Monday 28 April 2014

The great Peke challenge: Malachy or Prince?

The HBO Sports segment on show breeding last week rightly highlighted the Pekingese, Palacegarden Malachy, that won Westminster in 2012.

The Peke is known as "the little lion dog".

But as Scottie Westfall remarked on his Retrieverman blog: "...what was once a pretty hardy little dog is now a little lion trying to be a marmoset."

Debby Wong/Shutterstock
But you can find some much more normal-looking Pekes outside of the showring and the other day I stumbled on this pic, below. I thought this dog was such a breath of fresh air that I contacted the photographer, Karen Givens, who has kindly given me permission to use the pic.

Handsome, isn't he?

© Karen Givens
The dog's name is Prince and he lives in Arkansas... a purebred Peke, although only his sire is registered.

If we promise to listen and not jump down your throats, could anyone in the Peke fancy tell me why they think that Malachy with his very flat face, large nose roll and stenotic nostrils is a better dog than Prince?

Saturday 26 April 2014

AKC sticks knife in. To itself

HBO's Real Sports threw its hat in to the show-ring last Monday night with a 15 minute piece exploring the problems in purebred dogs.

You can watch it here:

There has been the predictable caterwauling from AKC breeders claiming that it was all an animal-rights-influenced hatchet-job - and from the American Kennel Club itself, which has issued a release accusing the well-regarded Real Sports show of  "hiding their real agenda" and of "betraying a promise of fairness and balance" (read it here).

The AKC even stooped so low as to accuse the presenter Soledad O'Brien of hating dogs - as if somehow she would be acting alone and not merely the front-end of an Emmy-award-winning production team that spent some months researching the story.

The basis of this accusation turns out to be that in 2009 the housing co-op where O'Brien lived asked a tenant to leave because of their Neapolitan Mastiff - a huge great, slobbery, gassy beast called Ugo.  The co-op allows pets. The issue in this case was purely this one particular dog. All the tenants  wanted the dog gone, but it was O'Brien, as secretary of the co-op, who signed the eviction order.

Ergo, in AKC-logic-land, O'Brien hates all dogs.

The AKC also released the following video, claiming it proves that Real Sports left vital stuff on the cutting room floor. It of course does nothing of the sort. All it does is show two very uncomfortable AKC reps refusing to answer direct questions while continuing with glassy-eyed insistence that AKC breeders follow a breed standard that ensures "happy, healthy dogs". 

My favourite bit of this (if it wasn't so tragic) has got to be vet and dog-show exhibitor Cindy O'Connor claiming that the Bulldogs she sees in her practice are perfectly healthy.  And yet, as she explains, she is a reprovet - i.e. someone who specialises in fertility problems, artificial insemination and assisted births.

Over 80 per cent of Bulldogs cannot mate or whelp naturally. They are, on average, dead by the age of six. The flat face and wrinkles often cause severe breathing problems and intractable skin infections. They are the No 1 breed for hip dyslpasia. That there may be some that defy the odds and lead relatively sound lives (and of course there are some) can never be an excuse.

O'Connor's defence of Bulldogs - in the face of such compelling evidence of the suffering the breed endures as a direct result of selective breeding endorsed by the AKC and other registries - is a  bona fide disgrace.

I hope one day she'll see it for what is is: a terrible, terrible betrayal of the dogs she claims to champion.

The problem for the AKC - and it will happen every time the AKC is exposed to investigative media scrutiny -  is that however often you repeat the mantra "happy, healthy dogs" (and boy does the AKC repeat it), it is entirely unconvincing when there is so much evidence to the contrary.

Investigative journalists are never going to be persuaded by claims that everything is OK because breeders love their dogs or because the AKC Health Foundation puts millions into health research. Journalists want to see hard data that this love and money has had a measurable impact on dog health.

But of course the AKC is scared of initiating this kind of research in case it confirm the critics' claims. It knows, deep down, that its foundations are built on the sand of unsound science - the idea that you can improve a breed by trapping it in a closed gene pool and selecting for primarily cosmetic features.

And so, when poked, the AKC either defaults to "we're only a registry!" or it cries foul, launching ad hominem attacks on everyone who calls them out on purebred dog health in an attempt to discredit the claims.

It convinces no one but its own congregation - and I choose that word deliberately.

But at the end of the day there is no real driver for change in the US; no one insisting that the AKC backs up its claims that it is in the business of "happy, healthy dogs".

And so we continue on a merry-go-round of accusations and denial with the dogs caught in the middle.

If it wasn't for the fact that dogs are suffering needlessly, we should all just let the AKC die a natural death. It is half way there already with its public image at an all-time low and registrations dropping like a stone.

So what's to be done about this impasse?

I have one suggestion: the American veterinary profession needs to man-up.

Shortly after Pedigree Dogs Exposed aired here in the UK, this headline appeared in the Veterinary Times.

Click to enlarge
This and similar editorials encouraged UK vets to stand up and speak out as a profession. It was this perhaps more than anything else that put pressure on the Kennel Club in the UK to initiate reform  after Pedigree Dogs Exposed.

American breeders insist on seeing the changes as some kind of hideous victory for animal rights activists and they think UK breeders ares nancies for tolerating it. But I have no doubt that history will document the upheaval as a turning point that resulted in a better deal for the dogs - at least short-term. (Long-term, purebred dogs are dead in the water unless much more change is implemented.)

Indeed, it is evident that UK breeders are now some way ahead in terms of understanding the importance of genetic diversity, the damage done by inbreeding and popular sires, the problems associated with exaggerated features. The Swedish and Finnish Kennel Clubs are, of course, even further ahead.

Furthermore, the changes in the UK have not come at a legislative level, as many feared. (We have a Government in the UK that much prefers self-regulation.) Nope, the changes have come because the KC has been pushed into providing better education of breeders and some useful tools, such as Mate Select, to help breeders and buyers make better choices.

Here's one comment from one Bulldog fan on the Real Sports Facebook page, clearly unaware that the Conservatives are currently in power in the UK and that it is, ultimately, impossible to DNA test your way out of trouble within the current breeding paradigm (and certainly not the way she's suggesting it is done).

A final note... the Real Sports piece was a considerable PR coup for Wayne Cavanaugh who runs the AKC's main rival, the United Kennel Club (UKC).

Now Cavanaugh has yet to implement the kind of meaningful reforms within the UKC that will result in real health improvements - and the UKC is probably as guilty as the AKC when it comes to registering puppy mill dogs. But, unlike the AKC, Cavanaugh has at least introduced some changes to his breed standards and he is prepared to speak out despite the fact that it could be commercial suicide.

Cavanaugh is a former vice president of the AKC (and used to co-present the Crufts TV coverage here in the UK).  He undoubtedly "gets it" -  I met him in Washington a couple of years ago and found him a breath of fresh air.

Mind you, I am always rather grateful to meet anyone in the showdog-game who doesn't spit in my face.

Sunday 20 April 2014

New dog journal now online

A new journal dedicated to dog genetics and epidemiology, announced last year, is now online.

The great news is that Canine Genetics and Epidemiology is free and promises to interpret the reports for dog breeders and others without a science background.

Thus, in the first issue in a very useful article on The Genetics of Eye Disorders in the Dog by Cathryn Mellersh, we have this abstract:

And then the journal helpfully offers this lay summary.


Actually, the journal is a great initiative and deserves everyone's support.

Also in the first issue:

• "Approaches to canine health surveillance" (Dan O'Neill et al), which explores the strengths and weaknesses of different ways to monitor disease in dogs.

"A novel mutation in TTC8 is associated with progressive retinal atrophy in the golden retriever"  (Louise Downs et al), which reports another mutation linked to PRA in Goldies.

Canine Genetics and Epidemiology is published with support and backing from the Kennel Club. An excellent use of KC funds/resources.

You can sign up for article alerts here.

RSPCA blasts Channel 4 over Crufts claim

The RSPCA has accused Channel 4 of misleading viewers who wrote in to raise welfare concerns about this year's coverage of "the world's biggest dog show".

In its response to complaints, the broadcaster claimed that it "worked with" the RSPCA in putting together this year's broadcasts. 

Not true, says the RSPCA.

Here's the response one viewer received from Channel 4 (my bolding):
"Our coverage this year, as in the past, will not only cover the show itself, but will also reflect the on-going debate and continuing developments regarding dog welfare. We believe that by providing a major platform for debate and education, this can help people to make the right decisions about buying, raising and breeding healthy dogs as well as ensure that this debate is given an on-air forum. To that end, we will cover a range of health and welfare topics in short films followed by studio discussions with a member of the British Veterinary Association. We also have the RSPCA working with More4 and Channel 4, on how best to address health and welfare issues in the coverage of this year's Crufts."

The RSPCA, however, disputes this. Says Campaigns Manager Violet Owens:
"The RSPCA did attend a meeting with Sunset and Vine along with the Kennel Club and the BVA, but it was to discuss our concerns about the Crufts coverage from last year and the changes and improvements that should be made. However, we do not believe that any of our suggestions were taken forward and we were even more disappointed with this years coverage. We will be taking up the fact that we are being used as an endorsement of welfare in this response with the production company."
The RSPCA is right to be irritated by this year's coverage.

• The "member of the British Veterinary Association" was mostly vet Nick Blayney, the Kennel Club's Chief Veterinary Advisory/official KC apologist.  (And always to be remembered by me as the man who refused to condemn mother/son or full-sib matings when we interviewed him for Pedigree Dogs Exposed). Blayney even managed to recommend to viewers a Cavalier as the ideal lap-sitting breed for an elderly person without any mention of the costs involved in caring for a dog at a very high risk of heart disease and syringomyelia. (Heart meds alone can cost over £100 a month). And he maintained that there were more crossbreeds in rescue in the UK than purebreds - not in fact true.

• The KC's Assured Breeder Scheme was plugged without reflecting any of the flaws in the scheme.

• The Pekingese that went Best of Breed and won Reserve in the Toy Group (above) was a furball who panted for air as he waddled round the ring. Despite this, commentator Frank Kane made a point of saying the dog was "sound and healthy" and free of exaggeration (while praising owner/handler Burt Eadon for not walking too fast). Kane also declared - astonishingly - that the dog did not have too much coat.

Ch Yakee Ooh Aah Cantona is the grandson of Danny (Yakee A Dangerous Liaison) who won Crufts in 2003. As we revealed in Pedigree Dogs Exposed, Danny had had a soft-palate resection to treat his brachycephalic airway syndrome (although still gasped like a beached grouper).

In most thinking people's opinion, the op should have meant a disqualification - surgical procedures that alter a dog's natural conformation are not allowed and Danny's owners had not reported the procedure to the KC. But there was just enough wiggle room in the regulations (hey, the op only changed the dog's internal conformation not the external) for the KC to allow the win to stand.

Danny died earlier this year at the age of 15 - with some Peke-o-philes claiming this as evidence that PDE was wrong to criticise the dog. This is a bit like claiming that because Stephen Hawking has defied the odds in terms of longevity that there's nought wrong with motor neuron disease.

This year's winner was a little better than his grandfather in terms of his breathing, and I was pleased to see that he has a low co-efficient of inbreeding (at least according to the KC's Mate Select), but he is still light years from anything resembling a functional dog. And he certainly should never have been awarded Reserve Best in Show.

As ever, the impression given is that these dogs emerged fully-formed from some kind of natural evolutionary process. In reality they are the product of some sick people's warped idea of what a dog should be - something that needs to be challenged and challenged and challenged until they start breeding for a more athletic dog with longer legs, longer muzzle, wider nostrils, smaller eyes and less coat.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Wrinkle worship - from Peru to Alfreton

This is what passes for a beautiful Shar-pei in Peru.


I hope so.

Think it couldn't happen here?

Think again.

This dog won Best of Breed at The Neapolitan Mastiff Club UK's Breed Open Show last weekend in Alfreton, Derbyshire

Ah, but one's a Shar-pei that isn't supposed to look like that, and one's a Neapolitan Mastiff that is!

You think that makes any difference to the dog?

The depressingly-named Vallino Reverend Wrinkle is owned by a nice chap called Sean Platts (above with his dog). 

Now, the Rev Wrinkle has good hips, elbows and heart-score and, apparently, an eye certificate (although presumably not one that says he doesn't have ectropian). I've met Platts and he is something of a champion for Neapolitan Mastiff health testing. In his own way. But as we see in so many other deformed breeds, that way is within the confines of a breed standard distorted by the whim of fashion. 

As a reminder, here's what Neapolitan Mastiffs used to look like before the show-ring got hold of them.

Neapolitan Mastif, 1958
I couldn't get anyone within the Neapolitan show community to go on the record re Rev Wrinkle's win as they were anxious about me using their quotes for my own "sensational aims".  But I was told by one breeder that although the dog did have more loose skin than would these days be allowed in a KC champ show, I shouldn't be outraged because the show wasn't a qualifier for Crufts. 

This, said my contact, allowed the judge to "go with her heart for a change"

The judge was Janet Gunn (Flintstock Bullmastiffs) who "loves big typical dogs and as she found one without an obvious health problem she gave him his moment in the spotlight that he will never get at a Championship Show in the UK today."

Right...So you can continue to have your fix... your guilty pleasure.  As long as it's in an alleyway away from prying eyes.

As for "without an obvious health problem"... Did you see the dog's eyes? Did you see the evidence of skin disease on his muzzle? 

But of course that's normal in this breed.

And just look at those stenotic nostrils - previously not a common feature in this breed, despite their other ills. When did that happen?

Some more pix of the Peruvian Shar-pei - click to enlarge if you can bear it. You can find the breeder on Facebook here. Please feel free to take a moment to tell him what you think of his dogs - and indeed all those on there telling him they think his dogs are beautiful. 

You think they're sleepy? Nope, they can't open their eyes.