Saturday 19 February 2011

No such thing as a hypoallergenic dog

Cassandra Jardine and her goldenoodle pup, Raphael.      Photo: Clara Molden
'Somewhat unfestively, my dog dropped dead on Christmas Day. Molly, a mongrel from Battersea Dogs Home, was only nine years old and apparently fit. After an afternoon walk, she lay down by the sofa while I cooked; a few minutes later, when I dangled a piece of ham, she failed to respond.

'"Are you dead?' I called out rather callously. She was.'

So starts a well-written piece by journalist Cassandra Jardine in today's Daily Telegraph that goes on to document her hunt for a replacement dog. She writes about almost falling for an internet puppy-scam;  explains why she turned down a Bernese Mountain Dog and why she eventually chose a Goldenoodle - much to the chagrin of the Kennel Club's Bill Lambert:

"More than half of them do shed, unlike the 20 hyper-allergic breeds on our website," Lambert argues. "There's no guarantee that you will get the traits you want and they are often more expensive than pure breeds. I appreciate the urgency of your wish to replace Molly but 'Buy in haste, repent at leisure'."

The Kennel Club has 20 "hyper-allergic" breeds on their website? Goodness! Who'd want one of those?

But let's assume that Mr Lambert has been mis-quoted (he claims I do it to him all the time) and he really said "hypoallergenic"?

Naughty Mr Lambert. He must know that while some breeds shed less than others, there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog.

“Unfortunately, there really is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog,” says Dr. Jonathan Field, emeritus director of the pediatric allergy and asthma clinic at New York University/Bellevue Medical Center in New York City.

“The studies have not supported that there’s any type of hypoallergenic dog,” confirms Dr. Wanda Phipatanakul, chair of the Indoor Allergen Committee for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

So was Lambert so intent on putting Cassandra Jardine off buying a filthy crossbreed that he simply lied?

Didn't work anyway. Cassandra went for Goldenoodle pup Raphael, and I wish her all happiness. He looks a cute and cheeky chap.

Here's hoping his parents were health-tested. Many of the "oodle" parents aren't and there's no excuse just because the pups are a cross. True, Raphael should on paper benefit from some hybrid vigour, but given that both Golden Retrievers and some Poodles can suffer from hip dysplasia and the same type of progressive retinal atrophy (prcd-PRA), the parents should be tested for these conditions before being bred.

One of the most surprising statistics to come out of the recent release of the latest hip-scoring figures is that more Labradoodles than Miniature and Standard Poodles combined were screened for hip dysplasia in the UK in 2010 (195 compared to 103).

When I mentioned this recently on a purebred dog forum, they argued that the figure was meaningless because there were more Labradoodles than Poodles these days. This is almost certainly true - only 2000 Poodles (Standard and Miniature) were registered with the KC last year.  Nevertheless, it is encouraging that Labradoodles are being tested - and I don't think it is the case, as some claim, that the sole reason they are scored is because they are lame with suspected hip dysplasia.  If it was,  their mean hip score would be higher than it is.

The Labradoodle's mean hip score is 13 - the same as the Standard Poodle's and almost the same as the Labrador's (14). This is, of course, exactly as one might expect given that HD is a polygenetic trait evident in both parent breeds.

Friday 18 February 2011

Westminster: the good, the bad and the just plain silly

The surprise winner of this week's Westminster Dog Show - the US equivalent of Crufts - is a Deerhound called Hickory. She's a good-looking girl but as Pat Burns has pointed out over on The Daily Dose, sadly this is a breed whose health has dwindled along with the work that once kept the breed fit and functional. Hopefully, the win will not encourage people to go out and get one without doing a lot of research beforehand. The breed has a scarily small gene pool and, in common with other large breeds, suffers from a high rate of bone cancer.

Pat Burns, incidentally, has found this telling little gem in the archives from 1897:

I don't know enough about the breed to know if there has been an outcross allowed since. Anyone?

But I was pleased to see the Deerhound win over toy breeds like the Pekingese.  At least she is recognisably a dog. And it was interesting to hear the Italian judge comment afterwards that Hickory reminded him of the deerhounds from 150 years ago that he saw pictures of when studying the standards. How wonderful that a judge thinks this way. Too often, the show world dismisses the historical versions of breeds as being inferior to the dogs of today, believing that the exaggerations that have been hewn by the show-ring are an improvement. It is rarely true.

So let's take a look. Here is the new Champ, Foxcliffe Hickory Wind

And here is a champ from 1917, chosen because he is fairly representative of dogs from the archive:

Clearly, there has been nothing like the exaggeration that has occurred in some breeds, although the 1917 dog is lighter and, proportionally, a little taller. To me, he is a better-looking, better-balanced dog. He has less rear-angulation, too,  something which the show-ring so often takes to extremes, believing - erroneously - that more is better.

On which note, here is the German Shepherd that won Best of Breed at Westminster, GCH Winsome's Love Remembears - compared to Norbert vom Kohlwald, a dog deemed good enough to win the Sieger two years running (in 1911 and 1912).  Poor old Norbert. He would not be recognised as a GSD today. 

So there you have the good (-ish) in the Deerhound, and the bad (the GSD),  and now to the... well you be the judge. This is Kaltrav Carribean Cruise and he won Best Labrador at Westminster.

© Fred R Conrad/The New York Times
Here, to compare, is a 1938 version of the breed: Ch Cheverells Ben of Banchory

You see many dogs in the UK that still look like him - at least outside of the show-ring. It's only in America that they've turned this beautiful breed into such a blubber-fest.

And, finally, here's the just plain silly:
© Fred R Conrad/The New York Times
W-a-a-y too much coat on this rapunzel red to ever do the job this breed was developed to do (and that's after the scissors). Here, in contrast, is an American working-bred red setter - still to be found in some parts of the US  doing the job it was bred to do.
© Dorothea Penizek
As the old saying goes... handsome is as handsome does.

 Historical dog breed pictures by Pietoro

Thursday 10 February 2011

Cavaliers - more denial and dissent

    © Catherine Southwell
How did this sweet, gorgeous, health-beleaguered little breed end up in the hands of some of the most poisonous, self-serving people in dogdom?

The latest news on the Cavalier front is that some influential breeders apparently find it unacceptable that the results of dogs scanned under the new official syringomyelia (SM) screening programme should be made public.  Worse, it seems that the Kennel Club has given in to them.

This is the behind-the-scenes story of a Dog World report this week about a recent meeting to discuss Cavalier health, attended by national and regional Cavalier club reps, the Kennel Club and the Animal Health Trust.

The KC/AHT have a problem. It is that the much-heralded Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for Cavaliers, designed to help improve breed health, are not ready for launch (after two years hard graft) because not enough MRI scans have been submitted to ensure the scheme is robust (ie predictive).

There isn't a shortage of cavaliers - despite the fact that registration figures have dropped considerably since PDE (down from over 11,000 in 2008 to just over 8,000 last year). The issue is that many breeders are still reluctant to a) scan and b) submit the results - hence the "proposal".

"The need for a proposal arose because it was clear that there was a need to encourage participation in the new scheme and aid speedy data collection,” a spokesperson for the KC told Dog World. “Simply following the way in which other BVA/KC scheme data is recorded and published is unlikely to achieve this at this time.”

In other words, breeders threatened to vote down the scheme - an embarrassment for the Kennel Club and a disaster for the breed. But, believe me, the answer does not lie in giving in to the Cavalier Coven that continually stirs the cauldron of denial. Not if you want to convince the world that you care about the dogs.

So let me say this loud and clear.  Keeping hidden the results of the new screening scheme would set a dangerous and completely unacceptable precedent. The results of every other BVA/KC health scheme are rightly and freely available via the KC's online Health Test Finder. We need more transparency, not less. The KC needs to man-up, here.

No doubt the Cavalier naysayers are arguing that the results of MRI scans for syringomyelia are not totally clearcut - that clear dogs can throw pups with SM and vice versa. This is true. There are few absolutes when it comes to living things. But there is now good evidence that the chances of having an unaffected pup is considerably increased if the dam and sire have been screened clear or only marginally affected by this horrendous condition. [Details included in this presentation by Dr Clare Rusbridge]

This applies equally to the BVA/KC Hip and Elbow Schemes. Dogs with great hip scores can occasionally throw severely-affected pups, and the other way round. But you don't hear Labrador breeders whinging that it's unfair to publish their dogs' hip scores because they know that the more information at their disposable, the better breeding decisions they can make.

If this rotten core of Cavalier breeders gets its way, only the fact that the dog has been MRI-scanned will be made public. So what's to stop them just-plain lying to puppy-buyers about what those scans reveal? Er, nothing. It is incredibly hard for most puppy buyers to ask to see health certificates and way too easy for breeders to field plausible excuses.

I sincerely hope the BVA won't accede to what is a totally unreasonable demand by a handful of Cavalier breeders who continue to play fast and loose with the Cavalier's future. With SM and mitral-valve near-fixed in the breed, the only hope is for an end to the dreadful infighting and for those who campaign for better health through transparency and honesty to stop being seen as the bloody enemy.

This now seems to include the national Club's health rep, Maggie Ford who, unbelievably, wasn't allowed to attend the recent meeting at the KC's Stoneleigh Building to discuss the new scheme and whose future on the Committee is apparently now in doubt. Her crime? She's gone over to the dark side.  The dark side being the side where you recognise that the breed is in big trouble and want more to be done to save it.

The heart-breaking picture at the top of this blog, so full of suffering, is of Poppy, just one of the thousands of cavaliers diagnosed with syringomyelia. Her sad story is told on the syringomyelia awareness site Two Little Cavaliers.

More information re the new "proposal" (as the Cavalier Club and Kennel Club are euphemistically calling this shameful compromise) is available on the Cavalier Club website.

If you have a KC registered cavalier, there are several ways you can really help the research - see the Cavalier Campaign website for details.

[Edited 13/2/11 to clarify re Dog World report and add Cavalier Campaign link]

New campaign targets Crufts - Parody or Peta?

First up, let me say that I have no time for the People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (Peta) and am on the record calling them a bunch of crackpots.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed and this blog is all about animal welfare, not animal rights; about campaigning to ensure that pedigree dogs enjoy a healthier future not, as Peta wants, no future at all.

While PETA in the US is an undeniably powerful force, it hasn't amounted to much here in the UK - last year a group of earnest men and women dressed up in dog costumes and waving the odd poster outside Crufts.

The KC did get upset when Peta UK paid for an advertising site on a bus shelter in Birmingham close to the National Exhibition Centre to display this poster - but lost a bid to have it taken down. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that the ad was not offensive.

Of course many dog breeders would disagree. And so they're really not going to like this attempt to make the point that people should adopt a rescue dog than buy a pedigree pup.

I won't reproduce any images from the spoof website here as I suspect the KC has a strong legal case as regards the adulteration of their logo.

Although it does look like Peta UK might be behind it (they're using the same image that was used on the bus shelter), they claim they are not. So who is? Satirists or animal rights nut-jobs?

Pedigree Dogs Exposed is often accused of fueling the animal rights agenda and of course we were concerned that our message would be hijacked by animals rights extremists. But we never felt - and still don't - that this was a good enough reason to not make the points as strongly as we did in the film.  After all, no one thinks that because the RSPCA has highlighted the misery of battery-farmed hens that it endorses the bombing of the farms where caged birds are raised.

I'm sure I'll get a bit of stick for publicising this new website. But if it is animal rights activists behind it, it's good to know what your enemy is up to. This presents a strong case for rehoming a dog rather than buying one, something many ordinary people will think is perfectly reasonable. Don't be fooled though -many animal rights extremists like Peta want the eradication of the dog as a pet. They think it's enslavement.

Must tell that to the ones that are currently on my sofa, having dragged me out for a two-hour walk in the driving rain on Salisbury Plain this afternoon.