The aim is responsible breeding
Writing a column in the run up to Crufts, knowing that it will be published a week after the event, is always a bit tricky. I could wax lyrical about the greatest dog show on earth and the coming together of exhibitors and enthusiasts from all around the world, but that might be tempting fate. We all hope that the show will take place without a hitch, that there will be no scandals – real or imagined – and that the pedigree dog world will be revitalised and strengthened, with many potential new owners inspired to buy their first puppy or to take the plunge and enter their first dog show, hoping that next year they too will be among the exhibitors at Crufts.
But what if there is something that makes sure that the show hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons? To be writing platitudes about the wonderful example Crufts sets to the wider dog community might be a dangerous course to take if the national media are highlighting the less savoury side of our sport!
In the run up to the show the usual suspects were gathering in order to cause the maximum amount of disruption. It is easy to dismiss such antics as the work of cranks. It is even easier to add fuel to their fire by sticking our heads in the sand and refusing even to admit that there might be problems in some breeds – we truly can be our own worst enemies at times. Equally, there are those who seem to feel that appeasement is the only answer – and unfortunately this is the attitude that, historically at least, has been the one adopted by the Kennel Club. Yes, there are problems with some breeds, so let’s admit it, work together to solve those problems, and at the same time highlight the excellent health and temperament records of the majority of our dogs.
For once, certainly at the time of writing, the pre-Crufts articles in the national media have been very positive, in particular highlighting the idea of owning one of the vulnerable native breeds as an alternative to some of the most popular and all too-often exploited breeds. Since I have often criticised the KC press office in this column, it is with great pleasure that I am able to offer a huge ‘well done’ on this initiative. This time round there is no mention of the ‘rarer that a Giant Panda’ tag, with its implied invitation to anyone who happens to own a dog of a vulnerable breed to consider a litter of puppies as the answer to that breed’s problems.
Sadly that isn’t necessarily the case, and I’m sure that most VNBs will have stories of those with little knowledge or expertise who thought they were helping by breeding a litter, unaware that being vulnerable or rare doesn’t always mean that there are dozens of suitable homes waiting for puppies. All too often that can lead to novice breeders finding themselves with a number of unsold puppies, and the consequent need for breed rescue to step in – with the result that those who have the knowledge and means to breed responsibly curtail their own plans.
Unfortunately many of these breeds are vulnerable, not because it is difficult to breed them, but rather because it is difficult to find suitable homes for the pups that are born. Inevitably this does lead to a vicious circle. Fewer puppies born means a declining gene pool, which can in time lead to fertility problems and then the breed that was numerically small through choice suddenly finds that when litters are planned they don’t always happen. The more publicity such breeds get, the better it is for them, as supply can be increased to meet demand – suitable new homes waiting will encourage responsible breeding.
Responsible breeding is the key to a thriving society in which pedigree dogs are held in esteem. Unfortunately responsible breeding is not necessarily always the norm, and it has become socially acceptable it would seem, for anyone who has a bitch to regard breeding as a right – a means of providing a cash crop that can fund holidays, a new car or home improvements, with little concern for the welfare of the bitch and even less for the future of the breed.
A worthy scheme?
The KC answer to any criticism is always to trot out the largely discredited statement that buyers should only go to an Assured Breeder, in order to be certain that they are buying a healthy puppy. If only it were that simple! Logic tells us that it should be. After all, if there is a system in place that is nationally accredited; one that ensures standards are of the highest and assures buyers that these standards are maintained, why wouldn’t any reputable breeder want to be a member? Put like that it is hard to argue against the scheme, so the fact that many reputable breeders are not members should be taken very seriously.
I think everyone who really does give the ABS serious thought has to admit that there is a problem. Historically, the scheme got off to a bad start by targeting volume producers over the hobby breeder, and by making it plain that there was never any intention that membership of the scheme should be a recognition of quality, rather that welfare, hygiene and good record-keeping were its main priorities. After a few years, when it was obvious that to most of the high profile show breeders being an ABS member wasn’t really something that was high on their agenda, there was a definite shift, and efforts were made to make the scheme more relevant to them.
Fast forward to the much-heralded UKAS accreditation and the subsequent inclusion of those whose main focus was on the breeding of crossbreeds, and it wasn’t surprising that many who had been persuaded to join the scheme a few years earlier walked out in droves, partly in protest about the all-inclusive nature of the membership but also with a well-justified claim that their health standards were far higher than those expected of ABS members, so why should they compromise their own reputations.
This is always a difficult question to balance. Some breeds have no required health tests – so for the KC to claim that pups from an Assured Breeder will somehow be healthier is obviously completely untrue. Other breeds have serious health issues, but these are not necessarily covered by the requirements of the scheme. Again, for the KC to claim that, for example, a Pug bought from an Assured Breeder is automatically healthier than one from someone outside the scheme is just not true, since again there are actually no health requirements listed for this breed, despite the fact that conscientious breeders will consider conditions such as hemivertibrae, Pug dog encephalitis and brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, before making informed decisions about mating their bitches. Since there are no recognised tests for many health issues it is difficult to include them in a scheme that is purely evidence based. Indeed, any scheme that relies solely on paper trails and cleaning regimes to guarantee the quality of a puppy is doomed to failure.