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Kennel Club’s concerns over TV programme


On Friday August 8th the Kennel Club took the unprecedented step of issuing on their web site a statement from Ronnie Irving, Chairman of the Kennel Club, regarding a television programme which is yet to be seen by the public. The programme to be aired on BBC 1 at 9pm on Tuesday 19th of August is called Pedigree Dogs Exposed and is produced by Jemima Harrison of Passionate Productions.

In the statement reproduced below Mr Irving explains how and why the Kennel Club decided to become involved. He goes on to say that KC is concerned that the programme will have a very negative impact on viewers of the work being done by the Kennel Club and responsible caring breeders, to improve the overall health of pedigree dogs.

Canine health

He said - ‘For more than two years now the Kennel Club and others have been co-operating with a TV production company called Passionate Productions who have been making a film on the subject of canine health. We agreed to take part entirely on the basis of that company’s written assurance that the programme’s ultimate message was ‘intended to be a hopeful one, showing how science and breeders can combine to preserve our purebreds for the future.’ That message fits precisely with the view of the Kennel Club, and so we set about giving information and interviews to the production company, and encouraging others to do so as well.

‘Sadly we soon discovered that the members of the production company seemed to have pre-conceived and extremely biased views on the subject. Alarm bells rang when we found out the biased nature of many of the questions being posed both to ourselves and to others. The vast majority covered negative issues – few if any were about the positive aspects of purebred dogs. We were even more alarmed when other interviewees, more experienced than we are, said that they too were very worried by the line of questioning - to the extent that some of them had eventually refused to go further with some of the interviews.

‘We now know that the BBC, which has bought the programme, will show it sometime soon. From the beginning the Kennel Club has worked consistently to explain our point of view on canine health both to the production company and latterly to the BBC, describing the vast amount of time, effort and money the majority of breeders put into breeding healthy dogs. We have also ensured that other interested parties have made the same point to the BBC. In so doing we have of course acknowledged that there are problems in some breeds, many of which originally stem back to the Victorian era, but we have stressed that we are today in the forefront of using science to address these issues.

‘We have also explained the work done to eliminate from breed standards any exaggerations which might cause problems. We have described the work going on to ensure that show judges pay particular attention to issues which could be detrimental to the health or welfare of dogs. We have outlined the many DNA and other health screening programmes which exist, and have given details of the Accredited Breeders Scheme and our latest “Fit for function: fit for life” campaign.

Impartial

‘Finally, we have been at pains to remind the BBC of the requirements in its Charter to be rigorously impartial and balanced in its reporting.

‘Despite all of this we still fear that, when broadcast, this programme may omit much of the positive information supplied, with the result that it will be damaging to the reputation of pedigree dogs, dog breeders and the Kennel Club. We hope that, in the process, it will not end up damaging the very dogs which, throughout, the programme makers have claimed they are so anxious to help.

‘This is of course looking at the worst case outcome. It may be that our efforts have been understood and borne in mind as the programme has been put together and that we have done enough to balance the content and tone. Whatever the eventual result you can be assured that the Kennel Club will go on working for the benefit of pedigree dogs and that we will continue to communicate the many positive messages which are there to be told’.

* * * * *
Within an hour or two of the statement being issued most of the UK based pedigree dog forums across the internet were discussing the statement and speculation as to what breeds and topics were covered in the programme. Some members of the forums spoke of their involvement, and how they had tried to give a fair and positive view of pedigree dogs and responsible breeding practices. Other sites complained about the TV crew’s line of questioning or their actions, one such comment made by a Cavalier breeder spoke of a request made by the TV crew to film a dog dying from MVD. In another incident Cavalier breeders say they were “chased down Whitehall” after attending a meeting with the CAWC (Companion Animal Welfare Committee). Other breeds are featured, one being the Labrador Retriever which the TV crew filmed during a hip operation while covering hip displaysia in the breed.

The production company Passionate Productions has been working on this film for the last two years, during which time Jemima Harrison has joined many forums on the internet hosted by and for pedigree dog breeders and owners. On these forums she has asked many questions and pointed members to links to scientific and genetics related articles, asking breeders and owners their opinions which have been freely given both publically and privately. On her own web forum which lists many breeders and owners as members she has asked how these members and owners feel about the results of the Kennel Club health survey, which appeared to have a low return in some breeds. Certainly in many breeds it may well be that people with perfectly healthy pedigree dogs do not respond to surveys, and it could be claimed that people with dogs who have had problems might be more inclined to answer surveys as they would view it as helpful for research purposes. Everything that the production company were told was checked out with the AHT and other expert bodies.

The BBC has released on its’ website a description of the programme, which many breeders feel is sensationalising the programme, although as the BBC points out this is before it has even been seen. “Pedigree Dogs Exposed is an in-depth investigation into the health of pedigree dogs. The film examines the level of inherited disease and other welfare concerns in man's best friend, featuring strong testimony from experts. It reveals the surprising historical reasons that have contributed to problems in some breeds and explores what might be done to tackle these serious and debilitating health issues”.

Breeders and pedigree dog owners are used to the national daily papers and their annual “Crufts Pedigree Dog Bashing” stories and news items damning all pedigree breeders, but many feel that this may be worse, and any damage done will destroy every effort made so far and efforts they are continuing to make. Others have voiced the opinion that it this is long over due, and unless something makes breeders stop in their tracks and take stock of where they are going with their breeds it will all be too late, indeed many already think it may be a case of too little too late.

As Our Dogs goes to press nobody apart from the production crew have actually seen the film not even the Kennel Club. When Our Dogs caught up with the production company this week, we were told that the finishing touches were still being added to the final programme which will go out on August 19th. at 9pm on BBC 1.