Monday 23 April 2012

Pedigree Dogs Exposed India, anyone?

I've been getting a bit of traffic on the blog recently from India where there is a popular dog show scene overseen by the Indian Kennel Club. 

This Neapolitan Mastiff, from the Cadabom Kennels in Bangalore, is Indian Champion Cadabom's Neomass Notorio - "Ghost". He is, apparently, the most "havily [sic] wrinkled dog in the world"; also "the most profilic", sadly, given the fervent hope that this dog would not be spreading misery to countless offspring. 

Want to see some videos? Brace yourself.

And here's a pic of their other Mastino, Ind Ch Neomass Fuimara - "Rhino". 

A few people have already let Cadabom Kennels know what they think of their Neapolitan Mastiffs on the Cadabom Facebook site.

Couldn't happen here? Well not Ghost, anyway, I hope. And things are changing here. But don't forget that the dog below qualified for and was shown at Crufts last year.

JH enters dog show with Great Dane

Found this while having a clear-out - the first and only time I entered a dog show - in the mid-70s by the look of it. I lived in Cheshire then, and reckon I was about 14 when this picture was taken.

It was, of course, just a companion dog show and I entered Dougal, one of our Danes,  in the Dog with the Longest Tail class.  The judge was comic actor Jimmy Edwards - who I hated because he pulled Dougal's tail to get a laugh from the crowd.

Dougal looks like a gawky teenager here - perhaps about 14 months old.  He was not the sharpest stick in the box. And neither he, nor our other Dane, Brig(adier), lived very long. Loved 'em both, though, and while they could get up the stairs, they slept on my (single) bed with two Siamese cats, Anna and Tao - old-fashioned ones with apple-shaped heads, not like the scary narrow-headed Siamese too often seen today. (Another victim, unfortunately, of the show-ring.)

Yes, yes, Pedigree Cats Exposed is a project, too.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Victorious Vaoila

Normal service will doubtless be resumed shortly, but apart from a sharp post on the Canine Alliance yesterday, it's fast turning into a good news weekend on the PDE Blog.

I am delighted to report that Neapolitan Mastiff Nukualofa's Vaoila (pictured at Crufts, above, where she won Junior Bitch and Reserve Best Bitch) won Best of Breed at the Working and Pastoral Breeds Champ Show at Builth Wells yesterday - and passed her vet check with flying colours.

Vaoila does have ectropion, but with an otherwise clear eye with no inflammation or discharge, she was cleared to go on to compete in the Group. Although disputed by some, it has been made clear by the Kennel Club that ectropion (or indeed an old healed eye injury) in and of itself is not a reason for disqualification; there has to be some accompanying clinical sign of soreness or discomfort.

This is real vindication for breed health rep Kim Slater who resolved to run the gauntlet of the vet check should her dogs win at a champ show as she wanted to produce dogs that could pass the vet check. This stance provoked one or two nasty comments on Facebook from those who felt she should make a stand and refuse to subject her dogs to veterinary scrutiny.

Well done to Kim for standing her ground. Although I was disappointed to see her write this on the Exhibitors' Noise Facebook site today:
" can see quite clearly that this particular example is a plainer dog than all have become accustomed to seeing. She is 17 months old, but the important thing for us as a breed is that this dog clearly has what has become known as 'ectropion' and she has passed. The door is now open for dogs of heavier type with the same eyes to also pass if they also have the same strength in movement and skin." (my bolding).
I am hoping this is just Kim trying to soothe those in the breed who believe Vaiola is not "typey" enough to qualify as a top Neapolitan Mastiff.  The breed is deeply divided between the reformists and the diehards who want their Monster Mastiffs.

Interestingly, Vaiola came last in a class of three at last weekend's Club Show - under a judge clearly in the diehard camp.  An open show, not a champ show, so no vet checks there... evidence, perhaps, of how effective the vet checks are in encouraging judges to put up less exaggerated dogs; the exact reason they were introduced of course. In fact, I think I'm right in thinking that there hasn't been a single DQ since Crufts. Soft vets? Or better judging...? Time will no doubt tell.

I don't have a pic of the Best in Show at last weekend's Neapolitan Mastiff Club Show, but here are two pictures of the Reserve Best Dog when he won BOB at Crufts 2011 - the difficult-to-look-at-without-wincing Belkeiminter Marquinn.  I hear there were several people ringside shaking their heads in dismay.

Let's sing Carol's praise...

Many, many congratulations to cavalier campaginer Carol Fowler (picture above, centre) who last weekend won the CEVA Pet Lovers Welfare Award  - given to "outstanding individuals who have gone the extra mile to improve companion animal welfare".

The award is in recognition of Carol's efforts for Cavaliers and also for the hundreds of unpaid hours she has put into setting up the Dog Breed Health website which aims to provide puppy-buyers with the information they need to make the right choices.

Carol is pictured above with top neurovet Clare Rusbridge, Carol's guest at the event and, on her left, Dan O'Neill from VetCompass, who nominated Carol.

“Carol’s caring, focused and determined approach to improving the future of British dog breeding has been outstanding," says Dan.  "Her time has been spent helping owners to recognise hereditary disorders affecting UK dog breeds, giving helpful advice to many owners.  Carol should be recognised for her sterling efforts to improve pedigree dog welfare."

It's a fantastic achievement - and the Dog Breed Health website goes from strength to strength with those with grass roots experience in individual breeds helping to refine the information. Please take a moment to read what the site says about your breed and, if you have input, to contact Carol and let her know.

Carol has also recently added pages for the Labradoodle and Cavapoo in an effort to provide health information for 'designer' crossbreeds, too.

Meanwhile, there's great news from VetCompass - the UK health surveillance scheme based at the Royal Veterinary College. The scheme has now enrolled 250,000 companion animals - over 126,000 of them dogs - and is about to release its first data. I've had a sneak preview and it's fascinating... Watch this space!

Dachshund Breed Council: job well done

It's the Dachshund Breed Council's Breed Conference in Staffordshire today and a timely moment to once again congratulate the breed on its progressive health policy with Council Chairman Ian Seath at the helm.

Speakers today include Ron James from the Kennel Club and Philippa Robinson from the Karlton Index who recently awarded the DBC the top honours in her survey of breed club performance on health.

So what makes the DBC so good? According to the Karlton Index it is the following:
• Establishing a balanced strategy for prioritising health issues

• Setting objectives and measures to help gauge progress

• Communicating this far and wide using a dedicated website, regular press releases and social media

• Organising regular health related events and campaigns

• Involving a wide range of people in the health agenda, including pet owners

• Regularly surveying the breed on health matters and publishing the results

• Developing very strong partnerships across the relevant breed clubs and with the KC and veterinary/scientific profession

• Being very generous in sharing information and practice.
Just look at this grab from the home page on the Council's health website:

Click to enlarge
It is terrific, particularly, to see the open invitation to report a health problem and a death.

Meanwhile, the Council's health survey - Dachs-Life 2012 - has just closed with over 1400 returns, almost three times the 509 survey forms submitted to the KC Health Survey in 2004. 

Preliminary data suggests that the rate of back disease is 6% in the breed - much lower than veterinary estimates of up to 25%, although with some difference between the varieties.  Spinal problems are still the number one reported health problem in the breed, though.

The survey IS self-reporting, which may skew the data somewhat, but nevertheless 1400 returns in three months is incredibly impressive and absolutely cannot be dismissed.

What we need now is an Association of Breed Health Coordinators with Ian Seath at the helm, bringing both his commitment to health and his benchmarking/presentation/communication skills to the party.

The speakers' presentations being given at today's conference are downloadable from here (and how good is that, too?)

Saturday 21 April 2012

CA: Luddites not crusaders

Following a marathon meeting of the Canine Alliance's steering committe this week (11am - 7.30pm apparently), the new organisation issued a press release yesterday saying:
"...the main concern which members feel the Alliance should be addressing is the issue of 'puppy farming' and how puppies so produced continue to tarnish the whole profile of pedigree dogs.'
It is astonishing how concerned show breeders become about puppy farms when they feel their hobby is under threat - and yet how few can stretch to making any real effort when it comes to actions beyond keyboard ranting. A conference on puppy farming planned for last month had to be cancelled in part because only 20 or so people had actually signed up to attend it.

Anyway, the Canine Alliance's proposed solution?

"The committee felt that this was a problem that the Kennel Club should be addressing at source and resolved that it would recommend that the KC should only accept for registration puppies that have been produced from parents that have undergone – and passed - a universal basic veterinary examination once they have reached one year of age. This test would not be in any way breed-specific, but would ensure that the dog is fundamentally fit and healthy."

Of course it "ensures" no such thing and the idea is full of holes.  Many conditions don't manifest until dogs are older than one; certificates would be incredibly easy to fake; checking them impossible given the sheer number of dogs the KC registers - and, frankly, not worth the effort given how little proof they would be of a dog's real fitness to breed.

Basic veterinary exams are just that - basic, and valid only for the day they're done (as indeed, many breeders' sales contracts make very clear when they're selling their vet-checked puppies).

And what's with the vet-check being "in no way breed-specific"?  Doubtless the CA fretting about "canine discrimination", as if Pugs would mind if specific attention was paid to their ability to breathe.

The Canine Alliance seems to have forgotten that it was set up in the wake of vet checks at shows to check their dogs, not puppy farmers', and because it is their dogs, not puppy farmers', that have been found to be suffering because of exaggerations and deterimental breeding practices.

The old diversionary tactic of blaming puppy farmers simply won't wash. Sure, puppy farming is an issue -a huge issue. Sure there are phenotypical and genetic problems in puppy-farmed dogs, too.

But it's not what we're talking about here, is it?

I suspect the proposal was cobbled together in the knowledge that the KC will stick to its guns re providing a register for dogs regardless of their provenance (ergo no point in asking the KC to stop registering puppy farmed dogs). It sounds like the CA has also accepted that the KC won't make registration of all KC dogs conditional on passing the health-checks currently only demanded of ABS breeders.

A pity. Because one could take the CA much more seriously if it threw its weight behind that call.

Meanwhile, the CA's Andrew Brace takes a bizarre turn in a paranoia-fueled article he's written for the April 6 issue of US magazine Dog News in which he reveals his Saul-Paul moment at this year's Crufts.  And, according to Brace, it's vets and animal welfare campaigners who are eugenicists, not dog breeders.

"This year at Crufts show, as the well documented DQ dramas unfolded, I had a Damascus moment," writes Brace. "The reality of what was actually happening around me hit me like a thunderbolt... dark forces were at work trying to destroy the world I hold dear and for which I have limitless passion. it was time to smell the coffee and acknowledge what was going on.

"There are individuals who see the very concept of breeding and showing purebred dogs as unacceptable because of principles that we find hard to understand. They have a message and a goal, and long-term their idea of Utopia is seeing every domestic animal struggling to exist in the wild with no human intervention. For 'Utopia' read 'Choas'.

"Through subtle means, people who hold very extreme views where the canine species is concerned preach their gospel and, with the efficiency of a dripping tap, eventually manage to permeate so many important areas of our lives none more so than the veterinary profession."

"It is a fact of life that the traditional stockman veterinarian who also fostered the interests of small animals, listening to the advice offered by long-established dog breeders before coming to a meaningful conclusion, no longer exists... well not in any numbers, that's for sure.  Instead we see a steady flow of fresher vets who leave school convinced that all purebred dogs are genetic time bombs rather than living breathing individuals that may, or mau not, hve some form of imperfection. The concept of eugenics has been used to discredit the sport; in my opinion nowhere is it practised more blatantly than in the veterinary and welfare cricles where is it advocated that certain breeds should become extinct because of "physical exaggeration".

"As the realisation dawned on me at our National Exhbition Centre, I felt a sense of acute frustration that my world was actually now being destroyed from within. These were not campaigning outsiders waving banners and inciting the public to hate us for what they thought we were doing to our purebreds. This was actually our own governing body that had succumbed to public opinion and political correctness, being led by a chairman who - in the opinion of many - was demonstrating far more loyalty to his former profession than he was to the members he claimed to represent....

"There is little acknowledgement of the fact that extremists do not meet people half way - its not in their nature. Well-meaning advocates of political correctness may see trying to appease the enemy as a smart move. It isn't. It simply shows weakness, and if you give them an inch they will not rest until they get the full mile.

"For too long the world of purebred dogs has been influenced by smoke and mirrors. It is now time to wake up, smell the coffee and stand firm... before it is too late and we have no sport to fight for.

"Enough is enough."
Boy oh boy...

It's hard to know where to start with this level of misplaced indignation.

But I'll have a go.

Mr Brace, there is a threat to your hobby - and dog breeding generally - from animal rights extremists, but that threat is mainly in the US. For now.

Sure, there are a few ARs among the UK animal welfare lobbyists and probably even in the veterinary profession - but none in the Kennnel Club. To accuse Chairman Steve Dean of batting for the "dark forces" is... well, stupid.

Additionally, Mr Brace, and although you don't seem to be aware of it  - there are many animal welfarists (and that includes me) who are passionate about purebred dogs and will fight tooth and nail alongside breeders to stop the extremists getting a grip here in the UK.  That does not mean, however, keeping our mouths shut when there is a problem.

This is one reason why I didn't disappear with the closing credits of Pedigree Dogs Exposed. I could see the risk and wanted to stick around to fend off the nut jobs.

None of us wants an end to dog breeding or dog breeds. We just want an end to the unacceptable physical burdens sometimes placed on them in pursuit of ribbons.

We don't want an end to dog shows. We just want them to find a way to truly reward good health.

And we don't feel that the problem with the way show dogs are bred is good enough reason to throw the baby out with the bath water.

But it will be if you don't wake up and smell the coffee and realise that the dog world must embrace reform with genuine gusto - or it will perish.

And so the biggest threat, Mr Brace, comes from your continued denial that there is a case to answer; in continuing to lay the problem at the doors of others. 

The Kennel Club has now, mostly, woken up to this and there is a much more considered article (well, apart from the increasingly-tiresome accusation that I am an anti-purebred dog extremist) by Ronnie Irving in the same issue of Dogs News . In it, Ronnie explains that it was the threat of the European Convention that prompted the KC to be more proactive re the health of certain breeds. He then goes on to make the point that it isn't animal rights activitists driving the reforms; it is often legitimate concerns from the veterinary profession, welfare bodies, campaigners and the public. The Kennel Club, he insists, is acting to safeguard dog showing and breeding. 

I am sure that the KC has sympathy with dog breeders reeling from the shock of the vet checks and the many changes introduced. I do too. But, equally, I believe the way the CA is at the moment is seen as an embarrassment by the Kennel Club.

Worse, it is letting down dogs and those breeders who have seen the light.

What's really needed if show breeders want us all to be proud of their "sport" (as they call it) is a lobby that:

• recognises the problems
• is commited to reform
• doesn't attempt to divert attention to other welfare concerns
• acknowledges that dog shows need to evolve
• wants to make British dogs not just the most beautiful but the healthiest and fittest in the world.


• recognises that is not possible without treading on quite a few toes.

That would be a force to be reckoned with.

Now I am sure Brace + Co see themselves as canine crusaders. But they're not. They're canine Luddites.

You can write and tell them that, if you like:

Download link to yesterday's press release from the CA  here.