Thursday, 29 December 2011

Does the K in KC stand for (north) Korea?

The schedule for Crufts 2012 is now available online and I see the Kennel Club has tried to beef up rules regarding photography.

Here's what it says:

Click to enlarge
Clearly, the KC is very worried about those horrid people singling out unhealthy-looking dogs and posting them on blogs or YouTube or, heaven forbid, giving to BBC documentary-makers. And it would have you believe that those who want to photograph problems are the ones at fault (as opposed, that is, to those breeding, exhibiting and awarding them prizes).

The addition to previous rules regarding photography is this line:
"The Organisers reserve the right at their absolute discretion to confiscate cameras and/or films for infringement of this condition. "
This is, actually, illegal and if they try it, the KC could be done for theft. Additionally, the KC has no right to delete photographs or insist the photographer does. They can ask only that the photographer leaves the premises. Any pictures or footage taken remain the copyright of the photographer.

I do appreciate that it is uncomfortable to have problems highlighted but this is a dog show where dogs are presented for exhibition and judgement. To try to put measures in place to ensure that only nice, positive, celebratory things about dogs are reported or photographed is censorship. And, moreover, pretty much impossible given the number of visitors to Crufts - almost all of which will have a camera, even if only on their phone. I should point out, too, that while individuals in certain circumstances have a right to privacy (although that's arguable if you've chosen to exhibit your dog at an event attended by thousands of snap-happy members of the public), dogs certainly don't.

My suggestion to the KC is that they man-up here. The correct PR advice is, surely, for them to welcome everyone and actively encourage anyone who records something that appears to be highlighting a health or welfare issue to discuss it with the KC.  And if, say, the photograph or recording shows prizes being awarded to a Basset Hound with ectropion or a Chinese Crested with obviously sore testicles because they've been shaved, or a Peke that can barely walk or a Bulldog or Pug with a massive overnose wrinkle, for the KC to not just point out the positive steps they are doing to deal with them (and there are some) but, where appropriate, to be unafraid of issuing a statement saying that they are extremely disappointed that a dog with such an obvious problem is still being rewarded in the show-ring.

The KC has vet checks for the Best of Breed winners of the 15 highlighted breeds starting at Crufts and this is a good move (although I am concerned to hear that the vets are not allowed to put a stethescope on the dog). This should mean that dogs with obvious problems will not win.  Which could mean that there won't be a BOB winner of Neapolitan Mastiffs at this year's Crufts.  I have yet to see one without ectropion which, thanks to input from veterinary opthamologist Professor Sheila Crispin, has been included as a disqualifying problem.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Progressive Retinal Atrophy - the Facts

They've got their knickers in a twist over at the Stop the BBC Making Another PDE Facebook site over something I said when I was being interviewed by Victoria Stilwell last week.

But of course they're wrong. What I pointed out in the podcast was that there are different forms of PRA in different breeds, caused by different mutations. There's cord1 (found in some Dachshunds and English Springers), prcd (found in a lot of breeds, including Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Labradors and Tollers), rcd1 (Irish Setters), rcd2 (Smooth and Rough Collies), rcd3 (Welsh Corgi), rcd4 (Gordon + Irish Setters),Type A (Miniature Schnauzer) and X-linked (Samoyed).

All these mutations are recessive, meaning that both parents must carry and pass on the mutation to their puppies for the pups to be affected.

Obviously, if you mate a Golden Retriever with a Labrador, there's a risk to the resulting pups.

But you can mate two carriers (or even affecteds) of two different breeds that don't carry the same form of PRA - eg a Springer to a Cocker  - and the pups will not be affected (although of course could be carriers so one would have to test for both mutations if you breed on).

The only exception to this is with a dominant form of PRA found in Bullmastiffs and Mastiffs.

So thank you for the suggestion that I talk to Optigen. Of course I have - and to the Animal Health Trust which has found so many of the other PRA mutations (and is still working on others).

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Bred for Looks, Born to Suffer

Tomorrow, if you're walking down Clarges St in London's Mayfair and hear strange popping noises, it will be Kennel Club staff's heads exploding in response to the RSPCA's new  Bred for Looks, Born to Suffer campaign, launched today with the above ad in the Mail on Sunday.

I have to confess to feeling a little uncomfortable about some aspects of the campaign myself.

I'm fine with the ad above as I feel really strongly that we should return pugs to an earlier version where they had longer muzzles. In fact, we've just returned from filming with world brachycephalic expert Professor Gerhard Oechtering in Leipzig who showed us the damage that has been done, internally, by breeding for such a flat face (see below). It is so much more than most people imagine - and it is heart-breaking to see what we've done to this characterful little dog that bears its fate with such cheerful stoicism.

I'm OK, too, with what the RSPCA's new campaign says on the main campaign page, although I know others will be hyperventilating at the singling out of pedigree dogs as opposed to those dreadful designer crossbreeds.

But I did wince at this page... which starts:
The way that dogs are bred today, in order to win shows, is having a huge impact on their health and welfare. This is why we’ve launched our Born to Suffer campaign which seeks an end to the breeding of dogs based on looks.

But it's not just show dogs that may be suffering. Many pedigree dogs never appear in shows, but many are bred by breeders who want to produce show-winning animals, and who sell their surplus dogs as pets.

And the reason I winced is that, although it's true to say that it's the show-scene that often stamps the current 'look' on a breed, there are loads of breeders breeding purely for the pet marked who are producing dogs that are no better (in fact in some instances worse - pet-bred Shar-pei, for instance, are usually much more wrinkled than their show-bred cousins).  In other words, I think to single out show breeders in this instance is unfair. I know, I know, people will no doubt yelp that that is exactly what I do. But I wouldn't have done if I had been copywriting the RSPCA campaign.

Here, by the way, is a a 'grab' from the footage we shot of the inside of a pet-bred pug's mouth when we filmed in Leipzig. Pugs have the same number of teeth as a dog with a longer muzzle and this is nature's attempt at accommodating them.

Add 22/12: here's the Kennel Club's response to the RSPCA's new campaign - essentially an insistence that the breed standards are not to blame. 

Saturday, 17 December 2011

No time and no shows

Currently, I barely have enough time to breathe let alone blog, as we're flat out on Pedigree Dogs Exposed 2 - so apologies for the silence. Our first viewing with the BBC is on January 4th, so there'll be no Christmas for me this year, but I did find time last night to be interviewed by Victoria Stilwell for her Positively podcast. For those who have more time than me and want to listen, our chat starts between a quarter and a third of the way through the podcast here.

I do urge my friends over on the Stop the BBC from Making Another PDE Facebook site to listen as you'll hear no less than three clear admissions of puppy abuse on my part perpetrated during the interview itself. The victim is the puppy pictured above. Well, he wouldn't stop barking.

His name is Wrigley (although he's more usually called Pupster) and his mum is a tiny working-bred English Setter who was pregnant when she arrived from Ireland as a rescue.  Who was Dad? Best guess is a mountain goat. That's our 5ft-high Yew hedge he's jumped on.  Wrigley is a fabulous pup - a real ray of sunshine; we should have rehomed him, really, but he makes us laugh and in the way that puppies sometimes are, he's been a positive influence on the rest of the dogs.

I first met Victoria and her husband Van at Crufts in 2008. We've stayed in touch very sporadically since then and we met again a couple of weeks ago at the APGAW meeting on dog-breeding at the Houses of Parliament. We were given permission by APGAW Chairman Neil Parish to film the meeting, which prompted the Kennel Club to pull out. Neil Parish read out the following statement at the start of the meeting:

"The Kennel Club was keen to be involved in APGAW's meeting regarding health and welfare developments in dog breeding since these are issues which we consider to be of paramount importance. However, in view of the decision to allow filming by Passionate Productions, the Kennel Club has elected not to attend since we do not trust those involved to present an unbiased account of proceedings."

Fortunately,  the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association and the Dog Advisory Council felt able to attend to speak - and in the audience were many others from dog welfare and dog interest groups.

The Kennel Club's decision to not attend was disappointing. I do understand its concern but can't help feeling that they are currently receiving very poor PR advice.  No-shows do not, in the main, go down well with the public.

And television loves an empty chair.