeding.”
The political aspects of dog ownership could not be ignored, he went on.
"Our Government has plans to introduce a form of compulsory registration, based on the microchip in England, and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have their own similar plans, either in preparation or already in place.
"Your KC has been very active in discussing these plans with each of the authorities and with considerable success. These changes will affect breeders and owners and we cannot afford to ignore what is happening unless we are willing to live with the consequences.”
Society is quite correct in having an expectation that those who breed pedigree dogs should set the example for others to follow, he said.
"The KC provides the framework for those who wish to breed pedigree dogs and compete with them at shows and other canine activities. The registration system maintains the genealogy and Mate Select, Health Test Results Finder and Breed Watch demonstrate our commitment to breeding healthy dogs.
"The Assured Breeder Scheme (ABS) provides the standards necessary to endorse responsible breeding. Technical systems, such as Mate Select, are underpinned by the science developed at the KC Genetics Centre at the Animal Health Trust.
"All of these initiatives support us, as breeders and exhibitors, in our endeavours, but it is how we as dog people interact with these systems that will determine how well we are regarded in societal terms.”
A significant difference could be made by doing two things, he said.
"Firstly, accept and recognise the value of microchips and the registration database microchipping can provide. Yes, there are issues to be resolved but the majority of dog owners already use the microchip and our own Petlog database is the largest in the UK dedicated to the primary purpose of reunifying the lost or stolen dog with its owner.
"In addition, by reliably identifying dogs, microchips also allow our health schemes to function efficiently and in the near future our various Governments are likely to make microchip ID compulsory.
"On the condition that microchips are not linked to an annual dog licence fee – and the current suggestion is it is not – we should all welcome this move. Microchips will help identify those who are breeding responsibly, and conversely those breeding irresponsibly; they will identify many of those who own or deliberately breed aggressive dogs; and they will assist the local authorities in removing dogs from irresponsible owners where necessary.
"A lack of a microchip will be self-evident and will rapidly become a deterrent to anybody who wants a dog but has little interest in their health or well-being. In effect it will be a major factor in levelling the playing field for those of us who care about dogs by putting all dog owners on the same map. At the veterinary level, with dogs being identified reliably, we will be able to show that the registered pedigree dog is bred with health and welfare in mind as well as identifying the true sources of poor health and welfare.”
He went on to urge people to join the ABS.
"Yes there are some challenges here too, but the political future is likely to give a breeder two choices – breed as part of the ABS system or, alternatively, under the control of a local authority. Both routes will permit breeders to register their dogs with the KC but which do you think will be regarded by the public as delivering the healthiest dogs with the assurance of being reared with care and attention?”
Prof Dean said he still found it hard to understand why every reputable breeder did not join the ABS.
"If it is not entirely delivering what you believe it should then change it from within, for it will not change without your input,” he said. "Many of us find owners for our puppies through our reputation and ABS does not change this.
"The ABS is an easy way to demonstrate to the public that those who breed responsibly are breeding to an agreed standard and care about their dogs, their health and welfare and their future.”
He also encouraged people to join the KC, either as a full, affiliate or associate member; the latter two offer a route to full membership, as does being a long-standing Young Kennel Club member. None of those require the applicant to have a proposer and seconder, he stressed.
Prof Dean concluded by saying that the KC would defend responsible breeders wherever it could.
"Working together, we can prove the extreme criticism we face is largely groundless and go on to demonstrate why owning a registered pedigree dog is the best decision a new dog owner can make,” he said. "In achieving this I still maintain the best signal that we are getting close to success will be when I hear people describing the KC as ‘our Kennel Club’ and I remain committed to this ideal.”