Sunday 31 March 2013

Karlton Index 2013

The results of the 2013 Karlton Index survey have been published today. Launched last year, the aim of the Karlton Index is to highlight good practice within breed clubs, to share ideas and to "offer encouragement to all breeds in the difficult challenges faced in managing health and welfare issues."

"Its aim is also to recognise the hard work that is invested in breed health and to highlight the efforts to those who commit their time and efforts into these issues," explains Philippa Robinson, who created the Index.

Philippa is a pet owner who was "politicised" on this issue through the experience of owning a German Wirehaired Pointer, Alfie, who died aged four of idiopathic epilepsy. She now owns a gorgeous wire x weim crossbreed, in good health I believe.

Philippa first contacted me in March 2007 to tell me about Alfie and we interviewed her for Pedigree Dogs Exposed - an interview that hit the cutting room floor, not because it wasn't any good (Philippa talked fluently and passionately on the issues as she saw them) but because it was hard to stand-up, in a legally-concrete way, the claim that Alfie's breeder had been negligent. As such, Philippa appears in PDE only briefly, taking a walk with Cavalier campaigner, Carol Fowler.

After the film, the relationship continued, but we drifted apart a couple of years ago after a disastrous attempt to set up a charity designed to promote and campaign on better dog health and welfare.  The reasons were several-fold but probably boil down to Philippa being frustrated with my casual acquaintance with deadlines (justified...) and me put out by how sharp she can be on occasions.

Since then, we have exchanged the occasional email - most friendly-enough; others which have doubtless made one or the other of us bridle.

Meanwhile, I continue my role as the gobby blogger scrutinising breeds and health reforms with a critical eye. And Philippa has taken a different tack: she has now forged relationships with the Kennel Club and breed clubs/breeders, feeling that this is a more positive, productive approach.

The result is a very different Karlton Index to the last one, which was largely critical (and which is no longer available on the Karlton Index website). The 2013 survey is clearly designed to encourage more than damn. And that's fair enough. There are, after all, many ways to skin a cat.

But I have a problem with the Karlton Index and it concerns what it measures and how it measures it.

For notwithstanding the huge effort that Philippa has put into this  - all on an unpaid, volunteer basis -  the Karlton Index doesn't actually measure progress in health (as it claims) - it mostly measures the appearance of health. 

Just like dog shows.

So, for example, breed clubs get marks for disseminating health information, for conducting surveys and publishing the results, for holding health seminars and for out-reaching to pet owners through a half-decent website.

All well and good and sometimes this will translate into better health, but of course not always. Some breed clubs are real bullshitters and too often proactive health campaigners within the breed are  ignored and even vilified by other breeders. The Cavalier Club is a case in point - heaps of health info on the website, but behind the scenes still in denial about the extent of the health problems in the breed and even Committee members ignoring the breeding protocols designed to improve breed health.

Philippa's scoring is, she concedes, often subjective - garnered in the most part from looking at websites, talking to the KC and breed clubs and, in some instances, breeders on the ground. I imagine that some of her information comes privately from emails, too. But at best this gives a somewhat patchy picture of what's really going on..

There is one exception: one part of the survey is designed to measure "Impact", and this is spelled out precisely, as follows:

Elimination of conformational abnormalities. 
Greater genetic diversity for individual dogs and breed as a whole. 
Reduction in the incidence of genetic disease. 
In this year's Index, Philippa 41 breeds have improved their "Impact" rating - and yet I can find no hard or objective evidence, based on the criteria above, to support these claims. 

Meanwhile, here, according to Philppa, are the top 10 breeds for 2013.

Click to enlarge
And this, I think, illustrates the problem. In first place is the Dachshund - undoubtedly prompted by amazing work that's been done on health by Dachshund Breed Council Chairman Ian Seath. It ticks many of Philippa's boxes, but the issue remains that Dachshund breeders are in the main clinging to a conformational extreme that is contributing to a very high level of disc disease in the breed - up to 25 per cent. And rather than straight-up demanding more moderate dogs, the Club is (in my view) time-wasting in funding research into finding a gene or genes for Dachshund disc disease when both (and more) approaches are needed.

Now, sure, some extreme dogs appear to suffer less than less extreme ones. Yep, some varieties suffer less, too. But bottom line, what do you expect when you breed a dog that is so proportionately out of kilter?

Now there is no doubt that the Dachshund Club/Council are being truly proactive on health. And yet I fear that this gives out the message that breeding long dogs with almost no legs is OK when it isn't. 

And how about the Flatcoated Retriever in second place?  Again, the Flatcoated Retriever Society is reasonably proactive on health initiatives. It is now promoting a Flatcoat Death Register and last month the Club announced that it was reopening its Group Study, following a rolling cohort of Flatcoats for life - and better, still, it is open to all flatcoats worldwide. Both are useful, but as I have whinged on many occasions, the Society plays down the elephant in the room - that more than 50 per cent of flatcoats are dead from cancer by the age of 8/9.  (And when I mention it I am accused of "ruining the breed".) 

The Irish Setter, meanwhile, is in a dire state with epilepsy and bloat rife. And the inclusion of the Bernese Mountain dog at No 6 is a mystery.

I emailed Philippa with my concerns this morning, specifically about the subjectivity and arbitrary nature of her scoring. I asked for the data to support the improved "Impact" scores. And in relation to Berners, I asked her this:
"You praise the BMD Club for a health seminar that took place in 2011 (so not current) - a seminar about which [health rep] Steve Green himself said that only 30 UK breeders (out of 1200 club members) attended.  They have come sixth and yet this is the breed with the highest rate of cancer of them all. Additionally, are you aware that they have never reported on their 2009 health survey, and in fact have removed all mention of it from their website?  Steve Green himself is fab but how much impact is he having? Have I missed something?"
Philippa replied that individual breed summaries (that presumably will answer my questions) were not available but will be released in April/May.

Additionally, she wrote: "To address those questions and more I am planning follow-up workshops to be held at locations around the country (hopefully at vet schools) so that these incredibly important issues can be explored in a meaningful context i.e. not just batted about ping pong fashion on facebook and blogs."

The exchange kinda deteriorated from there, with Philippa saying she "didn't like the line" I was taking - and ending just now with her emailing: "You are very tiresome. And of course I would expect many of the quarters with whom I now engage to think that also. But what has really surprised me this past 18 months is the number of eminent people not connected with the KC or breed clubs who find both you and Beverley so. I won’t be visiting your blog to find out your thoughts."

Oh I bet she does... And I hope she does  - because flinging insults because she doesn't like the scrutiny isn't grown-up, professional or productive. And also because I believe my concerns are valid (as indeed she herself appeared to acknowledge at the start of the communication today).

(The reference to Beverley, by the way, is to Beverley Cuddy, editor of Dogs' Today magazine - and while I can understand that many find me an irritant, I can see no justification for including Beverley in the above. Bev is a hands-on helper on so many dog fronts - including running the successful Don't Cook Your Dog campaign and spearheading a super charity Tailwaggers which helps people struggling to pay vet bills. Beverley doesn't even opine that much on pedigree dog health these days; it's just that some have never forgiven her for claiming in Pedigree Dogs Exposed that "the dogs are falling apart".)

The bottom line is that I feel Philippa should have waited until she could provide the missing data.  After all, she has recently completed - with distinction - a Masters of Science degree in Human Resource Management and she tells me: "Part of [this] was a module called Research Philosophy and Methods - in which I achieved a mark of 78% - it is usually a very tough module for students so such a mark is rare."

And yet such a module must have stressed the importance of supporting your conclusions with hard data. After all, it is a demand made of any serious research.

I hope I'm not being too mean to Philippa - and I welcome views from others. I do see a point to the Karlton Index, and I do appreciate that she's put a huge amount of time into it, completely unfunded, as far as I'm aware. 

I just want it to be better - and fear that in its current form it is in danger of rewarding illusion; also that breeds which have no cause for complacency will triumph re how well they have done.

If we want to measure improvements in health, we need to find a way to measure real  indicators of better health -  morbidity, longevity, fertility, litter size, functional fitness  - and not just the appearance of doing something. 

Because that's why many pedigree dogs are in the mess they are.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Sweet Pug Sounds

Yes, this dog's owner really has titled this video "Sweet Pug Sounds".

And when challenged has replied: "Many people who don't know pugs are either afraid of their noises or are worried something is wrong. I assure you he is fine... hot maybe, but fine."

Please feel free to hop over to YouTube and tell her what you think of that.

Monday 25 March 2013

Well done the Cavalier Clubs

Now that's not something I write very often but in this case it's richly deserved.

The Cavalier Clubs Health Liaison Committee has written to the Kennel Club requesting that it refuses to register Cavaliers that could develop either of two distressing conditions: Episodic Falling and Dry Eye Curly Coat Syndrome.

The first is a neurological condition induced by exercise, excitement or frustration, causing the dog to become rigid and fall over. It looks like this:

Dry Eye Curly Coat syndrome, thought to be unique to the Cavalier, affects a dog's eyes and skin. Affected dogs produce no tears, making their eyes incredibly sore.

© Susan Jacobi

Additionally, their skin becomes flaky and dry, particularly around their feet, making standing and walking difficult. Most dogs born with the condition are euthanised.

The good folk at the Animal Health Trust developed a reliable DNA test for both conditions two years ago - both caused by simple recessives. A combined test is currently on offer from the AHT for £48 and many Cavalier breeders are now using it to test their stock. But not all. And with the carrier rate for EF estimated at one in five Cavaliers and DECC at one in 10 dogs, there's a clear need.

So this initiative from the Clubs is extremely welcome. Moreover, in the Club's request to the KC, it recognises the wisdom of continuing to use carriers so as not to further deplete the Cavalier gene pool.

Episodic Falling and Curly Coat/Dry Eye 
At the recent Cavalier Health Liaison Committee meeting, Clubs voted to ask
the Kennel Club to include all results from the EF CC/DE DNA tests in the
KC's registration system and in their Health Test Results Finder and
published by the Kennel Club in the Breed Record supplement. Furthermore the Club's requested that all CKCS that are not already heritably clear should
be tested for both EF and DE/CC prior to breeding and that at least one
parent of each litter is free of each mutation, to ensure no affected
puppies can be produced or registered.
The Club recognised the AHT's findings that it is perfectly safe to breed
with carriers, provided they are only ever mated to clear dogs and that we
should actively encourage breeders to include their carriers in their
breeding programmes so that the genetic diversity of the breed is not
compromised. The two mutations are inherited independently, so it is
perfectly safe for one parent to be a carrier of one mutation and for the
other parent to be a carrier of the other mutation, or for one parent to be
a carrier for both mutations.
The Cavalier Clubs would like to thank the AHT for carrying out this work
which represents the culmination of several years research that has been
funded by several Breed Clubs, individuals and organisations including the
Kennel Club Charitable Trust.
David Moger, Chairman Cavalier Health Liaison Committee 

So now the big question is: will the Kennel Club agree to the request?

The Kennel Club currently registers around 8,000 Cavaliers a year. That's well down from the 12,000 it used to register before Pedigree Dogs Exposed highlighted the breed's other even bigger health problems (syringomyelia and heart disease), but still a considerable revenue stream. And this is a breed popular with puppy farms and pet-breeders who often don't health-test.

Sure, the KC's Assured Breeder Scheme makes some demands of breeders (although not, astonishingly, that Cavalier breeders DNA-test for Episodic Falling or Dry Eye Curly Coat Syndrome despite the test having been available for two years. Actually, testing for heart disease and syringomyelia is STILL only a recommendation not a requirement under the ABS)

And it is true that the Kennel Club has put such restrictions in place for conditions of lesser frequency in one or two smaller breeds, such as the Irish Setter.

But to my knowledge the KC has refused requests from breed clubs representing numerically-large breeds for all registrations to be conditional on the proven health of the dog.

So this is a big leap.

Will we see the same tired old bleat of "but the breeders will go elsewhere... much better to not be too tough with them and keep them under the KC umbrella"? Or will they stand up for the dogs and in so doing send out a clear message that that KC pedigree certificate means something?

(Although of course in Cavaliers it's a bit of a moot point given that the breed is completely buggered and you'd have to be an idiot to buy one.)

Watch this space...

Thursday 21 March 2013

Boz, bloat... and hope

This is my own boy, Boz, who suffered a GDV last week - a gastric dilatation volvolus, colloquially known as bloat.

The picture was taken at 3am a week last Tuesday as the emergency vets worked to stabilise him before surgery.  When I took it I didn't know if Boz would live or die. He was in cardio-vascular shock caused by his stomach twisting and cutting off the blood supply back to his heart.

Bloat kills in hours and it is a horrible, agonising death. Because Boz was at the foot of my bed I heard him unable to settle and begin to moan in pain. He did not show the hallmark symptom of either unproductive or "thready" retching, but he couldn't get comfortable and his abdomen was tight as a drum. When I listened to his tummy, it was completely silent. A telltale sign.

At 1am, I put Boz in the car and drove to the emergency vets 12 miles away.

So we caught it early and the surgery was reasonably uneventful. When they untwisted Boz's stomach (and tacked it so it can't twist again) the constricted tissues perfused with blood again. A little longer and the tissue would have died, become necrotic, necessitating more extensive - and riskier - surgery. As it was, the only small complication was that he vomited when coming round from the anaesthetic and inhaled some of it, resulting in aspiration pneumonia. He needed supplemental oxygen for 24 hours and antibiotics for a week. But he is now back to his old self: my beautiful, and much loved, boy... all the more precious for his brush with death.

So WHY did Boz bloat?

• It might have been the large meal he'd eaten quite late that night. That's thought to be a cause. 
• It might have been that he is male  - and slightly underweight.  
• It might have been because he wolfs his food (bolting food is another suspected cause). 
• It might have been his basic conformation - Boz is a large dog with quite a deep chest; a known risk factor. 
• It might have been that one of his parents was a retriever, a breed prone to bloat. (Although his other parent was a farm collie, much less susceptible.) 
• It might have been his age - the risk of bloat increases with age. Boz is now 8 years old. 
• It might have been that he is quite a "stressy" boy - some studies have suggested anxious dogs are more likely to bloat. 
• I know it wasn't because he is fed with a raised feeding bowl - another reported risk factor - because Boz's bowl is firmly on the ground. 
• I know it wasn't because he's fed just dry food, because like all my dogs he is fed a mix of kibble, tinned meat, fresh chicken and various leftovers.
• And I'll never know if it was because he had a first-degree relative that had bloated (one of the key risk factors) because I don't know who they are.  Boz is a rescue crossbreed.

So  I don't know for sure. And that's in part because there has been surprisingly little research into the causes of GDV/bloat, despite it being a huge killer of dogs, especially in the highest-risk breeds. Without veterinary treatment, it is 95 per cent fatal. Even with veterinary treatment, not every dog survives.

According to the Kennel Club/BSAVA 2004 health survey, GDV was a cause of morbidity in 44 breeds, and a cause of death in 65 breeds. It found that GDV hit one in four Grand Blue de Gascoigne, almost 15 per cent of Bloodhounds, almost 10 per cent of Otterhounds and 7.2 per cent of Irish Setters. Great Danes, German Shepherds and Standard Poodles are other high-risk breeds.

So it's great to hear of new research initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic that will hopefully result in equipping breeders and owners with new strategies to help mitigate the risk.

In the USA, the AKC Health Foundation is offering grants totalling £250,000 (raised through the breed clubs) to researchers - details here and here.

And in the UK, there's an exciting new collaboration between the Animal Health Trust, the Kennel Club and the Irish Setter Clubs.

It involves the KC mailing the owners of every KC registered Irish Setter (~11,000) to ask if their dog has ever suffered bloat and ask them to fill in a comprehensive questionnaire with questions about health, temperament, exercise and feeding regimens and so on.  

"We are also going to ask owners to take some simple body measurements, to see if there is a correlation between any of them and an increased risk of bloat," explains Cathryn Mellersh at the Animal Health Trust.  "I’m doing this with Tom Lewis, who will estimate the heritablity of bloat, which will tell us how much of the risk is due to genes versus the environment.  As far as I am aware heritabiity has never been investigated before, but as this will hopefully be a large dataset Tom should be able to estimate it with a reasonable degree of accuracy."

This is a fantastic use of the KC database and genuinely exciting. Well done, too, to the IS Clubs for raising the £12,000 needed to help make it happen.

In the meantime, please make yourself aware of the symptoms of bloat. It is a genuine emergency and acting quickly can save your dog's life.

This video shows an Akita in fairly advanced stages of bloat. The dog was being filmed by his new owners, who had no idea what was going on. Fortunately, they got him to a vet in time and he survived. NB: it is distressing to watch.

Want to know more? Check out the Canine Bloat Awareness page on Facebook here.


Message from a Bulldog fan

Sent to my personal Facebook.

Mario Crisan
I am the proud owner of my very first bulldog. 16 months old white boy. I've had many breeds in the past, hunting and guard large dogs but by far my bulldog, my pride and joy is the best dog I've ever had. The most human one!
With this in mind, I don't appreciate your articles about the bulldogs and I would like you to apologise and stop writing lies and denigrate this wonderful breed! My boy tyres down other breeds in the open parks when they play and I could always send you pics or videos of how fit and agile he is. I see you have a problem with dogs panting? Why do you have a problem with that? That's how they breathe or did you not know that? I look at your dogs pics and they pant too. Wow, I'm really surprised by it as according to you only bulldogs pant. How come there isn't a bitter article aimed at the breed your dogs are because they pant? In fact, a lady is at least fair play, you don't seem to be fair play, therefore what are you then?
Because of nasty people like you, this fantastic breed gets such bad publicity. I'm not a breeder I put money in my dog instead of taking out any and I'll carry on doing so until I can! My dog is my child but I'm fed up with people being so uneducated or stupidly ignorant to get surprised every time they see a bulldog move, or jump or run.
Don't forget, this breed in it's current shape has been around since 1920 and during this time the breed had survived, improved and more it is very popular. Why do you think that is despite your efforts to ruin this breed every year?
If you are a lady, I will send you pics and videos of my boy playing and acting like a normal dog and I would like you to publish them and apologise to the bulldog world for hitting the breed with no reason!
If this message gets ignored, you'll just prove the world you are a ignorant wannabe cunt who'll eat shit to move up and forget about manners and fairness.
Kind regards,

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Boxers: the heat is on

New research reveals that body condition plays a critical role in thermoregulation in brachycephalic breeds such as the Boxer, Bulldog and Pug.

“Brachycephalic dogs are at greater risk for heat-related illness, presumably due to the structure of their respiratory tract,” explains Professor Michel Davis of Oklahoma State University in an article on the AKCHF website“Dogs rely on the respiratory tract to dissipate metabolic heat, and this process is hampered in brachycephalic breeds due to their airway anatomy.”

This makes endurance activities tougher for brachycephalic breeds. But the research found that carrying too much weight may be an even bigger risk. 

“While brachycephaly had an important impact on our research results, body condition score seemed to have a larger impact,” Davis says. “In other words, being overweight is probably more risky than being brachycephalic and a lean brachycephalic dog may not have that much of a risk. The overweight brachycephalic dogs had two strikes against them.”  

Nevertheless, the article goes on to feature Boxers - a breed that in the main is kept pretty lean and so one would think would not suffer so badly.

Not so, according to top Boxer breeders Linda and Skip Abel from Minnesota, who have bred Boxers under the Storybook prefix since 1993.  The Abels are portrayed as being responsible breeders for taking so much care to avoid heat-stress when travelling with their Boxers and for informing their puppy buyers of the risks: "“I caution new puppy owners about these issues,” says Mrs Abel. “A lot of times they are young families or a young, single person who wants to go jogging with a Boxer. I question them about whether a Boxer is the right breed for them."

And then she adds:

"In general, a Boxer is not a breed that spends a lot of time outdoors. These dogs simply can’t lie around in the sun without the heat becoming an issue.”

Wow. Really?

The Boxer was originally bred as a swift and strong hunting dog, capable of bringing down boar.  They were also once used in Germany as police dogs and they would have been utterly useless in either capacity if they were prone to keeling over through heat-stress.

So what happened?

The 'effin show-ring happened.

Here's what Boxers used to look like:

Over the next 50 years, they became more "refined" (as the breeders like to call it). By the 1940s, the distinctive undershot jaw was well-established and I am sure most people would recognise this dog as a Boxer (as opposed, perhaps, to the one above). But the muzzle still had a really good length to it.
And they could have stopped there. But of course they didn't. Here's a modern show dog, photographed in the UK ring recently. They're not all like this, but some are - and it's a type favoured on the continent, including in the breed's country of origin.

Here's another one:

It's a heck of a "refinement", isn't it?

Of course, the Boxer is not (yet) as brachycephalic as other breeds and I am sure I'll be inundated with breed afficionados telling me how fit and athletic their dogs are. I am sure many are. It is also true that there are videos on YouTube of Boxers bred for work that do not have significantly longer muzzles (although I note that most of them are marked by huge nostrils which must help).  

No, my chief objection here is to the description of the breed as "not an outdoor dog" - and the acceptance that it should be so by the very people that have inflicted the need for air-conditioning on the dog, almost as if they weren't complicit in the whole sorry process.  Because therein lies the road to hell.

Make no mistake about it, that short muzzle and undershot jaw are defects (the latter colloquially known as a Hapsburg Jaw in humans, perpetuated by inbreeding in the Hapsburgs - pretty much as it has been in Boxers, too).

In moderation, neither are likely to present huge problems. In other words,  you should be able to have your Boxer and heat it... safely. The problems arise when things go too far - which, clearly, they have done if you are breeding Boxers that aren't capable of going for a jog with their owner on a warm day.

Meanwhile, there are some bonkers show breeders (not in the UK, thank goodness) doing this to the other end of the dog. Apparently it's done in the belief that it makes the dog look like it has "attitude".


You gonna tell me it's just the stack? 'Cos that's how it started with the GSDs.

Have a look at Pietoro's collection of historical pix of Boxers - fascinating (as his collection is for all the breeds).  You can find the Boxer collection here.

And the inside of the Boxer? That's a whole other story... coming soon...

Friday 15 March 2013

Exclusive: worrying affliction evident at Cruft's 2013

It's called Obsessive Grooming Disorder.

Apparently these are dogs.

I spent some time ringside at the Pekes and saw fewer gasping guppies this year than in the past. Compared to the likes of Danny, who won Crufts in 2003 despite waddling into the ring clearly fighting for oxygen (and this despite surgery to address his brachycephalic airway syndrome), this is an improvement.  The continued highlighting of breathing problems in brachycephalic breeds by me, the vets and others has undoubtedly made dogs that are struggling to breathe much less acceptable to everyone. We have better-informed judges, breeders and public and I honestly believe that dogs like Danny could not win today.

Danny the Peke - Crufts Best in Show 2003. 
But let's not get carried away here. There is still w-a-y too much coat and the breed standard still demands "a rolling gait" - an abnormality that has been deliberately selected for and why most of them move so v-e-r-y slowly. Indeed, I saw more sprightly, less profusely-coated Pekes get thrown out at Cruft's this year.

And the Best of Breed dog, while not showing any signs of respiratory distress, still had very narrow nares and the slightly-squiff eyes commonly seen in flat-faced breeds with shallow eye sockets.

If you have ever toyed with the idea of getting a Peke, please buy a Tibetan Spaniel instead. Enjoyed seeing these at Cruft's this year. What a Peke should be.

Indeed, pretty much what a Peke used to be.

1910 Peke - Ch Broadoak Beetle - sourced from Pietoro's Dog Breeds Historical Pictures

Above and below: Tibetan Spaniels @ Crufts 2013

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Keep calm

© Katy Price 2013 - but free to reproduce whenever... wherever...

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Vet checks exposed!

And the reality?

They're just a judge-check, not a vet-check.  

Here, Crufts Chief Vet Andreas Schemel demonstrates exactly what they entail. Or rather don't entail.

Dr Schemel is, of course,  a judge himself and all he does is simply repeat what a judge would do. 

• there is no stethoscope;
• no pen-light to look in the dogs eyes. 
• he runs his hands down the dog's limbs but doesn't make any attempt to manipulate the joints. 

And as for the movement/breathing test.. the dog is asked to trot 10 metres. And back again.  


Now, the Kennel Club can claim that this is a check to ensure that judges don't put up dogs with obvious problems.  

But to also claim that this is any proof of the overall health of show dogs is just nonsense.  


But that's what the Kennel Club is doing. Have a look at this report in DogWorld - which, incidentally, confirms that all the Crufts vets had "received training and attended the KC's high-profile seminar at Stoneleigh" (the KC's Warwickshire HQ).  

I am informed that they were instructed not to check "too thoroughly". 

The DogWorld article also reveals the names of the vets involved.  

A quick check reveals that two are Kennel Club Members, and one of them is an owner and exhibitor of Border Terriers. Coincidentally this is the same breed as both the current and past Chairman of the Kennel Club.

Monday 11 March 2013

Neapolitan Mastiffs? Better. But...

Two years ago to the day, the photographs I published here of the Neapolitan Mastiffs at Cruft's 2011 caused an outrage. Parade of Mutants is this blog's second most popular post and it prompted a call from the veterinary profession for "urgent" action to address the extreme conformation in this breed.

Above - BOB 2011
Class of 2011

Last year, they were still pretty awful - as I documented in this post. And the BOB duly failed her vet-check. Here's what she looks like.

And here's a close-up of her eyes - the reason she failed the vet-check.

The only glimmer of hope I saw last year was in a bitch called Nukualofa's Vaoila, owned by the UKClub's health-rep, Kim Slater. Vaoila won Junior Bitch and Reserve Best Bitch.

Vaola in 2012
Vaoila was at Crufts again yesterday and this time took Best Bitch. She's filled out a little since last year, but as you can see below, is still a moderate dog. She does have some ectropion but there was no soreness yesterday, and her coat was like polished slate... absolutely gleaming. 

But she didn't win Best of Breed. She was beaten by a more "typey" dog that was owned by the same breeder whose bitch failed the vet check last year.  Now this dog was certainly less extreme than last year's DQ'd winner, as you can see here:

In the photograph below he appears to be reasonably fluid... and those ringside thought he moved quite well.

But this dog, currently only 20 months old, is not going to age well.

And if you have a closer look at his eyes, they are barely better than last year's disqualified dog - with clear ectropion and redness.

So how come this dog passed the vet check, ensuring that not a single one of the high profile breeds failed this year? This is, I believe, another example of the goalposts widening because the Crufts vets are now under the KC's wing. 

I enjoyed spending a bit of time ringside with the Neos (or the Mastini as they would prefer I called them) on Sunday. Club Chair Steve Cox, whose dogs I have strongly criticised in the past, clearly wasn't that thrilled that I was there, but was polite enough both to me and the German film-crew that was filming me at the time (something that brought the KC's Bill Lambert running as it must have looked like it was me filming without permission). 

I was also impressed by breeder Sean Platts (Vallino Mastino) who was really open and has led the field in health-testing. Sean had a young dog there with a hip score of just 3/3 - pretty amazing for a Neapolitan Mastiff.

It all made me not want to be horrid about their dogs. 

And I fear that's how the Cruft's vet felt too.

But tell me what you think. Should this dog have been passed or not?

Behind the painted mask

Boxer paint-job... photographed at Cruft's on Sunday.

Crufty bagbiters

Look what landed in my inbox on the first day of "The World's Greatest Dog Show" last week.

Date: 7 March 2013 01:30:00 GMT
Subject: "crufty, adj." - Word of the Day from the OED

OED Online Word of the Day

Your word for today is: crufty, adj.

[‘Of software: poorly designed, esp. unnecessarily or unintentionally complex; containing redundant code.’]
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈkrʌfti/,  U.S. /ˈkrəfti/
Etymology:Apparently <  cruft n.2 + -y suffix1: see discussion at cruft n.2
 Computing slang.
  Of software: poorly designed, esp. unnecessarily or unintentionally complex; containing redundant code.
1981 CoEvolution Q. Spring 29/1 Crufty, poorly built, possibly overly complex. ‘This is standard old crufty DEC software.’
1984  J. Varley in  S. Williams Hugo & Nebula Award Winners from Asimov's Sci. Fiction (1995) 178 Routines so bletcherous they'd make your skin crawl. Real crufty bagbiters.
2005  C. Stross Accelerando vii. 332 There's lots of crufty twentieth-century bugware kicking around under your shiny new singularity.

Was that really just an amazing coincidence?

Wrinkle, wrinkle little star

Crufts Best of Breed 2013

©onEdition 2013

Crufts Best of Breed 2010

© The Kennel Club
This year's Shar Pei BOB is a much more moderate dog than the UK and American champion who was was all the rage in 2010. Another improvement - although still some way to go before they resemble the original "bonemouth" Shar-pei (below).

Sunday 10 March 2013

"Crock of shit"

These Bulldogs belong to a breeder who, on a Facebook page discussing my earlier blog about Bullodgs, has written: "Fuming... crock of shit."

And it neatly illustrates the problem. They simply don't see - and hear  - how abnormal this is. They think it's a bunch of Bulldogs having fun in the show.

While the rest of us watch and weep.

Add 11/3/13

The video has now been removed... inevitable, I guess.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Breeding better Bassets

© onEdition 2013 
Here's the Best of Breed Basset from Thursday's Crufts...Ch Switherland Touch N The Dark with Sasilasy.  And, below, is the 2012 Crufts BOB that failed the vet check, Buzz Lightyear at Dereheath.

It's quite an improvement, isn't it?

Now as this picture from a different angle shows, the Bassets are not yet home and dry.  The 2013 winner's eyes do not look sore or inflamed, but he has clear and evident ectropion which will always put his eyes at risk.

© onEdition 2013 
It's perfectly possible to breed for a tighter eye in Bassets - as this hunting Basset from the Albany pack illustrates:

For fairness, here's Ch Switherland Touch N The Dark with Sasilasy, from a similar angle - pretty clean, too.

So well done the Bassets. It made my day to see this.

And I'm not just saying that because co-owner Calum Twaddle was fined recently for threatening to beat the crap out of one particularly obnoxious small-time poodle breeder who had insulted him on line. Now of course I am not one to condone violence but in this particular instance a medal would have been more appropriate.

Bulldogs @ Crufts 2013 - Part 1

There's something odd that happens if you're around abnormality for long enough. You start to become desensitised to how grossly abnormal it is.

This is why the alarm about the severe morphological problems in some pedigree dogs took so long to register; why Bulldog breeders look at you in astonishment when you challenge the wisdom of breeding an animal that fails on so many basic functions (breathing and running freely, mating, whelping).

I am not immune to this process myself. I was ringside at the Bulldogs yesterday and they're beginning to look a bit less abnormal to me, too.

Now this is partly because they are a little better than they used to be. They are a little taller on the leg; there are some marginally more fluid movers (particularly the bitches which are smaller and lighter); some better breathers, too.

But let's not pretend that Bulldogs are anything other than a gross parody of what a dog should be - and it becomes painfully obvious when you photograph them.

The Bulldogs and most of the brachycephalic breeds were shown in Hall 4 at Crufts yesterday. It was markedly cooler than the other Halls - by design of course. The Bulldog ring was, as ever, deliberately positioned by a door kept open to aid the flow of cool air.

It was by no means warm, but not a single Bulldog that I saw in the hour or so I spent there could trot up and down in the ring yesterday without panting.

Here's the Bulldog bitch that went Best of Breed at Crufts yesterday.

This 19-month-old bitch was better than some - but is still breathing quite heavily in these pictures, several minutes after a brief trot round a cool ring.  Later in the group in the bigger Arena, where she had to trot a few metres further, she was quite obviously breathing heavily, too.

But she passed the vet check. So how come?

It's partly because the vet check isn't very taxing... the vets are not allowed to use any instruments; not even a stethescope. 

And it's partly because of the normalising process I mention above. 

The veterinary team at Crufts this year is headed by Andreas Schemel - a pug breeder and judge whose views on the breathing problems in flat-faced dogs are at odds with experts in the field. Contrary to most expert veterinary opinion, he insists that it is narrow nostrils, rather than the short muzzle, that is the main cause of the high prevalance of bracycephalic airway syndrome in Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs, Pugs and Pekes. Schemel even opined recently that the "the presumption that a long nose is automatically healthier than a short one grossly simplifies the situation and still has to be proven."

Schemel believes that breeding for wider nares is the solution... ergo - da-daa-  you can keep the flat face. It's bollocks, of course. 

Yesterday, Schemel either did or oversaw the vet check on at least one of the brachycephalic breeds as he was in the vet-check booth with them. They all passed.

The other vets doing the vet checks are now under the KC's wing, too. They've been brought into the fold; introduced to breeders and attended Kennel Club health seminars - including a High Profile Breeds Education Day last month "showcasing the health work that has been undertaken by breeders and the progress that has been made."

I am sure they are all great vets, but immune to this kind of indoctrination? Of course not. They become desensitised - as described in 1997 in the Canadian Veterinary Journal by vet, Korarik Arman. In an article entitled A new direction for kennel club regulations and breed standards Arman wrote: 
"The high frequency of genetic disease that has developed in purebred dogs over the last century has resulted in the desensitization of society and veterinarians to the resultant welfare issues to such an extent that the production of anatomically deformed dogs, such as pugs and daschunds, is neither shocking nor considered abnormal. 
So vets start to think: "this breathing, this movement... hey, it's pretty good for a Bulldog" whereas what they must continue to ask is: is it good for a dog... 

Of course the breeders are happy. They have always whinged that the vets don't understand that Bulldogs, Bassets and the like are supposed to be like that.

The Bulldog judge yesterday was asked if she was seeing less extreme dogs coming through the ring now. Her reply? She never thought they were extreme.

I applaud the Kennel Club for introducing the vet checks. They have worked. The Best of Breed Basset and Bloodhound and Shar-pei at this year's Crufts are all more moderate dogs. But there must be no resting on laurels and the checks must  not be watered down.

Because, after all, where do we go from here? Given that the vast majority of Bulldogs are now passing the vet checks done by vets who are no longer as objective as they should be, are these oxygen-starved, shambling creatures with grossly undershot jaws and tongues too big for their mouths really as good as it gets?  See Bulldogs @ Crufts 2013 - Part 2 and decide for yourself.

Bulldogs @ Crufts 2013 - Part 2

Sore muzzle

Powder in the skin folds