The current issue of the Veterinary Record includes an interesting report on a topical debate that took place last month at a British Veterinary Association Council meeting. The motion: "Pedigree Dogs: the sequel - haven't we done well?"
Speaking for the motion was vet Steve Dean, the new Chair of the Kennel Club, who argued that many steps had been taken to address the problems - including health schemes, the Accredited Breeder Scheme, the new genetics centre at the Animal Trust, a limit on the number of C-sections, and that the KC will no longer register the progeny of mother/son, father/daughter and full-sibling matings. Dean highlighted the collaboration between the various dog health 'stakeholders' as another positive step.
Professor Dean also urged: "We have focused very heavily on the registered pedigree dog, but that leaves something like 2.5 to 3 million dogs that are bred by puppy farmers that are unregistered, outside of any efforts that we're puting in, and that perhaps needs to be considered in future."
I'm not sure where Dean gets his figures from - but it's certainly not true that every dog bred outside of the KC system comes from a puppy farm, while the KC by its own admission (when pushed) grants KC registration to an unknown percentage of unhealth-tested puppies produced in appalling circumstances. (There are no checks of premises or any health requirements for almost 90 per cent of the puppies the KC registers).
But Dean is still advocating the softly-softly approach.
"Professor Dean noted that the issue of regulating commerical dog breeders was being considered by the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding, which would need to take into account that putting constraints on those with good breeding standards, whom they wished to encourage, could be counterproductive," writes the Veterinary Record.
Arguing against the motion was Dan Brockman from the Royal Veterinary College, who as a specialist in brachychepahlic airway syndrome has to deal with the unfortunate consequences of selective breeding on a daily basis.
The profession, he said, had to some extent turned a blind eye to the problems and that, while he welcomed new impetus: "There's a lot more work to do and we've barely scratched the surface."
Vets, he suggested, needed to look at the population as a whole and play a role in educating the consumer so that the profession was not "sleepwalking into a perpetuation of demand for breeds that are inherently diseased".
Professor Brockman also questioned : "Do the breed standards as they currently exist include or embrace pathological states? If we think they do then as a profession surely we can't just sit back and let that continue?"
In terms of control strategies, Brockman pointed out that while some efforts to eradicate disease required much expertise, others could be dealt with by more straightforward means. There was, he said, a potentially simple fix for brachycephalia: "We outcross these dogs with dogs with noses."
Come now, Dan - then you'd just have mongrels. Sure, mongrels that can breathe but....
As Barry Offiler, Chair of the Peke Club, told the Times not long after Pedigree Dogs Exposed: “If it’s got a muzzle it won’t be a Pekingese, and if we have to breed dogs with a muzzle which breed do we cross with them? We are talking about a breed that is popular worldwide. This will prevent us showing dogs abroad and will stop overseas competitors entering Crufts. We all support improved health, but we don’t know what damage the muzzle might give to the breed.”
So who won the BVA Council debate - Dean or Brockman?
"From a show of hands, it was clear that a majority of Council members felt that there was still much to do," reports Vet Record.