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Kennel Club responds to APGAW Inquiry

Suggestions must be realistic, says spokesperson

THE General Committee of the Kennel Club has released its measured response to the recent report by the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW), which highlighted its recommendations early in November in a working group report entitled A Healthier Future for Pedigree Dogs.

The KCs response came on Wednesday November 25, and in it the KC said it believed the report contained a number of sensible recommendations which could ‘form a starting point for discussion while the outcome of Professor Bateson’s independent review was awaited.’
“The report considers that the KC should play a central role in safeguarding the future of pedigree health, a point with which we agree, and we do – and will – take our responsibility seriously,” a KC spokesman said. “However, the report also recognised that this is a hugely complex issue and that there is a real lack of reliable information about the precise extent of the problems which affect some breeds.

“It is essential that the KC moves forward on the basis of sound scientific evidence, to avoid taking steps that may be counterproductive. It is also essential to engage in discussion with the various bodies which will be responsible for helping to ensure that the action points are effectively achieved. Between us, we need to analyse the significance of the various outcomes and to ensure that we are not implementing contradictory, confusing or unattainable policies.”
The Kennel Club welcomed APGAW’s contribution to the discussion about pedigree dog health.
The report contained a number of sensible recommendations that could form a starting point for discussion while we await the outcome of the Independent Review, being conducted by Professor Sir Patrick Bateson and which will be reported early next year. The report considers the Kennel Club should play a central role in safeguarding the future of pedigree health, a point with which we agree, and we do - and will - take our responsibility seriously.

However, the report also recognised that this is a hugely complex issue and that there is a real lack of reliable information about the precise extent of the problems which affect some breeds.
The KC also believes it should move forward on the basis of sound scientific evidence – to avoid taking steps that may be counterproductive. It also believes it is essential to engage in discussion with the various bodies that will be responsible for helping to ensure that the action points are effectively achieved.

Health Screening

The APGAW report suggested that health screening should be made legally compulsory for the selection of sires and dams before breeding and suggesed that the Kennel Club should strongly advise breeders to health test their dogs. It also suggested that the KC should make information about the health problems of different breeds more visible on its website

In its response, the KC said that it had ‘already been very vocal in asking the government to make the principles and standards that are followed by Kennel Club Accredited Breeders, including appropriate health screening, mandatory for all breeders.’

The inquiry also suggested that the KC strongly advise all breeders to health test their dogs, in the absence of Government regulation, which the KC said it would continue to do, not only through itsAccredited Breeder Scheme but also by working to educate and persuade those who are outside the Scheme. It has already made the results of all official health tests available online and is working on measures to make the health issues and tests that exist for individual breeds more prominent on its website, which it feels is vital. The response said: ‘But, as a long term strategy, we agree that government regulation may be needed to ensure that something is done about the unethical breeders – or puppy farmers – most of whom are totally outside the sphere of influence of the Kennel Club, and who it will be hard to educate or persuade to follow responsible standards.

‘We believe therefore that the Report gave too little detailed thought to how the enforcement of such compulsory screening across the board should be carried out and how such enforcement would be policed and funded. A particularly problematic area is achieving agreement on which health tests are required for which breeds, and it is essential that we determine which set of standards breeders will be required to work to.

In principle

The KC agreed in principle with the future regulation to stipulate a dog is checked for possible hereditary disease by a vet before being bred from and also the suggestion that puppies besold with a contract of sale, and said that it is keen to work closely with the veterinary profession in order to establish policies that could improve the future health of pedigree dogs.

‘Any future decision about hereditary checks before breeding will necessarily entail intensive discussion with the veterinary profession to ascertain its views and how such a policy could be effectively implemented. In particular, it will need to be established what conditions individual breeds would be required to be tested for and what set of standards would be used – for, as the report acknowledged, there is not a ‘clear picture’ about the scale of the problems that affect different breeds. The legal liability of vets in providing such certification would also need to be addressed and clarified.

The suggestion that the resulting puppies should be sold with a contract of salesaw the KC confirm that such a requirement already exists for puppies coming from Kennel Club Accredited Breeders. In addition, it is working with the British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation (BVA AWF) to establish similar recommended contractual guidelines for the sale of all dogs – whether Kennel Club registered or not.

Code of Ethics

Another APGAW suggestion centred around breed clubs, and the fact that the KC should ensure that clubs enforce their Code of Ethics, with breeders who do not being prevented from selling pups as KC registered.

The KC replied: ‘We require that the members of all breed clubs (and all breeders who register their puppies or new owners who register ownership of their dogs with the Kennel Club) undertake to abide by our general Code of Ethics. We make it clear that ‘breach of these provisions may result in expulsion from club membership, and/or disciplinary action by the Kennel Club and/or reporting to the relevant authorities for legal action, as appropriate.

‘We recognise that this may appear, in some cases, to ‘lack teeth’, but this is inevitable given that we have insufficient effective legal powers to enforce such codes of ethics. However it does set out the standards to which we and breed clubs aspire.

Primary objectives

The Inquiry asked whether the KC’s primary objective was to register dogs or whether it was to monitor the health and welfare of canines in the UK. The KC said felt that the two are inextricably linked and are by no means mutually exclusive. While the protection of the health and welfare of all dogs is the KC’s main objective, this cannot be achieved without ensuring that dog breeders and owners register their dogs with the KC and come within its sphere of influence.

‘The Kennel Club Accredited Breeder Scheme brings the two objectives into line’ said the response, ‘and we have asked the government to make the principles and standards of this scheme mandatory for all breeders, so that all breeders put their dogs’ health and welfare first and foremost. In the meantime, we will continue to educate and influence those who register with us but who are not part of this scheme, and to make information about dog health and welfare - and the steps that breeders have taken to look out for this - clear to the buyers of any Kennel Club registered dog.

Again, the KC welcomed the suggestion that health test information should be made very publicly available to dog buyers and have a prominent presence on its website.

Purpose v looks

One of the main thrusts of the report was that breed standards should ‘seek conformation of dogs so that they are fit for purpose rather than based only on visual aesthetics.’
Clearly an old chestnut for many years, the KC agreed on the importance of the fit-for-function mantra.

However, the KC said that this was not a new thought, and that work had been going on for years ‘behind the scenes’ to work with breeders and clubs to keep vital breed features and breed out anything considered unhealthy in a breed.

At the beginning of this year the Kennel Club announced the results of its review of all breed standards, which removed any wording that could encourage a breed of dog to be bred for features that could affect its ability to see, breathe and walk freely. The definitive versions of the breed standards were published later in 2009 after the veterinary profession had been formally given the opportunity to comment on the detail of these and before they were finalised.

The KC continued: ‘This was not a sudden revision but something that has come about as a result of years of research, trying to establish the true nature of the problems that exist in certain breeds and how breed standards could be altered to help alleviate them. The world’s largest survey into pedigree health was conducted in 2004 by the Kennel Club and the BSAVA, and the Kennel Club’s Breed Health and Welfare Strategy Group was set up to address its findings.
‘The revised breed standards will need to be continually reviewed if any new problems come to light, and the Kennel Club has established its Breed Watch initiative to better enable all breeders and experts – and judges in particular – to share their observations. We will also continue to strengthen our relationship and process of sharing information with vets to ensure that the breed standards put health above all else.’

the suggestion that the KC should refuse registration of dogs exhibiting anything less that the highest breed standard requirements saw the KC reply that it had taken all sensible steps it possibly could to eradicate the registration of less than acceptable litters.
‘The Kennel Club Accredited Breeder Scheme is one of the core services provided by the Kennel Club, enabling dog owners to find a responsible and reputable breeder, by providing a benchmark standard for breeding practices.

‘We have taken the steps that we sensibly can to help ensure that the dogs that are registered with the Kennel Club come from responsible breeders, such as introducing a ban on close matings and a limitation on the number of times a bitch may be bred from. But, as a voluntary organisation with no statutory powers to police and enforce standards, we must rely to a large extent on local authorities and those with legal powers to monitor and inspect commercial breeders’ premises and to help ensure that they are acting responsibly.

‘Furthermore, we are the UK’s largest organisation dedicated to the health and welfare of dogs - and this means all dogs. Therefore we have to be very mindful about how we can best influence and gain co-operation from breeders through a unified approach, rather than lose the ability to influence how their dogs’ health and welfare is properly guarded. This has happened in America, to the risk of detriment to the health and welfare of many pedigree dogs.

‘We believe that the way forward should be for the government to introduce legislation that will make the principles and standards of the Kennel Club Accredited Breed Scheme mandatory for all breeders.

‘We also agree that the Kennel Club has a central role to play in ensuring that dog breeders and buyers are educated about health screening and other responsible breeding practice and will continue to take strides in ensuring that this is achieved.

Stern response

Allegations contained within the Inquiry (indeed, this was mentioned by individuals in their feedback, rather than the published findings) that the quality of the ABS scheme and some of its breeders was inadequate met with denial from the KC. In its most stern response to the recommendations, the KC said it took these allegations ‘very seriously’ and continued: ‘A pivotal part of the Accredited Breeder Scheme is the robust system of feedback and inspections, and since the report’s evidence was collated, the Kennel Club has recruited more Regional Breeder Advisors to ensure that we can continue to keep monitoring the quality of its members as the scheme grows in size. If any member’s standards are found to be wanting that person is immediately removed from the scheme, after investigation and failure to correct the situation. It should be noted also that spot checking of Accredited Breeders is carried out.

The APGAW report also made the suggestion that the Kennel Club should be more open to scrutiny and that its general committee could, perhaps, be more diverse. However, the KC insisted that its committee includes a wide variety of people, including veterinary surgeons, dog training experts, trustees of animal welfare organisations and scientific organisations as well as breed experts. ‘We are, however, open to the idea and will welcome further discussion about this issue,’ it stated.

It went on: ‘ We completely agree that openness is essential and the Kennel Club operates with transparency at all times. It also takes its responsibility to engage with other professional bodies which are interested in dog health and welfare extremely seriously, and is working ever more closely with external bodies to ensure that our information and expertise is shared. This is particularly true of the Kennel Club’s relationship with the veterinary profession, which has enabled us jointly to run health screening schemes over many years. We are also improving our system of sharing information, with the Kennel Club providing breed health information for veterinary surgeries, and vets being encouraged to report any surgical procedure which alters the natural conformation of a dog to the Kennel Club, so that we can ensure that these dogs do not compete in the show ring.

Shows to place a new emphasis on health over appearance was another blaring statement in the APGAW report, and one which again received the response from the KC that it had recently completed its review of all breed standards, against which dogs are judged in the show ring. It had also, it said, taken input from vets, breed experts and geneticists, to ensure that these contain nothing that would encourage breeding for features that would impair a dog’s health.
‘We have also made it clear to judges that only healthy dogs may be rewarded in the show ring. Health is absolutely the primary emphasis of the Kennel Club and must also be the primary emphasis of all of those who are involved in its shows.

‘DFS Crufts, the most high profile of dog shows, also ensures that the emphasis on healthy dogs is not simply confined to moments when dogs are judged but permeates the entire event – bringing vets, animal welfare organisations and breed experts together to discuss how we can move forward effectively, to give dogs the best possible chance of leading healthy, happy lives.’

Healthy champions!

‘No dog to gain title of Champion/be rewarded in show ring, unless health screened and shown to be clear’ said the report, perhaps unaware of the sweeping nature of its statement. The KC again responded in measured tones, clarifying its own action in ensuring the future health of pedigree dogs and the fact that it ‘takes this responsibility very seriously. For this reason the Kennel Club has made it plain to judges that only obviously healthy dogs should win prizes.’

‘However, it acknowledges that judges can only make decisions based on what is outwardly visible and will give consideration to the suggestion that veterinary certificates confirming a dog’s good health should play a part in the show ring. Any future decision on this suggestion must form part of a wider discussion that involves the veterinary profession, and a much deeper analysis of how such a policy could be implemented effectively both by the veterinary profession itself and by the Kennel Club.’

The Kennel Club welcomed the report’s suggestion that the Kennel Club is ‘in arguably the best position to improve breeding practice’ through the show ring and DFS Crufts is one of the most high profile and influential dog shows in the world.

It is within this context that the Kennel Club strongly disagrees with the report’s reservation on the televising of DFS Crufts. The Kennel Club believes that More 4’s decision to televise the show is responsible and admirable, enabling it to ensure that the show is open and transparent. The report itself suggests that the positive influence of a well run show must coincide with a public education campaign and therefore we find the suggestion that More 4 should not be broadcasting DFS Crufts somewhat confusing.

Nonetheless, the Kennel Club has made it absolutely clear that only healthy dogs should be rewarded with prizes and it also confirmed that a wide range of veterinary and breed experts and dog welfare charities support the event and it is therefore one of the best platforms to discuss the issue of pedigree dog health and to educate and inform the public about how to safeguard this for the future.

The need for an Independent Advisory Body which ‘should be set up to provide advice and make recommendations through the KC to breed clubs and societies’ was welcomed in principle by the KC, however it did question where the funding for this body would come from, who would sit on it and how they would be appointed. ‘This is something which is being considered as part of the Independent Review being conducted by Professor Sir Patrick Bateson on this matter and we await its views. The Kennel Club is anxious to ensure that any independent advisory panel should be effective and should be truly independent of vested interests,’ it said.

The matter of the overuse of sires, in particular that there should be a restriction placed on the use of sires in order to prevent the problems relating to inbreeding, saw the response that the KC Breed Health and Welfare Strategy Group is working on the production of individual Breed Health Plans for all 210 Kennel Club registered breeds to ensure that health continues to be stressed as the top priority for all those breeding pedigree dogs and registering them within the Kennel Club system.

‘Each breed health plan will incorporate the results of a thorough, ongoing analysis of the health status of the breed. This will ensure that breeders and buyers are aware of the health tests that should be carried out for each breed. The final part of the plans will look at ways breeders can avoid further reduction of the gene pools where necessary for the breeds concerned. The Kennel Club recognises that moves to achieve this or to improve the health of certain breeds may well include inter-variety matings, outcrosses to other healthy breeds or the reduction in the use of individual sires. But each breed must be looked at on a case by case basis, a principle that the report does appear to recognise.’


Asked whether the KC was concerned that a suggestion of a period of one year was thought appropriate for it to act brought the following response: ‘The report itself recognises that the changes cannot be made and problems solved overnight, and so it is important that we are realistic about the time frame in which substantive and meaningful changes can be implemented.
‘Nonetheless the Kennel Club is already well on the way to achieving a good many of the recommendations in the report, such as improving its strategies for sharing information with puppy buyers and other external bodies.

‘We welcome many of the other recommendations in principle – such as ensuring the health of sires and dams before they are bred from – but we believe the recommendations will require much study and cooperation with others in order for them to be implemented and achieved.
‘There are other suggestions in the report which, although sound in principle, involve many complications and require further discussion about how they might work – for example how the Kennel Club can effectively and across the board implement its code of ethics without having the statutory or regulatory legal power to do so.

‘However, we have to be realistic about the scope of what can be achieved in this time frame. We will welcome government intervention in the future if that means that the Kennel Club is given sufficient legal or regulatory power to ensure that all breeders take the necessary steps to care for the health and welfare of their dogs.’

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