Friday 25 March 2011

More Mastino woes

I am glad to see that Terrierman has picked up the Mastino mantle today with two strong posts on the Neapolitan Mastiff.

In one, he explores the breed's sham history and the extent of their health problems - including cherry eye, skin problems, hip and elbow dysplasia,  the high rate of assisted matings/C-sections in the breed and, of course, the fact that they are often dead by three years old (although perhaps that's a blessed relief). 

The other post challenges their classification as a working breed.

Meanwhile, the Veterinary Times has picked up from my previous Mastino blogs and in this week's issue carries strong quotes from the veterinary profession condemning the exaggerations seen at Crufts.

In a joint statement, the BSAVA and BVA said: "This is clearly an example of a breed that has serious problems and is suffering through exaggerated conformation. In terms of what is happening in the show ring, we hope the introduciton of [veterinary] checks from next year for the most high-profile breeds will ensure dogs like these will not make it into the ring and will no longer be seen as desirable or good examples of the breed.

"However, in terms of tackling the actual health problems within the breed, these pictures should be  stark wake-up call to breed clubs and The Kennel Club that urgent action must be taken. If it doesn't act now, the calls for the breed to be deregistered will become even louder."

The Kennel Club tells Vet Times it "wants to see urgent changes" in the Neapolitan Mastiff. What a shame, then, that since accepting the Neo for registration 10 years ago the KC has singularly failed to halt the exaggerations that blight the breed or, in fact, to introduce a single recommended or required health test.

The Neos are also the front page story in DogWorld where, depressingly, the breed club secretary Denise Bucknall is quoted saying that improving the health of the breed could take up to six generations.

“Both experts and the various reports on this issue recognise that it will take decades before the problems really begin to be resolved" she said.

Blimey. How many more of these poor dogs have to be born?

What is needed is for the KC to be brave enough to demand that Neapolitan Mastiffs look more like this fella - a young UK working-bred Mastino. It is the single best move they could do to help ensure that fewer dogs are born to suffer.

Cello, above, is not KC-registered but he's eligible because both his parents are KC registered Neapolitan Mastiffs and their parents before them.

To the show-heads, Cello is an abomination - despite the fact that he looks much more like the dogs on Roman murals that they claim is the inspiration for the modern breed; and despite the fact that the extreme wrinkling on the show dogs is an entirely recent development. The show breeders will, in fact, swear blind that Cello is a mongrel. 

This clearly needs to change. And here's hoping the UK Neapolitan Mastiff Club is big and bold and brave enough to realise this.  I am sure they are feeling a bit bruised by the onslaught but I would urge them to see that breed history (invented or real) is no excuse for breeding dogs whose lives are unacceptably burdened by what we think is OK. As someone commented on a previous post, we used to have slavery and be-heading too - it doesn't make it right today. Times change and the dogs must come first. And perhaps here's an opportunity for the UK to lead the way - as it has on so many animal welfare issues in the past.

I don't want to see another picture of a Neapolitan Mastiff who looks utterly worn out from the sheer effort of being a Neapolitan Mastiff at only seven years old.

Like this one - from a top UK show kennel. Just look at those feet... ouch.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Silent Witness?

Illustration: Kevin Brockbank

In early 2007, I visited Bristol Vet School to ask for their help.  I was looking for case histories of dogs suffering from inherited disorders that were common in specific breeds, such as breathing problems in short-nosed breeds, something vet schools deal with every day.
It was a friendly meeting during which the problems in pedigree dogs were acknowledged. But at the end of it, Bristol Vet School apologised and said they couldn’t help. The reason?  They didn’t want to damage their prospects of Kennel Club research funding – an important source of money for  a cash-strapped vet school.
We found this again and again while making Pedigree Dogs Exposed – silence bought either by money or because of the profession’s long standing relationship with the Kennel Club. There were a few individual vets who were prepared to speak out publicly about what they saw as a serious animal welfare issue but the veterinary establishment was, largely, unwilling to bite the hand that fed it.
It has not always been the case. In 1963, former BSAVA president Graham Oliver-Jones addressed the profession’s annual congress with these words: “We have recently been to the House of Commons on your behalf and met many members of both Houses. We told them of our tremendous interest in the abnormalities of some of the dogs that we are called upon to treat; and explained that our concern is that dogs are being bred and born into this world to suffer throughout their lives from certain conditions which probably could be prevented.”  
In fact, the BSAVA organised an entire symposium in 1963 on “Abnormalities and Defects in Pedigree Dogs” and six accompanying papers were published, one by dalmatian breeder, Eleanor Frankling, who wrote: “…the tendency among breeders today is to adopt an attitude of “the more the better” over any desired point. If, for instance, small eyes are demanded as they are in the Chow standard, then “the smaller the better’’ and the foundations of entropion are there. The Alsatian stifles are described as “well turned”. I love the Alsatian and owned one when it was a noble upstanding animal. The angulation in hock and stifle is now so extreme that the hocks are practically non-existent and the animal walks almost on its metatarsals. It is short-legged and slinking.”
Yep, more than 45 years before Pedigree Dogs Exposed
Now let’s fast-forward to May 1981, when vet Simon Wolfensohn, in an article entitled “The Things We Do To Dogs” had this to say in the New Scientist: “Man is apt to refer to dog as his best friend, but it’s doubtful whether dog can return the compliment. Our strange ideas about the appearance of our canine companions have afflicted many breeds with physical deformities which at best cause the dogs considerable inconvenience and at worst result in a lifetime of visits to the vet. Some breeds have developed their own hereditary disease because their short-sighted breeders have been more concerned with their appearance than their general state of health.” Wolfensohn then went on to highlight the problems of impoverished gene pools, popular sires and incestuous matings as well as conformational handicaps such as short noses (pekes and pugs) and short legs (basset hounds) - in fact, the exact same criticisms we made 27 years later in Pedigree Dogs Exposed.
Now let’s jump to 1988 and a report by the Council of Science which stated: An increasing number of hereditary problems are being recognised in companion animals, especially dogs. Many of these are the consequences of inbreeding or breeding for genetically defective animals. Some are the result of deliberate selection for abnormal or unnaturally accentuated physical characteristics for fad or fancy…. Collectively, such breeding practices are a distortion of the generally assumed responsibility man has for companion animals. Greater efforts should be made to discourage breeding for physical malformations, particularly those requiring corrective surgery.
Then, 11 years later, the Federation of European Vets, of which the BVA is a member, published a resolution which urged vets  “not only to treat individual animals humanely but to bring to the attention of the breeding organisations and competent authorities in their countries the need for action to alleviate the welfare problems which can be caused by selective breeding.”

And did they?  No, they didn’t. The veterinary profession as a whole kept its head down, a largely passive observer to the systematic destruction of animals that it has sworn an oath to protect. 
There were some changes. Following the criticism in the 1960s, the British Veterinary Association got together with the KC and established both the hip and eye schemes. After Wolfensohn’s high-profile criticism in the 1980s (repeated on television), the Kennel Club reviewed its breed standards.  Same again in the 1990s and again 10 years later – always in response to criticism. The problem was that these initiatives were nothing like enough. In many breeds, health continued to deteriorate. 
I believe the single biggest reason for this is because the Kennel Club has adopted the policy of keeping its friends close and its enemies even closer. 
Thus, various high-ranking veterinary professionals have been courted by the Kennel Club, none more influentially than Mike Stockman, who was president of the BVA in 1978/9. Stockman was a breeder (of Keeshonds), judge and exhibitor and he was a high-ranking KC official, including Chairman of Crufts.  
Stockman joined the Kennel Club in 1967, not long after that first major criticism. In fact, he referred back to that early criticism in an article in 1984: “The dog world, or at least its pedigree component, reacted with a hardly surprising anger and the authors of the paper were soon extremely unpopular,” he remembered. Sounds strangely familiar!
Stockman  and his wife Val, was involved with the Kennel Club until he retired in 2002. Stockman oversaw the 1980s review of breed standards that so spectacularly failed to halt the ride of exaggerations and his influence survives today in the shape of his daughter, Caroline Kisko, who is the Secretary of the Kennel Club.
“It is so important to the canine fraternity to have links of this kind with the veterinary profession,” wrote KC Chairman Ronnie Irving in his obituary of Mike Stockman in 2007.  
This is not to suggest that veterinary links are always a bad thing. Undoubtedly, there are many times – such as the establishment of new clinical screening programmes  - that require liaison.  My fear is that the KC doesn’t do it for just this reason; it does it to ensure influence and deflect criticism.  
Many critics over the years – including vet Emma Milne (author of The Truth About Cats and Dogs), MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (an increasingly powerful voice for change) and outspoken judge Steven Seymour, have revealed how they’ve been invited to the Kennel Club for lunch and a reassuring little chat about how actively the KC is addressing problems.  
Currently, the KC boasts some big-name vets  - including Mike Herrtage (Dean of Cambridge Vet School), Sheila Crispin  (who despite being Chairman of the new, independent Dog Advisory Council, still sits on the KC’s Dog Health Group and is an Honorary Member of the KC) and past-president of the British Veterinary Association, Nick Blayney. My heart sank recently to learn that the current president of the BVA, Harvey Locke, had joined the KC’s Dog Health Group, too. 
I am at a loss to understand why a vet would actually want to be an honorary member of an organisation that has done so much damage to dogs? It's not really a badge to wear with pride, is it?
I am not questioning these vets’ integrity. No doubt they all think they can change things from within - indeed,  both Sheila Crispin and Harvey Locke have said exactly that to me and of course I can see the merit in this. But the fact remains that sitting at a KC table sipping KC coffee out of KC cups has allowed the KC to exert a pernicious influence in the past. After all, what other explanation could there possibly be for all the above-named vets looking me square in the face and saying that things can’t change overnight when it’s been more than half a century since the alarm was first raised? 
There’s also the small matter that that every single KC initiative aimed at addressing health issues has been prompted by outside criticism. Really, every single one of them. 
Notwithstanding some good and brave vets who have spoken out, I believe history will  find the veterinary establishment guilty on this issue.  The profession has betrayed dogs by allowing itself to be seduced by Kennel Club history, cash, platitudes, front-row seats at Crufts and a half-decent lunch at Clarges St. It has also been paralysed by fears that it will offend breeders who are a good source of income, as indeed is the un-stemmed flow of dogs suffering from largely preventable inherited disease and physical handicaps inflicted on them by some breed standards.  Undoubtedly, many vets have also become inured to the problems that walk into their consulting room every day - as sharply observed by Canadian vet Koharik Arman in the Canadian Veterinary Journal in 2007.
 “What is the point of new animal welfare legislation if we continue to turn a blind eye to the worst of these breeding practices?” wrote one, anonymous, vet in the Veterinary Times shortly after Pedigree Dogs Exposed.  “I don’t want to see another decade of boxers that are the oncologist’s nightmare.
“If we believe that ‘first, do no harm’ is the correct moral position for our profession then surely we should feel strongly enough to require those who set the standards for breeders to embrace the same moral imperative. Alternatively, we can all go back to work with a sigh and enjoy the tiny frisson of intellectual superiority that flares briefly with the next encounter with flawed genetic manipulation of pet species.”
If the veterinary profession doesn’t want to have its hands stained permanently with the blood of pedigree dogs, it needs to step up to the mark. And I'm pleased that this year, there have been much stronger statements regarding purebred dog health from the veterinary hierarchy.  BVA president Harvey Locke strongly challenged the Kennel Club recently over Cesaerian Sections (the BVA believes that no more than one should be allowed; the Kennel Club has set the limit at two. Ish)  There are clear hints, too, that Sheila Crispin's Dog Advisory Council will take a strong stance if necessary. And, later this week, the Veterinary Times publishes an article in which both the British Veterinary Association and British Small Animal Veterinary Association call jointly for "urgent action" to address the obvious conformation problems seen in the Neapolitan Mastiffs at Crufts.  (Not available to the general public online but I will blog the substance of it on Friday.)
The veterinary profession needs to keep this up - and also address how vets can help constructively in terms of education of the puppy-buying public and, particularly, in data surveillance (on which more another time).
This article is an updated version of the one that appeared in the January 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.

Sunday 20 March 2011

More on the Mastino

Just to be clear what the fuss is about, here's the official picture of the Neapolitan Mastiff BOB at Crufts 2011,  Belkeiminter Marquinn.  His win was not a one-off aberration.  This dog has also won widely elsewhere, including:

Best of Breed at Leeds Champ Show 2010 under judge Vic Salt
Best Dog at Darlington Champ Show 2010 under judge Ann Sutton
© The Kennel Club
Here for comparison is a working-bred Neapolitan Mastiff, Dante, owned by Roger Williams in the US. Roger breeds performance-orientated family guardians and personal protection dogs.

And below is a photograph of Dante's son, Mog. There is no excess flesh on his body or legs; only moderate wrinkling on his head and his eyes are a revelation compared to the showdogs - there is no exposed haw in which damaging debris can collect. And, surely, this dog looks the part far more than anything you'll see trotting round a show-ring?

Working Neo head (above) versus show extreme (below)

It is the working dog that needs to provide the template for so many breeds - dogs bred by those who are breeding for function, not to a written template that is open to too much interpretation by people who have either lost sight of what a dog should be about or never knew it.

I am pleased to report that there has been  considerable consternation by some within the show world at the state of the Neapolitan Mastiffs at Crufts. "I was shocked to see some of the BOB winners which looked to me to be almost deformed yet they were in the big ring at Crufts as top specifiments of their breeds!" writes top judge Sigurd Wilberg in this week's Dog World. "Surely with such a large audience watching at the NEC plus the extensive television coverage with millions viewing, these dogs' presence and wide exposure cannot have done the pedigree dog world any favours."

Boerboel enthusiast Norman Epstein, meanwhile, warns those in his own breed to guard against the insidious, creeping exaggerations that within just  few years can transform a fit and functional dog into a caricature of its former self.

"If there was even a minimum test for function and movement does anyone think those cripples would have been able to exhibit those exaggerations and still be able function in any capacity?" he writes on his blog. 

"The next thing that might have crossed our collective minds is how anyone could think that those dogs are beautiful and are exceptional representatives of their breed.

"Exaggerations occur slowly. In the case of the Neapolitan Mastiff the dogs that started to win and or score higher had more bone, more wrinkles were larger than the ones that were not winning. Therefore the breeders surmised if the judges wanted wrinkles and loose skin etc. then they would really like a lot more wrinkles loose skin.

"A little closer to home we have most of the English Mastiffs today, and because of the same shapers of show phenotypes are now weighing in around 200 pounds and have the bone of a mule. Must be a real man stopper and they might be if they could get up from their ongoing nap and dysplasia. Can it happen to the Boerboel? You do the math."

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Fiona @ Crufts - spot the difference

For Fiona fans, detractors and the just plain curious, here's some video of Fiona at Crufts 2011 with Julie Evans (Tyrodal Dalmatians). It includes some close-up shots of her spots - showing that they are very well-defined, with no 'frosting'.

RSPCA slams Crufts coverage for "misleading the public"

Strong words from RSPCA Chief Exec Mark Watts this morning in an Open Letter to the Kennel Club. Here in full:

Open letter to Kennel Club chief executive Rosemary Smart.

I am writing to express the RSPCA’s grave concern about the coverage of Crufts on More 4 during which interviewees and presenters repeatedly gave the message that pedigree dogs, including those shown at Crufts, are happy and healthy.

This is misleading to the public and extremely disappointing as we had hoped the coverage would be open and honest about the serious health and welfare issues that continue to affect many pedigree dogs, without glossing over the issues. After all, this is one of the biggest challenges facing dog welfare in the UK today.

Many pedigree dogs remain vulnerable to unnecessary disease, disability, pain or behavioural problems because they’re bred primarily for how they look rather than with health, welfare or temperament in mind.

Indeed, footage of some of the dogs at Crufts this year demonstrated the exaggerated features that we are so concerned about.  As just one example, during the judging of the Working Group the commentators said that a dog was free from exaggerations.  The dog in question clearly had extremely folded skin and drooping eyelids, which can lead to suffering.

Three reports on the welfare problems associated with dog breeding have been published in the UK in the last two years, and the conclusions of each are very clear – urgent action is needed to safeguard the welfare of pedigree dogs.

Although some progress has been made by the dog world, it has not been nearly enough and the problems are far from being solved. Both experts and the various reports on this issue recognise that it will take decades before the problems really begin to be resolved – and only then if sufficient effort is made by everyone in the dog world.

It is extremely misleading to suggest not only that the problems have been solved after only two years, but that pedigree dogs are happy and healthy.

Yours sincerely

Mark Watts
Chief Executive
Wilberforce Way
West Sussex
RH13 9RS

Have asked the KC for a response - will publish when I get it.

[Added 27 March]

The KC response:

'The Kennel Club is extremely disappointed at the stance and tone adopted by the RSPCA before, during and after Crufts show.  Had the society actually attended dfs Crufts or consulted the Kennel Club, they might have been more aware of the initiatives and investment being made by breeders and the Kennel Club so as to ensure the future health of dogs. They would also have seen with their own eyes the thousands of healthy dogs enjoying a day out with their owners. It is events such as dfs Crufts that give us all an opportunity to move breeds forward by rewarding healthy dogs in the show ring.  It is also a chance to educate people about how to buy a healthy puppy from a responsible breeder. We are heartened by the general positivity surrounding this year's event and the fact that so many charities, veterinary organisations and geneticists were on hand to help the Kennel Club to get their messages across. Of course we are well aware that there are issues which remain to be addressed in the world of pedigree dogs – responsible breeders and the Kennel Club have these well in hand and it is of course accepted that they will take time to be resolved.

Kennel Club Chairman Ronnie Irving said "I have asked for an urgent meeting with the Chairman of the RSPCA to update her and the RSPCA Chief Executive on all of the current KC and breeder initiatives.  I wish also to give them the opportunity to offer their suggestions as to what positive moves they think that we and dog breeders should be taking that we are not currently taking. As a breeder of Border Terriers I very much deplore the sweeping nature of the RSPCA's statements over the week of Crufts, and I will look forward to discussing those in detail with the RSPCA Chairman."'

Quite what Ronnie being a breeder of Border Terriers has to do with it, I'm not sure. Most everyone would agree that, Spike's Disease and the odd auto-immune issue aside,  the Border Terrier is a characterful, sound, long-lived little dog.  I saw lots of happy, healthy-looking ones at Crufts.

I have to say that I'm not sure that the RSPCA got this letter quite right. But the two points they made - that the Crufts commentary very often sounded like KC spin and that it is inappropriate to make exaggerated claims regarding health when some breeds are clearly very far from sound - are valid. 

I look forward to hearing the outcome of the meeting between the KC and the RSPCA.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Fiona at Crufts - a win for the breed

The judge overlooked fabulous Fiona at Crufts today. She wasn't even placed.

For those that don't know, Fiona is the UK's first LUA Dalmatian - the descendant of an inspired outcross (a Dalmatian to a Pointer) done more than 30 years ago in the US to produce a Dalmatian that has a normal copy of a gene that codes for uric acid. All 'normal' Dalmatians have high uric acid levels that predispose the dogs to what can be a very serious (and occasionally life-threatening) health problem.

The subsequent breeding programme means that there is now a line of Dalmatians that doesn't suffer from this condition.  It has been hugely controversial (at least to the breed purists) and the low-uric-acid Dals are still not registered by the American Kennel Club.  The Kennel Club here, under considerable pressure following Pedigree Dogs Exposed and the Bateson Report, did the right thing and accepted her earlier this year  - despite breed club opposition.

So it doesn't matter that Fiona didn't win.  This was her day. That she was at Crufts at all is a real triumph for the breed - even if not everyone recognises it.  One fellow exhibitor approached breeder Julie Evans at Crufts and said: "You've done the wrong thing, you know," she said. "Pointers have terrible hip dysplasia."

No matter that the outcross was in the 1970s, that there was only ever the one mating to another breed and that there has been no evidence of hip dysplasia in the intervening 14 generations.

Basset hounds... an eye on the future

It was interesting to hear Jessica Holm on the Crufts TV coverage maintain that the ears on a Basset and Bloodhound are so long in order to channel scent into their nose.  This is, I believe, a breed myth that would not stand up to scrutiny. I have spoken to scent experts who say it makes no sense and, of course, there are a great many excellent scent-hound breeds that do not have them.  Certainly Bassets do not need ear leathers so long that they trip on them (as I have seen in the show-ring).

So what of the Bassets at this year's Crufts? The picture above - of a dog that won his class at Crufts on Friday - shows that there is a lot of improvement still needed in terms of eye anatomy (and the same goes for the Bloodhounds' eyes (every Bloodhound I saw had red haws showing).  But overall, I believe the Bassets are beginning to ease away from the excesses we documented in Pedigree Dogs Exposed.

I was particularly pleased to see this 22 month old Basset bitch (above). She had such good eyes that I stopped to talk to her owner who told me that she had been bred specifically to meet the new breed standard (which discourages excess). Good news.

There is, however, a way to go yet. Here's the dog that won Best of Breed:

He looks fit and in glossy good-health but he is much lower-slung than Basssets that actually do the job for which they were bred, and there really is no benefit to the dog to have this wrinkling/excess flesh on their legs.  Here, by the way, are two top showdogs considered to epitomise good breed type in 1964 - before the modern show-ring moulded them into something chunkier and wrinklier.

Picture: Mary Evans Picture Library/Thomas Fall
From The Basset Hound, by E. Fitch Daglish, a Foyles handbook, first published in 1964

And, of course, you can still see dogs like them  - just not in the show-ring. Here are the wonderful Albany Bassets - sadly considered mongrels by most show-breeders (who talk darkly of a cross to  harrier...)

Edited 15/3/11 to replace the picture of the 1960s-vintage Basset. The pic I first used (now below) was not a Basset - but a Basset Artesien-Norman - in fact a dog behind many of today's Bassets, brought in post-war to increase the Basset gene pool.

Picture: Mary Evans Picture Library/Thomas Fall
From The Basset Hound, by E. Fitch Daglish, a Foyles handbook, first published in 1964
Interesting to note, btw, from a Google image search, how very little this breed has changed over the years in comparison to the Basset.

Friday 11 March 2011

A parade of mutants

These pictures were taken today at Crufts.

This should be the moment the Kennel Club realises that if it wants to be seen to have any shred of integrity, self-respect - or humanity - that it has to ban the Neapolitan Mastiff.

This is cruelty.

No ifs. No buts. Ban them. Now.

(Add 13/3/11)

By ban I mean 'de-register' them. Giving this breed KC registration simply legitimises the suffering. The KC argument is that if you bring a problem breed under its auspices it can influence it but it's been plying this argument too long with this breed and it just doesn't wash. If people want to breed freaks, do it outside of the KC system - then, at least, the KC can be among the voices expressing disapproval which might just dissuade the public from buying them.

Belkeiminter Marquinn - Best of Breed
Makaevo Adalino  - Best bitch

Inisbua Valentino Rossi - unplaced Open Dog (but remember that all dogs have to qualify for Crufts)
Makaevo Adalnina  - Best bitch

Icaro de Cetobriga - 1st Post Graduate Dog & reserve best dog

Rayvonley Minos At Makaevo - 3rd Post Graduate Dog

Nisbua Diomedes - 2nd Open Dog

Crufts 2011 Day One - keeping it in the family

Bournehouse Golden Days                        © The Kennel Club

Here's the orange belton English Setter that went Best of Breed yesterday.

She is clearly highly-rated - but she is also eye-wateringly inbred with a co-efficient of inbreeding of 34.9 per cent (8 gens) against a breed mean of 12.7 per cent.

Just to put that in perspective, a mother/son or full brother/sister mating would produce a dog with a COI of 25 per cent. So this girl really is keeping it in the family.

In fact, this dog's parents were half-siblings (which in itself would have produced a dog with a COI of 12.5 per cent). But there is a lot of background inbreeding which has pushed her COI up even further. One of her ancestors, Sh Ch Latest Dance at Bournehouse, is her great-great-great grandfather 10 times over.  There is a huge cost to this in terms of the breed's genetic diversity - and that's on top of the fact that  show-ring has, in the main, reduced this breed to a sweet but dimwitted simulcrum of its former, proudly-working self.

Crufts 2011 Day One - good news story 2

Some of the Irish Setters had too much coat (but nothing like as bad as their US show counterparts).  Cockers (both) had  w-a-y too much coat. There were some over-chunky labs (just my opinion of course), and a couple of Clumber spaniels with droopy eyes. But Gundog Day at Crufts yesterday was a pretty good day for the dogs. There was the distinct impression that the judges were putting up more moderate dogs.

Have a look at the winning Clumber this year compared to last...
CHERVOOD'S SNOW BIBI OF KOLA - Best of Breed 2011 © The Kennel Club
SH CH VANITONIA U BET I AM - Best of Breed 2010 © The Kennel Club

Even allowing for the fact this year's winner is a bitch, she is a much more athletic-looking dog. I much prefer her more natural-looking coat, too - and how much better these dogs look without a docked tail.

I also got a chance to see Mate Select in action on the Health Stand - demonstrated by lovely Tom Lewis from the AHT who has played an integral part in its development and is clearly proud of the initiative's potential.  I "virtually mated" my flatcoat Fearless Freddie (who, in fact, died in 2001) with a flatcoat bitch plucked at random from yesterday's catalogue and at the click of a mouse discovered:

• that Freddie's co-efficient of inbreeding (COI) was just 1.9 per cent (very low - which I like to think may be one of the reasons he lived until the great old age of 15).
• the breed average for flatcoats is 7.2 per cent (making them, on average, more closely-related to each other than first cousins), reflecting their small gene pool.
• a mating with Caisbladd Kalmi would produce pups with a COI of 1.9 per cent (probably reflecting the fact that Freddie came from working/pet lines).
• the health test results for each dog going back three generations

In truth, Mate Select is limited at the moment. But I do feel that it is a start and its potential is obvious given the scope for including much more than just COI data. Good news too that it will be free.

Mate Select in action. Sorry a bit blurry... hard to take pix of a computer screen using an iPhone!
Also on the flatcoat front, of course, is that Sh Ch Vbos The Kentuckian won the Gundog Group - a waggy, beautiful-looking dog that will be 10 in August. This is good news in a breed where so many are taken too young by cancer. "Jet" is already a well-used stud dog, so here's hoping his longer-surviving genes will be passed down to his offspring. I cannot, however, find any references to Jet being a working dog (happy to be corrected if anyone knows otherwise) and if he isn't, that is a shame in a breed where there are, still, quite a few dual-purpose dogs.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Crufts 2011 Day One - good news story 1

I have been impressed by the Hungarian Vizsla Club before. They were outspoken about last year's Crufts' winner Yogi's over-use as a popular sire and they have fully-embraced pet owner Di Addicott's campain to get polymyositis in the breed researched and recognised.

Top, Radio as he was and,bottom, ravaged by polymyositis
The pictures on the left show what the condition did to a gorgeous Vizsla boy called Radio who died in Feburary 2008. Sadly, there have been dozens more (with many more suspected unreported). 

Polymyositis is a quite horrific neuromuscular problem which. among other things, robs the dogs of the ability to chew and swallow food. Dedicated owners can spend hours feeding their dogs and doing everything to stop the dogs inadvertently sucking food into their lungs where it can rapidly lead to life-threatening infection.

Of course the condition itself is a bad news story. But the reason for the title of this blogpost is the way in which  the Hungarian Viszla Club has stepped up to the mark on polymositis.

The HVC is supporting a fully-open registry of dogs affected with the condition and pedigrees of 41 dogs have already been submitted.

This morning I caught up with Dog World breed notes writer Karen Bicknell and Betty Smith, Chairman of the HVC,  both very proactively pro-health. It is clear they are still struggling with some breeders who would prefer to keep polymyositis under wraps, but there are many on board, too.

Karen urged me to talk to breeder Lynn Eales, who recently withdrew her top dog,  Kizvarda Karoly ("Digby"), from puppy-siring duties after discovering that one of his 128 puppies had been diagnosed with polymyositis.

I played devil's advocate and asked Lynn:  "But why would you do that when it is only one puppy in so many?"

"I was heartbroken," explains Lynn. "Digby is a wonderful dog. He works on shoots and has been shown to championship level. He has a lovely temperament. So it is a huge loss. We had big plans for the future but that's it now for us. I could not knowingly breed this disease and don't understand anyone who could. The suffering is unbelievable."

Lynn welled-up as she described one 10-month-dog with polymyositis who has learned to stand with his paws on a table for half an hour after he's been fed to help prevent food from entering his lungs.

Sadly another of Digby's puppies has also recently been diagnosed.

Lynn has since contacted the owner of every bitch that has had puppies by Digby and asked them, in turn, to contact every single person who bought one of his puppies to make them aware of the possible problem.

Here is Lynn with one of Digby's sons, 13-month Rio, who came seond in his class at Crufts this morning.

With breeders like this, they'll soon have polymyositis licked, too.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Shiba Inu - scratching the surface

Breed clubs are their own worst enemies sometimes, and I have just had a depressing exchange with the Shiba Inu Club of Great Britian in response to an enquiry about atopic dermatitis, or atopy, in the breed.

I was recently contacted by pet owner Delia Mills whose Shiba Inu puppy, Bracken, started to itch a few days after bringing her home. Delia called the breeder who suggested she give the pup Piriton. It worked temporarily. But the itch was soon back - and with a vengeance. Over the coming weeks and months, Bracken tore herself to bits -  very distressing for both dog and her owner.

Bracken (above) was eventually diagnosed with Canine Atopic Dermatitis - a condition which is, in fact, pretty common in dogs. The etiology is not fully-known, but it is thought that some dogs - and some breeds - do have a genetic predisposition to the condition, with environmental factors providing the necessary additional trigger.   "Westie Itch" in West Highland White Terriers (left) is a very well known example.

Atopy is incurable but unless incredibly severe can usually be managed - commonly with steroids - to give a dog a reasonable quality of life.  Bracken's condition is, thankfully, mostly now under control.

However, worried that there could be an inherited component to the condition and that it may be under-reported in Shibas in the UK, Delia contacted me to ask for help in trying to find other Shibas who may be suffering..

The scientific literature contains several references to Shibas suffering from atopic dermatitis and there are known cases in the US and Japan.  However, Bracken's breeder, Karen Jones,  has reassured Delia that she has never bred another Shiba that has suffered from CAD and the health rep for the UK Breed Club told Delia she has never heard of a UK dog with the condition.

Just to double-check, I emailed breeder Karen Jones who put me on to the breed health rep, Belinda Roskell.

Here is her reply - posted here in full.

Dear Jemima
answer  to your questions

Q1) is Bracken the first dog you have heard of in the UK that has been
affected with this condition?

A1) there is no evidence bracken has this  condition Mrs Mills refused to
have the test offered by Mr Hutt !

Q2) are allergies/immune disorders a recognised problem in the breed in the
UK? (I note one case of dermatitis in the BVA/KC health survey and another
of vaccine reaction but of course this is just two dogs and may not be at
all significant.)

A)one dog recorded with dermatitis and one to a reaction to a booster,
against the thousands that have been registered?

Q3) is there anything else you would like to say?
A3) Yes the shiba club take all health problem very seriously, we have now
had a committee meeting regarding this  matter. And we have contacted
various vets with multiple shiba clients on their books, and they have all
come back saying that the shiba skin is healthy and not a problem.

And until Delia has the test offered to poor bracken, there is little we can

We also have written conformation that to date these tests have not been
carried out on bracken.


Belinda Roskell


I contacted Bracken's consultant dermatologist, John Hutt, to ask if Bracken had, indeed, really been diagnosed with the condition. His reply:

"Canine Atopic Dermatitis is a clinical diagnosis made by exclusion. There is no “test” for the disease and I have never offered Mrs Mills a “test” for atopic dermatitis because there isn’t one. Bracken’s diagnosis has been robustly established according to internationally recognised principles."

And just so there really is no doubt about Bracken's dagnosis, John Hutt has confirmed the diagnosis in writing (right).

So, a plea to Belinda Roskell: I can understand you feeling a bit defensive about my contacting you but this is not the right way to respond and it is certainly not the right way to treat pet owners like Delia Mills who are too often dismissed by breeders as being over-emotional irritants - or, as cavalier campaigner Carol Fowler was famously dubbed by breeders trying to downplay SM in the breed: a raving loony with Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy.

Delia and other pet owners deserve sympathy and support and a much more grown-up response that this. It might well be that Bracken is the first Shiba in the UK to suffer from this condition. But let's at least make an effort to find out - and by means other than phoning round a few general practice vets.  After all, it might just afford the opportunity to either prevent, or help treat, other suffering Shibas.

Ironically, the Shiba Club's health page, has this message on it:


If you have,  or know of, a Shiba either diagnosed or suspected to have canine atopic dermatitis, Delia would love to hear from you. Please contact Delia direct: shibachow[AT]

Please also fill in a health survey form, available from the Shiba Club HERE.