|Current top winning show Bulldog: Champion Pringham's Eclair Glace|
|Above: Leavitt Bulldog - outcrossed for a healthier phenotype © Lonsdale Bulldogs|
Bulldogs were on the agenda at the British Veterinary Association's annual Congress in London last week - as reported in this week's Dog World.
Controversially, vet Emma Goodman Milne - a long-time critic of pedigree dog breeding and author of The Truth About Cats and Dogs - called for Bullodgs and the other 14 breeds on the KC's health "watchlist" to be de-registered arguing that... “...there should be honesty about abnormalities, deformities and disease. These are being bred in." And she urged vets: "We should be honest to owners and clients who breed. We always tiptoe around clients because we worry about losing business, but if we lose business we should say that that is the right thing to do.”
Emma also called for dog shows to be banned, arguing that the cost to the dogs is too great. “Showing is human entertainment at the expense of animals," she said. And she also believes that we should be promoting crossbreeds as an alternative to purebred dogs; that we should all be less obsessed with looks and learn to appreciate that health first, then temperament, are much more important.
I understand Emma's reasons for her strong stance on this but while appreciating the many benefits that crossbreed dogs can bring (and not least to the dog - dodgy designer-dog breeding aside), we are not in the same place. I don't think we should give up on purebred dogs. I don't want to imagine a world without them and have always believed that we can have our cake and eat it too.
I have also not quite given up on dog shows being - potentially - a force for the good. I have always been able to see the benefit of meeting up with others to share information, of seeing other people's dogs in action and to learn from those with more experience. Combine this with finding a way to reward rude good health, fitness, and ability and I believe the dog show could be reinvented. There is, though, a long way to go.
Also speaking in the Contentious Issues debate on dog-breeding at the BVA Congress was Professor Sheila Crispin, Chair of the Dog Advisory Council that was set up as a result of the various enquiries into dog-breeding that followed Pedigree Dogs Exposed. We are interviewing Professor Crispin next week for PDE2, so what she had to say was useful background research.
Professor Crispin sounded strong in some respects. She revealed she had been against the Kennel Club registration of Border Collies and believes the show version of the breed is diminished as result. (There are many who would agree with her, dubbing the prettied-up showdog a "Barbie Collie".) She was also blunt about show Labradors: "“The working Labrador is lovely, smaller with fine bone and a head with a lot of brain in it. The show Labradors, males certainly, have huge, wide heads, and seem to have no brain at all. It really worries me because some breeds are not helped by showing at all.” She also backs the compulsory microchipping of all dogs as a means of improving traceability - clearly a sensible suggestion (despite the Big Brother fears of some).
But I was a little worried to hear Sheila argue that more scientific evidence was needed before taking more action in certain breeds. While this is true in terms of quantifying exactly what impact, say, having a very long and heavy ear leather has on a Basset Hound - surely we already know that such ears impede air flow and increase the likelihood of ear infections?
I also think she was unncessarily negative regarding crossbreeding given the hybrid benefit they can bring. After PDE, said Sheila: "...everyone jumped on the bandwagon and started breeding crossbreeds, designer dogs as they are called, and charging £1,500 to £2,000 per puppy. It became big business. I think HM Revenue and Customs might be interested in these people’s activities, as they don’t go through the usual tax processes.”
I am sure that Pedigree Dogs Exposed has fueled the "designer" dog trade to some extent, but it was flourishing before PDE and it is just as brisk, if not brisker, in the USA where PDE has not had much impact. It is true that Kennel Club registrations dropped after the programme - which even the KC attributed mostly to the economy - but they have now largely recovered. You only have to visit epupz to see that ads for purebred dogs (most of them KC-registered) outnumber ones for crossbreeds. And as for not declaring income from puppy sales, I believe this is true of a great many small breeders whether crossbred or purebred - whereas larger licensed breeders (many of them breeding crossbreeds) are required to keep good records and have little choice but to declare their income.
Sheila concluded by suggesting that the answer to the KC bulldog was an outcross to a less conformationally-extreme breed. But of course this has already been done by those ahead of the game, eg: the Leavitt Bulldog (above). So how about the KC de-registering the Bulldog and embracing this healthier phenotype instead?
Yeah, I thought not...