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.


  1. Had a quick read through the breed health surveys toolkit, and straight away I can see at least one fundamental problem that hasnt really been addressed - how to get a representative sample of owners/breeders from the whole breed to complete the survey. Surveys done by breed clubs invariably end up with completely skewed data because the respondents are a self selected group of club members, in which owners and breeders of show dogs are over represented because they are mostly likely to be breed club members, and owners of pet and working dogs are least likely to even get to know about the survey, let alone respond. To get any really meaningingful data, one either needs to use a stratified sample so different groups of owners all provide enough responses, or one would have to seek responses from say every 10th dog in the breed registered with the KC
    Another problem with breed clubs surveys is the lack of verification that respondents are giving accurate and truthful data. One might need to take a small sample where both owner and vet complete a questionnaire separately about the same dogs to see how far they confirm each other's data
    But the document is a step forward. I've long been highly critical of the way breed clubs carry out health surveys. They rarely have input from people who know something about research design and methodology, and at worst are done by people who want the survey to produce the "right " results which show the breed in a good light. Some health problems may be ignored and no questions asked at all
    What it comes down is that if a breed club wants to do some good research and produce some good data they probably need some professional input in both designing the survey and in analysing the data

  2. Your first link, a "step-by-step guide to improving breed health", leads to Error 404 page.

  3. Jemima, did you do a happy dance?
    Good news! (:

  4. @ Dalriach... you may have missed this


    5. Distributeyourquestionnairetoanumberofdifferentpeople
    Assuming that you would like health information from a wide range of owners (not just Breed Club members) your communication campaign will need to use as many different approaches as possible. First of all, think about all the types of owners you need to make aware of the survey; for example:
    • Club and Council Committee Officers/members
    • Breed Club members
    • Pet owners
    • Owners who work their dog(s), or who take part in non-show activities


    It goes on to suggest ways of getting news of the survey out more broadly than just via the breed club.

    What would be good, however, is KC co-operation to get the survey out to all those who register that particular breed with them. Long time since I registered a KC dog - presume they now ask for email addresses, in which case it doesn't have to be outrageously expensive on postage.


    1. Jemima , this doesnt get around the problem that health surveys conducted by breed clubs usually dont get questionnaires out to people who are not club members, and in popular breeds the breed club members are only a small and untypical minority. And those who reply are a self selected minority. Anybody with a back ground in research methods will tell you that this will not give you a representative sample .
      If most of the responses come from minority of owners who breed and show, even their dogs will not be typical of the whole breed. Firstly these people will select the BEST of their litters to keep, breed from and exhibit.The best looking the strongest and healthiest,the ones without obvious defects , while the not so good ones and the ones with obvious defects will be sold/moved on to pet , non breeding homes. If the selected puppies turn out later to have defects, bad hips, bad mouths, missing testices etc they will be moved on. Infertile dogs and bitches will be moved on. So the breeders will have fewer problems to report, and thats even if they are truthful. Some breeders be honest, some will tell some of the truth but not everything, and some just keep their mouths shut .
      Pet owners are probably more likely to honestly report what they know (they dont have a reputation as a breeder to maintain) , but on the other hand pet owners do less health testing and may not be aware of defects in their dogs that a breeder would recognise and know about. With the internet era, pet owners are coming forward openly at times with information about the health problems in their pets, that breeders would probably rather they kept quiet about!
      Really the only way to get a good sample would be to take a random sample from KC records of all registered dogs in the breed. The Breed club could make some efforts to do a stratified sample, so that fewer breeders and more pet and working dogs, are represented , also people who are not breed club members
      Yes, very difficult to get a representative sample of dogs in a breed, but unless some effort is made to get a decent sample, the data is largely meaningless - and the extent of a particular problem in the breed will be underestimated. See for example a recent health survey of Irish Setters, which was better done than many surveys, but still produced a figure for the prevalence of epilepsy which was probably something like a third of the figure that knowledgeable people in the breed will admit privately!

    2. One way of getting it to pet owners is using Facebook groups - Facebook is so ubiquitous, and there are many breed-specific groups that could be used to round up participants, as well as creating their own official KC breed club group especially for reaching out to sporting and pet owners. KC Pet and Sporting Canine Club, for example, to distinguish it from showing and breeding owners.

  5. Interesting how it mentions, 'keeping an eye on popular' sires, where previously the KC has supported the use of popular sires.

    One possible way forward is to identify breeds that are at high risk for disease that will cause early death or suffering and mandate an outcross. They can't keep making dogs suffer for the sake of vanity, i.e. wanting to keep the breed 'pure'. If it's going to take many generations to eradicate the issue (if that's even possible), is it ethical to expect those dogs bred in the interim to suffer - especially if this problem could quickly be resolved by doing an outcross? Additionally, the dogs can be bred back to look like the breed standard in a few generations.

    Flatcoats with their shockingly high cancer rate spring to mind. As do CKCS due to syringomyelia.

    Any breed with a small gene pool should have an outcross planned into its future - the gene pool is only going to keep getting smaller.

  6. For health surveys to provide a representative overview of the breed's health one needs information across the gene pool not the owner/breeder pool.

  7. To really add power to the surveys collect and bank cheek swabs for future genotyping efforts. The genotyping data can be used for current and future genetic studies on the breed.

  8. I so agree with Fran, it is becoming more and more obvious that cavaliers cannot survive as a breed without an outcross programme.

    Dalriach is right about the difficulties faced when trying to obtain a representative sample of owners/breeders. The true picture can only be known by the KC doing randomised sampling themselves. Any club or society will represent only those that have joined because they agree with the aims of the club, so their information is always likely to have a built in bias

    In January 2012 A group of cavalier owners started a Companion Cavalier Club and the aims included helping health researchers and supporting owners of sick dogs. The majority of members are pet owners with quite a few of them taking part in Agility, Obedience, Rally O, Flyball and HWTM.

    It is an Internet based club, most members receive club information by email and the committee has already discussed running a series of surveys to get a better picture of their members' cavaliers. These two booklets will prove to be very useful.

    This Companion Club is probably more representative of cavalier owners than the existing breed clubs as the members have cavaliers obtained from every source possible, show breeders, puppy farms and rescue.

    It is however impossible to know how truly representative the membership is of the general Cavalier owning population, as the Club has a large number of owners with cavaliers affected with SM, possibly attracted by the very lively facebook page where members offer support and advice to other owners of sick cavaliers.

    The Committee has applied for KC registration as a breed club that does not run conformation shows, so hopefully this Club's survey information will be able to be added to that of the traditional style cavalier clubs.

  9. I worked with the pet owners to gain momentum to get the breeders to help me get support for 'Cindy's legacy'. Cindy is my 9 yr old weimaraner who will be pts on Monday as her tumours are so painful and aggressive - b4 she gets depressed but so she can enjoy a day at the beach on Sunday. She has grade 3 mast cell cancer. Apparently the in Newmarket contacted the breed club(s) in 2005 to tell them they believed there was a genetic predisposition to mast cell cancer in weis and they wanted to collect data / cheek swabs from weis so that they could research this. To date they had had a very poor response despite the disease being alarmingly prevalent. I know of a lot of dogs who have had this, though its rarely as nasty as Cindy's. Since I launched my FB and twitter and email campaigns they've had a 'tremendous' response... too late for Cindy, but it would be a fantastic legacy to my girl if they can develop a screening programme. I love her.

    1. So very, very sorry to hear about your girl. :( Weimaraners are adorable!

    2. Diana, You haven't mentioned any treatment, like chemo. My Australian Cattle Dog had mast cell cancer years ago, at the age of 13. First he had the tumors removed surgically. Then he had chemo every week for about 6 weeks. He didn't have a single side-effect. He was in a great mood and playing throughout chemo. (I also went through chemo for breast cancer, did 7 mile daily walks and never missed a day of work). He lived another healthy and happy 3 years, and died at 16 years old, only a week after performing tricks on TV. If you haven't considered chemo for Cindy, you might want to look into it.

    3. Diana, I´m so very sorry to hear about Cindy. I hope you may have good day together tomorrow.

  10. Annie Macfarlane9 November 2012 at 21:26

    I'm really pleased to read this on your blog Jem. A fantastic start. Agree with the problems of health surveys. Diana I am so sorry to hear about your girl. It's very sad to learn this aggressive cancer is prevalent in such a beautiful, athletic breed.

  11. Before you start attacking anyone for things you say they have said about Shelia Crispin, perhaps you should re-read yoru own interview with her printed in Dogs Today, it did not make for pleasant reading they way you tisted what she said and tried to make links that were not there, read it I dare you, even better publish it here in full and let others judge?!

  12. Anon, I have always called it as I see it and I believe my criticism of Professor Crispin was fair at the time - and it was certainly legitimate to raise concerns about the fact that she remained an honorary member of the KC and continued to sit on their Dog Health Group after she took on the role of DAC Chairman.

    Professor Crispin has, however, come quite a long way since then. For those interested (but I warn it's not the most exciting read in the world and it's a bit of a rough and ready transcript) the whole of my interview with Sheila is available here:

  13. Now that the DG of the BBC has gone will we find out just how much pressure was put on Ofcom to reverse their decision on PDE, I think Lord Patton will now find he will be quite happy to show just how underhand/protective the BBC have been to cover up problems of poor reporting/research.

    1. Because, of course, Ofcom would be swayed by BBC pressure rather than, say, a strong case clearly presented...? The BBC holds no sway over Ofcom, Anon. The whole POINT of Ofcom is that it is independent.

  14. So the KC should fund the Health coordinators Jemima? So what would that be? 210 Breeds, one each breed at , say, £25k per year? Thats a cool 5 Million a year. Then there would be the extra support staff and other expenses. Do you not think that perhaps the Veterinary industry should fund this? They are the ones who have been making millions out of sick dogs for many years and unlike the KC not putting any money back into genetic reasearch.


    1. Some breed clubs have quite a bit of money in the coffers and could fund this themselves - others obviously couldn't. I guess it's a question of how important one sees the role of breed health co-ordinator. In my opinion, it's a pretty vital one.

      I was thinking of more like £5k a year - it isn't a full-time job.


    2. Why not start the ball off by returning the money your black dog charity got from the KCCT? afterall the problem you have isnt one of theirs (or anyone else in the UKs) making!

    3. It could be wasted money in some cases. I have doubts about how many breed clubs would carry out a serious quality health survey. There are a minority of breed clubs, like the Dachshund Club, who really are motivated to research the health and genetic problems in their breeds and who would use the money to do a really good job. A lot of clubs who like to appear to be taking health seriously as long as the results are good for the public image of the breed (all under control and our breeders are responsible and testing, and our breed is healthy), and another minority among the breed clubs who are simply in denial and dont want to know.
      It would be good to have money available for those clubs who would do a good job, but why waste it on what is going to be a PR exercise for many other clubs ("Look the KC has given us money to carry out a health survey, that proves how responsible we are as breeders")
      I've already pointed the problems of a self selected group of club members providing the data. A better use of money might be for the KC to pay professional researchers to design a questionnaire, with help from breed club and vets, to take a random sample of owners from the KC records and mail the questionnaires out to them, and to get the professional researchers to process and analyse the data
      The breed clubs are an interested party where the results are concerned - one of the first rules of conducting good research is not having it carried out by those who have vested interests in the results and are likely to bias the research one way or another.

    4. And I wouldnt suggest the KC spend millions on doing health surveys for every breed. Why not start with those breeds known to either have serious problems or those known to be at risk because of their very small gene pools and low registration figures?

    5. Nice! We applied (before PDE) just like any other legitimate rescue, Anon, and the donation helped save the lives of several very deserving dogs. The money, btw, came from Pedigree - it was just distributed by the KC Charitable Trust - and other rescues that take dogs from Ireland also benefitted from the much appreciated Pedigreee Adoption Drive.

      Love how you discriminate between dogs that are deserving and those that aren't based on a) country boundaries that are meaningless to dogs, and b) on the person that runs the rescue.

    6. @Dalriach: I wonder if it would be prudent to start with those breeds which are very popular with the public, but which also have serious and expensive health problems? For example, the top 20 registered breeds include:
      Labrador Retriever - hip and elbow dysplasia;
      CKCS - syringomyelia, episodic falling syndrome, dry eye curly coat;
      Pug - skinfold dermatitis, cherry eye, brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome (BOAS), collapsed trachea, luxating patellas, hemivertebrae;
      Boxer - epilepsy, BOAS;
      Bulldog - hip dysplasia, BOAS, skinfold dermatitis, hemivertebrae, cherry eye;

      The KC needs to be seen to be making an impact, improving the lives of the most popular breeds of dogs, would do that. It would also mean a greater proportion of dogs would benefit. Focusing solely on the rare (read unpopular) breeds, would help only a tiny minority of dogs and would make the scheme appear irrelevant to the general public.

      They could then move on to preventing issues in breeds before they become widespread. For instance, some Whippet breeders are genuinely concerned about heart problems in the breed and therefore heart test their breeding stock; they are up against other breeders who want to continue turning a blind eye. Cost is frequently sited as a reason not to test, yet, auscultation heart tests performed by a cardiologist are frequently run by other breed clubs (which are open to all breeds) and cost just £10...

    7. I didnt mean to sound too negative or critical! If the KC can get even a few breed clubs to do real breed health surveys, with a large enough and representative sample, well designed questionnaire, and can get a good response , and the data professionally analyzed, , that would be real progress, and could provide a model for other clubs. I would suggest they start with just a few breeds , then work on developing the best model for other breeds/breed clubs to follow. How well do breed health coordinators work? I suspect too many of them see it as their job to do PR on behalf of their breed , rather than to ask too many questions. Often the people who do the best work on health within their breeds are less than popular individuals who have the guts to stand up and tell the truth, or at least ask the right questions. But would love to hear of more examples of breed health coordinators who do a good job and would be worth funding by the KC

    8. I agree, these are breeds that need to have health surveysa done, but have they got the breed clubs who would do it properly?

  15. At £5k per breed club, this would be £1 million--not bad at all.

    I'm not sure about the UK, but in the USA, most (or all?) cities/towns/villages have a dog license fee that is about $10/year. There are 60 million dogs in the U.S., but since I'm assuming many owners are not compliant, let's say "10 million" actually pay the fee. The cost of the research could be covered in the USA simply by raising the dog license fee by the equivalent of 10 p per dog. That's certainly not asking too much of owners.