Thursday 29 November 2012

Inbreeding is quite safe

Click to enlarge/read

A fabulous bit of archive from 50 years ago in this week's Dog World... dismissing concerns about inbreeding in response to what the author calls "the sheer volume of uninformed criticism which has lately appeared in the lay Press and been given public utterance by those who should know better than to indulge in such scientifically unsound generalities".

Those who should know better were, in fact, senior vets - not, of course, that they are necessarily experts in genetics. But then neither was Dr E Fitch Daglish.

Daglish's article was in response to the first high-profile challenge in the early 1960s to the way dogs are bred under kennel club rules. This included an article published in The Field on 8th Feburary 1962 and, again, in December 1962, in the Canadian Journal of Comparative Medicine and Veterinary Science. (When A Vet Should Speak Out, Can J Comp Med Vet Sci, 26 (12), 1962). Despite the title, the author chose to remain anonymous - an indicator, perhaps, of the pressure vets felt even then about not alienating their best customers.

The anonymous vet wrote: "Breeding from defective animals not only destroys bloodlines, but discredits a breed both at home and overseas. Unfortunately, this warning sometimes falls on deaf ears. It is a great temptation to the owners of a champion to disregard or deny any defects that are repeated in its offspring. Their natural inclination is to keep quiet about the matter. There is no suggestion that dog breeders and exhibitors are deliberately dishonest. Their worst faults are ignorance and a disinclination to face up to unpleasant facts."

The author went on to refer to an article published in 1961 in the Journal of Small Animal Practice (JSAP) in which Dr S Hodgman stated that the Executive Committee of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association had become 'very concerned' at the serious increase in the number of pedigree dogs suffering from defects and abnormalities.

"Dr Hodgman's central point was that there is strong evidence that many of these conditions are hereditary. The present situation may have arisen because of the ignorance of many dog breeders of elementary genetics. Irrespective of the causes, the alarming fact remains that the percentage of unsound stock is on the increase."

Dr S F Hodgman was a founding member of the BSAVA and a senior research vet at what is now the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket.  Hodgman wrote several articles on the issues at this time, including:

Hodgman S, ‘The duties of veterinary surgeons in attendance at championship dog shows’, Brit Vet J, 117(5), 1961*

Hodgman S, ‘Abnormalities in pedigree dogs: Their surgical correction, related to Kennel Club Rules and Regulations’, J Small Anim Pract, 2 (1-4), 1961*

Hodgman S, ‘Abnormalities of possible hereditary origin in dogs’, Vet Rec, 74(46), 1962*

This third paper, presented to the BVA Congress in September 1962 and picked up by the newspapers of the time, is the chief reason for claims of an "attack" in the above article by Daglish. But in fact, it is clear from the history books that Hodgman worked quite closely with the Kennel Club. His articles are measured and, although critical of some breeders, he was not unsupportive of the KC - maintaining that it was not their job to tell breeders how to breed their dogs.  In fact, the Kennel Club collaborated with a survey - largely prompted by Hodgman -  into inherited problems. 

The following year, in 1963, came this article:

Hodgman S, ‘Abnormalities and defects in pedigree dogs: I, An investigation into the existence of abnormalities in pedigree dogs in the British Isles’, J Small Anim Pract, 4(6) 1963 *

In this, Dr Hodgman wrote“The preliminary results of an investigation into the existence of certain deleterious conditions that are hereditary are presented. Thirteen conditions found to be of major concern and of these five were considered to be of importance and needing immediate consideration are hip dysplasia, patella luxation, entropion, retinal atrophy, and prolonged soft palate. The second priority group consists of abnormal temperament, skin fold dermatitis, uterine inertia, elbow dysplasia, ectropion, trichiasis, and deafness”. 

That same year, during his opening address to the 6th BSAVA Congress, president Dr Oliver Graham-Jones announced: "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." 

The issues were also discussed during a symposium at that year's Congress entitled Abnormalities and defects in pedigree dogs and six accompanying papers were published in JSAP - the last one by Hodgman referenced above, plus:

Hein H, ‘Abnormalities and Defects in Pedigree Dogs-II. Hereditary Aspects of Hip Dysplasia’*

Knight G, ‘Abnormalities and Defects in Pedigree Dogs–III. Tibio-Femoral Joint Deformity & Patella Luxation’*

Barnett K, ‘Abnormalities and Defects in Pedigree Dogs–IV. Progressive Retinal Atrophy’*

Willis M, ‘Abnormalities and Defects in Pedigree Dogs—V. Cryptorchidism’*

Frankling E, ‘Abnormalities and Defects in Pedigree Dogs—VI. The Breeders' Point of View'*

In fact, some action did follow. The fuss was directly responsible for the founding of the BVA/KC Hip Scheme (largely thanks to strong lobbying by geneticist Malcolm Willis) and the concern about crypotchordism prompted the Kennel Club to bring in the rule that all dogs must have "two fully descended testicles" - hence why all show judges today fondle them in the ring. 

But the inbreeding message got lost - until, pretty much, Pedigree Dogs Exposed in 2008 - and inbetween there has been almost 50 years of breeding that has led to a loss of genetic diversity that may well prove cataclysmic in some breeds, as is now more generally acknowledged.

Daglish (a naturalist, engraver, dog show judge and author of several books on dogs) writes above: "It has for long been commonplace to ascribe such undesirable traits as loss of size, lack of resistance to disease, infertility or the incident of physical deformities or abnormalities, to say nothing of mental aberrations, the practice of inbreeding; wholly disregarding the fact that if such defects come to light as a result of inbreeding it is the fault, not of inbreeding as such, but of faulty selection of the partners to a mating."

Of course some breeders still maintain this (and there were some very strong editorials in the dog press defending  inbreeding following Pedigree Dogs Exposed). But we now know that they are wrong. Well, mostly.

We now know that inbreeding in and of itself does indeed lead to the very problems Daglish denies above, irrespective of specific, disease-causing deleterious recessives. This is because it leads to not just the fixing of traits that are good and desirable, but homozygosity in other areas of the genome, reducing  fertility, fecundity and our dogs' ability to respond to life's onslaughts. This is why every conservation programme of wild species (and indeed domesticated rare breeds) centres on trying to maintain as much genetic diversity as possible. 

Sameness is the spice of life? Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?

Good selection - particularly that which mimics natural selection in ensuring that only the fittest get to breed - can mitigate these effects for a while. This is why we do see some fit wild populations that are very inbred. It may even prove possible for one or two dog breeds of the many to come out the other side of a lot of inbreeding, having purged all deleterious recessives. But the odds are stacked against it, hence the increasing focus on the importance of maintaining genetic diversity in dog-breeding.

*I'm afraid none of the above-cited articles are freely available online, hence no links - but if you would like to see them, please email me privately.

Many thanks to bulldog historian Stuart Thomson for some of the history above (see here).

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Goodbye Maisie

Maisie arrived in my life on the 16th February 2006 - a four year old working Flatcoat who was looking for a new home because of a temperament clash with two other dogs she lived with.

She came home with me that day and became part of our family... a wonderful, firm-but-fair foster mum to the dozens of rescues that have passed through our doors in the past six years. She was always an independent soul, though, and she was also the calmest, steadiest Flatcoat I have ever known. Economical. An observer who never missed a trick.

With fellow rescue, retriever x Luka, still with us

Maisie is also the dog that opened my eyes to the miracle of selective breeding when it is done right.

Monarch(ess) of the sand-dunes... on Anglesey

It was Maisie who took me out picking-up for the first time, who had me in awe at her skill and determination in finding shot birds and bringing them to me, across a raging torrent of a river once, despite not being the strongest of swimmers, not letting go of the bird once retrieved, despite disappearing underwater as she jumped in. On one other memorable occasion, she saw a pheasant fall in a sheep field and - never one to much listen to her amateur handler - set off to retrieve it, only to hit an electric fence that had been left on by mistake. I yelled to try to stop her but, a dog on a mission bred into her, she continued, picked up the bird and returned through the fence. There was a muffled cry as she hit it, but she didn't drop the bird and came and sat in front of me, her eyes proud and shining.

I've told this story before and my detractors leapt on it as evidence of what a cruel and horrid person I am. But, really, Maisie's unwavering grit is a tribute not just to the dog but to the generations of breeders that made her.

Out picking-up... total focus

So since 16th February 2006, brave Maisie with the big heart has been my shadow. And today was the first day in almost seven years that I went on a walk without her. Through force of habit I kept looking back to check on her,  expecting to see her, as she always is, walking a few steps behind me.

But she wasn't there... not kicking the autumn leaves with her feet; not paddling in the chalky puddles on Salisbury Plain; not sneaking off after a rabbit when I wasn't looking. 

An eclectic fashion taste... "oh, I just threw it on.."

And now I'm home, she isn't on the rug under the kitchen table where she always is; not hovering by the kitchen worktops, waitng for my back to turn so she can whisk an unguarded piece of toast into her mouth. 

Nope. The fastest paw in the west is in a freezer at my vets in Marlborough.

A couple of months ago, Maisie started retching - just occasionally, like a touch of kennel cough; only it wasn't. And then about two weeks ago she started to find it difficult to eat the kibble part of her meals, preferring softer food. I took her to the vets. I thought there might be a problem with her mouth. But there was nothing obvious and when she wolfed with some relish the large biscuit the vet gave her, I tried to convince myself that I was imagining things. I turned down the offer of an x-ray and a sedation to examine her in more detail. I knew in my heart, though, that she wasn't right. But I also knew that at 11 years old I was not going to put her through too much to find out what it was. Not my Maisie, who hasn't had a day's illness her whole life.

And she's been OK... quiet, but still eating and still coming out on walks. She came out with me yesterday for 1.5hrs and jumped in and out of the car just fine. 

Last night, though, she didn't want her supper and, during the night, I was woken by the sound of her retching. She'd thrown up bile. I lay with her a while on the wonderful Orvis dog bed in the hall. She enjoyed the stroking but then got up and took herself off to the rug under the kitchen table. Her place. 

This morning, we returned to the vets. They examined her and looked glum. Well, she's a flatcoat, you see... And, hey, as we all know cancer in Flatcoats is as much a legacy of all that selective breeding as the ability to find and retrieve a bird. 

They took some blood and while we waited for the analysis, Maisie jumped up on to the sofa in the waiting room and curled up with her head on my lap. The results were pretty dreadful - kidneys clearly in trouble and calcium levels through the roof. They said they could give her steroids to perk her up for a while. But I refused, and as she was so comfortable on the sofa, with her head on my lap, I asked if they could put her to sleep there. And so they locked the front door and lovely vet Edward  - always so gentle - inserted a canula into her leg and I hugged her, telling her how much I loved her, as the life ebbed from her. My Maisie, also known as Maisie Moo, Moody and Moo. Gone.

Afterwards, we x-rayed her and found a 5cm tumour between her lungs. It was pressing on her trachea and oesophagus, which explained the retching and the problems eating.  It is almost certainly lymphoma. I asked them to open her up and take some samples, which will be sent off to Cambridge Vet School for their research into Flatcoat cancer.

X-ray clearly showing the mass (centre) - a 5cm mediastinal tumour

I will also register her death on the new Death Register for Flatcoats set up earlier this year by Cambridge.

Maisie - "Lyneholme Iris" - was 11 years old. Not a bad age, I hear you say. And that's true. And she had a healthy life full of love, good food, good walks, good fun.

This Christmas, no Maisie in a silly elf hat

But there are too many flatcoats that die from cancer; many of them much younger than Maisie. I'm too sad tonight to rage much about it, but breeders and breed clubs need to be doing so much more than they are doing.

It's wonderful that Cambridge has set up the Death Register, but insane that it has to be anonymous and infuriating that the Flatcoated Retriever Society here in the UK doesn't proclaim its existence on its home page (instead choosing to bury it three levels down). It needs to be properly publicised and more of an effort needs to be made to inform vets and pet owners that it exists.

It's also insane that so many flatcoat breeders play down the dreadful rate of cancer in the breed (over 50 per cent dead by on average 8/9) by claiming that other breeds would be found to be just as bad if only their breeders were as honest.

And it's even more insane that they think it is enough to give a few quid to the researchers in the hope that one day a genetic test will be forthcoming, while continuing to breed dogs, over half of which are programmed to die before their 8th/9th birthday - and some of them far younger. Last week it was a seven-year-old. Today, I heard about a two-year-old Flatcoat dead from stomach cancer. 

What else should they be doing?

Well an open database for starters, with worldwide buy-in, so we can start to see the patterns in the pedigrees and openly select for longer-living lines - should they exist. We need full disclosure; ideally records kept of every Flatcoat born and died.

I believe we should also be thinking about MHC testing - a different kind of DNA testing, now available, that helps breeders select for stronger immune systems. After all, cancer is an immune-mediated condition.

And we also need to be thinking about some careful outcrossing. It may not prove to be the solution, but it is worth a try. 

After all, what do you do with a poisoned river? You dilute it.

I'm afraid I don't do the Rainbow Bridge stuff - although I know it brings comfort to some. The only place Maisie is now is in my heart. And that heart beats with the hope that one day I can have a flatcoat in my life and not have to live with the fear that they will be taken too soon.

The pictures of Maisie in the beautiful graveyard here in Wootton Rivers, where I live in Wiltshire, were done for Pedigree Dogs Exposed over four years ago. We never used them in the film, but the picture of Maisie lying in the snowdrops above was used in the BBC brochure promoting the international version of PDE. Photoshopped on to the gravestone was: RIP The Pedigree Dog?

Sunday 25 November 2012

Bulldog pup struggles to breathe

Over 500 people have "liked" this video, thinking it's cute. But what I see is a tired and miserable bulldog pup, desperate to sleep, who has to keep propping himself upright in order to stop his airways blocking. A hat-tip to Heather Houlahan for sending this one to me.

This is way more common than most people realise - just search on YouTube for "[brachycephalic breed of your choice] falls asleep standing up".  It's not always because of blocked airways - you'll also find videos of other breeds falling asleep - but you should be able to spot the difference.

Here's the one we featured in the sequel to Pedigree dogs Exposed.  Warning: it's accompanied by comedy sound fx.

Monday 19 November 2012

"I hate dog breeders"

Nope, not my view -  the view being propagated by a Facebook site of that name that makes Pedigree Dogs Exposed look like a pussycat.

I've had a couple of emails/comments about the site - mostly from those pointing out how much those on it love me and cite Pedigree Dogs Exposed as justification for their hatred of breeders. (Ergo, of course, I am in some way responsible for the rabid views being expressed there.)

So I went and had a look there this morning and after trawling through post after post of truly poisonous stuff condemning all dog breeders, felt moved to leave what I thought was a fair and considered post.

I pointed out that although there were loads of bad dog breeders, and dogs suffering as a result of them, surely the site should be called "I hate bad dog breeders". After all, if they succeeded in stopping all dog breeding where on earth would the dogs they claim to love actually come from? I also pointed out that there was much to celebrate about good dog-breeding - e.g. the incredibly utility of collies, livestock guardians, police dogs et al - and that there are people out there doing a good job who should be encouraged.

The site had also posted a picture of a rescue dog that was now New York's top police dog, trying to argue that this trounced the argument that selective breeding was needed to produce the best working dogs. The dog? A German Shepherd...


Someone had also proudly posted a picture of their rescue dog and how amazing he was. The dog? A Rottweiller...

Double doh...

Finally, I ended the post pointing out that, surely, there was enough hate in this world and that the stuff they were posting was unfair and unproductive.

And guess what?

They removed my post!

Now I really do defend anyone's right to say what they think on the internet - after all, it's what I ask for myself. But groups/pages that feel so threatened by alternative views, however reasonably-expressed, that they censor them are not campaigns, they are propaganda.  That's why I allow most posts slagging me off to be posted here.  I really do want people to make up their own mind.

Anyway, a little miffed, I messaged the page with the following:

"You deleted my post? Then please also delete any references to my film on your site. There is something profoundly wrong with groups that do not allow any alternative view to be expressed - especially when it was done gently. Jemima Harrison, Producer/Director Pedigree Dogs Exposed."

And they sent me this back:

So now I am in the unexpected position of being loathed by both (some) dog breeders - and those that hate dog breeders.

I suggest you copy and paste the link to this post there in the hope that in the few seconds it will be allowed to stand that at least one or two people might get a chance to read how they are being sucked into group-think on a page that is blatantly censoring posts in order to peddle its views.

Before my post was deleted, it got two "likes". Of course that couldn't possibly be allowed to stand, could it?

Idiots. And dangerous idiots at that.

24/11/12:  Well despite being invited to re-post on the site I have been blocked from doing so...  And am amused to see a couple of posts hauling me out for my referring to Pedigree Dogs Exposed as my film.  

"I wonder what the film-maker would think about THAT?" asked one poster.

But then putting two and two together and getting four is clearly not their forté.

Sunday 18 November 2012

SOS Dog - Kindle edition now available

Earlier this year, Johan and Edith Gallant's careful - but critical -  examination of purebred dogs was pulled by its publisher Alpine.  The book has always sat uneasily in Alpine's catalogue of dog books celebrating individual breeds.

"In fact, a few months after Alpine published the book in 2008, they asked my parents if they would agree to withdraw the book," remembers the Gallants' daughter, Anne. "They explained that they had dog breeders threatening to no long publish with Alpine."

The Gallants refused and the book remained, rather quietly, on the Alpine catalogue until earlier this year when, with the airing of the sequel of Pedigree Dogs Exposed, the Gallants wrote to Alpine asking if they might like to re-market the book given the widespread interest in the issue.

Instead, and with no warning, the Gallants says that Alpine removed the book from its catalogue and when asked for an explanation, Alpine cited poor sales. Fair enough, of course, if it wasn't for the fact that Alpine was and is still marketing Johan Gallant's book on Giant Schnauzers, written 20 years ago, despite even fewer sales than SOS Dog.

The very disappointed Gallants wrote to Alpine asking for the remaining copies of the book and got what they say was a curt email back revealing that the publishers had "disposed of the inventory".

But there's good news... the book has been taken up by German publishers Kynos Verlag and there is now a Kindle edition available in both English and German on Amazon.

The book documents the Gallants' love affair with dogs - first Giant Schnauzers (Johan was a breeder and judge in his native South Africa) and then how observing native dogs began to shape their view of how we breed and raise dogs. It is a controversial but fascinating read - and I'm delighted it is now officially available again. There are also one or two back copies of the print edition still available on Amazon if you're quick.


Spotted in a Buckinghamshire park today...  a "meat-mouth" Shar-pei with such gross padding around his muzzle that his nostrils were almost entirely blocked.


A really nice friendly boy, too, he was.

Let's remind ourselves, once again, what Shar-pei used to look like before someone decided to take a breed feature - a small amount of wrinkling and slightly padded muzzle - and blow it up out of all proportion.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Kennel Club does something REALLY good

No, am not with fever. There really is something that the KC has done recently that is phenomenally good.

The object of my (almost) unfettered praise is the launch of two key documents. The first is a step-by-step guide to improving breed health and the second a toolkit for breed health surveys.  Intended for breed clubs and Breed Health Co-Ordinators, both are a breath of fresh air - containing the most inclusive language ever to come out of the Kennel Club.

Both talk about the important of real data, not anecdotal evidence. They refer not just to the Bateson report (which the KC co-commissioned) but to the RSPCA and APGAW reports too (both of which the KC dissed at the time) as evidence of the need to take action. They even urge breed clubs to embrace breed campaigners and pet owners, stating that "If there are individuals or groups campaigning for breed health improvement, this may be a clue that you need to do more."

If you haven't read them, please do (and if you're not from the UK, please nick them for your breed clubs in your own country).

So who do we have to thank for this new dawn? Stand up Kennel Club geneticist (the new Jeff Sampson) Aimee Llewellyn and, in particular, the main author of the documents, Chair of the Dachshund Breed Council, Ian Seath (a future Chairman of the Kennel Club?)

Eighteen months ago, in answer to the charge that I am quick to diss, but don't come up with anything constructive, I wrote Ten Steps To Save The Pedigree Dog.  The new breed health documents embrace several suggestions I made here. Not of course that I'm making any great claims  - the suggestion were pretty damn obvious.

But I'll venture another one - and it's the reason why my praise for the new breed health strategy documents - as good as they are  -  is qualified.

It is obvious to anyone reading the new guidance from the Kennel Club that they are asking an awful lot of most of the volunteers that man - and woman - the breed clubs. I am not remotely surprised to hear that, although welcomed by some, others have found the new toolkits daunting.

So here's my suggestion to the KC: put your hand in your pockets and fund the key health positions in the breed clubs. If  you truly believe that the breed clubs are the key to improved breed health (and I agree they are critically important) funding them will allow you to demand more of them and make them more accountable.  I believe that money spent here is at least as important as funding the development of new DNA tests.

Lazy, deaf - or brotherhood?

The Ponsonby Poodle - by Sir Robert Ponsonby Staples, 1897
- standing on a white glove...a garment of special ceremonial
significance in freemasonry

A quote in Dog World last month from Kennel Club chairman , Steve Dean, made me sit up.

It was in an article in which the Kennel Club was witheringly rude about the new standard for breeders recently announced by the Dog Advisory Council. And in it Professor Dean said:
"We have a close relationship with DEFRA and we have made our views felt. They are well aware of the concern and will be even more aware shortly, as we have made sure we have raised issues with them. Be assured that the KC is very firmly allied to these people.”
(You can read the whole thing here - an article in which the KC is also gobsmackingly rude about DAC Chairman, Professor Sheila Crispin - a discourtesy that seemed particularly ill-advised given the current focus on dog-breeding in the UK. )

DEFRA, for our overseas readers, is the Government's Depart for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (under which umbrella dog breeding falls).

The KC has always had friends in high places. When we were researching Pedigree Dogs Exposed, we used the Freedom of Information Act to request correspondence and minutes of meetings between DEFRA and the Kennel Club and it revealed a pretty cosy relationship between the two organisations (one exchange included DEFRA running a press release by the Kennel Club for approval). This is not that unreasonable of course - but I believe it is at least partly responsible for so little being done on the dog-breeding issue prior to Pedigree Dogs Exposed.

Of course, since PDE, the climate has changed and new people have come in at DEFRA, so I was a bit surprised by the quote from Professor Dean - particularly in the light of a current Government select committee hearing evidence regarding dog breeding in the UK.

During the past few weeks, this committee has heard evidence from quite a few "stakeholders", including:

• Professor Sir Patrick Bateson (who chaired probably the most important of the three independent reports into dog breeding that followed Pedigree Dogs Exposed)

• Professor Sheila Crispin, who chairs the Dog Advisory Council that was set up follow the Bateson report

• the British Veterinary Association

• the British Small Animal Veterinary Association

These four, when asked, said they thought the Dog Advisory Council - currently funded on a wing and a prayer and with no teeth given its purely-advisory capacity  - should be made a regulatory body. Indeed, I argued the same in the follow up to Pedigree Dogs Exposed that aired earlier this year.

All also believe that there is a strong case for introducing secondary legislation under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act to protect dogs (and other companion animals) from being bred in a way that is injurous to them (as, indeed, farm animals are protected under the current farm animal welfare legislation). This, it is felt, would send out a very strong message to breeders (of all dogs) as well as give owners and welfare bodies recourse to the law in cases where clear negligence can be proven.

Overall, the general concensus amongst the above - all experts that have been on the case since Pedigree Dogs Exposed (and at least to a degree beforehand) -  is that the UK is in need of a properly funded "Dogs Body" to oversee the welfare issues surrounding dog-breeding (all dog-breeding, not just pedigree/KC-registered dogs.

There are some dangers in this. There is, undoubtedly, the risk of an overbearing authority getting it hopelessly wrong. But get it right, and it has the potential to bring about real change not just the problem of conformation breeding and genetic disease highlighted in PDE, but puppy farming, dangerous dogs, stray dogs and worries regarding dog ownership such as the record level of pet obesity. These are all issues that currently cost the UK Government and others a great deal of money - and its citiizens (two-legged and four) much heartache.

Two years ago, in response to the continuing lobbying from individuals and welfare bodies  regarding dog-breeding post-PDE, the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced that it would and could not take any action until it had proper advice from the Dog Advisory Council (that DEFRA both endorsed and helped set-up).

Well, DEFRA now has that advice and so it must be at least considering a regulatory body and/or secondary legislation, yes?

Er,  no.

Last week, the select committee called Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at DEFRA, to ask for his views.  And, to the obvious bafflement of the committee given the compelling testimony they had heard from Bateson, Crispin and the vets, Lord de Mauley insisted that there was no need for a regulatory body... no need for any new/supplementary legislation... and that we should leave it the Kennel Club whose work on the pedigree dog breeding front was "impressive" - to sort it all out. "We think that is better done by organisations such as the KC,” Lord de Mauley said - although when pressed for a reason he admitted he was "not able to elucidate".

Read all about it in this report in this week's Dog World.

The Kennel Club is understandably delighted - as this statement reveals.

So what's with Lord de Mauley? Did he not listen to the evidence? Do the experts endorsed by his own Department count for nothing?

A hereditary peer, Lord de Mauley is the 7th Baron de Mauley - real name Rupert Ponsonby (yep, really). And he is a Freemason according to this source listing the House of Lords Register of Members interests.

So what?

Well, I'm not really into conspiracy theories. But I have always been interested in the Kennel Club's Freemason connection - ever since a senior member of the Kennel Club made the mistake of giving my other half (and PDE co-producer) Jon a masonic handshake. This, needless to say, was early on in our relationship with the KC. In fact, the KC member wasn't that far off - Jon isn't a freemason, but his father was so he's no stranger to their odd ways.

The KC's president is a famous Freemason, too - Prince Michael of Kent - and I'm told that Kennel Club masons frequent the Connaught Lodge at the Connaught Hotel.

So... want to know who it was at the KC who shook Jon's hand masonically?

I am open to bribery...

Friday 19 October 2012

Dog show disapproval enters popular culture

Have a listen to this sketch - clipped from the John Finnemore Souvenir Experience show on BBC Radio 4 last night... If I was the Kennel Club, I would be very worried about this. It's graphic evidence of how very uncool dog shows in their current format are seen to be by many people. 

Here's hoping the KC think-tanking is all about how to make dog shows more relevant in a world that finds beauty contests in humans distasteful - rather, that is, than try to persuade us that the public are being misled by people who've got it in for pedigree dogs. 

Meanwhile, today's Daily Mail carries the story of how former Crufts' presenter Ben Fogle believes the BBC was right to ditch Crufts - an interview picked up, in fact, from the November issue of Dogs Today magazine. 

Of course they still have Clare Balding who has continued to take the Crufts presenter shilling. I still have hopes, however, that Clare will reconsider. She's a terrific broadcaster - and smart. And I am not sure it's great for her image to continue to support the broadcasting of canine beauty contests. Indeed, her withdrawal would do a lot to quicken the radical re-invention of the dog show that surely must be on its way if the Kennel Club wants to remain relevant.

Apologies for the recent leave of absence, btw... have been otherwise engaged. But keeping tabs and lots to blog.. 

Saturday 15 September 2012

The grim reality of Bulldog sex

This is what's known as a "natural mating" in Bulldogs (distinct, that is, from artificial insemination).

Do they ever give rohypnol to dogs?

From SOS DOG: The Purebred Dog Hobby Re-examined by Johan and Edith Gallant.

"Most of the breeders are very well aware of fertility cycles, and a bitch that finds herself close to the eleventh day is often loaded in a car destined to the breeder’s idea of her perfect mate. Since time equals money, it is expected from the bitch that, on arrival, she courteously concedes her rump to the male and lifts her tail out of the way to enable a rapid and uncomplicated mating. Should the bitch, on arrival, refuse advances from the male, she will be characterised as dangerous. Most often she will then be escorted to a small enclosure, have her muzzle tied-up and have her body held still, ready to be mounted by the “mating machine.” 

"It is amazing how many breed speciality books advise the newcomers and aspiring breeders about the dangers of mating. The unwilling bitch could bite the stud dog and ruin him for life! Once the stud has penetrated and the genital lock or tie is effective, a restless bitch could remain agitated tot he point that the penile bone causes internal damage or breaks! The authors of such books then advise that the bitch should be muzzled at arrival by tying a silk stocking or pantyhose around her snout and behind her ears, that she should be help up so that the male can easily mount her and that she should be firmly restrained from turning her head back and from growling at the stud. Once the active part of the mating is over, the the owner of the male should carefully lift one of its hind legs over the back of the bitch so that they stand backside to backside, and they should both be restrained until the end of the genital lock and thereupon be separated without allowing further contact between the two partners.

"Theoretically speaking, the sperm cells have found their way to the ova and all is well that ends well. This is rape, and what the deep consequences of such an act could be on an animal that genetically has been programmed for reproductive behaviour within its social group, has not provoked one criticism. 

"It remains a fact that for highly social animals, such as dogs, a 'par force' inducted mating can precipitate enormous stress on the female. Dogs are highly susceptible to stress. In nature and in domesticated dogs, too, stress plays an evolutionary role. It fosters an unyeilding condition or atmossphere ie a condition in which reproduction would best be interrupted or terminated. Therefore, stress can cause the failure of coming in season, re-absorption of the fetus, premature birth or stillborn pups. When a mating is enforced on a bitch with human assistance (it would not happen without) we create a stress situation where the detrimental consequences are beyond calculation. Such a scenario is not only detrimental to the bitch, it actually also works in favor of stud dogs without guts i.e. Those that lack the natural sexual behavioural patterns dictating courtship and the necessary convincing attitude and drive to mate. Human assistance not only tolerates but also encourages males that in nature would never stand a chance to mate. Of course such matings may produce the desired color, the chiseled head that one is after or improve on any of the external features described in the breed standard, but the chances that it is instrumental in improving mental stability and true canine behaviour is remote.

"Because 'par force' inducted mating brings two individuals together that most likely would not mate under natural conditions, the offspring that they produce are in fact contrary to nature and improvement of the breed concerned. When we are faced in modern dogdom with an endless list of complications in canine reproductive behaviour and with general behavioural disorders, their origins can be found to a large extent in human-induced mating, which in many cases has been applied over consecutive generations."

Sunday 2 September 2012

Colour bars

The posting of a picture of a particular Bulldog on one of the show forums provoked a strong reaction recently.  “Dreadful!” remarked one commentator. “We must stop this!” said another.

The problem? The Bulldog was a colour not permitted in the breed in the UK.

The old saying “a good horse is never a bad colour” doesn’t apply to pedigree dogs.  There are very strict rules about what colours specific breeds can be. In some instances, it makes sense because some colours are associated with health problems. Or it might be due to a sneaky cross to another breed. Very often, though, it's just irrational doggie racism. And there can be dire consequences for pups that pop out the wrong colour or pattern, although fewer are put to sleep these days as vets are less likely to agree to euthanize an otherwise-healthy pup. To be fair, breeders are less-inclined to cull on these grounds today, too, although I believe it still happens.

The permitted colours for Flatcoated Retrievers are black and liver, but occasionally a yellow one is born. This isn’t due to an illicit liaison with a Golden Retriever – the yellow gene is a legacy from earlier times when retrievers were just retrievers and came in several colourways. In fact, all Golden Retrievers descend from a yellow Flatcoat and the gene – although rare -  is still there in Flatcoats, often lying hidden for generations until a dog is mated to another dog that also carries the colour recessively.

In the old days, yellow Flatcoats were “bucketed” at birth; these days they are more likely to be placed in a pet home and neutered.  But old attitudes die hard. There is, currently, huge disapproval  within the Flatcoat community that an American breeder is breeding from yellow Flatties. Worse, he is breeding them not just to other Flatcoats but to American Cockers to produce an attractive, smaller retriever which he dubs a Chatham Hill Retriever, or “Chattie”. Of course I’m cool with thoughtful crossing, as long as it is done with as much due consideration as practised by the best purebred dog breeders and, having exchanged several emails with this breeder over the past two years, I think he should be supported, not slammed.

I can also muster no moral objection to the idea of breeding from a non-permitted colour, while appreciating that most core breeders won’t want anything to do with it.  But this poor chap has received many anonymous, abusive emails from Flatcoat breeders from those that believe that what he is doing is evil – and no matter that he can boast a great health record for the 100 or so pups he has bred in the past eight years. There hasn’t been a single case of hip dysplasia, or PRA (an eye problem seen in American Cockers). And neither has there been a single case of cancer so far – a problem that plagues around 50 per cent of purebred Flatcoats.  Now it’s early days in their breeding programme, but I find this much more interesting than the fact that they’re cross-breeding or using non-permitted colours.

The problem, of course, is the hallowed breed standard which dictates what colours are and aren’t allowed. But some breed standards were drawn up at a time when the inheritance of coat colour was poorly understood.  Indeed, coat colour genetics is still a bit of a minefield because the genes that code for colour often interact. Some, for instance, might mask or modify the presence of another. For instance, golden retrievers often carry the gene that codes for brindle.  

The reason you never see a goldie with a brindle coat, though, is because another gene masks it. Cross a golden retriever with another breed, though, and the brindling sometimes appears, as in a gorgeous rescue dog, Jacob, that my rescue recently rehomed.
Goldie x Jacob
 There’s a huge fuss at the moment about brindle Salukis – with the purists claiming that these dogs must be mutts and very likely a cross with a greyhound, lurcher or other sighthound. Worse, there’s even dark talk that brindle originally came from Bulldogs and that brindle Salukis may have totally the wrong shaped bones as a result. This is truly unfounded scaremongering but it has convinced many to lobby against the colour.

A report commissioned by the American Saluki Club last year concluded that there have always been brindle salukis in the Middle East/Asia – and that it is likely that the nucleus of imported Salukis that formed the founding stock of the breed in the UK (and subsequently to other Western countries) also included brindle. It is hard to be sure because colour wasn’t always recorded accurately in those days. It is true, however, that there are no known brindle salukis in the current KC registered stock. 

The controversy ignited when a UK-bred dog exported to Australia threw brindle pups – and in 2010 a brindle descendant of this line won a big show in the US under American Kennel Club rules. The colour is not disallowed in the AKC breed standard; whereas in the UK brindle is listed as “highly undesirable – effectively kyboshing any chance of one ever appearing in the showring.  However, the American champ’s line has been bred from and so more brindle salukis are being born.  There are also breeders keen to expand the Saluki gene pool who are importing the occasional desert-bred brindle Salukis from their country of origin. Tigger here, for instance, is owned by American biologist and Saluki breeder, Dr John Burchard. She came from central Asia and is indubitably all Saluki. 
Tigger... brindle Saluki
“I believe the Kennel Club standard should allow all colours, including brindle, since all colours are to be found in Salukis in the countries of origin” says Sir Terence Clark, who has made a long study of Salukis in the region. He thinks this even though he concedes it is possible that brindle may be due to crossbreeding further back in the Saluki's long history. “At what stage does a Saluki become a Saluki?” he asks. “Historically, the Saluki has undoubtedly been crossed with other breeds and after three or four generations of back-breeding, it is impossible to tell. As the custodians of the breed in the region would say, if it looks like a Saluki and runs like a Saluki… it is a Saluki!”
It won’t be a surprise to hear that in these days of increased awareness of the need for genetic diversity that I agree with him. But there are many who will disagree vehemently and the battle looks set to rage for a long time yet.

The situation gets even more complicated with the knowledge that some genes that code for colour are associated with health problems.  Too much white, particularly on the dog’s head, is linked to an increased risk of deafness – although this does seem to vary from breed to breed.  The reason white dogs suffer is because pigment plays a role in the development of the auditory system.

The Dalmatian has a high rate of deafness as it is, essentially, a white dog - and large patches of colour which could help reduce the deafness, are considered a fault. A Dalmatian pup born with a patch on its ear is considerably less likely to be deaf – and yet these are not used for breeding (and they used to be culled).

In Boxers, breeders often breed for a “flashy brindle” – a brindle dog with white feet often extending some way up the legs, white on the tummy and chest, white on the face and possibly a white collar as well.. Breeding for them, though, increases the risk that some dogs in the litter will be born white with, again, an increased risk of deafness. Boxers breeders used to cull these white pups. Fortunately, there is now a demand from the pet market for white Boxers, so far fewer are put to sleep.

There’s a condition called Colour Dilution Alopecia (CDA)  - or “blue dog syndrome” - that can lead to hairloss and skin problems. It’s caused by a gene that dilutes the base colours black or brown to produce blue and lilac dogs.  The highest risk is in blue dogs (in reality a slate grey) with a black base colour and short-coated dogs are more likely to suffer than long-haired.

If two merle dogs are bred together, there is a risk that the pups will be born deaf or with severe eye abnormalities  - including no eyes.  And yet merle is incredibly popular in breeds such as the Sheltie, Rough Collie and Australian Shepherd with some breeders even willing to risk merle-to-merle matings to ensure all the pups are merle, a strategy that almost inevitably results in some pups in the litter being deaf or blind. 

Conversely, there’s a huge battle to try to prevent the registration of working-line Bearded Collies which carry the merle gene.  There is very little consistency of thought or practice across the breeds with some colours that are associated with health problems actively selected for, and others  that cause no problems at all being frowned upon.        

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a Elisa, a Finnish breeder fighting a colour bar in German Pinschers. She is among a small group of breeders hoping to persuade the breed clubs that chocolate/tan (a colourway often seen in Dobermanns and Dachshunds) should also be acceptable in German Pinschers – a breed known these days for being all-tan (technically “red”) or black and tan
It turns out that there were chocolate/tan dogs originally in the breed but it was bred out. This was partly by chance and partly because it was considered a colour associated with health issues – wrongly in this case as it happens.  As a result, the chocolate/tan was removed from the German Pinscher standard in the 1970s. But now some chocolate/tan pups have been born in Sweden – from a rare line of German Pinschers.

Elisa believes they should be registered and bred-on, particularly because the breed is struggling with a very small gene pool. But the resistance remains even though the claim that the colour causes health problems has been disproved. At heart, it is fuelled by traditional breeders simply thinking the colourway is ugly – an attitude that is hard to counter.

And there’s a crazy colour bar in Newfoundlands. The breed has three accepted colours: solid black, solid brown and black-and-white (known as Landseer) and one banned colour: brown and white. The way the colour genes work in Newfies means that all four colourways are possible and there is absolutely no health risk in brown and white.  And yet it is not allowed. It is completely illogical.

Similar stories are to be found in many other breeds. White German Shepherds were once thought to be at higher risk of health issues and even though that’s not true, the colour is still not considered acceptable despite a white dog being one of the founding dogs for the breed.  Instead, aficionados have had to create a whole new breed – the Swiss Shepherd Dog.  They are recognised in Switzerland and other countries, but still not in the UK.

I do think it’s time to reassess what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of colour  and to challenge hard where there is no sense to it – particularly if a colour does not come with any health risks.  It too often smacks of the kind of overt discrimination that led to whites-only public transport, restaurants and schools. That, thank goodness, is a thing of the past.

Of course, it’s not racism in the sense that it is any psychological insult to the dog – but it still leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
Further reading:
With many thanks to coat colour expert Liisa Sarakontu for her considerable help in compiling this article

This article first appeared in the August 2012 issue of Dogs Today Magazine.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

It's a crime

Video from 2010 of top German show-line iennel in Croatia, here showing off a bitch puppy by a top German sire - for all the world as if she is something to be proud of.

Watch it and weep.

This kennel is currently advertising a bitch, Emely, who is three years old and pregnant with her fourth litter.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Vet checks come under pressure from contradictory decision

Doowneerg Usi

Three weeks ago, Neapolitan Mastiff health rep, Kim Slater, was on cloud nine when her heavy male, Doowneerg Usi, went Best of Breed at Leeds and passed his vet check - going on to take 4th in the Group. He has also passed a vet check at Paington Show. But this week, Usi went BOB at the Welsh Kennel Club Championship Show (WKC) - and failed his vet check. His angry owner is now demanding an enquiry.

Kim Slater has worked hard for the health of the breed and has supported the vet checks (brought in earlier this year for 15 high profile breeds) in the face of a lot of opposition.  She feels that Usi's recent wins are vindication both for that support and proof that a "typey" dog could win.

I have to confess that while I was happy for Kim after Leeds (I admire her in many ways), my heart sank a bit.  Usi is clearly in good health and has a very good hip-score of 7/7. But he does have ectropion (as do most NMs) and I wince when I hear Mastino breeders refer to their dogs - as Kim does Usi - as having "plenty of nice quality skin". I find it impossible to see that as a desirable quality, knowing the toll it takes, particularly as the dogs age and particularly in the heavier dogs like Usi.
So while Usi might be brimming with health at the moment, I worry for his future.

Kim knows that I much prefer her lighter, leaner, tauter-skinned Vaoila who is the first Neapolitan Mastiff within the show-world that I have ever truly liked. The Mastinorati look down their nose at her though. Not 'typey' enough.

So I was concerned that Usi's wins at Leeds might herald a return to the heavier NM being rewarded in the ring.  And when Usi went BOB again at WKC last weekend it confirmed him as the Top Neapolitan Mastiff of 2012.  But then he failed his vet check - for abnormal eye conformation which the vet said interfered with normal tear drainage and for scarring and hairloss on his jowl. This is another common problem in Mastino (often the result of skin infections aggravated by slobber),  routinely overlooked by judges before the increased focus on health.

"This isn’t just about my feelings – it’s about the future of the Neapolitan Mastiff in the UK," a very angry Kim slater told Dog World this week. "He is a healthy dog – hip scored, heart and thyroid tested etc.

"I want the world to know that nothing about this process is right. Show are being affected because people are nervous and not turning up.

"If even the best of the best isn’t good enough where do we go from here? I told the vet I have worked my guts out for this breed and that he was judging him on the wrong criteria.

Clearly, there was a bit of an exchange and KC Chairman Steve Dean was called:  "But I received a message saying he was unavailable,” says Kim. "I was barking mad. I think the vet began to realise I knew what I was talking about. I told him I wasn’t a bog standard exhibitor and this wasn’t a bog standard dog."

She followed it up with a letter to KC Secretary Caroline Kisko demanding a full enquiry: "I feel totally let down," she wrote. "After all my years of study, engagement, hard work, supportive stance to the KC throughout a difficult and high pressure period of time for all involved in the high-profile breeds, the very time I required the KC’s support during an unfair and incorrect vet check assessment,, Steve Dean could not walk 20 yards when I have travelled hundreds of miles to attend Clarges Street to support the launch of the KC film in my own time, with my own money."

I'm not sure about the attempt to play the "you owe it to me" card here. Kim may feel she has some leverage as a breed health co-ordinator and it is true that she has supported the KC through difficult times, but she must surely realise that there was no way Steve Dean could get involved - it would totally undermine the principle of the vet checks which are supposed to be independent.

However, she has a point about vet-check inconsistency.  It is, perhaps, inevitable given that vets are human beings and will grade issues differently. Maybe one just has to accept that. After all, the dog world accepts that a dog may win one week but goes unplaced the next.

I still struggle, too, with the fact that breeders are trying to produce a healthier dog without sacrificing what they see as essential type - when it's that essential type that is the problem. It's like the pug breeders trying to find a gene for brachycephalic airway syndrome in order to be able to continue to breed dogs with really flat faces.  In both instances, it's possible. But an awful lot of dogs are doing to suffer along the way.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

The original Shar-pei... a new style icon?

"Loch", a bonemouth Shar Pei owned by Hong Kong writer, Hing Chao

I confess that when I saw this picture my heart beat a bit faster.  I'm sure there'll be some who will whinge about some aspect of his construction, but just look at this dog's head.. distinctive but not overdone. Beautiful, expressive, clean eyes, too.

This dog is an original "bonemouth" Shar Pei and he is featured in the current issue of style mag Hong Kong Tatler, in an article by his owner, writer Hing Chao, charting the history of what happened to this breed to turn it into this... what's called the "meatmouth" Shar Pei.

Shar Pei at Crufts 2012

The claim is that the original Pei was bred with bulldogs, pugs etc to exaggerate the wrinkling to appeal to the Western market.  In other words, what you see in the showring and pet market today is a mutt... not the real thing.

I love that the original breed has been featured in a top style mag... it sends out a strong and clear message... Want a proper Shar-pei or the canine equivalent of a fake Cartier watch?

There are a few bonemouths in the UK. It would be good to see more. And I would also love it if those who own them would enter them into shows to show people that there is an alternative. (Please let me know if you do so I can come and watch.) We were very much hoping to feature this breed - and the latest research regarding the link between the excessive wrinkling seen in the meatmouths and Shar-pei Fever - in Pedigree Dogs Exposed - Three Years On. Sadly, we ran out of room.

I was delighted recently to be invited to join a very health-focused Facebook group dedicated to improving the health of this breed. Clearly there are good and committed breeders out there.

It is not impossible to breed a long-lived, healthy meatmouth Shar-pei. But it is harder.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Out of sight, out of mind

In a move that isn't going to be the greatest surprise in the canine world, the Kennel Club announced yesterday that it has removed the Chinese Crested from the list of high-profile breeds singled out because of health and welfare problems.

This is a useful PR move for the Kennel Club which recently announced that the high-profile breed list is a two-way-street. ("See...look how quickly a breed can come off the list!"). And I see the move has been welcomed already out on the breeder fora.  But, actually, the addition of the breed to the HPB list was always a bit of an anomaly; added not because of conformation problems - but because of concerns raised on this blog and elsewhere regarding the denuding of these dogs with razors and depilatory cremes in order to make them conform to showring demands. The process can leave some dogs looking and feeling very sore.

Of course, breeders are still denuding the dogs. It's just that they're now doing it behind closed doors; not publicly on the benches - and, these days, they are more careful about presenting dogs that are obviously sore in the ring.

Why are they still doing it? Because showring fashion dictates that today's Crestie looks like My Little Pony - all flowing mane, tail and fetlocks - but bald elsehwere. Unfortunately nature rarely delivers such a dog.

So they fake it.

Today's Chinese Crested breeders have selected for hairier and hairier 'hairless' dogs in order to give them the requisite furnishings - and then they just remove the hair from the bits where they don't want it using electric and wet shavers and depilatory cremes.

What's wrong with that? Well in some cases they are removing a LOT of hair. Some of the dogs that you see naked in the show-ring would look like this if exhibitors allowed the hair to grow.

Here's what one American breeder, who has chosen to be honest about the process, describes as an "average" hairy-hairless in terms of natural body hair.

© Crestars Chinese Crested

"Some Chinese Crested Dogs come with a very decent furnishing with minimal body hair," she explains.  "The degree of thickness may also vary from thinner to thicker. Unfortunately they remain in the minority.  Unless there is a good reason to let the hair grow, most breeders will keep the hairy Chinese Crested shaved most of the time.  I am sure for most part; some breeders don’t even know just how hairy their dogs are because of the frequent routine grooming."

We've discussed the ethics of this here several times before and there's a diversity of opinion. Some think it's cheating. Crestie exhibitors in the main think it's just fine to do whatever it takes to make a dog look "good" for the showring. A few express concern about the loss of the original "true" hairless dog (there are still some to be seen in the show-ring, but they are very often beaten by their flashier, hairier cousins). Others believe that we shouldn't be breeding dogs with a mutation that leads not just to hairlessness, but very poor dentition; a mutation that is lethal in a double-dose.

While accepting that there are worse insults foisted on other breeds, I hate to see the videos on YouTube of very young puppies being wet-shaved or having their ears taped or glued to make them stand up correctly (something else Cresties often have to endure).

So what does the Kennel Club think?

Have a look at the wording in yesterday's release:
"The breed was added to the list in 2010, in light of welfare concerns about the shaving of some dogs for exhibition. The General Committee is satisfied that this issue is no longer of sufficient concern for the breed to remain on the HPB list."
A casual reader might think that the KC is satisfied that dogs are no longer being shaved for the showring. But of course that's not true.

What the KC is really saying is that Crestie breeders can do anything they like to their dogs; just don't leave any marks that would give those horrid critics any ammunition.

Indeed, the KC endorses the denuding of the Chinese Crested. There has been never been any public censure of the practice; no KC dispproval that the breed standard (for what it's worth) is being completely flouted by today's Crestie breeders.

The KC's Breedwatch which highlights points of concern for judges states merely: "Clipper rash or burns caused by shaving." Not "dogs shaved to look like true hairless when they are not". 

Absens haeres non erit.

See also:

The bald truth about the Chinese Crested 

Breeding dogs for intentional defect (Terrierman)

Thursday 26 July 2012

PDE blog - over a million pageviews

I started this blog in November 2010 and today,  243 posts and 8955 comments later, the blog has passed the million pageviews milestone. Amazing!

To mark the occasion, here's a snapshot of the statistics so far - audience, traffic sources, most popular posts and so on (click to enlarge). Interestingly, although the first screengrab below shows that overall UK visitors outnumber US visitors, in recent months, US visitors have outnumbered UK visitors.  This month for instance, the blog has seen 18,000 American visitors compared to 16,000 from the UK.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed - in agreement or not. You have all helped keep the issue alive and debated, something which was always, and still is, the aim of the blog. 

I have learned a lot along the way and hope others have, too.

Ah, and apologies for the lack of posts recently. I have been particularly busy with other stuff... but have a host of half-written posts waiting to be finished and uploaded, including posts on the Swedish Dog Health Workshop, two interesting developments from the Dog Advisory Council, the new voice of the Canine Alliance, and why some DNA tests should come with a health warning...

Here's to the next million!