Monday, 27 June 2011

Stop! In the name of love!

One of the biggest, baddest problems the Kennel Club and breeders need to tackle is the issue of popular sires ie. top-winning dogs being studded to the genetic oblivion of the breed.  

Today, the Kennel Club took a (small) step in the right direction by making some litter data available via Mate Select (its new online facility that allows you to look up co-efficients of inbreeding and health-test results for individual dogs registered in the UK).

At the moment it is limited to dogs that have health-tested progeny - meaning that there is no data at all for dogs of breeds that do not participate in any KC-endorsed health scheme (and there are lots of them).  But I was able to spend a  happy couple of hours on the site this morning trawling for high and low lights (yep, this is how sad my life has become).

Here are a few snippets:

Vbos the Kentuckian (Jet) the Flattie that won Crufts this year, has had:
69 puppies from 9 litters (real restraint given he was a top winner before Crufts and is 9 years old).

Hungergunn Bear It'n Mind (Yogi) - the Vizsla that won Crufts in 2010 - has had... wait for it....:
577 puppies from 89 litters. (Absolutely outrageous in my view..  this is blatant profiteering at the expense of the breed which only registers around 1400 pups a year. Yogi hasn't just flooded the Vizsla gene pool, he has positively drowned it.)
Araki Fabulous Willy - the Tibetan Terrier than won Crufts in 2007 and who died in December 2008, aged just 7 years old:

266 puppies from 49 litters (again, a lot for a breed that only registers around 1500 pups a year)

•  Beauella Radzinski (Rollo), the Cavalier that was featured in Pedigree Dogs Exposed winning the 2008 Cavalier Championship Show in Feb 2008:
140 puppies from 40 litters

Now this last one was a bit of a surprise as when we last checked - in August 2008 just before Pedigree Dogs Exposed aired - Rollo had had 34 litters. This figure means that even after the kerfuffle we caused by challenging owner Beverley Costello regarding her breeding from the dog after he had been diagnosed with syringomyelia (SM) and the diagnosing vet had told her he should never be bred from, six more litters were registered before the KC pulled the plug on her. (Not, I hasten to add, for breeding from a dog with SM... Costello lost her KC registration rights for not responding to formal requests for information from the Kennel Club regarding the case).

PDSA - Pedigree Dogs Sod-All?

I don't know how current the above poster is, but if the PDSA wants to avoid a charge of hypocrisy, it will have to remove pictures of purebred dogs from its begging literature. From next month, this lovely-looking Labrador may not get the injury to its paw treated by a PDSA vet.

The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) is a charity that helps those who can't afford veterinary treatment. It will currently register and treat up to three pets per eligible owner.  But, from next month, only one of these can be a pedigree dog or cat.

The move, claims the charity, is because treating pedigree pets consumes what it says is a "disproportionate" amount of its funds (currently around £50 million a year). "Sadly, pedigree pets often need high levels of veterinary care due to inherited illnesses and breed related conditions as a result of irresponsible breeding associated with certain pedigree matings," explains the charity on its website.

The charity has seen an astonising 50 per cent increase in demand for its veterinary services in the past five years alone, so no wonder something had to give.  It believes that the new rules will allow it to treat more dogs overall.

But is this fair?

The PDSA's Facebook page has been inundated with complaints from angry breeders and owners and they are also howling big-time on the dog fora.  Some are even calling the move "racist" - more than a little ironic given that it is essentially racist breeding practices (the segregation of breeds genetically and a disdain for mixed breeds) that have resulted in the serious disease burden in pedigree dogs.

And as if it is the PDSA's fault that they're sick, eh? As if it was the PDSA that bred them with life-impairing flat faces or blithely ignored the evidence in front of their own eyes and let things get to the stage where the very dogs that may be in the most need may have to suffer even more.

That pedigree dogs run up bigger vet bills than their crossbreed cousins is pretty well-documented. However, also pretty well-documented is that although this is true on average, there are a number of (mostly) small breeds that are healthier and live longer than the average crossbreed eg Border Terriers.

So perhaps the PDSA should  allow some breeds and not others?  The answer is that for every organisation it's easier and cheaper to operate on the bigger law of averages  - in much the same way as insurance premiums are set. You might be the best 18-year-old Ferrari driver in the world, but it ain't gonna cut much ice with a car insurance company. They know that, on average, if you're 18 and drive a Ferrari, the chances of making it from one January to the next without incident are slim.

I do not believe there is PDSA conspiracy here; the charity is not being driven by some purebred-dog-hating agenda. It is simply saying that in a world where money is tight that it has to make the most of its resources.

So do I support the move?

Nope. I think it stinks. And for the following reasons:

• if we accept that pedigree dogs are sicker than mutts, the PDSA is turning away the dogs most in need

• dogs present to vets for all kinds of reasons entirely unrelated to their breeding. 

• the new policy could mean that a responsibly-bred Labrador that has been hit by a car won't be treated (beyond the emergency care that all vets are duty-bound to provide); whereas the poorly-bred designer crossbreed with an inherited disease that could have been prevented if its get-quick-merchant breeder had bothered to do the necessary tests will qualify for care.

• the PDSA says that it will be the arbiter of whether or not a dog is a particular breed-type and therefore ineligible. Woe betide, then,  if you have a cross that looks very like one of its parent breeds.

On Friday, I asked the PDSA some questions. They included:

• How good/strong is your data that pedigrees cost more?

• Can you be more specific about this data? How much are pedigree dogs and cats costing the PDSA compared to crossbreeds/moggies?

 • you are the largest private employer of vet surgeons and nurses in the UK – are they 100%  supportive of this move?

• not all breeds are unhealthy - indeed the scientific data shows that some breeds are, on average, healthier than crossbreeds. Surely this is unfair discrimination?

• you say that "91% of PDSA donors and supporters said that we are right to be concerned about the numbers and types of pets some people are acquiring and presenting for charitable treatment, of which 88% said they would support the change in our policy." 

How many were polled and how was the poll worded? 

And here is their reply, in full:

PDSA’s eligibility criteria needed to change in response to a shift in ownership behaviour with regard to the number and types of pets being presented at our hospitals and our concern for their wellbeing.  By ignoring the type and number of pets that owners acquire, we are in conflict with our own Pet Health messages in which we actively promote careful consideration before taking on a pet because of the responsibilities involved. Limiting the number of pedigree pets that can be registered, ensures a fair and appropriate allocation of the charity’s finite resources.

We are not discriminating against pedigrees, however we have to address the increasing numbers of multiple pedigree pets being presented at our hospitals.  Sadly, pedigree pets often need higher levels of veterinary care due to inherited illnesses and breed related conditions. This inevitably puts an increased pressure on our resources as our experience shows that on average pedigree dogs and pedigree cats do cost more than their crossbreed counterparts, for veterinary care and for them to remain healthy.

However, in some cases, owners with multiple pedigree pets that are in need of long–term treatment will still receive care for their second or third pedigree pets as long as they continue to be eligible. We have ensured that there is as much support for the small number of affected owners as possible; this includes a transitional period meaning some of those affected clients will have up to two years before the policy takes full effect.

Our policy change has been carefully considered based on fact and evidence gathered from our network of 49 hospitals, views of the veterinary profession, PDSA staff, clients and supporters. The change has been communicated to key partner organisations.

Any change in policy invariably gives rise to differences in opinion. However, we welcome any debate around animal welfare whether that involves pedigree breeds or crossbreeds. Reaction to the policy change has shown a balance of opinions.

While we recognise that there is activity by many organisations to help improve the health and welfare of companion pets, be they pedigree or crossbreed, we feel PDSA has an integral and fundamental role to play in educating owners and prospective pet owners in responsible pet care.  We want to see more positive action to address the wellbeing of all UK pets. Indeed, the groundbreaking PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report launched earlier this year, the biggest survey ever undertaken into pet health and welfare, highlighted that millions of UK pets could be suffering mentally and physically because their five key wellbeing needs are not being properly met. (

Hmm. So, as you can see, the PDSA is either unable or unwilling to provide hard data to back up their change in policy - and it completely ignored my last question asking for the polling data.

I asked the Kennel Club what it thought of the PDSA's new policy and back came this reply:

Whilst we do not like to think of any dog going untreated, we fully understand the PDSA's desire to discourage multiple dog ownership if the owner cannot afford veterinary fees. However, if this is the principle on which the PDSA policy decision is based it makes no sense to discriminate between different types of dog, as of course cross breeds, mongrels and pure bred dogs can all get sick and require veterinary care.

In order to minimise the possibility of needing prolonged veterinary care throughout a pure bred dog's life, the Kennel Club encourages people to always buy from a Kennel Club Accredited Breeder, who will ensure that they give their dogs the appropriate health checks for their breed, so that they and their offspring stand the best chance of leading a healthy life. There are too many dogs that are being bought from back street breeders who put profit above the health and welfare of their dogs and this translates into expensive veterinary fees further down the line. We urge people to think carefully about whether they can afford a dog, of any type, before they buy.

I will not be remembered for agreeing with the Kennel Club on very much and the advice to always buy from a Kennel Club accredited breeder is, of course, a matter for debate given the continued failings of the Accredited Breeder Scheme.  But I agree with the KC that it makes no sense for the PDSA to discriminate between different types of dog - and particularly given that the PDSA says it wants to encourage responsible pet ownership and care.

How on earth does this policy do that when it penalises the owners of responsibly-bred purebred dogs while doing nothing to stem the tide of designer crossbreeds being bred for profit with no care?

It might mean that the PDSA could treat fewer pets overall but much fairer, surely, would be an across-the-board maximum of two pets per eligible owner (as opposed to the current three), whether pedigree or mutt?

I urge the PDSA to reconsider. But in the meantime, please don't stop supporting the charity (as some pedigree dog breeders are threatening).  I know there will be those that argue that refusing to donate might provoke a change in policy, but remember that the PDSA really does offer an absolute lifeline to dogs in desperate need and a drop in donations will mean that more will suffer.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Ten steps to help save the pedigree dog

Almost three years ago, Pedigree Dogs Exposed aired on primetime television and changed the way many people felt about purebred dogs.  
Owners of some of the “high-profile” (ie health-beleagured) breeds even say they have had abuse hurled at them in the street.  Where once there was only curious fascination with breeds like the Bulldog or the Neapolitan Mastiff , today  there is often pity and sometimes anger.  Our eyes have been opened – even if the poor Shar-peis' haven’t.
People are still buying pedigree puppies -  KC registrations fell immediately after Pedigree Dogs Exposed but have picked up since.  But sales of designer crossbreeds have never been more brisk and taking on a rescue dog is seen by many as a good thing to do.. These are not people who cannot afford the £500 - £1500 for a purebred pup; it’s a deliberate choice – and they are often pet owners who have been burned by the tragedy of a pedigree dog dying before its time or suffering from a health problem that they've found out is too-common in the breed.
The mutts and mongrels are having their day and the purebred dog’s star has fallen. And I strongly believe that it had to in order for it to rise again.
The purebred doom-merchants talk of the “antis” wanting rid of all pedigree dogs. I am often accused of being an animal rights activist, of being a secret agent for groups like PETA which (say some) sees pet-ownership as some kind of slavery and can’t see any justification for anything other than a randomly-bred bitser.
Nothing could be further from the truth. But morally and ethically, we couldn’t just carry on the way we were. It was the moment to call “time” on the way we breed pedigree dogs so that it can rebuild into something better; something of which we can be truly proud. 
Of course, since PDE, the KC has introduced an unprecedented number of measures designed to improve health and welfare and I have no doubt that some of these will bear fruit.  There is a welcome change of tone in the world of  pedigree dogs and some real evidence at Crufts this year that judges were rewarding more moderate dogs (although very clearly not in every breed).
But I don’t believe that anything yet announced has the potential to stop the tsunami of disease and genetic impoverishment  that threatens to drown the purebred dog and it’s the key reason why I have not shut up and gone away.
So I thought it was time to put my money where my mouth is  - and not least because I am often challenged: “OK, if you’re so darned clever, why don’t you come up with some solutions rather than just constant criticism.”
It’s a fair point. 
How do we mend the pedigree dog? Here is my 10-point guide:
Twenty years ago, zoos were too often little more than entertainment venues run by circus ringmasters. Today, the best ones are true conservation forces with a strong focus on welfare and the genetic management of wild species. Scientific evidence has become the bedrock for policy decisions.  Call ZSL (the Zoological Society of London as London Zoo is now called) and you will be put through to experts who are passionate and knowledgeable about conservation and welfare.
Additionally, they wouldn’t dream of either playing down the seriousness of the genetic situation in some species; or try to convince you that keeping elephants in a small, barren enclosure is OK.  They don’t need to, because the issues are being addressed.
This fundamental shift in focus is what is needed for purebred dogs, too and it hasn’t come yet because of the deeply-entrenched fear that fully embracing science means the end of the purebred dog or dog shows.  In truth, it is the opposite: ignore the science and we will lose the breeds and dog shows will die out as they become increasingly frowned-upon and irrelevant.
As with London Zoo, things can’t go on exactly as they were - but they can go on.   You can no longer see elephants at ZSL in London, for instance, because it was accepted that the enclosures were inappropriate.  But we do still have zoos – and ones of which we can be much more proud.
We need a Kennel Club that sees this level reform as a truly exciting opportunity rather than as a threat.  If this happens, so much else would fall into place.
The KC has introduced breed health plans since Pedigree Dogs Exposed, but they’re nothing like enough. What we need are comprehensive Breed Conservation Plans (BCPs) for every breed. They need to include baseline measurements of genetic diversity for every breed,  tailored guidance regarding popular sires and a coherent plan of action drawn up with the help of geneticists, epidemiologists and breeders. 
The BCPs also need to set targets and incorporate ways of measuring progress.
A matter of some urgency is the genetic management of newly-registered breeds. This is currently often done in a very ad hoc way by breeders without sufficient knowledge – with a lot of inbreeding and the rapid spread of new diseases an inevitable result.  There is then often a mad rush to try and get a DNA test.  But the real answer lies in breeding the right way in the first place.
Breed clubs need to be bigger and better – to become all-singing, all-dancing guardians of their breeds with a very strong focus on the breed as a whole rather than a group of people with individual interests.
At present, breed clubs are too often dominated by show-breeders who look down on pet owners and are in competition with each other – bad news for transparency,  team-spirit and, ultimately, the dogs.  Pet owners and working owners need to be actively recruited and club literature and events need to be much less show-focused. Breed campaigners, very often acting outside of the breed clubs, need to be embraced as having a useful perspective rather than seen as the enemy. 
Information inviting new owners to join the relevant breed club (or clubs) should be sent out with every KC registration, offering no-obligation, free, emailed breed newsletters for life even if owners do not want to become a formal member. This would instantly give breed clubs access to a huge number of pet and working owners who at present do not belong to a breed club and who never get to hear important breed news – such as a new DNA test or research appeals.
Breed newsletters should also offer very strong incentives to join breed clubs – perhaps discounted health insurance, dog food and other dog goodies, in the same way that many communities negotiate deals by offering business to a particular supplier.
It goes without saying, I hope, that breed clubs need to be at the absolute forefront of data gathering – encouraging the reporting of health problems, running properly designed health surveys and publishing open databases (both health and pedigree information) that are accessible to all. Some are already doing this. More need to join them.
Breed club websites clearly have the potential to be the perfect one-stop shop for everything anyone needs to know about an individual breed but currently range from pretty good to dire. Too few are works of art, design-wise – and too many are works of fiction, content-wise.   This is because breed clubs are often run by people who have a vested interest in playing down health problems.
This has led to a proliferation of independent breed websites that often provide more comprehensive information, particularly regarding health, and they sometimes also often offer more in the way of breed databases.  It is extremely confusing for anyone trying to get information on a breed.
The newly-launched Karlton Index ( seeks to redress this by highlighting the best and the worst UK breed club websites and encouraging breed clubs to do better. 
There is a business opportunity here for dog-loving web designers who could design off-the-shelf website templates for breed clubs – allowing individuality but  ensuring some standardisation on what information is provided, developed in collaboration with the Kennel Club and breed clubs keen to offer the very best service to their breed and owners.
Vets have a key role to play in educating the public in all aspects of pet dog ownership and need to step up to the mark.  They are trusted as a source of independent advice but at present very often offer subjective, and sometimes just plain wrong, information on particular breeds. 
The KC recently tried to address this with a breed manual for vets. Unfortunately, it was beyond dreadful in terms of useful health information. The BVA/BSAVA can and should do better by producing their own guide that can provide objective information for vets and their clients.
At the moment, very few people would think of asking a vet for advice on particular breeds but this clearly has the potential to change and in doing so to be a useful marketing tool for individual vets, via conventional literature, touch-screen terminals and open evenings.
Vets also need to embrace VEctAR ( a new disease surveillance system developed by the Royal Veterinary College in association with the University of Sydney. It is already up and running in the UK, with more practices being recruited all the time..  The beauty of VEcTAR is that it will yield useful information about the prevalence/incidence of inherited disease in pet dogs (and cats ) with very little effort on the vets’ part thanks to clever software that will silently “mine” the data.
A schools education programme involving dogs would be of enormous benefit to both children – and dogs. The dog offers an engaging way to teach children many things  – evolution, genetics, reproduction, evolution, ethics, citizenship and so on.   The upshot would be a better-educated public able to make better dog-ownership choices.  This is the sort of scheme that pet food manufacturers should be falling over themselves to sponsor.
Ways must be found to reward health in the show-ring, rather than just the appearance of it.  I would like to see a change to a points system where dogs arrive in the show-ring with a certain number of points already earned for meeting specific health criteria – such as long-lived parents/grand-parents, working qualifcations,  taken/passed health tests and so on.  This is easy enough to do in the electronic age in which we live.
There needs to be new functional tests introduced for non-working breeds, too – eg evidence that a bulldog is capable of covering a certain distance at a certain pace. None of the tests need to be mandatory and it doesn’t have to be that a dog that arrives in the ring with no points couldn’t win.  But show breeders will often go to considerable lengths to give their dog the best possible chance of winning and if being provably healthier is a way, it should become a strong incentive.
Pictures that illustrate breeds need to include not just how the show-dog looks now – but a historical picture of how the breed used to look (often so different) and, where appropriate, an example of the working side of the breed. This will help guard against exaggerations.
Breed standards also need to be rewritten to be much more focused on function rather than form.  As  Dan Belkin, evolutionary biologist and breeder of salukis,  wrote about the saluki breed standard: “The standard says ‘eyes, dark to hazel and bright, large and oval, but not prominent.' It doesn't say anything about whether or not the Saluki can see” (
Outcrossing (to other breeds) was once part of the good dog breeder’s armoury and many early dog books talk openly about the practice.   Today, the idea of outcrossing is met with abject horror by many, but it does offer a potential rescue route for many breeds which have bred themselves into a genetic cul-de-sac, such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  I propose an Outcrossing Task Force made up of experts (to include breeders) offering the very best advice to breeds who either want, or need, to consider it as an option.
Every puppy should be sold with a puppy contract that makes demands on both breeders and buyers. New owners need to know that they are taking on a big commitment with responsiblities.
Dogs are not fridges so there can be no absolute guarantees, of course, but breeders need to be able to show that they have done everything possible to ensure that a puppy has every chance of a happy, healthy life.
Puppy contracts need to list breed specific issues, what tests are available/appropriate, whether they have been done and if not why not (there can be very good reasons why not). Formalising this for every breed would take the embarrassment away from puppy-buyers who often find it awkward to ask about health.
If a dog then falls sick or dies from a breed specific health problem that could reasonably have been prevented, breeders should be liable, not just to take back a dog if required, but to assist with veterinary fees up to the purchase price of the dog. 
So there it is:  ten broad brushtroke steps that I feel would have a truly positive impact on purebred dog health.

It's intended as a discussion document, not a dictat... so comments are invited. And what other practical steps do you think should be introduced to safeguard the future health of purebred dogs?

This article is adapted from the version that appeaars in the June  2011 issue of Dogs Today magazine.  Dogs Today is now available internationally for iPad and iPhone for the bargain price of 59p for the app, which includes one edition free.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

New Chair of the Kennel Club... Steve Dean, a not entirely unexpected choice.

As detailed in today's announcement from the Kennel Club, Dean is a long-time KC member and General Committee member - and also a breeder, exhibitor and judge of Border Terriers. He trained as a vet (although no longer practices other than as a show vet for the Kennel Club). He also has another big job as Chief Executive of the UK's Veterinary Medicines Directorate, which is currently receiving flak for refusing to recommend a three-year-vaccination schedule for dogs (for the core vaccines). This despite a good deal of evidence that yearly vaccination exposes your dog to an unnecessary risk of an adverse drug reaction (albeit a much smaller risk than the internet hysteria suggests) and may serve no purpose other than lining vets' pockets. 

This controversy aside, Dean must seem a sensible choice given the increased scrutiny of pedigree dogs by the veterinary profession and no doubt his appointment will help in the KC's dealings with vets, hopefully not just as a more effective smokescreen.

Dean's utterings regarding health since Pedigree Dogs Exposed, as evidenced mainly in his weekly column for Dog World, have been somewhat schizophrenic. On the one hand we have comments like this:

"Having established why the opinions against pedigree dogs are flawed, we should remember negative media comment exists largely to give the crusader and pressure group a public profile and a political platform."

(Yep, obviously, it couldn't possibly be because there is, you know, actually a problem.)

On the other hand, here have been times in the past year that Dean has sounded more robust regarding health, and he was particulary strong recently regarding the show world's acceptance of lameness and poor eyes (see this post on Dean last November.)

It is significant in these post-PDE times that Dean's quotes in the KC press release are entirely focused on health and welfare.   

"I am honoured to be elected as Chairman of the Kennel Club and to be given the opportunity to help improve the lives of dogs by ensuring that they live healthily and happily with responsible owners," he says. “I am aware of the scale of some of the challenges that we face but am excited about the opportunities that exist to help us make a real difference for dogs. I look forward to supporting and working with the millions of responsible dog breeders and owners that there are in this country, and to standing shoulder to shoulder with vets and other individuals and organisations, who are dedicated to improving the health and welfare of dogs.”

Dean's appointment certainly won't please the Elnett Revolutionists (breeders who have demanded the right to L'Orealise their dogs with conditioner, lacquer and chalk).  By all accounts, he doesn't have much time for this and, at the KC's recent AGM, Dean strongly countered claims by the Poodlists of the torture their poor dogs had to endure at the hands of a fine toothed-comb being used to extract some of the sticky muck from their coats for laboratory testing. 

Of course, it's hard for me to forget that, after Pedigree Dogs Exposed, Dean went round telling people that we had withheld medication from Zak the boxer in PDE to get him to fit for our cameras.  Totally untrue, and when I emailed to tell him so, he was unapologetic and churlish in reply.

Bottom line, and despite those veterinary qualifications that some may feel are a reason for optimism, Dean has been with the Kennel Club a long time and is part of two Establishments (the KC and the veterinary profession) that have turned a blind eye to the problems for too long.  Will he now step up to the mark?

I hope to be pleasantly surprised.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Pugs and puffery

© The Onion 2011
One of the problems for puppy buyers is that the quality of health information on various websites is so incredibly patchy. So which ones can you trust?

Well, The Onions's spoof look at Pugs in 2007 (here) is obviously not entirely accurate. But at the other end of the extreme, the Kennel Club Guide to Dog Health, produced for vets, offers no health information at all on the breed - other than that the pug "usually lives to a ripe old age." (pdf downloadable here).

The Pug Club UK, which offers an "ABC of Keeping Your Pug Happy and Healthy" is a bit better. It warns that pugs' eyes (described as "unique" and responsible for the breed's "irresistible appearance") are prone to injury and ulcers. It also mentions that they should not be walked in the heat of the day or driven in a hot car because of their tendency to overheat. It also includes some rather vague info about joint problems - although does not mention by name one of the breed's biggest problems - hemivertebrae (abnormally-shaped vertebrae that result in a twisted spine) or Pug Dog Encephalitis (a seriously nasty neurological problem for which there is now a DNA test).  In summation, it's a rather fluffy, general guide which offers no in-depth information; no links to where one might find more information about breed-specific problems and no details of any current health research. Over at The Karlton Index,  where Philippa Robinson has embarked on an ambitious project to encourage breed clubs to do better, the Pug Club UK currently earns a poor rating for its health info.

No better, but a bit more specific, is Champdogs guide to the Pug:

"Pugs are generally a healthy breed and do shed the coat,but at times can suffer from certain health problems just like any other dog. Eyes are the main concern,since Pugs have such a short nose and such bulky eyes,they easily scratch their corneas of even punture there eyeballs,causing eye ulcers. Therefore try to keep them away from sharp objects at all times.
Others can be Hip Dysplasia; where there is a poor fit between the bones of the hip joint - the femur and the actabulum.

"Patellar Luxation;this is when the kneecap,slides in and out of it's groove.It is thought to be inherited although the exact mode of transmission has not been determined.
Hemivertabrae disease, a deformity of the spine,this can lead to acute pain,or even loss of movement coorination and paralysis."

But spot the glaring omission (other, that is, than of an education or a spell-checker). There is no mention of Bracycephalic Airway Obstructed Syndrome (BOAS), an extremely common problem in Pugs and one that very often necessitates surgery to allow them to breathe more freely. No mention of  Pug Dog Encephalitis either.

The Pug Club of Ameria deserves some praise, meanwhile. It is not the best laid-out website in the world, but there is quite a lot of health information there.  The PCA also recommends testing hips, patellas, eyes and DNA-testing for Pug Dog Encephalitis - in stark contrast to the Kennel Club or UK breed club which lists no health tests for pugs. This despite, in the US, pugs being the second-worst breed of all (next to bulldogs) in terms of hips - with 64 per cent of those tested rated as dysplastic.

There is one UK website that is, as yet, incomplete but promises to build into valuable resource for discerning readers looking for a comprehensive, well-researched source of objective data on the most serious problems in particular breeds: UFAW's guide to the Genetic Welfare Problems of Companion Animals.

Here's what it says about breathing problems in the Pug.

Even I was a bit surprised to see this, though: "The breathing problems caused by these abnormalities (BAOS) are so commonly recognised by breeders of bulldogs and other short-faced breeds that some carry oxygen cylinders with them to shows."

Please, tell me that ain't true.


A few days ago, I let the Kennel Club and others know that the BBC has commissioned me to make a follow-up film to Pedigree Dogs Exposed, to explore what impact the film had and to assess what progress has been made in addressing conformation and genetic issues in purebred dogs since 2008.

PDE 2 will be what the BBC call a "personal view" film - acknowledging, as of course I have to, how involved I have become in this issue since making Pedigree Dogs Exposed.

There has been no response from the Kennel Club yet. I am keen for the KC to have a voice in the film so hope they will decide to take part and to let me film at one or two dog shows between now and the end of the year so we can see what progress has been made since PDE, particularly as regards the "high-profile" breeds.

I asked, in fact, to film at Southern Counties Champ Show this weekend - and was turned down by Show Chairman David Cavill, although he has kindly offered himself as an independent expert on the film. I went along anyway yesterday and, walking along the benches mid-afternoon saw a man coming towards me who looked very familiar.  We recognised each other at the same instant. It was Ronnie Irving, outgoing Chair of the KC, who did a bit of a double-take and hurried on. A few minutes later, an announcement went over the Tannoy reminding everyone that filming was not allowed. Coincidence? It was the only such announcement I heard all day.

I am, in fact, bound by strict broadcasting rules. There's nothing to stop me going in as a paying punter and using the lenses that God gave me, but, having been refused access to film, there's no way I can sneak in with a camera.

I am at Southern Counties to check out what dogs were winning from a conformation point of view, but, boy, it's easy to be distracted by the amount of 'product' being openly applied to the dogs now that the KC has suspended coat-testing. Perhaps that was the reason Ronnie Irving looked so stern-faced. Some attribute the timing of Ronnie's resignation as Chairman to the frustration he feels over the recent uprising by breeders demanding the right to slap conditioner, chalk and hairspray on their dogs - a view particularly well-articulated by  Dog World columnist Kevin Colwell the week before last.

"It strikes me as ironic that the dog showing community mounted no mass protest against unhealthy dogs being rewarded in the show ring, no mass protest against ultra-close breeding practices and no mass protest against the systematic exaggeration of some breeds," wrote Kevin in the May 26 issue of Dog World. "We manned the barricades in defence of hair spray, silicone, chalk and lacquer. The Elnett revolution; nice to know where priorities really lie."

I hear that last week at Bath Champ Show, where Ronnie judged Best in Show, one well-known exhibitor was deliberately over-generous with the lacquer in order to ensure the KC Chair's hands were sticky with the stuff after going over his dog. Very childish if true.

Cosmetic enhancement unlikely to feature very large in PDE 2, except, perhaps, when it impinges directly on health and welfare, conformation or genetics. Which, of course, sometimes it does.