KC fury at BBC’s ‘exposé’ - Special review
Reference to the lead story on this week’s front cover will show that the Kennel Club has been in communication with Passionate Productions for over two years. Warning signals appear to have gone up in more recent months but perhaps the Kennel Clubs decision to appear in this film has in the end proved naive.
Perhaps through careful editing, the KC have not been seen in a good light to say the least and at worst as money grubbing Nazis! The documentary on BBC1 on 19th August looked set to destroy much of the hard work and improvements in the health of pedigree dogs accomplished by breeders over the years, and the continuing efforts being made. The national media are known to be a tricky bunch, who will turn even an innocent statement into a major plot with more twists than a corkscrew.
The film was a one sided affair, in which the likes of the well known Beverley Cuddy, Mark Evans of the RSPCA and others put across their point of view with little or no comments from breeders. The few breeders featured probably said more in their interviews than was eventually seen on the film, and so a picture was painted of breeders being totally uncaring. Sadly the many responsible breeders who do worry about the health and welfare of their breeds were tarred with the same brush as those who do not. When asked by Our Dogs if the film offered a balanced content giving equal say to both the KC and the ‘experts’ who did appear in the film Our Dogs was told that, “The Kennel Club was given every opportunity to present its point of view and, indeed, all its key views are aired in the film, but the purpose of the film was to highlight a problem and to provoke debate.”
In that sense the programme is a success because debate will inevitably follow.
To say the content of the film was sensationalised and shocking was an understatement, with the usual comments coming from Ms Cuddy, (heard every Crufts in the national media) and a new name to many dog breeders that of Mark Evans Chief Veterinary Surgeon for the RSPCA. The latter sounded from his comments and the way they were delivered as though he might have been bitten by a rabid bat! Calling pedigree dogs’ misshapen mutants and disabled, he appeared in the film more often than Jeff Sampson or Ronnie Irving so had plenty of time to air his opinions such as breeders do not breed for anything other than looks, “The show world is about obsession, about beauty, and there is a ridiculous concept that that is how we should judge dogs. It takes no account of your temperament, your fitness for purpose potentially as a pet animal and that to me makes absolutely no sense at all”. Our Dogs posed the question to Jemima Harrison (the programmes producer) that perhaps the debate might have put across the points better with recognised qualified experts only and not involving Beverley Cuddy? Ms Harrison and the BBC believed that ‘it was appropriate to use Ms Cuddy’s views as she has been a long-time critic of the Kennel Club and that does not in any way discredit her testimony. Ms Cuddy’s long involvement in the world of dogs makes her eminently qualified to talk on the subject. In addition, we have very many expert academic witnesses supporting the film’s central claims.’
The program highlighted that the culling of perfectly healthy animals was regularly taking place, and mentioned in particular the ridgeless Rhodesian Ridgeback. Pointing to the Kennel Breed standard it said the practice of culling ridgeless puppies was ridiculous especially as the ridge is a form of spina bifida. The program makers mentioned briefly that puppies which were mismarked or white, naming the white Boxer were also regularly culled, but failed to mention that in some breeds such as the Boxer, puppies are often born deaf and with other health problems.
Professor of Genetics at UCL Steve Jones said “People are carrying out breeding which would be illegal in humans and secondly is absolutely insane from the point of view of the health of the animals” concluding that “In some breeds they are paying a terrible price in genetic disease”. In many breeds it was claimed it was common practice to mate father to daughter and brother to sister. This practice has been discouraged in all breeds and responsible breeders no longer select such close matings of this nature. The closest most breeders will consider doing is to a common grand-parent. No mention was made of the Kennel Clubs efforts to widen gene pools by offering breeders the chance to open their registers to allow for selected out cross breeding, as has happened in the past in gundogs, and more recently with the miniature bull terriers and even more recently been considered in another breed (Springer Spaniels). When this was pointed out to Ms Harrison she replied that she was aware that this had happened, but she commented that, “This is very rare – and often vehemently opposed by the breed clubs, recently and notably, the Bloodhound club when the KC registered some pack hounds. It is going to take a lot more than the occasional outcross in the occasional breed to undo the damage caused by decades of inbreeding within very small gene pools.”
The film took an unexpected turn, indeed a very bizarre and almost juvenile turn, when it started talking of the Kennel Clubs “dark and dirty little secret”. Here the film makers claimed that the Kennel Club and dog shows were started by middle class Victorians and were then taken over in the early part of the 20th century by followers of the eugenics movement. To enable viewers to understand the ideas behind the outdated eugenics movement, a clip of a silent movie was shown, with a message that to save the life of a sick child of mixed race would be a waste of money. The film makers followed this up by saying that Adolf Hitler was a follower of the eugenics movement and showing clips of Nazi soldiers involved in anti-Semitic activities and an anti-Semitic sign. The implication being that breeders and the Kennel Club are Nazi types’ hell bent on breeding irresponsibly, with no care or consideration given to the dogs or their well being. When questioned as to why these clips were put into the film Ms Harrison answered that “The Kennel Club was born out of the eugenicist movement and still in many ways embraces eugenicist principles. This is historical fact – to which both Professor James Serpell and Professor Steve Jones allude in the film. The historical archive is presented as evidence that this philosophy is morally and scientifically flawed”. Would any modern day breeder follow such a movement?
If this film had anything to say, then the combination of the remarks made by Mark Evans and the piece of sensationalism of adding the film clips and references to eugenics surely belittled it, losing a lot of the impact. Considering the work that the production company put into the two years they spent researching the program, they lost the opportunity to get the issues it raises taken seriously rather than alienate the very people the production company claimed it was aimed at - the breeders and the Kennel Club. The information is freely available and if the public really were interested in dogs and dog breeding they could find this out at any good veterinary surgery or public library, failing that they could ask the Kennel Club.
This film was an excellent chance for Jemima Harrison to say that some pedigree breeds are having major problems, and an even better chance to point out to the public, (many of whom do not consider themselves “breeders” even when they mate their pet bitch to the dog down the road), that great advances are being made in veterinary knowledge and health testing available to breeders, to enable them to produce healthy dogs. This aspect of the work the Kennel Club are actively involved in was glossed over. The Accredited Breeder Scheme was merely given “lip service” and the Fit for Function, Fit for Life scheme never even got a mention. Given the slant the BBC put onto the preview of the program before it was aired, it could hardly be described as unexpected.
Being interviewed at the parliamentary companion dog show, Ronnie Irving should perhaps have said, “I cannot comment at this moment but if you would like to contact me at the Kennel Club tomorrow, I will be happy to answer your questions” rather than dismissing the film makers findings and attempting to answer questions, finally giving up and stating that his own personal experience as a breeder of Border Terriers led him to believe that the scientists were wrong. The fact that these questions were put to him, at what can only be considered an inappropriate time again is another downfall of the film. It could be claimed that Mr Irving was pushed into making a comment, to the delight of the film makers.
The CAWC Companion Animal Welfare committee meeting at the House of Lords, was held to review how the points for the breeding and welfare of companion animals had progressed since the release of the 2006 report. As they reported to our Our Dogs the original report was looking at breeding practices in all companion animals horses, dogs, cats and other small mammals. They decided to choose to talk to the Kennel Club and to look at the work being done and if any progress had been made in a breed which the KC was working with to improve the welfare and quality of life of. The eventual and random choice of breed was the cavalier, yet none of this was mentioned in the film.
There is no doubt that this film will undo much of the good work so far achieved by breeders and the KC and even more unfortunately for pedigree dogs, it will give other less fussy registers and puppy farmers the open door they have long sought to sell inferior and sickly stock with no health testing done prior to breeding to gullible members of the public. As Ronnie Irving said, if the Kennel Club does not register the puppies from such breeders they cannot keep them and they will move away to other registries and continue breeding with less control and less health testing than they do at present.
Nick Blayney President of the BVA was the only voice to be heard speaking out in support of dog breeders and the Kennel Club. Mr Blayney was filmed addressing a veterinary conference saying “We must cherish the Kennel Club. It’s the only thing we’ve got. And therefore if it becomes too reactionary and loses the support of the majority, it will cease to have any influence. And I know there are plenty of people in the Kennel Club who would like to improve dog breeding considerably if they have the support and the agreement of their membership. They’re doing the best they can in a very difficult situation.”
Following that, Our Dogs asked of Ms Harrison, “Do you think that some of the problems you covered in the program have been there since before relevant health tests were developed to discover them and therefore responsible breeders could not know what problems were / are in their lines, until after puppies were born? Recently however, there may have been a test developed, perhaps a DNA test which breeders are now able to use, pre-breeding….”
Ms Harrison agreed with this. “Of course some problems have existed in the breeds for a long time. The point the film makes is that current breeding practices mean that once-rare problems can quickly overwhelm a breed through inbreeding and the over-use of popular sires.”
While we cannot stop programs of this type being aired perhaps it is time for the Kennel Club and breeders to become more proactive in showing what has been done so far and what we are working towards. On an internet forum it has even been suggested that the KC should perhaps consider bringing out its own version of a “pet dog” magazine, to promote all aspects of involvement in dogs that they are involved. On Friday 15th August Caroline Kisko appeared on “The Wright Stuff” a morning television programme, there was an opportunity to start to "fight back" even if in a small way by not only telling the public see the puppy with the mother but to find out what health screening each breed should be put through before breeding takes place i.e. the BVA schemes. This was an opportunity to bring some important information to the viewing public unfortunately missed in my view.
During a question and answer session held for the press Our Dogs had the opportunity to put some questions to the film makers. As the Swedish Kennel Club model was held to be a charter of best breeding practice, with limitations on which dogs can and cannot be bred from, Our Dogs started the questioning by asking if it was so good shouldn’t breeders adopt the more stringent German example where health and fitness for purpose was also tested? The film makers dismissed this idea, by asking in turn “Did you see the German shepherd dogs in the film?” adding “Would you want to breed a dog like that?” The question was also asked why no mention was made of the KC scheme Fit for Function, Fit for Life and no mention of the BVA tests in particular. The producers said that they were mentioned, in as much as they state that “there are other tests that can be done”.
Not the job of the BBC
When asked if the experts interviewed or the film makers could come up with the answers to help dog breeders, a BBC representative said that it was not the job of the BBC or the program makers to find or offer solutions, only to point out the problems. Jemima Harrison said that she hoped that the program will make breeders and the Kennel Club begin discussions and start to do something about the problems highlighted and those that are known about but could not be shown in a program of that length. This ignores the fact that the Kennel Club has been albeit slowly working with breeders to improve the lot of pedigree dogs and continues to do so. What will be a complete disaster for the Kennel Club and pedigree dogs breeders is if a huge public outcry from this program led by the media which does not understand breeding causes a “knee jerk” reaction calling for tough legislation, as was seen after the dog attacks and we were then victims of the Dangerous Dogs Act.
During the question and answer session afterwards the BBC announced that as a direct result of this program that the BBC and the Kennel Club would be meeting on Tuesday morning to decide if Crufts will be filmed for television and if it is by whom. The BBC representative said he would not want the BBC involved in promoting a program which supported the questionable practices affecting the welfare of dogs. The BBC is one year into a three year contract with the Kennel Club to televise the show.
The Animal Health Trust, in conjunction with The Kennel Club, aims to eradicate inherited diseases in dogs by the appliance of scientific knowledge. For a number of years, the Trust has focused on finding the genetic abnormalities responsible for a range of inherited diseases and then developing screening tests to identify the dogs that have these abnormal genes. The Trust offers over 20 such screening tests to dog breeders who, with this information, can establish breeding plans which will avoid the perpetuation of many inherited conditions. This work would not have been possible without the generous financial support provided by the Kennel Club and the willing
co-operation of large numbers of dog breeders.
Dr Peter Webbon Chief Executive, The Animal Health Trust
I, like most dog fans, am very interested in watching tonight’s screening of Pedigree Dogs Exposed on BBC1 at 9pm.
But what I bet they won’t show is the incredible work the Kennel Club has been doing in the last few years to improve the health and welfare of pedigree dogs.
For example, take a look at their hugely successful Accredited Breeders Scheme, which was set up with strict requirements and guidelines to: ‘Reinforce the basic concepts of responsible breeding practice for novice breeders and puppy buyers as tried and tested by experienced breeders over many years.
In so doing, to promote relevant health screening across all relevant breeds and to provide greater substance to the perceived value of a Kennel Club Registration Certificate in the eyes of the general public.’
Couple this with promoting microchipping, their Charitable Trust, ‘Open for Dogs’ campaign highlighting dog-friendly hotels, restaurants and pubs and dog/human fitness campaigns too, the Kennel Club are doing so much to promote both canine heath and responsible pet ownership in this country.
Marc Abrahams, Paul O’Grady show vet and OUR DOGS columnist.
For some considerable time the Kennel Club, with the veterinary profession, has been working towards eliminating the problems of inherited disease and physical defects in dogs.
The Blue Cross fully supports their work, and finds it disappointing that such a programme as this should reflect so little understanding of the progress which has been made.
The Kennel Club claimed that the reason they haven’t brought in more radical measures (such as mandatory health testing) is because they feared losing the support of the breeders. Yet, didn’t they hear all the breeders complaining through these very pages when they thought the Accredited Breeder Scheme just wasn’t tough enough? People want the bar to be raised.
I believe the good breeders will support the KC 100% if they start leading more confidently. And should they really care too much about what the bad say?
Regardless of what you felt emotionally about the documentary, you can’t ignore the facts.
Professor David Balding at Imperial College London has been crunching the KC data and he’s certain radical measures are needed urgently, he’s in no one’s pocket. Some popular breeds of dog are more at risk of extinction than the giant panda due to inbreeding and the over use of popular sires.
That documentary wasn’t just one person biting the KC’s ankles, they can’t say it’s just boring old Cuddy again supposedly ‘making up statistics’ to quote KC Secretary Caroline Kisko from our exchange on GMTV a year or so ago.
This time it’s a whole host of significant scientists saying pretty much exactly the same thing - it’s time to panic before it’s too late.
In the past, I’ve often been accused of being anti-Kennel Club, but I can honestly say there’s no one else who can save pedigree dogs. The KC need to pick themselves up from this, take it on the chin and start making it better.
They need to navigate a path out of all this that bravely acknowledges the problems ahead rather than argues that black is white and that everything would just be okay if only that nasty old media just left them alone.
The measures they need to take are radical, yes some Luddites will complain, but you can’t be popular with everyone and still have a backbone.
There are many, many good breeders who want to see the Kennel Club take a stronger stance. The clock is ticking, the recessive problems are increasing in direct correlation to the coefficient of inbreeding.
In short, no the world of pedigree dogs didn’t look good on Tuesday. It was a very dark day. And I don’t think that was down to the edit, it was the flawed strategy of doing the minimum and not living up to their own motto, 3to promote in every way, the general improvement of dogs.2 In short, if I was in their shoes, my next moves would be:
1 If a good test exists make it compulsory. For those that don’t test, for a limited period allow a low-grade basic registration that makes it clear to the public that the stock is untested. Perhaps, any puppy from untested parents cannot be bred on from until that dog is tested. This substandard registration should cost a lot more than the normal registration. A fine on bad breeding. Good breeders should be charged less than negligent ones to help encourage and reward them for testing. The tax on not testing will make testing financially worth while to those less motivated by altruism.
(We all know if we are honest that education and encouragement hasn’t worked without compulsion. The documentary showed that the Cavalier heart-testing scheme has been voluntary for 10 years and there has been absolutely no improvement in the Cavalier heart problem in that period. Shameful in my view.)
2 Something very urgently has to be done to discourage very close breeding and the overuse of popular sires. In some cases, Professor Balding has suggested opening the register to outcross with other breeds. So, immediately make brother to sister and parent to progeny registrations not for show and to be bred on from. Reward dogs with the less inbred pedigrees with their own special open class at Championship shows or only award CCs within this class in the future? Pick an ideal acceptable inbreeding coefficient and put up a cash prize for the healthiest dog genetically in every breed each year. Limit stud dogs to a total of 20 litters in their lifetime or have a sliding scale dependent on the size of the breed.
3 The wording of the Challenge Certificates and Breed standards may have changed but the judges have to be stopped from rewarding the unhealthy attributes that they have long regarded as desirable. Perhaps breed standards should now list these characteristics as definitive faults that should prohibit dogs of that breed from winning? Perhaps a radical new blue print should be constructed for each breed for breeders to aim at in breeds with big health problems caused by extreme body shapes. (Like happened all those years ago when the chap inspired the new Cavalier to be born with his cash prize for the person who made their King Charles look like the dog in the ancient portraits once again? Involve judges in the consequences of their not letting go of these traditional values that contribute to dogs’ ill health. Educate and retrain. Have someone judging the judges and take action when people break the new rules. Don’t allow unreformed judges to award challenge certificates again after a breach of regulations.
I was left feeling quite sorry for Ronnie Irving; Chairmen from previous eras have done very much less than him and he was unlucky to have been sitting in the hot seat when all the chickens came home to roost. He has a huge job on his hands, but the first and bravest step is often admitting that there is a problem to solve.
Editor Dogs Today
The Kennel Club is aware that a BBC documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, is due to air on Tuesday 19 August and will explore the issue of the health of pedigree dogs.
We have not seen the documentary, despite repeated requests and so cannot comment on its content. However, the Kennel Club did agree to participate in its making on the understanding that the programme would be balanced and fair and contribute to the Kennel Club’s primary objective to promote in every way the general improvement of dogs.
The number of healthy pedigree dogs is very high. Comparatively, pedigree dogs are healthier than the human population which suffers from some 4,000 different types of disease, compared to only about 400 in the dog population. Furthermore, around 90% of dogs will not suffer from health problems that have a detrimental impact on their quality of life – and that figure is improving, thanks to advances in science and the continued investment of time, care and money from the Kennel Club and responsible breeders.
The Kennel Club:
• Works directly and indirectly through funding research bodies, to develop health tests for pedigree dogs. The most common of these, hip scoring, has seen breeders invest £20 million in testing since the scheme began and the mean hip score across the top 20 most commonly tested breeds has reduced year on year, meaning the likelihood of these dogs suffering from hip dysplasia has significantly lessened. More and more DNA tests are also being developed as the science becomes available.
• Encourages responsible breeding practices and the Accredited Breeder Scheme is a kite-mark of quality that was developed to ensure the breeding of healthy, well adjusted puppies. Accredited Breeders use all of the health tests required for their breed and will breed their dogs to ensure that they have the healthy characteristics that are incorporated within their breed standard. A common method of breeding is called line breeding, which is used to breed an animal for particular healthy characteristics. All responsible breeders have an intimate knowledge of the dogs that appear in pedigrees – and they use that knowledge to breed for positive traits in health and breed standard.
• Collaborated with Imperial College so they could analyse the level of ‘inbreeding’ in pedigrees and identify the genes involved in inherited disease in the future. Unsurprisingly, the inbreeding coefficients were high because of the very nature of pure-breeding populations and the fact that many decades of dog breeding have led to problems. It is clear from the research that mating close relatives (mother/sons, fathers/daughters etc) is now uncommon and not the reason for the high inbreeding coefficients.
Caroline Kisko, spokesperson for the Kennel Club, said: “We welcome any discussion that will help to improve the health and welfare of dogs and we hope that this documentary will focus on what is being done and what can be done in the future to ensure the good health of pedigree dogs ultimately becomes first class.
“We fully acknowledge that there are still some health problems that belong largely to a time when less was understood about animal health and we continue to work to eliminate them.
“As successive generations of pedigree dogs come through – and with the investment of time, care and money that the Kennel Club and breeders are putting into education, improved testing and carefully planned breeding programmes - the number of healthy pedigree dogs is currently very high and rapidly improving.”
The BVA has for many years worked with the Kennel Club on the development of Canine Health Schemes, designed to assist dog breeders to breed only from dogs which have no or fewer signs of inherited disease. The schemes not only help to reduce the incidence of inherited disease but also add to our understanding of breed related disease.
During 2007 breeders spent some £1.5m on testing under the BVA/KC CHS and indeed, since the schemes began, have spent over £20m on hip scoring alone. The BVA supports any endeavours to improve the welfare of pedigree dogs and, as the only central body responsible, believes that the Kennel Club deserves the support of all breeders in its ongoing efforts, not least through the work of its Charitable Trust.