Should the KC enforce health testing?
When it comes to health matters it is very easy to bash the Kennel Club. The latest person to jump on the bandwagon is so-called TV vet Emma Milne, who has recently garnered herself some publicity by criticising the KC for not introducing a heart scheme and for not making the use of the chiari-like malformation/syringomyelia (CM/SM) scheme mandatory in Cavaliers. Many of us have been urging the formalisation of heart testing for many years. There is already a panel of recognised cardiologists and several breed clubs make use of their services, so it really can’t be too difficult to regularise this can it? KC bashing on that issue is very much justified, although to suggest that none of the blame lies with the British Veterinary Association is surely a little disingenuous? The two parties have to work together if such a scheme is to be implemented.
The problem with syringomyelia is far more complicated, not least because the geneticists can’t really come up with an accurate explanation of the mode of inheritance of the condition. There are many breeders who have been scanning for years, and still cannot predict with 100 per cent confidence whether their pups will be SM free.
Instead of haranguing all Cavalier breeders – and in particular those who show their dogs – critics such as Emma Milne would do more good by throwing their support behind those breeders who are health testing, nearly always the same it’s show breeders who get all the flak. If the general public were continually urged to steer clear of unregistered puppies, virtually none of which come from health tested parents, some progress might be made.
The KC is perhaps its own worst enemy when it comes to health issues. While lip service is paid to the idea of health testing, protocols are not enforced. Even for members of the Assured Breeder Scheme it is enough to carry out the tests, there is no requirement to actually take any notice of the results. I am well aware of the arguments for not insisting on rigid adherence to absolute standards across the board. In minority breeds in particular, there are sometimes very good reasons for breaking the rules, times when the need to maintain genetic diversity has to override a possible conflict with health protocols. But that doesn’t mean that a slipshod attitude should be allowed overall.
Going back to the poor old Cavalier, which will always be a popular breed because of its wonderful qualities, the only required health test for ABS breeders – presumably the level to which the KC would want every breeder to aspire – is that of eye testing, yet mitral valve disease (MVD) is a real killer with too many Cavaliers dying too young. However, heart testing cannot be included as a requirement, since there is no official scheme, despite the promise of one for many years and despite the fact that the various breed clubs offer heart testing on a regular basis, with a very high take up from members.
It surely isn’t rocket science! Formalise the present testing regime and make it a requirement that every Cavalier used for breeding must have an up to date heart certificate. That’s for every litter, not just those bred by members of the ABS. That really would show a commitment to the improvement of health in this breed.
Could it ever happen? Probably not unless there is a real turn round in attitude at the KC. Current thinking in Clarges Street is that insisting on restrictions will drive away many outside the KC’s sphere of influence, and that they will then have absolutely no chance to educate such people in the future. That is almost certainly true. However, how much influence does the KC realistically have over those who are only interested in profit and will cut corners – particularly over issues such as health testing – in order to maximise profit? Indeed, isn’t the KC just as guilty with regard to considering financial concerns above all else?
Obviously, the KC has to run at a small profit, it would be seriously irresponsible to do otherwise. Let us, however, turn this whole issue on its head and consider things from a different perspective. I, as an individual breeder and exhibitor have to work out just how to allocate my financial resources. I would like to go to every championship show, a fair few open shows, and some major overseas shows as well. I personally think that it is important to have basic health clearances on my dogs, even though there is no KC requirement to do so, which means that eyes, hearts and patellas are checked. With limited resources it is not possible to do all these things, so I have three choices. I can either prioritise, selecting a few shows and missing out on the rest; I can not bother about health testing; or I could increase my disposable income, perhaps by having more puppies to finance my other activities. My own personal solution is to choose the first of these options, others may decide differently.
The KC needs to make similar choices. Is it better to maximise income by registering every litter, no matter what the health status of the parents, or would it be more ethical to budget for a drop in income by raising standards, and making ‘KC registered’ a true badge of quality?
We, the concerned, dedicated breeders, trying to do our best for our breeds, know what we want from our KC. We want it to be a governing body that we can respect. We want to be proud to say that of course our puppies are KC registered. We don’t want to be lumped in with those who think that health testing means a quick once over by the vet. We certainly don’t want to be associated with greeders who have no concern for their bitches, seeing them only as a means of producing puppies of exotic colours that are sold at vastly inflated prices as rare and unusual.
It is frightening to realise just how many of these latter make use of KC services to give added value to their puppies. It isn’t so long ago that blue Staffordshire Bull Terriers were hardly ever seen. In 2015 68 per cent of all Stafford registrations were blues. Few of these come from health-tested parents, and the good work done by responsible breeders is rapidly being undone as they are now vastly outnumbered by those who simply don’t bother.
Other breeds, too, are in danger of seeing ‘colour not recognised’ becoming the norm. Again the old mantra of wanting to keep these people within the KC’s sphere of influence is trotted out, but it simply isn’t a valid argument. They are using the KC’s good name for their own ends, and the KC in turn is raking in the money from their registrations. Yes, maybe it is being put to good use. The KC funds a lot of health research. But at what cost to the pedigree dog world as a whole?
Perhaps the time has come for a complete rethink. Make KC registration actually mean something, a guarantee that every puppy comes from health-tested parents and colour-wise actually conforms to the breed Standard. Wouldn’t that be something to celebrate!