Friday, 29 May 2020

Dutch ban short-nosed dogs prompting fears that other countries could follow


The story broke last week that the Netherlands had banned the breeding of Bulldogs and other short-faced breeds (and crossbreeds), prompting outrage from some dog-lovers - and a standing ovation from others.

To many in the show-world, the news seems to have come as a massive shock. New Facebook groups and petitions have sprung up overnight in the hope of preventing a slippery-slope spread to other countries. Dozens of international breed clubs have issued statements of condemnation and on Wednesday, the FCI (the umbrella group for many overseas kennel clubs) held an emergency webinar  (a separate blog to come on that).

In fact, the president of the FCI, Dr Tamás Jakkel, has even gone so far as to write an extraordinary open letter charging the Dutch KC (Raad van Baheer) with negligence in letting the Dutch Government implement the new legislation. (Read Dr Jakkel's letter here.)

Last week, the Pug Breed Council in the UK accused the Dutch KC of “being happy to see the demise of historic breeds that have existed for hundreds of years." The Dutch government's decision, it says, is "beyond our comprehension."

In reality, it has been a very long time in coming. And the 'ban' is both not a ban - and it's not new. 

Legislation introduced in the Netherlands in 2014 forbids the breeding of pet animals "in a way that harms the welfare and health of the parent animal or the offspring." It spells out that breeding should prevent, as far as possible, serious hereditary disorders/diseases or welfare-impacting conformation being passed on to offspring.

The hope was that it would be enough to encourage breeders to make changes, And, indeed, in 2015, the Dutch Kennel Club became the first in the world to mandate a 1km walking test for Bulldogs before they could be bred.

Not much changed, though - and certainly not in terms of breeder willingness to change the look of their dogs. The legislation proved to be too vague to be of much to those wanting to bring prosecutions against breeders producing dogs that contravened the law.

Faced with continuing high-profile media attention on the plight of brachycephalics, the Dutch government commissioned a report from the University of Utrecht entitled "Breeding Short-Muzzled Dogs" which was published in January 2019.   It provided the basis for six new breeding criteria that Carola Schouten, Minister for Agriculture, introduced in March 2019.

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These cover eye conformation, nostril stenosis, abnormal breathing, excess skin folds and - most controversially -  that all dogs bred in the Netherlands (crossbreeds as well as purebred) must have muzzles at least one third the length of their head (and, in time, half the length of their head).

As you might imagine, it was met with uproar - other than from one Pug club, Commedia, which advised its members to stop breeding and announced it would be willing to consider outcrossing in order to meet the new criteria. (A stance that was subsequently overturned by the members who ousted the Club officers who wanted to take this route.)

However, the Dutch KC itself broadly welcomed the new criteria - with the exception of the muzzle-length rule. In August 2019, along with its brachycephalic breed clubs, the Dutch KC submitted a counter proposal in the hope of overturning it. It failed - although it has won a last-minute concession that allows, in the short-term, for one parent to have a shorter muzzle if other criteria (which includes an exercise test) are met.

Last week the Club announced that it will no longer issue full pedigree certificates to the following ‘extreme’ brachycephalic (short-faced) breeds - unless the parents have passed an independent vet-check confirming that at least one of them has a muzzle the required length. 

Boston Terrier
French Bulldog
Griffon Belge
Griffon Bruxellois
Japanese Chin
King Charles Spaniel
Petit Brabancon
Shih Tzu

As there are very few of the above that meet this criteria, die-hard Dutch brachy breeders are seeing it as the end of the road.  

The Dutch KC says it has plans for a separate registry where dogs that don't meet the criteria can continue to be recorded/tracked - but they won't be accepted on to the stud book and they cannot be shown. 

The Dutch KC also says it is hopes to set up a separate registry for outcrosses bred to to bring in eg a longer nose from another breed (something that has been done in Germany with the retro-pug; although not in a way that's been embraced by the German KC).   The hope is that descendants of these dogs might, down the line, be considered acceptable enough to incorporate back into the stud book.

This has prompted horrified calls of "mongrelisation" from some breeders. 

"The head is one of the hallmarks of the breed and its change in this manner will cause the breed's essence to be eliminated," wrote the French Bulldog Clubs of America and Canada in a statement last week. "This mandate will significantly change the head shape, ratio of muzzle to skull, and the dentition."

I confess I am infuriated by the dentition reference. We know that French Bulldogs and other brachcyephalics have awful teeth - the result of squishing the normal number of canine teeth into a much smaller jaw. Veterinary dentist Dr Fraser Hale maintains he has never, in a 30-yr career, seen an entirely normal brachycephalic mouth. The teeth are always crowded/rotated. A longer muzzle should help normalise this, if not completely resolve the problem.

GSD v Pug

The Dutch KC now finds itself at the centre of an international dog fight, with many breeders blaming it for what's happened. Many are also furious that the Club agrees with the legislators that at least some change is necessary.

"As a Kennel Club, we have repeatedly urged the breed clubs of extremely short-muzzled breeds to include additional health measures in their breeding policies," says a spokesperson. "At that time there was no will to adapt, at least not enough."

The Dutch KC is also frustrated by the deflection by many breeders to "lookalikes" (ie puppy mill/BYB-bred dogs). It knows that this argument doesn't wash with legislators when the scientific literature links the problems to the phenotype not the provenance of these dogs. Sure, "responsible" breeders are the most likely to health-test and their dogs may be pampered - but they are also often the ones breeding the dogs with the flattest faces because that is what wins in the show-ring. 

In fact, the most cursory of Google searches proves that many brachyephalic dogs have become more extreme over the years, not less, and that it is the show-ring that has driven much of this exaggeration.

"If we look at some old photos of these breeds from the last century, which is not that long ago, should we not ask ourselves who we are to say that this is the only correct type? " asks the Dutch KC. "How would breeders at the time react to the breeds as they are today?"

In response to the the FCI's claim that the Dutch legislation is an attack on breeds that should be considered "national heritages" the Dutch KC suggests: "So let us take a good look at the books and the available photo material from that time and use these photos as a standard. If we showed these photos to the public in the street from about 60 years ago and now, which would be their favourite?"

It's a good question. And yet if you point out to breeders that Pugs looked like this 150 years ago...

 1878-80 Minnie + Sally from The Royal Collection

Or that Bulldogs used to look like this...

Donald - the first Bulldog to be shown i America
... they'll tell you that these examples were mongrels or can otherwise be discounted.

I'm not often in the habit of defending kennel clubs and I can understand why some believe the Dutch KC could have done more. But I don't think the international dog 'fancy' fully understands the strength of public opinion in the Netherlands - and indeed in other countries where brachycephalic health has continued to be highlighted by scientists, animal welfarists and the media. 

Bottom line, the Dutch KC's hands are now tied. It can no longer continue to sanction illegal breeding any more than the UK Kennel Club could register breeds such as the Japanese Tosa that are banned by law in the UK. 

Of course now the fear among breeders is that other countries, emboldened by the Dutch move, might follow suit.  In fact, I would be very surprised if we saw a  ban in the UK any time soon and, let's face it, the USA is the breeding wild-west where any attempts at control is considered an infringement of constitutional rights. But there are certainly some murmurings in Finland, Norway, Germany and Austria.

No one should be surprised.

It is now over 70 years since the first surgeries were done to correct airway abnormalities in these breeds. Today, much of the workload of thousands of vets worldwide is taken up trying to fix both their breathing and a myriad of other issues in these dogs. 

I am genuinely horrified by some of the patients that walk into my clinic,” says veterinarian Dr Gert ter Haar who contributed to the report commissioned by the Dutch Government and until recently ran the Brachycephalic Clinic at the Royal Veterinary College. “I don’t know where to start to try and make them feel better.”

We now know that brachycephaly confers a host of pathologies on these dogs. Hundreds die from heatstroke every year because their anatomy impairs their ability to thermoregulate; they have the same number of teeth as a Labrador squished into a third or less of the space; a foreshortened skull which can cause the brain to rotate; eyes liable to damage by the lack of a muzzle to act as a buffer; painful ear problems, gastro-intestinal issues, difficulties mating and giving birth, compromised genetic diversity and a reduced lifespan - particularly for the French Bulldog and Bulldog (5-8yrs old depending on which data/studies you look at).

Dr ter Haar says he is “thrilled” by the Dutch Government’s decision. “The only reason breeders have bred towards a shorter and shorter nose/face is that they look very cute and more childlike. Have we become so superficial that the look of our dogs is more important than their welfare? In my opinion this gives us a way, finally, to stop breeders who do not have the welfare of the dogs they breed at the top of their priority list.”

Others believe a ban is a mistake, pointing out that simple solutions for complex problems can have unintended consequences. 

“Unfortunately, I'm not sure that we have enough evidence to say that increasing the length of the nose alone will make the difference that they are hoping for,” says Dr Jane Ladlow, a brachycephalic specialist who is is one of only a few in the world doing advanced surgery on these dogs. Dr Ladlow, believes that the right approach is to work with, rather than against breeders. Along with colleagues at Cambridge University she was instrumental in the setting up of the UK Kennel Club's new respiratory grading scheme.

“I'm concerned that the ban will stop reputable breeders who are concerned about health but won't stop puppy farms as imports from other countries are still allowable. There is obviously considerable demand for these breeds because of their personalities and popularity on social media.”

Dr Ladlow also points to the Cambridge research which found factors such as head-width and neck girth may be more significant than muzzle length. She is adamant that there are healthy dogs out there.

Indeed, the Cambridge research found that around half of Bulldogs, Frenchies and Pugs had no significant breathing issues. But that leaves 50% who do. And, again, hardly a week goes by without a new paper identifying yet another problem. Two weeks ago, a Finnish study of ostensibly healthy Bulldogs found that that almost all had problematic joint issues (blog post to come).

Dr Rowena Packer, author of several key scientific papers exploring the impact of brachycephaly on dogs, broadly supports the Dutch move: “Many millions of dogs with longer muzzles already enjoy the freedom to breathe, see, walk and play freely, with no need for invasive surgeries or laborious daily husbandry to achieve this.

“Although ‘banning’ may not be an optimal solution for many parties, given the lack of success seen with other breed bans, the Netherlands are sending a clear message to dog breeders that this issue simply must be taken seriously.”

I'm not that keen on bans either. But I welcome the Dutch move. Not enough has been done to address these dogs' problems and breeders continue to resist even minor tweaks to their breed standards.

Hopefully, with the threat of legislation hanging over their heads, and with those arguing for reform clearly not going away, we will see more progress.

As ever, the dogs deserve better.

Monday, 10 February 2020

EXCLUSIVE: Bulldog breeders attack grieving owner of Supervet's "Molly".

Millions of viewers tuned in to the hit Channel 4 show The Supervet on 30th January - and many wept when five month-old Bulldog puppy, Molly, was put to sleep.  Molly had been rushed to Fitzpatrick Referrals in Surrey because she had been hit by a car. But it wasn't the accident that led to her death, it was what orthopaedic specialist Professor Noel Fitzpatrick referred to as "unscrupulous" breeding.

Molly had a fractured leg that needed surgery - but this was fixable. The problem was that scans revealed Molly was also  suffering from crippling underlying genetic issues - including severe hip dysplasia and a trachea (windpipe) the size of a small cat's - just 5mm in diameter (it should have been at least twice that). Both conditions are life-limiting.

Fitzpatrick - criticised by some for being too gung-ho so hardly a stranger to taking a chance on a dog  - advised Molly's owners that euthanasia was probably the kindest option. Her distraught  owners agreed.

Initially, Bulldog breeders on social media showed sympathy to grieving owner Lisa Hook. But, last week, some turned on her. The reason? Miss Hook began asking questions about Molly's breeding.

It turns out that Molly doesn't come from a puppy farm or backyard breeder. She comes from a long line of show dogs - supposedly the creme de la creme. There will even be several close Molly relatives being shown at Crufts next month. But, as is the case with most Bulldog breeding in the UK, neither of her parents have been tested for hip dysplasia or respiratory issues, despite both problems being endemic in the breed.

When Miss Hook began to get upset that neither test is mandatory in the breed she was then subject to online abuse.

Kennel Club show-breeder and judge Maria Taylor (Hillplace Showdogs) posted this.

Another called her a fraud, suggesting there were puppet-masters behind the scenes pushing her to ask award questions.

There was then a heated online exchange with the Lampens, who bred Molly's sire. First, the Lampens accused Miss Hook of negligence in allowing her dog to be run over. They then called her "stupid" and "a liar" - and then claimed they weren't the owner of the stud dog, despite their name clearly being on show results for the dog in 2017.  (In fact, their name is also on Molly's vaccination certificate so they were clearly closely involved with the litter.)  When Miss Hook persisted on asking why no health-testing had been done, she was told to "".

"The bullying has left me confused and intimidated" says a shocked Miss Hook. "I will never buy another Bulldog. It is obvious that want to shout down anyone that is trying to find out the truth in order to protect their friends but more importantly their pockets."

Some of the online trolls even suggested that it was impossible to judge hips in a 20-week-old puppy and that Molly should not have been PTS. But I can exclusively reveal the extent of Molly's hip dysplasia, something that wasn't shown on Channel 4.

Here, first, is an x-ray of a dog with excellent hips - note how the ball-joint (femoral head) fits snugly in the cup-shaped socket (acetabulum).

For contrast, here's a dog with severe hip dysplasia - note the uneven shape of the socket and how the ball joint is not sitting tightly in it.

And here are Molly's hips.

There is a lot wrong here. Significantly, you can see that the socket is severely malformed and the femoral heads are a country-mile from where they should be. This is not something that is ever going to improve. Last week, it was claimed on the Bulldog groups that Molly was "running around woods" the morning of the accident, but Miss Hook says this is simply not true.

"She used to fall over a lot and we sometimes noticed her back legs giving way. She could only walk for two minutes or so before stopping and refusing to walk. We used to carry her a lot."

Molly's breathing was also bad. "She was very noisy when walking and you could hear her even when she was lying still. She made a lot of snuffling noises."

But Molly was Miss Hook's first Bulldog and she put it down to Molly being a puppy.  After all, when she had taken Molly to her vet for her second vaccination, they checked her over but had not highlighted any concerns.

Molly cost £1400 and was bred by Carmel Parsons, who lives near Ashford in Kent and also breeds Bullmastiffs and Pugs, some of which have been shown. Miss Hook says that when she told Ms Parsons that Molly had died, she denied there was anything wrong with Molly and she did not believe the Supervet's diagnosis. Ms Parsons is no longer responding to Miss Hook who has also not responded to my request inviting her to comment. No response, either, from Barry and Lynn Lampen, the breeders of Molly's sire.

Molly's pedigree name is Melcassics Temptation and here is her pedigree.

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You'll see that some of Molly's antecedents have been tested for HUU - a condition called hyperuricosuia that is common in Bulldogs and can cause painful urinary stones which can sometimes need surgery. Even some truly shitty breeders do this DNA test - because it's cheap and enables them to claim that their dogs are "health-tested".

But only one other dog in the pedigree, Molly's grandparent on the sire-line (Ch Testwood Tom) has had any meaningful health tests, and they were done in Belgium seven years ago. They include a fitness, eye, heart and trachea test - all great. But despite the claim, the hip test listed here is limited because it did not involve an x-ray - just a physical exam by a vet. Upshot: this does not rule out hip dysplasia. You need to x-ray to do that.

It is that likely the  reason Testwood Tom has been tested is because he is a Dutch Champion and it is a requirement there in order to be able breed. Since returning to the UK, where there are no health test requirements, Testwood Tom has had no further health testing, despite the recommendation that breathing is checked every two years because BOAS (Brachycephalic Obstructed Airway Syndrome) is progressive. He has now sired 75 litters and is still being offered at stud.

That said, his owner, Pam Freeman, was happy to talk to me and said last week: "As so much has been made of this I will now make arrangements to get him tested."

So what should Bulldog breeders be doing by way of health tests?

The day after Molly's story aired on Channel 4, the Kennel Club posted the following statement on its Facebook page:

The reality?

Despite the Bulldog being widely considered a health train wreck by most experts, the Kennel Club doesn't mandate any health tests for the breed.  The vast majority of the 10,000 Bulldogs it registered last year - even those bred under the auspices of its supposedly-elite Assured Breeder Scheme - have undergone no health-tests at all.

Instead the KC  makes the following recommendations.

Clck to expand

But the Breed Council bronze level Breed Council does not test for respiratory issues or hip dysplasia - two of the breeds' biggest problems.  And although the Silver and Gold tests do test for respiratory problems, there is no requirement to x-ray hips. (See Breed Council health scheme requirements here.)

Meanwhile, only a handful of breeders are using the Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme (RFGS) launched last year. Indeed, this is such a concern to the Kennel Club that last week it issued this appeal:

The truth is that it is more common for stud dog owners to demand that bitches are the right colour than be health-tested. Most are happy to collect the £500 or so a jump with no questions asked, even if the stud dog himself has been health-tested - just as long as they're not a non-standard colour.

Of course, it is possible that Molly's appalling hips were an unlucky one-off. But we know that hip dysplasia is inherited and we know that Bulldogs have terrible hips. In the US, where over 1000 Bulldogs have been hip-tested, the breed is ranked second worst for hip dysplasia of all the breeds (only the Pug is worse).  Over 70% of them have abnormal hips. In the UK, only 30 Bulldogs have been hip-scored in the past 30 years - with a median score of 32 (awful, basically).

So why isn't hip-screening a breed requirement? Because it requires an anaesthetic and Bulldog folk consider this too risky because of the breeds' respiratory issues.  It's also why so few are checked for trachea hypoplasia too (this too requires sedation). Of course most Bulldogs are born via C-section and an anaesthetic is needed for that but, hey, that's different.

It doesn't help that many Bulldog breeders buy into the myth that Bulldog hips are different. Have a look at this.

It's bollocks, obviously.

It has taken continued pressure by vets, welfare experts and campaigners to get where we are today in Bulldogs. We do now have some health schemes from nothing at all a few years ago and I think it's important to acknowledge that there have been some improvements.

The Bulldogs in the ring today move and breathe better than they did a few years ago and I am encouraged by the attitude of some breeders.

But endemic in the breed is a worrying climate of, at best, flannel and, at worst, intimidation being shown not just to puppy buyers who ask too many questions but to those within the breed advocating for greater health reforms. Very often, this is being driven by the politics engendered by the competitive nature of dog-showing.

The Bulldog Club Incorporated - the oldest Bulldog Club but perhaps the most forward-thinking on health - has just proposed that its members only breed from dogs that have passed the Bulldog Breed Council's Silver test as a minimum.  It has caused uproar, with some threatening to resign membership of the Club.

As a result, those who are really trying to breed healthier dogs are being let down by others and the whole thing is absolutely impossible for puppy buyers to navigate. It remains unsafe for anyone in the UK to buy a Bulldog. 

The Bulldog breed is desperately in need of new and stronger leadership - and a good deal more transparency. The Bulldog Breed Council still has not published the Bulldog Health and Conservation Plan the KC recently insisted they draft. Breed health rep Lieza Handley did not acknowledge my request asking for a statement regarding the issues raised by the Molly case - or indeed any of my messages.

The Bulldog Breed Council did, eventually, release this statement on its Facebook page.

Bottom line? Lots of fine words and it's good that the respiratory scheme might become mandatory if only for Assured breeders. But there was nothing condemning the online trolling of Molly's owner. And they seem to have forgotten to make a single mention of hip dysplasia.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Wasabi win confirms show-world commitment to cruelty

Apparently oblivious to the welfare concerns of breeding an extreme brachycephalic dog utterly swamped by its coat, Wasabi the Peke won Best in Show at the 2019 AKC Nationals in Orlando - which took place last month but aired on Animal Planet last Wednesday.

Literally nothing makes the dog show world look more outdated, ridiculous and cruel than breeding and rewarding dogs like this.

That is all.

Well not quite all.

Wasabi's grandfather is Malachy, who won the Westminster Dog Show in 2012.

Oh, and Wasabi's great-grandfather is Malachy, who won the Westminster Dog Show in 2012.

Ah, and Wasabi's great-great-grandfather is Malachy, who won the Westminster Dog Show in 2012.

Here's the pedigree, evidence that inbreeding is still considered perfectly acceptable in many parts of the show-world.

Wasabi's great-great-great grandfather is, in fact, Danny the Peke (Ch Yakee A Dangerous Liaison) who won Crufts in 2003 (and who, as we revealed in Pedigree Dogs Exposed, had been diagnosed with BOAS and had undergone surgery at Glasgow Vet School to alleviate his breathing problems before his BIS win).

This is what lies beneath the coat of a champion peke - a skeleton deliberately deformed to ensure the breeding typical "rolling gait" enshrined in a breed standard written long ago.

Now the Peke has always been compromised by its conformation, but at least they used to have moderate coats - a kindness in a breed that struggles to thermo-regulate because of its squished face.

1910 Ch Broad Oak Beetle
Kylin Faithful and Fearless 1909-1924

There is literally no one anywhere in the whole world outside of the show-ring who thinks today's show Peke is an improvement on these dogs. No one.

It's particularly depressing to see the fawning coverage from journalists and broadcasters in the US. Have a look at this on Good Morning America as a cringing example.

There are so few people speaking up in the US about the morality of breeding dogs like this and until they do, it is not going to change. Although there is a glimmer of hope in the comments on the AKC's Facebook post about the win (please do hop over there to comment if you feel strongly about this issue)

Barely-walking dust-bunny in fact. I have rarely seen a less animated dog than Wasabi. Perhaps hoping that if he keeps his head down, it will all go away.

EDIT 5/1/20: The AKC has now removed Vicki Brusellis Hummel's comment on its Facebook - likely because it had got so many likes that it was by default showing as the top comment.  They have deleted other 'negative' comments too although it's heartening to see that comments from those expressing concern/dismay still far outweigh the positive ones.