At the Kennel Club Annual General Meeting last week a key item of information on Crufts contained within the General Committee’s presentation was that DFS, the well known home furnishings company, was to be a major supporter of Crufts in 2009: the KC also announced it would be ‘talking’ with broadcasters with a view to the show being televised in 2010.
OUR DOGS believes that the amount in question from DFS is believed to be worth more to Crufts than the old Pedigree support package. Such a deal would go a long way to protecting the future of Crufts at a time when sponsorship is becoming increasingly difficult to source. At the time of going to press an exact figure was not available but we understand it is significant.
Ex KC Assistant Secretary and Peke exhibitor, Mr Bill Edmond, spoke about the TV coverage and hoped that we would not once again be getting involved with the BBC. KC Chairman, Ronnie Irving, emphasised that the broadcaster had not been named but members could be assured that the BBC was not in the frame.
Generally Kennel Club AGMs are staid affairs with few ripples across the pool of the formal business transacted. This year’s was, however, a notable exception. Miss Jean Lanning, ex-member of the General Committee Member, fired what she described as a ‘warning shot’ across the bows of the General Committee’s vessel, the good ship ‘Accountable to Members’. Even though there had already been a long presentation from the General Committee and an equally long debate on the subject, Miss Lanning set out her motion that the meeting should have time to discuss the ‘many important changes that the Kennel Club has implemented since August 2009’. Miss Lanning, while accepting that changes were required and congratulating the Kennel Club on responding rapidly to the damage wrought by Pedigree Dogs Exposed brought what she called ‘the other side of the coin’ to the attention of members.
Many of Miss Lanning’s concerns had already actually been addressed during the KC’s presentation (including the Chairman’s speech), which summarised what had been achieved over the previous nine months. The year spanning 2008/9 had been a landmark one in the long history of the KC and there was no doubt that Pedigree Dogs Exposed had had a damaging effect on pedigree dogs, their breeders and on the KC itself.
“Those of us who saw the huge volume of critical mail at the KC in the aftermath of the broadcast, could see that otherwise intelligent people had fallen hook, line and sinker for the content of the programme,” said Chairman Ronnie Irving.
“We knew right away just how seriously the matter had to be taken. We realised that dog breeding and dog showing as we know it was, and still is, under attack.”
Mr Irving said that the KC had been in good shape when the ‘tsunami’ of public criticism hit it, adding, “The General Committee, too, along with the various sub-committees and working parties, which all contain so many people with a wealth of experience of so many aspects of dogs, were there to steer and provide wise counsel.”
There have been many changes in the last few months, reported fully in Our Dogs as they have occurred, and the Chairman’s speech also appears in full elsewhere in this issue. The key points were that the RSPCA has continued to announce its opposition to pedigree dogs on its web site, and to dog shows and dog breeding in particular; that very good progress was being made in ensuring that the veterinary profession, especially through the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation, had a better understanding of pedigree dogs and the realities of dog breeding and breed standards, and that there had been positive comments from government and some canine charities which offset the decision of some to withdraw from Crufts last year.
Mr Irving emphasised throughout that the world of dogs cannot bury its head in the sand and cannot promote ideas which are unacceptable to the general public. He said that we have to ‘take charge of our own destiny’ and that if we did not, we risked serious restrictions on pedigree dogs and pedigree dog breeding.
Caroline Kisko was congratulated on her activity and performances on the media and, after a round of applause, Mr Irving was asked why he and other ‘big guns’ has not been in evidence. He replied that if you have someone with Caroline’s talents you used them and not those of lesser mortals who are not as competent as she is at such a job. Peter James, a Vice President and former Chairman of the Kennel Club, added that the leadership of the Chairman and the unstinting work of all Kennel Club staff should be acknowledged and a further and, it must be said very enthusiastic, round of applause was given.
Miss Lanning’s concerns included the fact that she felt ‘bullied’ by ‘being bombarded’ by the Chairman and Secretary to withdraw her proposal, a position supported by several later speakers who had made proposals and apparently been pressured to withdraw them; that she had been asked to amend her proposal by the General Committee which was ‘unacceptable in a democracy’; that more should have been done to consult members about the proposed actions being taken (as distinct from just informing them after the event) and suggested that a Special General Meeting should have been called to consult members and gain a mandate for both the actions taken and expenditure involved.
She said that she felt the changes to breed standards had not been thought through and, in many ways, the high profile the Kennel Club has projected during this difficult time had actually fanned the flames. Careful diplomatic initiatives with the government, the veterinary profession and the charities would have been just as effective and less damaging. Clearly the RSPCA had taken no notice and if the initiatives were designed to put pressure on the charity they had clearly failed.
She felt the decision regarding close inbreeding had not been thought through and cited several examples where close inbreeding had produced improved and exceptional quality, not just in dogs but also in other domestic animals, including horses. (A subject covered by Dr Malcolm Willis recently in OUR DOGS). She believed that much still had to be done to make the Accredited Breeders Scheme genuinely relevant and that not enough information was available about the way in which it worked and was monitored. Who are these ‘mentors’ and ‘regional advisors’ she asked? The Kennel Club put out reams of press releases but in her view there was often little substance and no transparency. She asked the General Committee to take very seriously the feeling of many members that they were being effectively disenfranchised.
She felt, too, that many other issues important to breeders and exhibitors had been ignored or decisions made without consultation or consideration for members. The change in regulations regarding foreign titles was one (and in this she was subsequently supported very strongly by Christina Bailey) as was her contention that there was a great deal of expertise among members, few, if any of whom had been consulted.
In reply Ronnie Irving said he was not prepared to accept that anyone had been ‘bullied’ and resented the implication. He said that the General Committee had endeavoured to persuade some members with proposals not to duplicate matters on the Agenda and that they would be given every opportunity to debate their issues under the General Committee’s Special Report to members which stated “To receive a Special Report from the General Committee on the Health and Welfare issues to which the Kennel Club has responded since the last AGM and to provide members with an opportunity to discuss those issues. The Committee was concerned that time at the AGM was not wasted by duplication of Agenda Items. The presentation to members made by the Chairman, Dr Ruth Barbour and Mr Mike Townsend and the questions which arose from members following covered the same ground. He hoped members, now having heard the KC’s presentation, would realise the pressures under which they were trying to work over the past few months and that it had been vital to ensure that every aspect of the problems we all faced were effectively dealt with.
Miss Lanning had some support from the floor. Maureen Reynolds rose to say that she had found it very difficult to defend some of the actions of the KC, as the underlying reasons for them had not been made clear at the time, and Lesley Patten was especially critical of the way in which the KC’s new codes of ethics had been forced on the breed clubs. Mr Irving apologised and explained that in all these cases time had been of the essence.
In summing up, Miss Lanning said she wanted to see much more involvement of the membership in the workings of the Kennel Club. ‘We are the guardians of pure bred pedigree dogs,’ she said, ‘and this should be the Kennel Club’s prime objective’.
There were many questions from the floor. One about Inter-variety mating which the KC is happy to allow under specific circumstances, as well as a number on very close breeding. Mr Irving explained that there had been a request from Dachshund breeders to interbreed to improve quality and, if this were the objective, the KC would look favourably on such applications. He also made it clear that in some circumstances very close breeding could be acceptable and the KC has left the door open for such mating if there is evidential justification for them. He explained that the real problem was in the public’s revulsion for the practice and the KC had to be aware of the feelings of people who, although they had little knowledge or understanding of the reasons for inbreeding, nevertheless had a disproportionate influence on government.
It was suggested the KC could create a ‘registered member’ status of the Kennel Club designed to encourage those pet breeders who bred from unregistered pedigree dogs and bitches (but did not bother to register puppies and provided a false or non registered ‘pedigree’ certificate) to come into the fold.
Mr Irving said that this and many other similar ideas were being discussed. In the meantime, Mrs Kisko asked that all present should sign the online petition being sponsored by the KC to encouraging all breeders to take on board the ABS principles. A questioner asked how judges were supposed to judge the gundog breeds in terms of ‘fit for function’ when the working variety, which was actually working for the purpose for which they were bred, was so different from the show ring type.
Mr Irving used the example of his own breed, the Border terrier, to explain that although the breed was no longer allowed to hunt in the way it had in the past the standard demanded that judges took the breed’s working heritage into account when making their assessment. Perhaps such a phrase could be more widely used.
Mr Irving was asked if he had any information about a ‘follow up’ programme to Pedigree Dogs Exposed. Mr Irving replied that he had not. David Hutchinson stated that when he was working in the field many of the ‘working gundogs’ he came into contact were not as fit as many dogs he sees in the show ring. Mr Irving said he was sure that the Field Trials Sub-committee would have something to say about it and he would ensure they had a chance to discuss the assertion.
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