Tuesday, 30 November 2010

More on the bullies

A comment on the last blog pointed out that the sheep head on the modern bull terrier (or "Roman finish" as the breeders prefer to call it in an effort to imbue it with rather more grandeur) is an aesthetic preference that doesn't cause health problems.

The above is a still from footage we shot for Pedigree Dogs Exposed and it shows how extreme some of these dogs' heads are.

I love Bullies - they're full of character. But, however hard I try, I am at a loss to understand why anyone would want to do this to a dog.  It's the most unnatural shape (the whole head in fact, not just the bridge) and although I can't prove a health-deficit, surely those small eyes and head shape must have some impact on the dog's ability to see?  I know of one Bull Terrier owner who played what they thought was a great game with their dog.  It involved putting a grape on the floor in front of their dog and, oh, how they laughed that the dog could not see what was directly in front of its nose.

Does it matter? It does to me because no natural dog has a head this shape; it's been done on a whim and it adds absolutely nothing to the dogs' function.  And it isn't just the dog's head. Just compare the proportions of the historical dog with a current modern UK show dog:

Which is the better balanced, better proportioned dog? I don't think that anyone other than those in Bull Terriers would think it was the second dog. But what do you think? Has Kennel Club breeding actually "improved" the Bull Terrier?  And I don't mean temperament-wise. I accept this has improved. But temperament has nothing to do with phenotype - except perhaps in the Bulldog where the current phenotype makes it almost impossible for the dog to put up much of a fight even if the mind was willing.

I suspect I might be deluged by Bully owners trying to skew this poll, but let's give it a try anyway...


Lessons from history

There's a wonderful, and free, online resource for old breed pictures  - called Dog Breed Historical Pictures by Pietoro (the source of the old Beardie pix on the post before this one).

Here you can learn that the Bull Terrier never used to have a head like a sheep:

 And that Borzoi never used to have hump backs:

And that Dachshunds used to have legs:

Monday, 29 November 2010

Shaggy dogs and salvation

Here's a Bearded Collie, from 1903:

Here's one from 1949 - a little shaggier:

And here's the Bearded Collie that won Crufts this year:
© The Kennel Club

A coat this profuse is head-shakingly stupid in a herding breed and totally impractical for all but the most dedicated pet owner. This is what the show Beardie has become on the outside. And on the inisde there are problems too. The breed suffers from auto-immune problems that are almost certainly the result of heavy inbreeding from a foundation stock of just 12 dogs. 

Fortunately, there is a population of unregistered working-bred Beardies out there that could offer the registered-population some much needed new blood. Indeed, some of them boast some rare MHC haplotypes (genes that are involved in immune function) that could be very precious indeed to a breed that suffers from immune problems

But, predictably, the UK breed clubs are resisting this ingress of what they see as tainted blood.  Their claim? There's no need beause  the KC Beardie is "basically a healthy breed". Their fear? That the working beardies are "known to have Border Collie bloodlines behind them" and so therefore could bring in collie health problems that are not in the current KC Beardies. They are also anxious about the introduction of the merle gene that exists in working Beardies but not in the KC-registered dogs.

"The health issues caused by the merle gene are well known in other breeds and to open the door to deafness and blindness seems to us to be very irresponsible, especially in these days of public interest in matters of canine health," argued the Breed Clubs Liaison Committee last week (somewhat disingenously given that one of the biggest canine health issues is the lack of genetic diveristy in KC-registered breeds).

UK show beardie:  (Photo: Creative Commons)
Now the merle gene can cause a problem. A merle x merle mating can produce blind and deaf dogs if the pups inherit two copies of the merle gene. And, according to coat colour expert Liisa Sarakontu, introducing merle into the registered Beardie population would not be as a safe as introducing merle into, say Rottweillers.

"The merle gene, even when single (M/m), slightly increases the amount of white. Beardies are irish patterned, but they have been bred close to the most extreme version of irish: they normally have a wide white collar, all white forelegs, white muzzle and blaze or at least a stripe on the face," explains Liisa. "I've seen minor white body spots and so it looks like some Beardies are "white factored" aka they do carry a spotting pattern with far more white, like piebald or extreme white."

Essentially, this means that introducing the merle gene may increase the possibility of pups born deaf.


• the merle gene has always been in Beardies. In fact merle was listed as a colour in the early breed standard - it's just that none of the original 12 foundation stock carried it and so the KC population doesn't carry it today and the colour was quietly dropped from the breed standard some time ago.

• the merle gene exists and is managed in many other breeds, including Shelties, Australian Shepherds and Border Collies.  (It is not managed so well in Great Danes but that is for reasons that don't apply here.)

• the colour would be recorded on a dog's registration certifcate and that should be enough to prevent any breeder from doing a risky merle x merle breeding. 

In their fight to prevent working Beardies from being registered, the Beardie clubs claim that even a dog with one copy of the merle gene can have sight and hearing defects. This was noted in an isolated (laboratory) population of dappled Dachshunds (dapple being the Dachshund term for merle) and hinted at in one or two other studies, although most other breeds have not reported problems, and that includes working-bred Beardies.

Brambledale Beardies' Lynne Sharpe believes the benefits far outweigh the risk. Lynne breeds old-fashioned Beardies - ie ones you can own without also employing a full-time hairdresser - and she has a long waiting list for her puppies.  She is a former show breeder who "saw the light" and she is now on her second attempt to persuade the KC to register her dogs (the first attempt was scotched by the breed clubs).

"Given the very small number of merles likely to be registered with the KC, the risk seems to be vanishingly small,"says Lynne. "The is just another attempt to frighten people into opposing the opening of the closed Breed Register to allow the much-needed new blood that working-bred Beardies could provide.

"I had no intention of continuing to press for KC acceptance as I felt - and still feel - that the KC has been responsible for the ruin of so many breeds. I then started my website, simply as a means of countering the misinformation campaign being run by the clubs.....and was amazed and delighted to receive an overwhelmingly positive response from the dog-loving public, many of them people who had owned show-type Beardies and been devastated to lose them from auto-immune disease and many more Beardie lovers who felt that the show Beardie was no longer the happy, healthy, workmanlike companion that it had been.

One of Lynne's Beardies - low-maintenance coat

"I have also been encouraged by the response of KC Beardie breeders from overseas, many of whom are all too aware of the problems caused by the limited gene pool and are desperate to do something about it. Many of them see my dogs as the only way out of the cul de sac.......but, although a few brave souls have taken Brambledale puppies and patiently gone through the long process of getting them registered in Germany and France, this is not a possibility in other countries, where my dogs would only be accepted if they were registered in the UK. So, very reluctantly, I approached the KC again and was invited to submit a formal application - which I did in July. I am still waiting for a decision."

Meanwhile, the  breed clubs are claiming that the working Beardies have other health problems that could be the ruin of the KC population. But this is certainly not true of Lynne's dogs.

"My dogs are probably the most health-tested Beardies in the world," insists Lynne. "I have five generations of eye-tested stock and my youngsters are fourth-generation working-bred, with no problems, whereas the dogs already on the Breed Register do not have to be tested, examined or monitored in any way at all. Why would it be necessary to regard mine as a threat?"

It is not quite a "no-brainer" given the merle element, but here's hoping the Kennel Club makes the right decision on this one as, indeed, it did with the Dalmatians earlier this year. 

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Kennel Club fails to grasp concept of independence

Now it's the KC's turn to be disappointed. Dog World today reports that the KC is not best pleased that, despite fielding four of its own candidates to sit on the new independent Dog Advisory Council, none of them was appointed.

So what part of the word "independent" does the KC not understand? Why would the Council appoint someone who works for the organisation that is responsible, in no small part, for the whole sorry mess in the first place; the organisation that is supposed to be main beneficiary of the Council's advice?

And what's with this sour-grapes quote from KC Chairman Ronnie Irving (one of the KC applicants)?

Mr Irving said he did not doubt the first-rate academic qualifications of ‘most of those chosen... However we are concerned that some of those appointed have a past history of making what can only be regarded as anti-pedigree-dog noises." 

I have no doubt that several on the new Council have expressed their serious concern about the state of pedigree dogs today, but this is not "anti-pedigree" (although the KC always thinks it is).

Ronnie Irving goes on to express his hope that "they will all be able to leave such positions behind and will be truly independent of their current and previous associations in order to ensure the best future for dogs."

What, like he would have done if appointed?

There might be more disappointment for Ronnie to come. Dog World reports that "the KC is pleased that council chairman Professor Sheila Crispin believes the burning issues for the council to tackle are reportedly puppy farming and status dogs."

Now it is true that, up until now, Professor Crispin has put puppy farming and status dogs on the top of her list and I know that these are issues she is very keen that the Council tackles - but in an interview on Radio 4 earlier this week there appeared to be a shift in emphasis. After a discussion about how a univeral puppy contract would give consumers more protection when things go wrong, Professor Crispin was asked what else was high on her list of priorities. "Well obviously genetic and breed-related disease, exagggerated conformations, but also perhaps the hidden diseases, metabolic diseases that dogs may develop later on in life," she answered. "So genetic, inherited disease and then really everything else boils down to irresponsible breeding and irresponsible ownership."

Bulldogs: vets express their "disappointment" with the KC

Seems that I am not the only one who's confused regarding the KC's announcement on C-section limits. As I wrote here three days ago, the KC has added a little caveat to the new ruling (which comes into effect in January 2012) which would appear to allow business as usual, as long as a breeder's vet writes in to say that a C-section is necessary on welfare grounds.

This morning, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) say they are "very disappointed that the KC has not gone further. Both organisations lobbied strongly for KC to stop registering puppies from a bitch that has undergone one caesarean operation, with no exceptions, and will continue to push for this rule change.

"The BVA and BSAVA are also concerned about the get-out clause in the KC rules which will allow exceptions for “scientifically proven welfare reasons”. The organisations believe that this is an ill-defined term that could be open to abuse and that there should be no exceptions.

Commenting on the changes, Harvey Locke, President of the BVA, said: “We remain disappointed that the rule changes do not yet go far enough and that they are not being brought in earlier. The sooner we can start to tackle these major health and welfare problems, the better.”

Grant Petrie, President of BSAVA, added:

“No bitch should be expected to go through the trauma of a caesarean operation more than once. These rule changes are not perfect but they are a step in the right direction and we will continue to lobby the Kennel Club to tighten up its registration rules further."

Two days ago, I emailed RCVS President Peter Jinman for a statement in response to the KC's wriggling on this issue. He replies: "This is a ‘first step’ and while it may not go as far as we may like, it is to be applauded as a step in the right direction.

"Clearly it is for the KC, hopefully with guidance from the new Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding and the veterinary profession, to continue to address dog breeding issues. The KC does write and interpret its own rules, it equally will have to say how it sees those rules being used to fulfil its obligation to improve the outcome of the breeding of dogs.

"The College has, in discussion with the Kennel Club, cleared the way for veterinary surgeons to report the undertaking of a caesarean section without falling foul of any rules on confidentiality. We will continue to give advice to veterinary surgeons on how to respond to any new rules that the KC puts in place.

"As Professor Bateson pointed out ‘The health and welfare problems of dog breeding were first identified more than 40 years ago’. Like you, I do not wish to see another 40 years go by, and trust that this opening measure is but the first of many designed rapidly to address the welfare issues of dog breeding. "

It's nearer 50 years actually.  As I write in a forthcoming issue of Dogs Today (Jan issue, on sale in a couple of weeks' time):

In 1963, former BSAVA president Graham Oliver-Jones addressed the profession’s annual congress with these words: "We have recently been to the House of Commons on your behalf and met many members of both Houses. We told them of our tremendous interest in the abnormalities of some of the dogs that we are called upon to treat; and explaine that our concern is that dogs are being bred and born into this world to suffer throughout their lives from certain conditions which probably could be prevented."

In fact, the BSAVA organised an entire symposium in 1963 on "Abnormalities and Defects in Pedigree Dogs" and six accompanying papers were published, one by Dalmatian breeder, Eleanor Frankling, who wrote:  “…the tendency among breeders today is to adopt an attitude of “the more the better” over any desired point. If, for instance, small eyes are demanded as they are in the Chow standard, then “the smaller the better’’ and the foundations of entropion are there. The Alsatian stifles are described as “well turned”. I love the Alsatian and owned one when it was a noble upstanding animal. The angulation in hock and stifle is now so extreme that the hocks are practically non-existent and the animal walks almost on its metatarsals. It is short-legged and slinking.”

And it has got a whole heap worse since then. 

It is more than time for the veterinary profession to take a strong stand again on this issue.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

More from the KC School of Trying To Look Good...

.. while putting in sneaky caveats so that nothing much has to change.

Today, it's the announcement from the Kennel Club that from January 2012, it will no longer register puppies that have been delivered by C-section from a bitch that has already had two C-sections.

This is in response to veterinary (and other) concerns that some breeds have an extremely high C-section rate because they have been bred to such a distorted shape that birthing naturally is no longer an option. The rates for C-sections are  eye-watering as revealed in a paper earlier this year, using data drawn from the 2004 KC/BSAVA health survey. The highest C-section rates were for the Boston Terrier, Bulldog, French Bulldog, Mastiff, Scottish Terrier, Miniature Bull Terrier, German Wirehaired Pointer, Clumber Spaniel, Pekingese and Dandie Dinmont. In the Boston Terrier, Bulldog and Frenchie, the rate was more than 80 per cent.

The idea behind the C-section limit is to encourage breeders to produce dogs that can actually meet this most basic test of survivability - the ability to reproduce.  For this to happen we would, for instance, need Bulldogs bred with smaller heads and wider pelvises. 

However, the KC has added a caveat to the new no-more-than-two C-section limit. And it's this: "...except for scientifically proven welfare reasons and in such cases normally provided that the application is made prior to mating."

I have just emailed the KC's Caroline Kisko with the following question: "If a bulldog breeder's vet contacts you prior to a delivery and points out that for welfare reason he must do that third or fourth C-section, will the KC will register the puppies?"

Now Caroline is not answering my emails at the moment, so am not terribly hopeful of a response.  But unless I am missing something, I can only assume that the KC is fudging the issue again. Because it seems to me that the breeders only have to get one of their bulldog-friendly vets to write to the KC to tell them that the bitch in question will die if forced into a natural delivery and the KC will register the pups.

Now this IS a fiendishly difficult issue because, if the ban was categorical, some breeders may put their bitch through a natural delivery that may kill her and the pups. But as it stands, this is a classic piece of KC spin. Nothing will change.

So what's the answer? Give the breeders a reasonable deadline - such as that from 2020 (which gives the breeders 10 years to change the conformation and to select bitches that can whelp naturally), bitches that need a second C-section must be spayed at the same time. No exemptions. None.

Have now heard back from the KC. In answer to my question: ""If a bulldog breeder's vet contacts you prior to a delivery and points out that for welfare reason he must do that third or fourth C-section, will the KC will register the puppies?" the KC's Caroline Kisko has replied: "No Jemima – we won’t – and I think the release makes it clear."

You be the judge. Here's what the release says:

"The Kennel Club has confirmed that it will no longer register any puppies born by caesarean section from any bitch which has previously had two such operations, except for scientifically proven welfare reasons and in such cases normally provided that the application is made prior to mating."

I've gone back and asked for an example of what a scientifically-proven welfare reason might be - because as it stands surely a vet saying that the dog would not be able to whelp naturally would qualify?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Kennel Club - still registering puppy-farmed dogs

This Welsh puppy farm registers its puppies with the KC           ©Puppy Love
The Kennel Club  today announced that from January 2012 (why the wait?) it will not normally register more than four litters from one bitch.  This is two-better than current legislation which sets the limit at six litters per bitch, and the move (a good one) is designed - in part - to clamp down on puppy farmers.

Not that the KC news release actually says this as the KC doesn't like to admit that it registers puppy-farm dogs.

In fact, the KC seeks to distance itself from puppy-farming in this announcement by saying: “Of course, this decision will sadly not impact on those people who do not register their litters with the Kennel Club, in particular puppy farmers who breed purely for profit and tend to show little consideration for an animal’s welfare. Legislation needs to be tightened so that these people can be brought to account.”

But the KC itself needs to tighten up on this issue.

Here's what Ronnie, from campaign group Puppy Love, has to say.

""Limiting litters from individual bitches is a step in the right direction," says Ronnie. "But you've got to bear in mind that some puppy farmers who register their pups with the KC have 100 bitches or more. This move won't effect them at all. We would like the Kennel Club to not register puppies from any breeder that has more than four of five breeding bitches because keeping any more than that is so open to abuse."

As it happens, I think it's possible to keep one or two more bitches than this and breed responsibly. But it irritates that the KC continues to publicly tut-tut about puppy farms while taking money from puppy-farmers by registering their puppies.

What else could they do? How about that any breeder/kennel that registers more than five litters a year should be subject to a KC inspection?

Anyone currently producing five or more litters a year should be visited and licensed by their local authority but licensing departments are often understaffed and underfunded so the checks aren't done. The KC does not have a system for alerting local authorities when a breeder registers five or more litters a year (even though it has the data and even though the breeders are breaking the law if they are unlicensed) and so high-volume breeders slip through the net that way, too.

At the moment, only breeders signed up to the KC's Accredited Breeder Scheme (ABS) are visited by the KC (and even then not all of them).

Inspecting higher-volume breeders on the KC's general register is surely feasible? Given an average of, what, 4 pups a litter,  at £12 each for registration - that's £240 the KC takes for registering five litters. Surely that's enough to cover the cost of a visit? After all, the KC has recently appointed a number of area reps to do inspections of Accredited Breeders and the KC doesn't pay them - it only covers expenses.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Fab Fiona does it again...

Proving her win last week was absolutely no fluke, the UK's first LUA Dalmatian, Fiacre First and Foremost ("Fiona") won the Utility Group  at Manchester Open Show today.  And, as you can see from the above pic, she looks very happy about it!

Fiona's first win at Coventry two weeks ago was the first blog here - and attracted a lot of comment, including a deluge of anonymous bitching about the win being stage-managed (and worse..)

I'm very heartened by this second win. First, it proves that there ia no dark force at work trying to stop her winning - or if there is that it ain't working. Second, it is the best possible news for the LUA Dalmatians.

Many congratulations to Fiona and owner Julie Evans.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Pugs at Discover Dogs

When you're a breed, like the Pug, that is predisposed to overheating and breathing problems, it is a kindness to keep them lean.  This fawn Pug at Discover Dogs last Saturday really was very overweight. It doesn't help either, with the hip dysplasia that is common to the breed (only the bulldog is worse, according to OFA statistics) .

However, according to the Pug reps on the stand, it's not really hip dysplasia - it's that Pugs are built differently to other dogs. This means, apparently,  that there's "no need to hip-score" (And, indeed, only 27 Pugs have ever been scored under the BVA/KC hip scheme which has been running for, what, 40 years or so now?).

Mind you, no less than three reps on the stand were also insistent that Pugs do not suffer from breathing problems.

This picture of rude health is confirmed by the new manual the Kennel Club has produced for vets. It lists exactly.... no health problems for the Pug.

Not quite true according to two recent papers published in the Veterinary Journal (Asher et al; Sumners et al) which found that the Pug suffers from a total of 33 disorders, 18 of them related, or exacerbated, by their conformation.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Springer time

© Stephen Ward
There's a fab pic of an English Springer Spaniel on the banner image of the Kennel Club's homepage at the moment (above), selling "happy, healthy dogs".

It's selling a lie, though, because a dog like this would never win in the KC show-ring.

Here's the English Springer Spaniel that won BOB at Crufts this year, Sc Ch Trimere of Allenie.
© The Kennel Club

What does the breed standard say about the coat on an English Springer Spaniel?
"Close, straight and weather resisting, never coarse. Moderate feathering on ears, forelegs, body and hindquarters."


For goodness sake, this is supposed to be a working dog!

Launch of new Dog Advisory Council

Sheila Crispin, with her two collies in Cumbria
Today marks the official launch of the new Dog Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues in Dog Breeding.

The launch of the Council follows Pedigree Dogs Exposed two years ago and the three major reports that followed it (RSPCA, APGAW and the Bateson Report) - all of which stressed the need for an independent body.

I've been anxious about the make-up of the Council, not least because its Chair, Professor Sheila Crispin, is an honorary member of the Kennel Club and did not feel it necessary to resign her membership of the KC's own Dog Health Group following her appointment. I also felt when I interviewed Sheila for Dogs Today recently (entire interview online here) that she cut the KC too much slack and was far too focused on puppy farms - an important issue, of course, but not if it's going to let mainstream pedigree dog-breeding off the hook.   But there are some very good names here, including:

•  Dr Clare Rusbridge, who appeared in PDE speaking out strongly about syringomyelia in cavaliers. A passionate, dedicated vet who was brave enough to speak out when others in her profession zipped their lips, Clare is wonderful with the dogs and their owners in her care, and has stood her ground in the face of considerable opposition - and at times considerable unpleasantness -  from breeders.

• Lisa Collins - the lead scientist of two important recent papers on inherited disorders in pedigree dogs. The first, exploring the link between illness and breed standards, found that each of the top 50 breeds was found to have at least one aspect of its conformation predisposing it to a disorder; and 84 disorders were either directly or indirectly associated with conformation. The second, exploring health issues not related to breed standards, found a total of 312 non-conformation linked inherited disorders in the top 50 breeds.

• Dr David Sargan - co-author of the RSPCA report “Pedigree Dog Breeding in the UK: A major welfare concern?” He is a senior lecturer at the University of Cambridge Veterinary School working in comparative genetics and genomics, with special interests in canine inherited disease genetics. He curates the database “Inherited Diseases in Dogs”, a reference tool that catalogues inherited defects in dogs and their underlying genetics.

No response so far from the Kennel Club to the announcement of the Council members - but then the KC did its best to scotch the Council by claiming that its own revamped Dog Health Group was perfectly adequate.

Whether the new Council can really make a difference to dogs remains a big question. The Council is purely advisory, it is short of funding and the KC - and others - are skilled at coming up with excellent-sounding reasons why things can't be done. But it deserves a chance.

Watch this space...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Losing sight of what's normal

There is not much love lost between Kennel Club vet Steve Dean and me.  It mostly stems from the fact that, after Pedigree Dogs Exposed, he went round telling people that we had withheld medication from Zak, the epileptic boxer in the film, in order to get the poor dog to fit on cue for the cameras.

(For the record, we weren't even there... We provided a camera, but Zak's seizures were filmed by his owners.)

When I heard that Dean, who is Chief Executive of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, was spreading this nasty little rumour, I sent him a cross email and got a rather sarcastic reply and no apology.  Suffice to say, we're not on each other's Christmas card list.

I have other beefs with Dean, who breeds and shows border terriers.  In one column for Dog World he opined: "Almost without exception breeders who register their dogs seek to breed healthy dogs, however, rarely habitualisation has occasionally driven some norms away from health (less than 10 breeds).”

Less than 10 breeds? Clearly a graduate of the KC School of Statistics.

Anyway, this blog is actually to congratulate Dean for two recent columns for Dog World, both of which tackled the fact that problems sometimes become so entrenched that they become normalised.  Two weeks ago, he wrote about eyes, stating:

"Where a defect is not recognised as a health issue they can become accepted norms for a breed or, even worse, are not recognised for causing a problem...  Examples of defects that have become accepted can readily be seen by observing eyes in a number of breeds. Most dog folk will have heard of entropion and ectropion but how many take any note of them in the show ring and if they do, how many appreciate the misery they offer for the afflicted dog?

"Taking the more readily observable example first, ectropion is seen in breeds where the lower eyelid droops away from the eyeball. To point the finger at no dog currently alive, take a look at the Landseer painting in the KC Gallery, the dog has ectropion and the artist has faithfully reproduced it. So this is not a new issue. Some may say it adds expression to a face, others may say their breed has always been like this, but neither comment justifies its existence.

"Clinically the failure of the lower lid to adequately sweep across the eyeball during blinking will result in chronic inflammation of the eye membranes and therefore a lifetime of discomfort. It is even worse with entropion where the lid turns inwards so that eyelashes and hair rub up and down the eyeball surface with each blink."

This week Dean writes about lameness:

"...in [some] breeds a degree of lameness appears to have been accepted. Judges should exclude lame dogs from the ring yet in these breeds this is not happening and this is not in the interests of a breed’s future... Breeders need to be more critical about the dogs they breed from seeking to breed away from afflicted dogs. Yet in some breeds it is almost ignored because so many of the breed show lameness – this cannot be right."

It never ceases to amaze me that some show-breeders just don't see this. It's perfectly bloody obvious to everyone else.

Mark Evans unrepentant about "mutant" quote

And that's what the headline should have been on this week's Dog World's interview with the former chief veterinary advisor of the RSPCA.

Instead, Dog World pulls its punches. But the paper is often rather genteel like that and I for one won't criticise them for it.

Unlike its amateurish competitor Our Dogs (which today has been forced to remove the frankly actionable comments about Mark Evans from its Facebook site), Dog World employs proper journalists and despite being essentially pro-KC and pro-showing, gives all sides of the dog-breeding debate a fair hearing. This is much to the annoyance of the Kennel Club which used to write an "insider" column for the paper called The Clarges St Trumpeter (reputedly written by KC Chairman Ronnie Irving) but earlier this year de-camped to Our Dogs where there is much less criticism of the Kennel Club.

Mark Evans incensed some dog breeders in PDE by saying: "When I watch Crufts what I see in front of me is a parade of mutants. It’s some freakish, garish beauty pageant that has nothing, frankly, to do with health and welfare." This week he told Dog World: “I haven’t changed my stance one jot.. I felt very strongly when Pedigree Dogs Exposed came out that this was a programme I had been waiting 20 years to be made, because just talking about problems had resulted in no change at all...Somebody has to stick their head above the parapet, and in my case I’m doing it for dogs. My number one concern is the dog, and if I upset a few people I’m really sorry.”

Well, in truth, probably not very sorry.

Clumber at Discover Dogs

This Clumber Spaniel was on the breed stand at Discover Dogs last weekend.  Ouch.

The modern show Clumber is too heavy, too fleshy, it overheats, over 40 per cent of them are delivered by C-Section and no real gundog could survive with eyes like this (or indeed would ever be bred from). What were they thinking of when they took this dog to Earl's Court to put on a stand as an example of the breed?

There is a group of enthusiastis trying to preserve the Clumber as a working dog and it's no great surprise that the working Clumbers are lighter, more nimble, have much better eyes and can do running on a warm day. 

The breed will never replace a working cocker or springer - or sprocker. But you've got to admire them for trying.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Aw... ain't that sweet?

The pro-KC, pro-show paper Our Dogs doesn't normally have anything nice to say about me. Indeed, one of its columnists, Robert Killick, wrote not so very long ago that if there were only two women left on the planet after a nuclear bomb - me and his daughter - and if it was encumbent on him to ensure the human race lived on, that he would rather have sex with his daughter.

Yep, he really wrote that.

Bizarrely, it was in an article having a pop at me for asking, in Pedigree Dogs Exposed,  the Kennel Club Chairman if he would have sex with his daughter.

They've referred to that again on Our Dogs' Facebook site this week. "She asked the Chairman of the Kennel Club whether he would have sex with his daughter, when she had been killed in a road accident," writes someone called Jonathan Rich.

I had no idea that Ronnie's daughter had died so tragically - and I didn't find out until after the film aired. If I had known, I would have phrased the question differently.  However, the point I was making at the time was, of course, that such close matings are, in the main, undesirable genetically whatever the species, and yet dog breeders seem oblivious to it. There is a little more awareness now, thank goodness - and, following the outcry after Pedigree Dogs Exposed, the KC no longer registers the progeny of first-degree relative matings, and never mind that the KC said it was for "PR reasons only".

Anyway, this week, Our Dogs has been a bit nicer than usual. Sort of.

Of course, the truth is that it is Our Dogs making it all about me.

Tut, tut, tut...

This afternoon, this comment landed in my moderator's inbox - in response to my blog on Sunday showing the bulldogs at Discover Dogs in respiratory distress.

"We wonder Jemima why you do not make it clear these dogs had been there for several hours being petted by hundreds of people and therefore excited so would normally pant.It is interesting when watching the video that in one light the dogs tongues are red and when turned away from the light appear purple.We also understand that when the vet arrived at the stand he thought the dog had gone home as he did not dind a distressed dog ,what he found was one that was asleep!!!! That is how distressed he was.When the dogs owner became infuriated by the untrue allegation by this constnt pedigree dog basher ,It was felt it best she left before she caused mayhem. We also wonder if Jemima got the owners permission to video her dogs? Of course giving the hats does not provide for the sensation seeking publicity that distortion provides."

The bulldog was just "excited"?

Its distress was "a trick of the light"?
When the vet arrived the bulldog was "asleep"?

The footage of the bulldog was "distorted"?

That's funny.

To recap, the sequence of events was as follows:

I turn up at the bulldog stand to find two adult dogs panting hard, restless and with one, particularly, in real distress.

I film them, then go immediately to the veterinary centre and report that the dogs are in trouble.

Eric the vet goes and gets the Kennel Club's Caroline Kisko and they go straight to the bulldog stand.

I return to the bulldog stand as show-vet Eric and Caroline Kisko are talking with the bulldog owners. The bulldogs are still panting hard. But don't take my word for it. Here's another bit of footage and, right at the end, note the woman wearing black slacks and a short maroon jacket. That is Caroline Kisko, just before she ushered the owners and their bulldogs away from the stand. Eric the vet was right behind her.

Two bulldogs. Both still panting. Not quite as bad as they were 10 minutes previously, but neither of them asleep.

Not sure who is trying to spin their way out of this one. The KC? The bulldog's owners?

But shame on you.

Armstrong - dying to love you

The pictures show Armstrong, a Dalmatian who worked as a therapy dog at a children's cancer unit until he had to retire because of his own illness.

Armstrong is a "stone-former" - one of the 13 to 34 per cent of Dalmatians whose high uric acid levels cause agonising stones in their bladders. This despite being fed the special diet that those who seek to deny or minimise the condition maintain prevents stones forming. Vets and his loving owner have done everything they can, but Armstrong is dying from the condition.

Armstrong's owner, Shelley Gallagher, contacted me last night. She writes: "My dal, Armstrong, turns 7 this Sunday and will not make it to Christmas because of stones.  He had three regular surgeries and five or six back-flushings before he had his urinary tract re-routed.  That did not solve his problem.  His last two surgeries, because he has been re-routed, have been able to be done endoscopically.  They fed the camera into his new urinary hole and into his bladder so they could see the stones.  They then pulled out the big stones and flushed out the small ones.  What is eye opening is the two links I am sending you are two different surgeries only five months apart on a dal that has been re-routed.  It is shocking how many stones he got in those five months.  This is on the special food floated in water, coming home at lunch every day to let him out, getting up at 2am every night to take him out, and obsessively watching him urinate every single time."

Shelley has asked me to post Armstrong's story and videos to help support the campaign to persuade the American Kennel Club to register the backcrossed Dalmatians (which don't suffer from this problem).

Says Shelley: "Armstrong may have had a short life, but at least I know his story will help all future dalmatians."

For Dog's sake, let sense prevail.

The two videos show what these stones look like - hard round yellow balls which clog up the whole urinary system. The first is Armstrong's surgery in October 2009; the second just five months later.



Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Now THAT's better!

Was sent this video this morning, of a Neo at a previous Discover Dogs - at Crufts earlier this year.

Eyes not great but, nevertheless.. amazing huh? (Comparatively.) But is it really a Neo? I asked my Neo contact. And here is the rather depressing reply: "This I believe is the dog of the Neapolitan Mastiff Club Secretary (who owns the Midlands-accent speaking in the video talking about how the club are against the excessive skin folds etc...).

"Most club members would frown on the dog in the video and not class it as a Neapolitan Mastiff.  It certainly wouldn't win anything in the ring.  As to whether it is a full-bred Neapolitan Mastiff - who knows?  However, if you asked a breeder/club member, they would say no."

Thought might be too good to be true.

Monday, 15 November 2010

And the AKC's decision re accepting the spotted mongrels is...

..to defer to the very people who are fighting it.

Last week, the American Kennel Club met to discuss whether or not the AKC should register the backcrossed Dalmatians - dogs which don't suffer from the uric acid defect that effects the rest of the breed. This is a condition that, in the males,  can cause urate crystals to block the urethra - meaning the dog can't pee. Left untreated, the dogs die within 3-6 days.

According to the ACVS: "Dogs that are unable to be un-blocked, have a tumor of the penis, or are recurrent stone formers may require surgery to form a new temporary opening ("prescrotal urethrostomy") or permanent opening ("scrotal urethrostomy") to the urethra that will allow urine to exit behind the penis where the urethra is wider.  Scrotal urethrostomies are often required because calclui in the urethra may become trapped in scar tissue and therefore cannot be removed.  In dogs with penile tumors, a scrotal urethrostomy is performed and the penis is removed."

And that looks like this:

Yep, there are people out there who would rather their dogs went through this than allow just 0.3% of mongrel blood into the breed.

The AKC commissioned a bunch of scientists to explore the issue for them. The scientists' findings? Absolutely unequivocal:

"Because the introduction of the low uric acid dogs into the AKC registry gives Dalmatian breeders a scientifically sound method of voluntarily reducing the incidence of the condition, this committee strongly recommends some controlled program of acceptance of these dogs. Where the strict health and welfare of the breed is the over-riding concern, no other argument can be made."

And yet what does the AKC decide?

"The Board agreed to a proposed agreement, pending acceptance of the Dalmatian Club of America (DCA) Board, which would bring the matter to a vote by the DCA membership in June 2011. The AKC Board would consider this vote, along with other factors in reaching its final decision."

Given that the most vehement opposition to the dogs has come from the breed purists within the DCA, the chances of the dogs being accepted in June are pretty slim.  Hell, it wasn't very long ago that the Club even banned discussion of the dogs.

It's in AKC show rules that male dogs should have two fully descended testicles. Clearly the same does not appy to the AKC board.

(At least on this issue the Kennel Club here did stand up to breed club opposition and should be congratulated for it.)

In the meantime, I can enjoy reproducing the scientific report here in full. And to the continuing deniers of the suffering this defect can cause,  I would like to say: put this in your pipe and smoke it.

The question of registration of the LUA Dalmatians has been a contentious subject of debate. The committee has attempted to remove itself from any emotionally and politically charged issues, and instead focused purely on the following basic questions:

•    Should these descendants be considered purebred Dalmatians? 
•    What is known about Dalmatians and high uric acid? 
•    Are urate uroliths a significant health issue in Dalmatians? 
•    Are high levels of uric acid a predisposing factor to urate uroliths? 
•    Could selective introduction of the LUA Dalmatians into the AKC Dalmatian gene pool have a positive impact on the health and welfare of the breed?

Are the dogs in question purebred Dalmatians?
In the research phase identifying the single gene responsible for the uric acid defect, retrospective analysis of the LUA dog’s pedigree and parentage data, along with correlation to spot urine testing records, revealed that zero mistakes had been made in the record keeping. The DNA test results confirmed a 100% accuracy of the pedigree and urine testing records. With over twelve reported subsequent generations from the single cross breeding in the early 70’s, today’s descendants should be more than 99.97% pure Dalmatian. Surely this level of purity should pass a litmus test of being purebred.

What is known about Dalmatians and high uric acid?
The Dalmatian breed is known to be fixed for a medical condition which causes a metabolic abnormality in which uric acid is not efficiently converted to allontoin. As a result, abnormally high levels of uric acid are secreted in the urine of all purebred AKC Dalmatians (hyperuricosuria), which in turn often leads to crystallization of uric acid salts and/or stone formation (uroliths). This metabolic defect was shown to be inherited as a simple autosomal recessive trait by early investigators, and in the early 1970’s a single Pointer/Dalmatian cross breeding was done by Robert Schaible, PhD in an attempt to introduce a normal copy of the gene. Subsequent research has shown that the inability to properly convert and reabsorb uric acid is the result of a mutation in the SLC2A9 gene, a gene since widely documented to be influential in uric acid transport. All AKC Dalmatians are homozygous for the SLC2A9 mutation.

Are urate uroliths a significant health issue in Dalmatians?
Studies at the urolith laboratories at the University of Minnesota, UC Davis, and the University of Guelph have all shown that Dalmatians have a significantly higher odds ratio of urate stones than any other breed, and male Dalmatians have an exponentially higher incidence than female
Dalmatians. While the exact frequency of urate stones in Dalmatians is unknown, based on the published data, the frequency of stone formation in male Dalmatians has been reported in peer reviewed scientific journals between 13.8% and 34.3%. In a twenty year survey of the Minnesota Urolith Laboratory, 9,095 Dalmatians were diagnosed with urate stones. This represents almost 500 Dalmatians a year from this center alone.

Are high levels of uric acid a predisposing factor to urate uroliths?
It is true that while all purebred AKC Dalmatians exhibit high levels of uric acid; not all of them form stones, not all stone formers block, and not all dogs with blockages require surgical intervention. Continued research is warranted to determine what additional genes or environmental factors may influence the actual formation of stones. However, given the genetically fixed condition of hyperuricosuria in Dalmatians, and the data regarding urate stone frequency compared to other breeds, there is no question that high levels of uric acid are a significant predisposing factor.

Could selective introduction of the LUA Dalmatians into the AKC Dalmatian gene pool have a positive impact on the health and welfare of the breed?
 Urinary obstruction due to uric acid stone formation is also a significant problem in Black Russian Terriers and Bulldogs. Affected dogs in both breeds have been shown to have the exact same SLC2A9 mutation as found in the Dalmatian, though at a much lower frequency. However, since the mutation is not fixed in these breeds, breeders can use the available genetic test to selectively breed away from the mutation – thus preventing the production of dogs liable for uric acid stone formation. This will allow a reduction in the frequency of the disease over time.

Unfortunately, since AKC Dalmatians are 100% homozygous for the mutation, the only way to correct the genetic defect is through the introduction of the normal SLC2A9 gene. The addition of the LUA back cross descendants (those heterozygous or homozygous for the normal SLC2A9 gene) would enable breeders to voluntarily introduce the normal gene into the gene pool, and would yield immediate benefits in reducing uric acid levels and the liability to form urate stones.

A PDF of the AKC minutes and the full scientific report can be downloaded here.

If you feel strongly about this, please, please write, call or email the American Kennel Club and tell them that it's time they put the dogs first. If there's enough pressure, they will have to make the right decision.

Just say No to the Neos

It wasn't just me filming at Discover Dogs. This grim footage and pictures of the Neapolitan Mastiffs were taken by RSPCA veterinary nurse Kate Price on Saturday.

The Kennel Club's justification for accepting/registering this breed was that it would be better under its umbrella than not. In other words, that once under the KC's auspices the KC could work to "improve" the breed. They haven't done much, though. Dogs with eyes this sore (in fact common to a lot of giant breeds) continue to win in the show ring.

(my emphasis)

Some loose fitting skin over body and head permitted, not to be excessive.

Head and Skull
Head fairly large with broad short skull, broad across cheeks. Head proportion: skull length two thirds, to muzzle one third. Skull flat and parallel to topline of muzzle.  Definite stop, nose should not protrude beyond vertical line of muzzle. Nose large with well open nostrils. Lips fleshy and thick. The upper lips form an inverted ‘v’ when viewed from the front. Muzzle deep and square when viewed from the front. Head has loose skin permitted but without excess.

Clean eyes, set forward, well apart, rather rounded. Rims tight without haw. Rim pigmentation to tone with nose colour. Free from obvious eye problems.

To be fair, the UK Breed Club does a pretty impressive job of putting people off them:

"Some Neapolitans naturally slobber more than others but they all slobber a lot after they eat or drink. Are you prepared for wiping down floors, walls and ceilings, several times a day after your dog has shook his head and the slobber has flown everywhere? Slobber towels, kitchen roll and newspaper around water bowls are a must, as is the weekly chore of washing dewlap and wiping down of folds. If you haven’t the time for daily or weekly rituals, then a Neapolitan is not the breed for you.

"Some Neapolitans also snore very badly, if you or your children are a light sleepers, a Neapolitan is not the breed for you.

"Veterinary fees will be more expensive for a giant breed due to their size and weight, so health insurance is also a must, as is a vehicle large enough to transport a Neapolitan. If you are not prepared for financial commitment then a Neapolitan is not the breed for you.

"As with all giant breeds, there can be health problems which can occur during the optimum growing period,... Neapolitans can be, because of their lowered immune system, prone to infections of the skin especially during periods of stress, which they are also prone to suffering from. Neapolitans can also suffer with eye problems like cherry eye, entropion or ectropion... all issues of health need to be considered, for the chances of your Neapolitan Mastiff living into old age having never suffered any health problems, is highly unlikely."

Now. Do you still want one?

Doing right by the dog

This beautiful illustration is by Kevin Brockbank, and it accompanies a moving feature by Patrick Burns (aka "Terrierman")  in the December issue of Dogs Today magazine. 

Here's an excerpt:

And so now we come to the old dog, the ancient hound who now lies arthritic and deaf.

What do we do here? How will we know when to say when?

There is no clear answer, other than to keep your eyes open.

If the dog refuses water, it is time.

If an old male dog has blood in its urine, it is time.

If a dog cannot stand on its own due to failing joints, it is time.

Do not let the dog live in pain.

Recognize that dogs are natural stoics, and what looks like a little pain may be a great deal more than that.

Which brings me to the most important point: Be early, not late.

A week early, and not much is lost; your moved-loved dog slides off to sleep still free of anxiety, pain, and fear. It is a gentle thing, I assure you.

A week late, however, and you have needlessly tortured your best friend because you were unwilling to face the inevitable.

In the end, it is your job to stand for the dog, and to put the dog first.

This is your last duty.

Don’t fail him now.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Your dog has no nose...

This Japanese Chin was one of several brachycephalic (snub-nosed) breeds at Discover Dogs today having problems breathing - although none quite as bad as the Bulldog I blogged earlier. The Chin's owner explains, as you can hear, that this was due to having just returned from a stroll around the show. But of course it's really due to having been selectively bred to have a very flat face - and in this dog's case to also having very closed nares (nostrils).

You can see the problem clearly if you compare a still from the video with a shot of my lovely Flatcoat Maisie's nostrils.

My Maisie doesn't have squiff eyes, either.

If you want to know what it's like to be a Chin or a Peke or a Bulldog or a Pug or any of the other severely bracychepahlic breeds, stick a straw up each of your own nostrils and try to breathe through them.

Another spot of bother at Discover Dogs

"Five per cent of dalmatians are deaf" a poster on the Dalmatian stand admitted. Good that they're mentioning deafness but pity they didn't get the figure right. Although only five per cent are deaf in both ears, another 15-20 per cent of them are deaf in one ear. In other words, around one in five Dalmatians are born with some degree of deafness. The bilaterally deaf dogs are often euthanased - a nasty business because you can't test them until they are six weeks old. Unilaterally-deaf dogs manage OK but of course God gave Dog two ears on the basis that two are better than one. The problem is that deafness in the breed is perpetuated in part because Dalmatian breeders are obsessed with perfect spotting and select against dogs born with patches. The genetics have yet to be unravelled, but there's little doubt that deafness is linked to the lack of pigment.

Having said that, the KC has recently amended the Dal standard to permit some patching on the head - well done the KC. They weren't terribly pleased about this on the Dalmatian stand: "The Kennel Club is a law unto itself," complained one of the breed reps who also totally denied the urate stone problem in the breed. "Deafness is the only condition they suffer with," she said very firmly indeed when asked about it. And, goodness, what a grimace when asked about the Dalmatian outcross I blogged about a couple of days ago.... You can take it the natives aren't very happy about the mongrel in their midst.

Gasp! Bulldogs at Discover Dogs

I'm at Discover Dogs and the above video shows two six-year-old Bulldog brothers (one called "Boss") on the Bulldog stand. They are in a dreadful state - note particularly the purple tongue, a classic sign of severe respiratory distress. The owner appeared oblivious to it, so de-sensitised are bulldog owners to the fact that many of their dogs live their entire lives in a state of hypoxia (oxygen starvation). And while these dogs were gasping for breath on the floor, members of the public ooh'd and ah'd and took pictures.  When will they learn? These dogs are suffering - really suffering.

The dogs were in such a poor state that I reported them to the show vet and showed him my footage, mentioning who I was.  "Could you hang on here a moment while I go and show this to the Kennel Club" asked Eric the vet, reaching out for my iPhone (on which I filmed the dogs). Fearing my beloved Apple portable device  might meet a sudden and untimely end once in KC paws, I said I would stay put while they fetched someone. Eric disappeared. I waited. Who would it be, I wondered. I waited some more. No one came. But of course - they would have gone straight to the Bulldog stand! I left my phone number with the veterinary nurse and hot-tailed it to the Bulldog stand just in time to see Eric the vet and KC Secretary Caroline Kisko ushering the two bulldogs and their unhappy owners off the stand. And it wasn't just for a quick vet-check either. They didn't return.

If you really want a Bulldog, avoid the KC version and go for one of the non-KC alternatives such as the Dorset or Victorian or Olde-Tyme Bullodgs. They are much less extreme and many more can mate and give birth naturally.

More from Discover Dogs shortly... Or perhaps I'll just do some shopping. Who's to tell?

"A good example of the breed"

A Neapolitan Mastiff at Discover Dogs yesterday - a big winner in the showring. Can you imagine what it would be like to carry around all that pointless excess flesh on your face? No wonder the wretched thing is having to rest its head.

Mastino owners make great play of how depictions of these dogs can be found on Roman murals as if that somehow bequeaths them some gravitas. But of course the Roman molossus was nothing like this wrinkled.

The Neapolitan Mastiff today is, quite simply, a disgrace. Do not buy one. Ever. You are perpetuating misery.

Lies.. damn lies

Last year, I upset the Flatcoated Retriever  community by taking them to task - on a private Flatcoat list - over misinformation about health being given out at Discover Dogs,  the KC's annual meet-the-breeds show at London's Earls Court.  Instead of being cross with the Flatcoat representative for giving out wrong info on the breed stand, the breeders got very cross indeed with me. As ever, my criticism was labelled as trashing the breed.

Well it's Discover Dogs again this weekend and this time I'm going to upset the Flatcoat community publicly. Again, someone manning the Flatcoat stand has given out misleading and dishonest information about the extent of cancer in the breed. "Less than 10 per cent" said the man pictured on the right to one visitor who asked yesterday.

The truth? Over half of Flatcoats will develop cancer by the age of 8 and it kills many of them.

Last year, I gave the Flatcoat representative the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she simply didn't know how much cancer there is in the breed?

But this year I am naming and shaming.

Let me repeat: it is unacceptable to lie about health to pet-buyers thinking of spending £700 or so on a pedigree puppy.

Friday, 12 November 2010

And while on the subject of Scottish terriers

Trawling for pix for the last post on Skye Terriers, I found this pic (top right) of an old-time champion Scottish Terrier, Champion Laindon Locket (anyone know what year?). Now compare this dog with the Scottie today  - unrecognisable as the same breed.

Of course I can't whine about breeds being preserved in aspic in one post and then complain about them evolving in the next.  There's nothing intrinsically bad about change. But you can see the point of the Skye Terrier of old - a dog that looks hardy and functional and would barely need a brush from one year to the next.

I am sure they didn't suffer from the jaw-dropping rates of bladder cancer that afflicts the modern Scottie either.

There's a great human champion of Scotties in Joseph Harvill who publishes Great Scots magazine in the US. Not so long ago, Harvill wrote: "At the risk of laboring the obvious let me survey again our Scotties’ genetic health picture. The stark reality of our dogs’ predicament must be driven home to each of us, for until it informs us and frightens us and angers us it won’t motivate us to change the way we breed and buy Scottish Terriers.

"According to Dr. George Padgett, internationally known canine geneticist, today’s Scottish Terrier breed carries a genetic load of 58 genetic diseases or defects, including endocrine/thyroid diseases, immune system dysfuntion, eye and ear diseases, heart, blood, and lymphatic diseases, liver diseases, muscle and skeletal diseases, and urinary system diseases, to name but a few.

"And that may be the good news. Padgett’s book and his Scottish Terrier breed research (Control of Canine Genetic Diseases, 1998) mentions nothing about predisposition to cancers now killing our dogs: lymphosarcoma, bladder cancer, malignant melanoma, mast cell sarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.

"One fact alone is the stunning ‘poster exhibit’ of our breed’s genetic predicament: the Scottish Terrier is 18 times more likely to develop bladder cancer than other breeds. Across all purebred dogs the risk for bladder cancer is 0.74, according to Purdue University researchers. Scotties carry a risk factor of 18.09! There is no plausible explanation for this shocking fact short of genetic predisposition.
After all, our dogs’ world is the same polluted environment other modern breeds inhabit, yet Scotties are 18 times more vulnerable; our dogs are on the whole as well or better cared for as any breed, yet they are at massively disproportionate risk to die of bladder cancer."

Of course Harvill is seen as a heretic by many Scottie breeders - reviled for speaking out about the breed he loves.  But then so are so many critics.
On my way to Discover Dogs...

I recently re-found this quote from an American breeder of Kangals who wrote this on a canine genetics forum. "The KC, AKC and CKC are like the Church. They fight reform and progress every step of the way, hanging witches (like Jemima) and engaging in dirty tricks, negating science and extolling blind faith as a virtue. Then when they make a grudging step forward, long after the rest of the world has done so, they claim that progress as their own."

Of course, I don't mind who claims the progress. Just as long as it happens.

Endangered breeds - out of favour, out of time

19th century Skye Terrier
Winding up to Discover Dogs this weekend, the Kennel Club has trotted out its usual spiel about endangered breeds - those that attract less than 300 registrations a year - urging pet owners to buy them to save them from extinction. But small numbers spell big trouble in terms of tiny and inbred gene pools and/or the risk of inherited disorders. My advice? Steer well clear. Dog breeds often fall out of fashion for good reason - sometimes because the work that prompted their creation no longer exists (as in the Otterhound); other times simply because they just ain't that attractive or distinctive. Sure, celebrity ownership influences a gullible public (something else the KC is whinging about) but that's just life.

Imagine coping with that coat on Skye in winter....
The KC refers to them as "vulnerable native breeds", making them sound rather special. They're not. They're out of favour and out of time and if no one wants them beyond a handful of show-breeders trying to preserve them in aspic (as is often the case) we should let them go. And don't you get misty-eyed about the demise of Greyfriars Bobby (the Skye Terrier that, legend says, sat on his master's grave for 14 years). The dog no longer works, breeders have selected for a more and more impractical coat and there are other similar terrier breeds with much larger gene pools.

Mark Evans leaves the RSPCA

The show-world mostly loathes him, and pedigree dog reformers like me love him... but there's no doubting that you always know where you are with vet Mark Evans, who has just - and rather suddenly -  left the RSPCA after three years. Outspoken Mark will probably forever be remembered for his controversial description of dog shows ("a parade of mutants") in Pedigree Dogs Exposed and he got a lot of flak for it. But the world needs people who will stand up and speak out on issues they feel strongly about, especially when it comes to animal welfare. 

Certainly, without Mark, I do not believe the RSPCA would have backed Pedigree Dogs Exposed the way they did. I had contacted them before Mark joined and they had sent me a bland one-paragraph statement on the issue.  After he joined, I tried again and Mark phoned me back almost immediately: "I've been waiting 20 years for someone to make this film," he said and then galvanised the RSPCA into standing up and being counted on this important issue.

When Mark came to see us here in our home/office shortly before Pedigree Dogs Exposed aired, he spent the first 10 minutes on the floor smooching with my Flatcoat, Maisie. Evidence of a true dog-lover, I reckon. (Well, her breath ain't that sweet...)

I've spoken only very briefly with Mark since his departure and he says that he's proud of what he's achieved at the RSPCA (pet obesity was another big campaign for him) but felt it was time to move on. Officially, he's leaving to concentrate on his TV career (he's the accomplished presenter of Channel 4's Inside Nature's Giants for which he's currently filming another series). Unofficially?  He's not saying, but there's no doubt that there were those who were very keen to see the back of him. Mentioning no one's specific name from the Kennel Club, of course.

For a taste of the vitriol about Mark, have a look at the comments about his departure on Our Dogs' Facebook page. What nasty people. Hopefully, Mark is storing it up for a biography at some point. But, either way, I sincerely hope that the celebrations of those in the show world who have this week cheered his departure will be short-lived. After all, a Mark Evans unconfined by the strictures and politics of the RSPCA could be an even greater force to be reckoned with.