‘Education the answer’ says Chairman as KC hosts meeting on EC concerns
The profuse coat of the Pekingese now in favour should be discouraged, say some breeders
It was an attentive audience that greeted delegates at the meeting held at the Kennel Club last week to discuss the implications of the European Convention on the KC’s breed standards.
Scheduled as an ‘update and future plans’ event it gave all the breed representatives involved and largely targeted by EC plans a chance to voice their opinions. More importantly it allowed breed council doyens and club chairmen a chance to demonstrate how they are handling the perceived health and welfare issues from within their respective breeds.
It was a coming together of the views of breed specialists, KC committee members, charity representatives and DEFRA officials.
Dr Ruth Barbour, chairman of the KC Breed Standards & Stud Book Committee welcomed everyone and introduced the first speaker in Mrs Sheila Jakeman (Tanlap) chairman of The Chow Chow Club and breeder of 30 years standing. Explaining that the chow standard was introduced in 1895 some 15 years after the breed came into the country, she highlighted the changes made in 1991. Concern had been expressed at the problem of entropion in the breed along with a shortening of the muzzle and the enhancement of loose skin around the face. Following a meeting of vets, senior club officials and the Kennel Club breed clubs were canvassed and opinions sought.
Despite a poor response the standard was redefined within a 12 month period and there was, said Mrs Jakeman, a marked improvement with seven to ten years. Breeders encouraged to go for more depth in foreface gradually eliminated the sometimes tragic breathing problems which had beset the breed. The spitz-breed origins were emphasised by the circulation of 100 year old images taken from prints, showing the foreface lost over the years.
Next to the podium was Mrs Liz Stannard (Shiarita) who spoke passionately about the breed and concerns over the wealth of coat now popular in the Pekingese and the absence of ‘negroid nostrils’ seldom seen today. Introduced into the country in the 1860s the breed standard had changed little as the breed gained more and more coat in the show ring along with narrow nostrils prompting breathing difficulties and the need for mouth breathing in hot conditions.
A look at photos and images from the early part of the 20th century revealed a breed with longer legs and muzzles not unlike the Tibetan Spaniels of today.
Here the breed standard was more subject to a major overhaul in 2004 to bring it into the 21st century to try to convey to breeders what is needed to sustain healthy stock.
Speaking of the show entries and registration figures she commented on how these had gone down in recent years but in this breed, as in others, the popular top winning dogs often influenced the quality of exhibits in the show ring - not always to the betterment of the breed. On the subject of presentation she felt that the American influence and styles had similarly affected the breed here.
Mrs Carol Page of the Clumber Spaniel Club told how the breed, like other home-grown spaniels, almost died out during the war years. Revived by enthusiasts from a small gene pool the breed suffered problems with hip dysplasia in the 1980s. In 2001 the club was invited to discuss health issues with the KC and afterwards took the problem to the breeders and exhibitors in the form of a health survey.
From a poor response of 26% (196 returns) they discovered 36% of clumbers were hip scored and some 16% affected by entropion. These results were discussed at length and once again changes to the standard implemented in November 2004.
Encouragingly the HD problem had been addressed earlier and the mean average has declined from 43 in the early 1990s to 27 in the last four years.
Recognising the way forward is to identify DNA markers the club has formed an international health committee which exchanges information with overseas’ breeds clubs.
As with the Chow Chow Club the clumber breed will anticipate even further improvements in time.
The last breed in the frame was the Bulldog, probably the most maligned by the media at times of general interest in dogs and around Crufts show time.
Defending their corner was Mr Robin Searle (Francehill), chairman of the breed council, well known breeder Mr Norman Davis (Ocobo) and bulldog breeding vet Mr Peter Janes.
The first breed standard was established in 1875 by the Bulldog Club Inc., the oldest breed club in the world. In 1952 the standard was changed to add to the accepted weight of dogs and bitches. Apart from an abortive attempt in 1975 nothing in the standard had changed since mid-Victorian times.
The Breed Council Health Sub Committee was, said Mr Searle, united in its efforts to improve the breed. With the breed standard subject to change in 2003 the revised standard is now the subject of regular seminars for ALL judges to ensure that these are taken on board and actively acknowledged in the show ring. The council was even considering the demotion of ‘A list’ judges who failed to attend any seminars over a three year period.
As with the other standards care had been taken to deal with health issues and to amplify and clarify ambiguous wording.
Taking advantage of technology the council now had its own website to promulgate information on health and welfare issues for the benefit of all.
Speaking after lunch Mr Ronnie Irving, the chairman of the Kennel Club said it had been good to speak to attendees regarding dogs in general and to hear views on breed health and welfare and the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals.
He stated the KC view that there is absolutely no need to sign and ratify the Convention and that doing so would be futile. He went on to commend the speakers for being very honest and for expressing their frustration that not everyone joins them in their quest -especially some of the older breeders and judges.
The Kennel Club’s view was that education, not compulsion, must be the answer and this is part of that process: the education of breeders, the education of judges and the education of the general public to demand healthy dogs.
‘The reasons we are against the Convention are partly due to some of the content, partly due to the work that we have undertaken with many of the people here today and with others, and partly because the UK Animal Welfare Bill, as currently drafted, covers most of the sensible issues dealt with in the Convention - and more importantly omits some of the nonsenses’, said Mr Irving.
He pointed out that even in the more ‘Germanic’ countries of Europe where attempts at the enforcement route on dog breeding have been applied they have resulted in abject failure.
The changes from within started 20 years ago with changes being made to KC Breed Standards to safeguard health and welfare. More recently the KC has added a generic section on the importance of health to the faults clause in every KC breed standard. They have also stressed in all Kennel Club judging publications and at KC seminars, the absolute importance of considering the health aspects of dogs being judged. The KC study group was set up in January 2002, consisting of representatives from the KC General Committee, KC/BSAVA Scientific Committee, the Breed Standards and Stud Book Sub-Committee and KC staff members.
At the same time the KCCT initiated and funded a major breed health survey covering 170 breeds and 36,000 dogs to determine the main areas of concern for canine health. They are now on the point of receiving the detailed results of that survey which will give the KC even better pointers as to the areas that really need to be tackled in the future.
At Crufts 2004, the Minister and some of his civil servants attended to discuss the Animal Welfare Bill and the KC was immensely encouraged by the comments made by the Minister Mr Ben Bradshaw MP, who, at the time, made it clear that he was not in favour of the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals being used in its entirety as a basis for legislation.
‘We are, however’, said Mr Irving, ‘aware that Defra are being spoken to by organisations who are pro-Convention. So continued work with breeds remains an imperative.’
In conclusion Mr Irving stressed that the current Animal Welfare Bill incorporates most of the sensible parts of the Convention’s wish-list but excludes the various lunacies and avoids legislating on issues which would be totally unenforcable.
It had being a masterly performance covering a wide range of complicated issues.
Last but not least was Mrs Ferelith Somerfield, Vice Chairman of the Judges’ Sub Committee whose brief was to the put the judge’s view on the convention’s proposals and its possible effects on the welfare of dogs.
She thanked all who had spoken earlier and said she may duplicate in certain areas but one thing that came over strongly was that judges’ opinions can have a powerful and long term effect on a breed. She totally agreed that judges’ knowledge of the health issues has to be improved and that they must take into account breeders’ concerns over exaggerations which in turn lead to untypical specimens.
Mrs Somerfield commented on the policy in Denmark of senior show officials speaking to all judges before the start of a show reminding them of their responsibilities regarding health issues.
Whilst a great advocate of breed seminars she said the KC policy of ‘best practice’ had to adhere to promote the concept of soundness in any breed.
Remarking on overseas’ procedures she also said that the FCI grading system helped a judge to develop an ‘eye’ for a breed. It also helped to evaluate quality before a judge in a class.
Touching on the tough subject of withholding awards she said many were not inclined to do this in the UK as often reputations are on the line. In addition shows and show entries could suffer if any judge is known to be particularly tough.
Members of the audience said that it was essential to be tough if breeds were to be improved and Mrs Somerfield agreed that if improvements were to be made in breeds with particular health or welfare issues more attention must be paid to this.
Speaking from the floor Mr Ronnie Irving said that some breeds he had judged in Europe only last week were appalling compared to those in this country making the point that other countries have the same problem and that judges have to have the courage of their convictions.
Drawing the strings on the day Dr Ruth Barbour thanked everyone for their help and enthusiasm.
It was clear that in three years a lot had been done to rid selected breeds of health or related problems and careful advice and the re-working of existing standards had gone some way to doing this.
As more and more pieces of the canine genetic map fall into place that too had helped to show the way forward. It had also rid breeds of problems which 50 years ago would have been deemed eradicable.
‘Breeders can improve a breed but judges can destroy it’, said one speaker and this is true. One thing gleaned from events such as this is the need for the greater good to be held in everyone’s mind. Only then will breeds genuinely benefit from what should be their birthright - a healthy long life, free from unnecessary disease or breed specific problems that are the whim or desire of breed guardians who should know better.
There should be no excuse.