THE EFRA Select Committee has criticised what it calls DEFRA’s ‘belated, simplistic and woefully inadequate’ raft of measures to tackle dog welfare and control.
The committee said that the large number of responses to its call for evidence for its own enquiry was testament to public concern about dog control and welfare issues, but that there was ‘an apparent lack of corresponding commitment’ from the Government to tackle the problems of out-of-control dogs and the health and welfare of dogs linked to poor breeding.
Following the Government’s announcement that it was to introduce compulsory microchipping and extend the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) to include private property, the EFRA committee revealed its own report, the result of a lengthy enquiry.
Among its list of recommendations was that anyone breeding two or more litters a year should be licensed and face welfare checks; that the KC should refuse to register puppies from breeders who are not ‘Assured Breeder Scheme (ABS) compliant’ and conduct an annual review of breed Standards; high-profile veterinary checks should be extended to other breeds and ‘additional’ checks made on other dogs before their show entry is accepted.
The committee was outspoken in its criticism of DEFRA Minister Lord de Mauley, who gave evidence to the enquiry, saying he appeared ‘poorly briefed and ill prepared’ to provide information on DEFRA’s views on a range of dog issues.
"His evidence has done nothing to reassure us about the priority DEFRA gives to the number of dog attacks,” said the committee in its recent report.
It was also disappointed, the report said, that DEFRA had done little to improve dog welfare linked to dog breeding.
"Undoubtedly some bodies and breeders are trying to implement improvements so as to raise health and welfare standards, and some progress is being made,” the report stated. "However, that progress is too slow and inconsistent. There is an over-reliance on voluntary action from a community some of whose members have entrenched ideas at odds with the scientific evidence.
"We have concluded that significant improvements in the well-being of dogs will only be achieved if the Government empowers a body such as the Advisory Council on Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding (Dog Advisory Council) to enforce regulations that apply to all breeders.”
Currently, breeders producing five or more litters a year must be licensed, but the committee wants this number reduced.
"We consider this threshold too high,” the report said, adding that this could mean licensed breeders could produce ‘some 40 to 50 dogs’ a year.
The proposed annual review of breed Standards should be led by vets, the committee said, and the KC should do far more to use its influence on the pedigree dog community, including refusing to register puppies from breeders not compliant with the ABS.
The committee said the KC had told its members that ‘significant and effective steps’ had been taken both before and since Professor Sir Patrick Bateson’s report into breeding. But, the committee said, the KC was in a ‘strong position to influence, help and work with relevant parties, as its registered breeders were ‘obliged to follow its rules’.
However, the report said, there remained irresponsible breeders who operated outside the club’s sphere of control.
"The KC has a general code of ethics by which all breeders who register their puppies or dogs must abide,” the report said. "This includes a statement that a breeder should agree not to breed from a dog or bitch which could in ‘any way be harmful to the dog or to the breed’. But the KC does not appear to collate data on compliance with this requirement.”
Requirements under the ABS for breeders to health screen their dogs should be made mandatory to all breeders, it said.
"Nevertheless, the KC continues to accept registration of dogs not bred under this scheme. Furthermore, as Professor Bateson’s report notes, there is no requirement under the ABS to apply the results of health tests to breeding decisions.”
Canine charities told the committee that the KC and the veterinary profession had made ‘some progress’ in prioritising the health and welfare of pedigree dogs, with some witnesses praising the ‘significant strides’ made by the KC with the ABS and high-profile breed veterinary checks.
But these charities, as well as the British Veterinary Association and British Small Animals Veterinary Association, considered that there was still much to be done to protect the future health of dogs, the report said.
"The DAC stated that it was unlikely that the Bateson report had had ‘any impact on irresponsible breeders, in part through ignorance, but also because some aim to make as much money as possible without any consideration for animal welfare’.
"While we recognise that the KC and individual breed clubs do not have a remit to control the actions of all pedigree dog breeders, let alone all dog breeders, these bodies have a vital role to play in influencing the opinions of breeders and buyers,” the report said. "In particular, those considering purchasing a pedigree puppy or dog will be influenced in their decision by the fact that the animal may be registered with the KC.
"The KC has a vital role in shaping the culture of the dog breeding community and must make far greater efforts to ensure that it pursues every opportunity to communicate the need for high health and welfare standards to be at the centre of all breeding practices.”
The committee wants the KC to refuse to register puppies who do not meet the conditions of its ABS, in order to send a ‘strong signal’ to breeders about the need to adopt high health and welfare standards.
The ABS should require key tests for heritable health problems to be undertaken and the results of these tests applied to breeding decisions as a condition of membership of the scheme.
Progress in slow and problems remain, the report said, and the KC must ‘redouble its efforts to eradicate health problems caused by conformation to breed Standards’.
While welcoming the veterinary checks on high-profile breeds, the committee believes they should be extended to others.
"The KC should also consider the feasibility of performing additional checks on dogs before their entrance to show is accepted, perhaps through selecting dogs at random to reduce the burden of conducting a large number of checks,” the report states.
The committee said it was not convinced by Lord de Mauley’s evidence that DEFRA placed a high priority on tackling health and welfare issues linked to breeding.
"He was unable to provide us with detailed information at our oral evidence session in October,” the report said. "Asked whether DEFRA had assessed the effectiveness of local authorities in relation to their dog welfare role, the Minister said it had not and had no plans to do so formally. On the issue of establishing minimum criteria for breeding, he considered this was something it was ‘less appropriate to regulate for’, but when pressed he was not ‘able to elucidate why I think that but it is the view I have’. On the matter of inbreeding and breed Standards causing welfare problems he said ‘it is not something that I have given a lot of thought to’.
"Current legislation provides little protection for puppies who may inherit health problems due to inbreeding or breeding for conformation. While it is not possible currently to predict with total certainty the health outcomes for all matings, nonetheless health tests on individual dogs and general breed data could enable breeders to make better informed judgments about the probability of a mating leading to puppies with a specific health problem.
"Despite some progress under a voluntary approach, this information is not currently being fully utilised by all breeders. We recommend that DEFRA considers amending the Animal Welfare Act 1986 to place a duty on anyone breeding a dog to have regard to any offspring’s health and welfare.
"As part of this consideration, DEFRA must ensure that sufficient data is available to a breeder at an affordable cost to enable them to make informed decisions as to whether it is appropriate to breed from any dog or bitch.”
• The committee’s comments on proposed means of dog control will appear in next week’s DW.