Carrying on with the positive legacy from Crufts, wasn’t it good to read the findings of the Royal Veterinary College last week? Scientists analysed the data of 148,741 dogs expecting to prove the conventional wisdom that selective breeding makes the pedigree dog more susceptible to serious conditions but, to their surprise, they discovered (what time working in boarding kennels had proved to me already) that both the mongrel and the pedigree have broadly the same chance of developing the most common health problems. In fact, for degenerative joint disease, the mongrel was found to be more vulnerable. This study’s findings echoed those published back in June 2013 by researchers at the University of California at Davis.
Now, this was a big study; data was gathered from 92 veterinary practices in the Midlands and across the South East of England over five years. Dr Dan O’Neil (who led the study) summed it up nicely when he said: "The outcome is that there is no strong or convincing evidence of a difference in health between purebreds and crossbreeds. There is this image of crossbreeds being this paragon of health, in fact they are just crosses of purebreds with a combination of prevalences you find in their parents. It is not that they are healthier overall and it is wrong to stigmatise purebreds.”
So, that’s that then, the ‘hybrid vigour; lets mix it all up’ theory has been well and truly exploded. Can we now expect apologies from the BBC and from those who likened our breeders and our world to that of the Nazis and the Eugenics movement? Will we now get a big ‘I’m so very sorry, we were wrong’ from the celebrity vets and the RSPCA who have for over a decade championed the mongrel and the designer dog crosses as a healthier, more intelligent pet alternative to the purebred?
Dog World Comment wrote, "that there should ever have been such a long drawn out debate on the subject is a complete waste of time and energy”. Which of course is very true but let’s not forget who brought up this argument and who has utilised that very same argument at every possible opportunity and also let’s not forget those people in our world who have countered such claims. Without them and their continuing argument it is quite possible that this study would never have been commissioned. I certainly don’t see a plethora of websites and blogs ‘bashing’ the mongrel. We cannot afford to sit back and allow such (false) accusations (that find such a ready home in our media and with our policy makers) to go unchallenged.
No sport, hobby or pastime is perfect, totally free from some area that requires some looking at, soul searching or change. Of course, not everything in our garden is rosy. There is (and always will be) room for improvement, for that is the nature of dog and all livestock breeding. There are still a few breeds where dogs are dying far too young for example. A quick scan through the weekly breed notes shows that the people involved with such breeds are quite open and public about the problems facing them (one major change from even a few years ago) and are busy tackling them. It is all too easy to sit behind a keyboard firing off insults and negativity but what does it achieve?
So, having laid that particular myth to rest can we now get back to peacefully keeping and showing our dogs free from attack and insult?
No, of course not because (as expected) a number of people simply ‘do not believe the study’s findings’.
Reading through the comments section of the papers that carried this story (the Times, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail) it was quite shocking to see we (the pedigree dog world and the KC) are still, despite the positive headlines and story, very much in the firing line.
"What I want to know,” stormed one very irate reader of the DM, "is who funded this research? I bet it was the KC.”
Which goes to show how much attention this person paid to the article as it quite clearly stated that the study was funded by the RSPCA!
Another one ranted, "You pedigree dog lovers make me puke. It’s because of you that emotionally crushed animals who have been thrown into shelters by stupid owners to pine away unloved until they are put down. Selfish, greedy, heartless money grabbers you are. You have no conscience.” And it is in this very area that our next storm is brewing.
Purebreds in rescue
I urge everyone who is interested in pedigree dogs to read the excellent article, Patti Strands NAIA: Taking back the conversation, by Sharon Pflaumer and published in the American publication Dog News (2014-04-29). This pretty much sums up the uphill battle we still face. Good news stories such as the recent findings will have no effect on the animal rights extremist groups who will now move away from ‘health’ and on to breeding. I fear the next line to be trotted out will be, ‘as there are so many animals in shelters… breeders need curbing’.
Recently I witnessed a very interesting exchange on one particular blog. The KC’s vet (Nick Blayney) was being attacked for daring to say that there are "more crossbreeds in shelters than purebreds” but his statement was corrected as "not in fact true”. When the blogger was queried for evidence of this opposing view, I was directed to Battersea’s 2012 report.
The professionally presented report had pages dedicated to the annual intake of dogs, split by breed and how many of those were ‘purebred’ or ‘crossbred’. At first glance, the blogger appeared correct; during 2012, Battersea cared for a total of 5,221 dogs and 3,357 (64 per cent) of these were purebreds. However, I scanned the list of ‘breeds’ and found that this ‘purebred’ total included Jack Russells, Pitbulls, Lurchers and Labradoodles. In addition to these 483 misallocated dogs, the purebred figure also played host to all 627 ‘mongrels’. Add to that the inclusion of 984 ‘purebred’ Staffs, 102 German Shepherd Dogs and 92 Rotties (of which it would be reasonable to assume half are not registered purebreds), the revised ‘purebred’ figure is much lower at 20 per cent (1,069 of the 5,221 total).
Perhaps it would be fair to suggest that this was simply a one-off reporting error but, performing the same analysis on the 2009, 2010 and 2011 reports by Battersea, the reported ‘purebred’ totals of 56 per cent, 53 per cent and 54 per cent would instead be 34 per cent, 30 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. Bearing in mind the very conservative assumption that half the ‘Staffs’ were purebred, the percentage of purebreds in rescue could potentially be much lower still as I have often seen dogs on rescue websites classified as a certain breed when their picture tells a whole different story, as I was informed by another rehoming charity, dogs are ‘registered’ as the breed they most closely resemble.
Could it be that this lack of quality information is skewing the statistics even further from the truth and does it even matter?
Well, yes it does; it is undeniable that there is a huge problem with unwanted dogs in this country and it needs to be accepted that a huge proportion of these are crossbreeds. The people who produce these unwanted dogs are exactly the ones who need to be tackled by policy makers. Typically in this country when there is a minority causing a problem, the majority are punished. Take fluoridisation of our water for example, a few parents can’t manage to look after their children’s teeth so (it is proposed) the whole population has to endure our water supplies being fluoridated. The same can be applied to the conscientious dog breeder who will be bound up in regulation and red tape if we sit back and allow such untruths and dodgy statistics to go unchallenged.