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Dogs Trust clarifies its position


THE SHOCK following the decision taken last week by the Dogs Trust has left many people asking, what now? Unlike the less surprising step down by the RSPCA, the Dogs Trust’s position and viewpoint had never been questioned.

Our Dogs requested that the Dogs Trust make clear its position far as the programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed and the Kennel Club are concerned. We felt that their initial response of withdrawing from Crufts was (as with the RSPCA) simply a mechanism to make the most of a publicity opportunity rather than a real concern about pedigree dogs. Dogs Trust has worked closely with the Kennel Club for many years and is well aware of the efforts being made from Clarges Street to improve health and welfare and we wondered why, if the matter was so vital, they had not at least threatened to stop participating in the show before now.

We also felt that the position of Chris Lawrence MRCVS, Dogs Trust’s Chief Veterinary Officer was compromised as he has been associated with Bath Championship Show for many years and is, in fact, its President. We are pleased, therefore, that Dogs Trust has responded positively to our requests for further information and have sent us the following release. We are pleased to see that many of our concerns are addressed and that these points are reasonable and conciliatory and much more what we expect from Dogs Trust than their initial announcement

Can Dogs Trust and The Kennel Club Work together?

‘The BBC programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed has raised with the general public, in a sensational manner, some issues that have been discussed between Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club, as well as being raised with Defra, and in the media by other commentators. Those discussions have been taking place for many years and, inevitably, a degree of frustration has built up because we still see breed traits that we consider affect the welfare of the individual dog.

There are two related issues that cause us concern: the inclusion of a variety of exaggerated conformations in breed standards; and specific diseases that are inherited. Both are clearly a result of the manner in which dogs have been bred and continue to be bred.

‘It is often said that no breeder deliberately breeds a dog whose welfare might be affected and clearly no breeder wants their dog to suffer. However we have to ask why exaggerations such as excessive skin folds, short noses, short legs, over-straight stifles and hocks, and long backs are still commonplace in a variety of breeds. It is undeniable that such excesses often lead to adverse welfare for the affected dogs. How are those two statements compatible?

‘Some inherited diseases, such as Mitral valve disease and hip dysplasia, have been well known for many years and the mechanism of inheritance of more diseases is being discovered all the time. Although breeding them out is not easy, why has more progress towards eradication not been made over the past few decades?

‘These are issues that have been discussed by Dogs Trust with the Kennel Club for many years. Of course there has been some progress in some breeds. Some breed standards, such as for the Bulldog, have been reviewed and some of the more extreme requirements removed. But the standards are still far from acceptable in some respects, such as length of head, and the ability to whelp easily because of the relative size of head and pelvis. Dogs Trust’s view is that, what relatively minor progress there has been, has been painfully slow.

‘We accept that the Kennel Club cannot compel breeders to change. We accept that there is a risk of alternative registration authorities being established if change is imposed, as has happened in the USA. But inevitably we keep returning to the fact that there remain very significant welfare issues in many breeds and that the pace of change is too slow.

Questions

‘Why is it that there is unlikely to be a single breed where there is not some inherited defect, either of conformation or disease, where the breeders themselves are taking concerted and unanimous action to eradicate the defect? Of course in some breeds there are groups of enthusiasts who are trying their damnedest to take action while others in the breed continue to use affected animals. Why are those who ignore the problems not ostracised or expelled from breed clubs? Why are their puppies still registered? Where the defect is one of conformation, such as excessive skin folds or brachycephalic heads, why are breed standards not changed to exclude affected dogs? No-one has ever managed to provide us with an answer to such questions.
‘In the light of all that, Dogs Trust Trustees decided unanimously that we should make our frustration abundantly clear in a very public manner. Withdrawing from the high profile Crufts in current circumstances is aimed at doing exactly that.

‘But we must not stop discussing these issues if we are ever to make progress and improve the welfare of the dogs about whom we are all so passionate. Dogs Trust has no intention of withdrawing from contact with Kennel Club officials, indeed we will have had our second meeting with them by the time this is published. We hope our further discussions will see rapid change.
‘As an example, Dogs Trust would like to see all breed standards reviewed with specific consideration given to welfare issues. We do not consider that can be achieved by breed clubs alone without some input from outsiders such as veterinary surgeons and welfare organisations. Perhaps the most important consideration is that the breed standard should be more closely allied to the functionality of the dog. How many modern Bulldogs are fit for their original purpose? Many find it difficult to walk from the car park to the show ground in hot weather without getting painfully short of breath.

‘Of course there is no point in changing standards unless judges judge to the revised standard. And nothing can happen overnight – it will inevitably take several generations to effect change. But a generation is short in canine terms and there could be significant change achieved in a decade. We consider that the aiming point must be clearly agreed and that excesses must be removed from breed standards now.

‘Hopefully the programme and our withdrawal from Crufts will have given dog breeding that painful kick up the posterior necessary to make rapid change and improve the welfare of pedigree dogs.’