Millions of viewers tuned in to the hit Channel 4 show The Supervet on 30th January - and many wept when five month-old Bulldog puppy, Molly, was put to sleep. Molly had been rushed to Fitzpatrick Referrals in Surrey because she had been hit by a car. But it wasn't the accident that led to her death, it was what orthopaedic specialist Professor Noel Fitzpatrick referred to as "unscrupulous" breeding.
Molly had a fractured leg that needed surgery - but this was fixable. The problem was that scans revealed Molly was also suffering from crippling underlying genetic issues - including severe hip dysplasia and a trachea (windpipe) the size of a small cat's - just 5mm in diameter (it should have been at least twice that). Both conditions are life-limiting.
Fitzpatrick - criticised by some for being too gung-ho so hardly a stranger to taking a chance on a dog - advised Molly's owners that euthanasia was probably the kindest option. Her distraught owners agreed.
It turns out that Molly doesn't come from a puppy farm or backyard breeder. She comes from a long line of show dogs - supposedly the creme de la creme. There will even be several close Molly relatives being shown at Crufts next month. But, as is the case with most Bulldog breeding in the UK, neither of her parents have been tested for hip dysplasia or respiratory issues, despite both problems being endemic in the breed.
When Miss Hook began to get upset that neither test is mandatory in the breed she was then subject to online abuse.
Kennel Club show-breeder and judge Maria Taylor (Hillplace Showdogs) posted this.
Another called her a fraud, suggesting there were puppet-masters behind the scenes pushing her to ask award questions.
There was then a heated online exchange with the Lampens, who bred Molly's sire. First, the Lampens accused Miss Hook of negligence in allowing her dog to be run over. They then called her "stupid" and "a liar" - and then claimed they weren't the owner of the stud dog, despite their name clearly being on show results for the dog in 2017. (In fact, their name is also on Molly's vaccination certificate so they were clearly closely involved with the litter.) When Miss Hook persisted on asking why no health-testing had been done, she was told to "f...off".
"The bullying has left me confused and intimidated" says a shocked Miss Hook. "I will never buy another Bulldog. It is obvious that want to shout down anyone that is trying to find out the truth in order to protect their friends but more importantly their pockets."
Some of the online trolls even suggested that it was impossible to judge hips in a 20-week-old puppy and that Molly should not have been PTS. But I can exclusively reveal the extent of Molly's hip dysplasia, something that wasn't shown on Channel 4.
Here, first, is an x-ray of a dog with excellent hips - note how the ball-joint (femoral head) fits snugly in the cup-shaped socket (acetabulum).
For contrast, here's a dog with severe hip dysplasia - note the uneven shape of the socket and how the ball joint is not sitting tightly in it.
And here are Molly's hips.
There is a lot wrong here. Significantly, you can see that the socket is severely malformed and the femoral heads are a country-mile from where they should be. This is not something that is ever going to improve. Last week, it was claimed on the Bulldog groups that Molly was "running around woods" the morning of the accident, but Miss Hook says this is simply not true.
"She used to fall over a lot and we sometimes noticed her back legs giving way. She could only walk for two minutes or so before stopping and refusing to walk. We used to carry her a lot."
Molly's breathing was also bad. "She was very noisy when walking and you could hear her even when she was lying still. She made a lot of snuffling noises."
But Molly was Miss Hook's first Bulldog and she put it down to Molly being a puppy. After all, when she had taken Molly to her vet for her second vaccination, they checked her over but had not highlighted any concerns.
Molly cost £1400 and was bred by Carmel Parsons, who lives near Ashford in Kent and also breeds Bullmastiffs and Pugs, some of which have been shown. Miss Hook says that when she told Ms Parsons that Molly had died, she denied there was anything wrong with Molly and she did not believe the Supervet's diagnosis. Ms Parsons is no longer responding to Miss Hook who has also not responded to my request inviting her to comment. No response, either, from Barry and Lynn Lampen, the breeders of Molly's sire.
Molly's pedigree name is Melcassics Temptation and here is her pedigree.
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You'll see that some of Molly's antecedents have been tested for HUU - a condition called hyperuricosuia that is common in Bulldogs and can cause painful urinary stones which can sometimes need surgery. Even some truly shitty breeders do this DNA test - because it's cheap and enables them to claim that their dogs are "health-tested".
But only one other dog in the pedigree, Molly's grandparent on the sire-line (Ch Testwood Tom) has had any meaningful health tests, and they were done in Belgium seven years ago. They include a fitness, eye, heart and trachea test - all great. But despite the claim, the hip test listed here is limited because it did not involve an x-ray - just a physical exam by a vet. Upshot: this does not rule out hip dysplasia. You need to x-ray to do that.
It is that likely the reason Testwood Tom has been tested is because he is a Dutch Champion and it is a requirement there in order to be able breed. Since returning to the UK, where there are no health test requirements, Testwood Tom has had no further health testing, despite the recommendation that breathing is checked every two years because BOAS (Brachycephalic Obstructed Airway Syndrome) is progressive. He has now sired 75 litters and is still being offered at stud.
That said, his owner, Pam Freeman, was happy to talk to me and said last week: "As so much has been made of this I will now make arrangements to get him tested."
So what should Bulldog breeders be doing by way of health tests?
The day after Molly's story aired on Channel 4, the Kennel Club posted the following statement on its Facebook page:
Despite the Bulldog being widely considered a health train wreck by most experts, the Kennel Club doesn't mandate any health tests for the breed. The vast majority of the 10,000 Bulldogs it registered last year - even those bred under the auspices of its supposedly-elite Assured Breeder Scheme - have undergone no health-tests at all.
Instead the KC makes the following recommendations.
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But the Breed Council bronze level Breed Council does not test for respiratory issues or hip dysplasia - two of the breeds' biggest problems. And although the Silver and Gold tests do test for respiratory problems, there is no requirement to x-ray hips. (See Breed Council health scheme requirements here.)
Meanwhile, only a handful of breeders are using the Cambridge Respiratory Function Grading Scheme (RFGS) launched last year. Indeed, this is such a concern to the Kennel Club that last week it issued this appeal:
The truth is that it is more common for stud dog owners to demand that bitches are the right colour than be health-tested. Most are happy to collect the £500 or so a jump with no questions asked, even if the stud dog himself has been health-tested - just as long as they're not a non-standard colour.
Of course, it is possible that Molly's appalling hips were an unlucky one-off. But we know that hip dysplasia is inherited and we know that Bulldogs have terrible hips. In the US, where over 1000 Bulldogs have been hip-tested, the breed is ranked second worst for hip dysplasia of all the breeds (only the Pug is worse). Over 70% of them have abnormal hips. In the UK, only 30 Bulldogs have been hip-scored in the past 30 years - with a median score of 32 (awful, basically).
So why isn't hip-screening a breed requirement? Because it requires an anaesthetic and Bulldog folk consider this too risky because of the breeds' respiratory issues. It's also why so few are checked for trachea hypoplasia too (this too requires sedation). Of course most Bulldogs are born via C-section and an anaesthetic is needed for that but, hey, that's different.
It doesn't help that many Bulldog breeders buy into the myth that Bulldog hips are different. Have a look at this.
It's bollocks, obviously.
It has taken continued pressure by vets, welfare experts and campaigners to get where we are today in Bulldogs. We do now have some health schemes from nothing at all a few years ago and I think it's important to acknowledge that there have been some improvements.
The Bulldogs in the ring today move and breathe better than they did a few years ago and I am encouraged by the attitude of some breeders.
But endemic in the breed is a worrying climate of, at best, flannel and, at worst, intimidation being shown not just to puppy buyers who ask too many questions but to those within the breed advocating for greater health reforms. Very often, this is being driven by the politics engendered by the competitive nature of dog-showing.
The Bulldog Club Incorporated - the oldest Bulldog Club but perhaps the most forward-thinking on health - has just proposed that its members only breed from dogs that have passed the Bulldog Breed Council's Silver test as a minimum. It has caused uproar, with some threatening to resign membership of the Club.
As a result, those who are really trying to breed healthier dogs are being let down by others and the whole thing is absolutely impossible for puppy buyers to navigate. It remains unsafe for anyone in the UK to buy a Bulldog.
The Bulldog breed is desperately in need of new and stronger leadership - and a good deal more transparency. The Bulldog Breed Council still has not published the Bulldog Health and Conservation Plan the KC recently insisted they draft. Breed health rep Lieza Handley did not acknowledge my request asking for a statement regarding the issues raised by the Molly case - or indeed any of my messages.
The Bulldog Breed Council did, eventually, release this statement on its Facebook page.
Bottom line? Lots of fine words and it's good that the respiratory scheme might become mandatory if only for Assured breeders. But there was nothing condemning the online trolling of Molly's owner. And they seem to have forgotten to make a single mention of hip dysplasia.
The suggestion Mother Nature had anything to do with the bulldog is just laughable...ReplyDelete
Three points on OFA hip testing:ReplyDelete
1. Anesthesia is not necessary. All my dogs going back 30 years have had their radiographs with zero chemical restraint, unless I was also doing PennHIP views, which do require sedation. They are trained dogs who are relaxed at the vet.
2. The 70% figure reflects widespread pre-screening. Many, MANY owners just don’t submit rads that look obviously terrible. The results are heavily skewed towards those films that look “hopeful.” And of course still a tiny percentage of the breed. Breeders actively tell buyers not to radiograph hips.
3. The breed ID is not accurate. Owners self-report breed, or veterinary staff fill out forms inaccurately. I’ve had OFA itself make plenty of errors in pedigrees, even when all the paperwork was perfect, and had to harass them until they fixed it.
Years ago I noted a single “bulldog” rated OFA Excellent in the dB. There was literally ONE. Curious, I googled his registered name, and quickly found that he was an American bulldog — a breed more resembling a large pit bull. American bulldogs are athletes who have much more favorable hip statistics.
A bored person could probably work their way through the “bulldogs” listed with OFA hip clearances rated Good and Fair and find more of the same.
VACLER THOR VON VALECK is listed as a Bulldog with excellent hips and is literally a Belgian Malinois!Delete
It is not true that dogs need to be sedated for either an OFA hip xray or trachea. As long as the dog is cooperative and the xrays conform to OFA standards, sedation is not needed. Additionally, OFA grades on hips are breed specific due to the anatomical differences in each breed. That is, a Bulldog xray is not compared to a Labrador Retriever radiograph. The Bulldog Club of America has an active health screening protocol and annually gives different level awards for dogs passing various levels of health testing. Trachea is required and the highest level requires a passing hip score.ReplyDelete
The Bulldog Breed COuncil and The Bulldog Club of America aren't the same thing though and have different requirements. Also, Jemima probably said what she did about the xrays because requirements in the UK are different than in the US.Delete
And because I don't know if my computer actually linked the correct page for the Bulldog CLub of America this was what I meant.Delete
Thank you for your tireless advocacy.ReplyDelete
I wonder if making breeders responsible for paying the vet bills for genetic issues might get them to change. I imagine a stud dog's 75 litters of puppies could get expensive.
Some years ago there was an Irish Setter called Sam who died from epilepsy. His breeder claimed he was the first but Sam's owner came across other cases. Sam's owner pursued the case and won. From memory I think it was either Holland or Belgium I think it is time breeders become aware that people and insurers will become angry and litigation more the norm than the unusual . The arrogance of some of the comments towards Ms Hook make me see red, poor Molly had no chance because her breeder didn't take care . She looked like such a lovely little dog, it's horrible.ReplyDelete
How heartbreaking for this poor family and darling boy. We lost our beautiful Brussels Griffon www.instagram.com/Alfonsothegriffon to syringomyelia last year at just 7 years old. And from the well known Griffon line Beauview.ReplyDelete
So many of these overbred animals seems to suffer so unnecessarily. Thankfully all they will have known is love. Rest well beautiful boy x
Just see your comment above (Anonymous) Alfonso’s care over 7 years equates to £55,000. Thank goodness he was powered by M&S Insurance
In the UK chemical restraint is mandatory for X-rays, health and safety legislation prevents manual restraint unless the animal is too ill to be sedatedReplyDelete
My Whippet was x-rayed for bladder stones without sedation. They simply put a sandbag on him and he lay still without struggling.Delete
That is one exceptional case of a well behaved dog having a very simple view. To do the hips in UK is necessary sedation in 100% of the cases.Delete
For those saying you can do hip score radiographs without at least sedation have clearly never done it/worked at a vets. It's very hard to get an asleep dog in the correct position, it would be impossible in an awake dog.ReplyDelete
The trachea can also on be seen properly using a laryngascope which again is next to impossible to do in an awake dog as even the most tolerant dogs (and in my experience none of those are beachycephalics) wound still find it extremely uncomfortable and also would keep swollowing. The glottis also covers the opening to the trachea which has to be pulled down in order to view the trachea. This would cause a significant gag type reflex in an awake dog.
Moral of the story, they need sedation, if not a full GA.
~From a real life vet.~
(btw completely agree with the article and something needs to be done not just about bulldogs and brachys but all the purebreds with significant health problems due to inbreeding. Its absolutely disgusting for example breeding a whole line of CKCS with neurological problems, let alone the fact that about 90% have heart defects and also becoming more and more brachy. But it's all down to breeders and some are most stubborn uncaring dog "lovers" out there)
It isn’t mandatory, if the patient will lie still enough they don’t always need to be sedated or anaesthetised. However the xrays required for hip scoring require certain positioning that I doubt most dogs would tolerate conscious.ReplyDelete
The dog you are referring to is the only one that has been health tested and this article clearly states that so in fairness I feel your comments should not be aimed in his direction when absolutely none of the rest of the whole pedigree had any health results what so ever.ReplyDelete
But the comments weren't aimed in his direction Jemima literally said Pam Freeman was very willing to talk to her. I myself was part of/reading the conversation and Testwood Tom was being focused on in a post made about the situation by someone that wasn't Jemima.Delete
Pam said she would be testing her dog as a result of all this focus. Hopefully it will be good results!
Molly's hips are so shockingly, unbelievably, dreadful! They make the x-ray of the hips with severe hip dysplasia look excellent!ReplyDelete
The KC needs to make hip dysplasia and BOAS testing mandatory for breeding, but they won't, because they know that the vast majority of dogs won't pass. Not just fail the tests, but fail miserably, and the horrifying extent of the problem will be exposed.
this is so sad for Molly and her family..In the UK even if the tests are mandatory it doesn’t always mean breeders have to adhere to the advice on the results. They can do the tests but still breed with dogs with poor HD or ED scores. Breeders say they always have to compromise that there is no such thing as a “perfect dog” so they may do the tests but if say 5 of the 6 are great they may ignore the 6th and go ahead with breeding that animal for example in one breed they might look for:ReplyDelete
Good Breed Type
HS Cancer Clear
Say all is good except elbows they may breed with the dog anyway….it is all about compromise! And that means risking passing on a genetic disease to future generations.
Surely if just one of those things were a risk to the health of future generations then just DON’T BREED WITH IT” How have we got to a place where this is happening just to provide dogs as pets…
Are breeders now too fixed on “Good Breed Type” that the gene pool has dwindled to such that there are no healthy breeding animals left?
We have a French bulldog and when we bought him from a private breeder, we made sure the mother was there and went to the mothers vet to get all medical records, which we were entitled to do so. For this reason, we were able to check if there were any genetic problemsReplyDelete
The a kennel club lineage document is not worth the paper it is written on. People can still puppy farm and register with the kennel club as they require no identification to register a dog and by there own admission on the lineage documents state they cannot confirm parentage as they rely soley on the information provided by breeder. Therefore any dog name can be used as a dam and sire.ReplyDelete
So stupid.....large kennels have to be inspected. A puppy mill would have to be inspected.Delete