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