Sunday 12 May 2013

Goodbye George

 8 May 2003 - 11 May 2013
George the Pug died today. I felt ridiculously sad to hear the news.

George featured in the first Pedigree Dogs Exposed - billed as "the sickest Pug in Britian"-  so he did well to get to 10. Ten years and three days to be exact.

George had just about every ailment it is possible for a pug to have, as you can see in the clip below. But my over-riding memory of him will always be that he was such a sweetie.

The picture above was taken about a year ago when we were working on the sequel to PDE.  I find it enormously touching.

George was sired by Crufts champion Patsgang Sir Eastonite who won Best of Breed at Crufts in 2004. Astonishingly, George himself qualified for Crufts.

George was owned and loved with a fierce passion by Joanne Morris and her partner Graham. Joanne says they will never have another Pug.

I emailed Joanne this evening:
Dear Joanne 
I have just heard from Kate that you said goodbye to George today. I am so very, very sorry. I know he will be so missed. 
Thank you for allowing his story to be told in Pedigree Dogs Exposed. His legacy will live on, I hope, through generations of healthier pugs. 
A big hug here from me, Jon and all at Passionate Productions. 
And back came this:
I told him as he was PTS that he will go down in history. It was a wonderful peaceful ending after he had gone downhill. He had dementia, had been having fits and then his breathing went as well as his sight. He was ten years and three days old and a miracle after all the crap bad breeding had thrown at him. 
"He went with a wag and a tiny bit of George left. I miss him but the pain is now mine. When he passed so quickly he looked so happy and peaceful. An end of an era. Never again. It's been a hard ten years. I do really appreciate you contacting me and allowing George to be part of such a life changing, ground-breaking documentary. I am proud of his part."
Bless you, Joanne, for being there for George.

He will be remembered.

Pug sequence from Pedigree Dogs Exposed from Jemima Harrison on Vimeo.

Saturday 11 May 2013

Flatcoats - the outcross challenge

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a well-spoken chap called Nick who runs a shoot in Scotland. He was looking for a young Flatcoat x Labrador bitch to pursue a family tradition. His father before him used to having working Flattie/Lab crosses and said they were the best gundogs he'd ever had.

Nick contacted me because I run a rescue specialising in retriever crosses. But of course I rarely know the ancestry of the dogs and just because they may look the part doesn't mean they can do the job.

Most of our dogs have some collie in them; many have a strong retrieve instinct, but they often have a less-than-soft mouth. And despite the world and her mother always calling anything black and long-haired a Flat-coated Retriever cross, the truth is that most are not. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I haven't had a single Flatcoat cross through my rescue since I started it six years ago. We have had several golden retriever crosses (which are often black) but there are so few working goldies now - not the best breed if you want a dog to work.

Of course, you can occasionally find flattie x lab crosses advertised on Epupz and the like. But they are usually pet-bred. Who knows if they would work?

Nope, what Nick really needs is a dog bred specifically for his purpose. And the call was timely as I've been thinking a lot about exactly this cross.

Flatcoats have a problem - a big problem - with cancer.  Every line is affected by it and not a week goes by that I don't hear about another young Flatcoat dying of what has become the scourge of the breed.

Despite breeders' best efforts - and they are in the main a health-conscious lot who are fiercely protective of their breed - I believe there is no way out of this within the breed. The Flatcoat gene pool is just too bloody small; too many lines blighted. I also believe that the issue here may be as much due to an immune system compromised by inbreeding as to specific mutated genes passing on a deadly inheritance. For previous posts on cancer in Flatcoats, see here and here and here.

And so I believe an outcross is needed and that a cross to the Labrador is the obvious choice.

Flatcoats were interbred with Labradors post World War II to boost numbers (and genetic diversity) when the breed almost went extinct. They share a common ancestry and a common working purpose.

Now many working Labrador folk find Flatcoats too, well, independent in the field - and the working Flatcoat folk diss Labradors as being too like automatons. But they aren't all that different. Not really.

There is no way that the Flatcoat or Labrador breed clubs will stomach such a cross, though - not officially.

So I'm going to put the cat among the pigeons and act as a matchmaker on behalf of Nick (and others I know who would be keenly interested in such a cross).

If you have a fully health-tested Flatcoat or Labrador with proven working ability that you would allow to be used in such an outcross - or if you would like to contribute your thoughts and/or wisdom to the idea outside of this blog, please contact me:

And if you're in the the US... see this.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Pekes then and now

Mary Evans Picture Library/THOMAS FALL
There's a good piece by judge and dog-show globetrotter Andrew Brace ("Air Miles Andy" as dubbed by the irreverent Gossip Hound) in this week's Dog World explaining the mechanics of how and why exaggerations occur in some show dogs. (See the whole article here.)

Brace focuses on the Pekingese, and features the above dog, Ch Caversham Ku Ku of Yam - a 1950's-vintage Peke.

"Although the study by Thomas Fall, who photographed so many of the great Pekingese of the past, is of Ku Ku sitting down it is clear to see that he did not carry an unduly profuse body coat (other full body photographs of him confirm this fact)," writes Brace. "His coat is obviously clean and well groomed but is presented in a very moderate fashion, rather than having the hair on his ears brushed up in an exaggerated way to emphasise width. 
"However it is the dog’s face that I feel is worthy of the most careful study, and bear in mind that this dog was born in 1952. Here we see a Pekingese head which complies perfectly with the requirements of the breed Standard yet in no way could be considered extreme. 
"A seminar could be given on this head alone. Look at the width yet shallowness of the face, the naturally flat topskull, the position of the correctly fringed ears and then examine the facial features. Here are eyes that are set well apart, large and expressive, with no suggestion of being bolting. The position of the eyes relative to the nose is exemplary, the nose and nostrils being sufficiently large. 
"The over-nose wrinkle is in no way exaggerated and sits perfectly on the nose while the muzzle is well padded, wide and in no way ‘lippy’. Most importantly the underjaw is wide, deep and strong, proving perfect lip-to-lip placement. I feel that so many of the Oriental breeds these days are lacking in chin and this is a vital ingredient when it comes to creating the essential arrogance of expression. All these individual features help to demonstrate the ‘openness’ of the face.
"I believe it is vitally important that breeders and exhibitors should occasionally browse through the old breed books and actually study the dogs of yesteryear. Doing so might give them a slightly different perspective on the dogs of today and pose some interesting questions." 
Indeed. But, actually, by the 1950s,  the show-ring had already wrought considerable shape-shifting on the Pekingese. And I don't agree with Mr Brace that the dog above has nares wide enough to guarantee the free-flow of air. (Feel free to click on the above pic to enlarge - I've paid for a hi-res version from the Mary Evans Picture Library so you can have a good look.)

Here's a 1899-style Peke from the famous Goodwood Kennel to compare - no nose wrinkle at all (because the muzzle is much longer), a bigger nose and wider nares. See other vintage pekes here.

Of course this dog wouldn't really be recognised as a Peke today. Now that doesn't mean that the dog has to be returned to this phenotype. It might be possible for today's breeders to find the right balance between type and health (not of course that it should ever be a tug-o-war between the two).

And I would agree with Mr Brace in saying that the breed has, in part, been hauled back from the appalling excess of 2003 Crufts winner Danny, who looked like this:

This is the 2013 Crufts BOB, btw... a real improvement.  Still w-a-a-y too much coat, though.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

AKC - the voices from within

Whoa.... is Monica Barry an animal rights activist? Perhaps she, you know, gets jiggy-jiggy with the Humane Society's Wayne Pacelle? (This was the accusation by one desperate dog breeder re NBC anchor Natalie Moralis in an attempt to discredit the Today Show's item on the AKC last week.)

But no. A quick check reveals that Monica Barry is a Borzoi breeder and exhibitor of some repute.

And she wasn't the only one to offer an opinion on the AKC's Facebook page on the state of the modern show German Shepherd.

Be afraid, AKC.

Sunday 5 May 2013

AKC v The Today Show

Ever since Pedigree Dogs Exposed aired in the UK in 2008, show breeders in the US have looked on in astonishment at the way the Kennel Club in the UK "pandered" (as they see it) to the critics. They just don't get why the KC, after a relatively short period of defensive denial, began to implement changes.

There are quite complicated reasons why reform has come. They include:

• strong backing for reform by the veterinary profession
• three major reports highlighting the problems (including one co-commssioned by the Kennel Club itself)
• the setting up of the independent Dog Advisory Council.
• a growing acceptance by both breeders and at least some at the Kennel Club that there were problems and that more should be done to tackle them.
• a little bit of Governmental pressure
• the loss of Crufts' major sponsors
• the loss of mainstream television coverage of Crufts
• behind the scenes, a loosely-organised group of campaigners. Comprising researchers, vets, photographers, journalists, bloggers, breeders and pet owners, this is the "doggerati" - bullying through a strong, simple, single message: put the dogs first.
• the internet - which allows the free-flow of information, a fast response to misinformation and sharp commentary on stupidity.

But the primary motivator was publicity. Lots of it. Very bad publicity. And it was unrelenting. Pedigree Dogs Exposed was a water-cooler moment here in the UK and the general media couldn't get enough of the story. For months and months and months.

Pictures of gasping Bulldogs, bug-eyed Pugs and Shar-pei whose head looked like they'd been stung by a thousand bees were plastered all over the newspapers. Every bit of fall-out from the film generated headlines - Pedigree withdrawing its sponsorship of Crufts, the announcement of the inquiries, the BBC dropping the televising of Crufts. Much of it was front-page news in the nationals and it heaped more and more pressure on the Kennel Club.

In the end the KC had no choice. It really was a question of its own survival.

Observers in the US have no idea what it was like for the Kennel Club. They think the KC were pussies. "It couldn't happen here," they maintain. "The AKC would never roll over like that."

You think?

Of course there have been pockets of bad press for US show breeders. The odd hard-hitting magazine article. The occasional television item. Quite a lot of strong blogging. Nothing, though, that the AKC hasn't been able to bat off fairly easily. It's a big country. There are so many different TV stations and the media and the dog-owning public so diffuse. While Pedigree Dogs Exposed was broadcast in the US, it aired on local PBS stations and BBC America. It never made the big time.

But it's hotting up in the US. Last week, the AKC took a drubbing from The Today Show on NBC. The report focused on husbandry, not genetic/conformation problems but it was bad news for the AKC.

Have a look at this:

(If the video doesn't load, you can view the report here.)

As you'll see, central is the charge that the AKC's inspections of breeders are woefully inadequate and that, consequently, the AKC sometimes registers sick pups raised in hellish conditions . The Today Show illustrates the piece with the story of a Great Dane breeder whose dogs were found to be in poor condition just days after an AKC inspection had declared that all was fine.

Making it a whole heap worse is that the AKC spokesperson interviewed by NBC was a disaster. Cornered by the fact that there was no real defence to the charges, she had to admit that the AKC fields just nine inspectors for the whole of the USA and was unable to say what percentage of breeders had been checked.

What the AKC should have done was to say that it had launched an investigation into the claims and the Great Dane case in particular; that it would act on its findings; that it realised that nine inspectors for the whole of the USA was woefully inadequate, and that steps were being taken to improve things.

But nope.  The day before the show aired, the AKC sent out this defensive plea asking the dog world to bombard NBC with "it's not fair" emails.

Click to enlarge
And the day after the AKC followed up with this:

Click to enlarge
Underneath this, it listed 11 "top facts the Today Show didn't tell you." For those, see here.

You'll see that not a single one addresses the specific charges made in the Today Show report. 

And let me spell it out: if the Today Show had got it that wrong, the AKC would not be asking people to whinge to NBC. It would be consulting its lawyers. 

Absolutely outrageous, incidentally, was the AKC's Top Fact No 11:
"They didn't tell you that The Today Show's Natalie Morales made a TV public service announcement in conjunction with the Ad Council and the HSUS."
This is a really cheap shot by the AKC- an attempt to discredit the piece by insinuating that an NBC anchor is an HSUS monkey because she supports pet adoption. (Yep, just rescuing a dog these days is almost enough to have you banged-to-rights as an animal rights activist.)

It reminded me a lot of the release the KC put out the day before Pedigree Dogs Exposed aired in the UK (still available here) - which served only to alert the mainstream media to a newsworthy spat.

The AKC response to the report was, in effect, just as damaging as the report itself.

You cannot tackle charges like this with deflection.

It's like the Catholic Church saying: "Now you claim some our priests have been abusing children, but look at the wonderful work these nuns do with the poor on the streets of Buenos Aries."

It doesn't work.

Is it a blow the AKC will withstand? Probably - for now.  It was lucky that NBC chose to pitch Wayne Pacelle from the Humane Society (HSUS) against the AKC. Most people in the dog world hate HSUS so much that they were inclined to rally round the AKC on this occasion.


Despite the hatred of HSUS, the AKC has taken bit of a battering on its blog on the issue (see the comments here.) This reflects a growing voice from within - something which contributed to prompting reform here in the UK.

It really was piss-poor PR by the AKC - an organisation that is not really used to be having a spotlight shone on its nether regions.  It is going to have to get used to it, though. The word is increasingly out, not just regarding the registration of dogs bred and raised in less-than-ideal circumstances, but in respect of:

•  conformation problems and inbreeding (just as bad in the US as they are here, although affecting breeds to different degrees)

• falling AKC registrations - while its rival the UKC is enjoying a rise in registrations. (This is prompted in part by the UKC's Total Dog philosphy, popular dog events, appeal to grass roots owners and - or so I like to think - in the UKC's acknowledgment of the issues I highlight here.  The UKC is still way behind what the KC or Scandanavian KCs in terms of reform, but it has made a start. It will no longer register the progeny of first-degree relative matings and it has revised some breed standards. More about this another time.)

The AKC meanwhile, has dug its heels in (it will still register the closest of matings and it has resolutely refused to alter breed standards that plainly demand conformational extremes). In comparison, it feels elitist and stuffy.

Yesterday's spoilt child.