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Australia ready to stem PDE backlash

Australia awaits the screening of the BBC and Passionate Productions documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed on September 10th, with the hope that the Australian National Kennel Councils media consultant Dr Peter Higgins will have been able to stem the back lash experienced by responsible breeders in other countries world wide.

Dr Higgins told Our Dogs, “I have been pushing heavily the difference between a registered breeder and a backyard operator. The Australian media are starting to ‘get it’ but I am still concerned that I will run out of time. Fortunately I started a media campaign on behalf of Dogs NSW about 10 months ago and have built up some profile for dog breeders already as a result of that strategy”.

The Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) was founded in 1958, and is responsible for purebred dog showing, dog trials, and dog breeding. The eight State members which comprise its board are Dogs ACT, Dogs NSW, North Australian Canine Association Inc, Canine Control Council (Queensland), Dogs SA, Tasmanian Canine Association Inc, Dogs Victoria, and Canine Association of Western Australia Inc.


In a letter to its’ member Kennel Clubs and Associations the ANKC stated, “Our first action was to publish the “ANKC Vision for the Health and Welfare of Pedigree Dogs” which was sent to a wide range of people in Government, Welfare Agencies and the Media. Most Member Bodies have reproduced it in their Journals or provided links to it. It can be viewed on the ANKC web site under HEALTH &WELFARE and is the basis for our defence against the program. Our second action was to appoint an ANKC Public Relations Officer Dr Peter Higgins, leading up to and after the screening of the program, with the intent of reducing the impact of any fallout.

Dr Higgins was appointed by the ANKC as a media consultant, following reports of the backlash suffered by responsible breeders’ world wide. Dr Higgins is no stranger to the show world as he has hands on experience gained from his many roles as a veterinary surgeon, show steward, dog breeder, exhibitor and show commentator. He has also been a spokesperson for a number of pet organisations. His community service work has included being on the Board of the Australian Red Cross, Animal Welfare League, Lost Dogs Home, and Royal Guide Dog Association, as well as being one of the initiators of the first organised pet visitation programmes in Australia, the ‘Outreach Programme’ for the elderly, and ‘Pets As Therapy’. Dr Higgins was spokesperson for the Australian Veterinary Association for five years.

As part of the initiative to promote pedigree dogs and responsible breeders, Dr Higgins has issued on behalf of the ANKC a number of press releases, given interviews to newspapers, radio and TV programmes makers. Dr Jonica Newby is making a documentary for “Catalyst Productions” in conjunction with the Australian Broadcasting Company. She has interviewed breeders, Sydney University, the RSPCA and others interested in Animal Welfare. The ANKC believe her focus will be on the changes to breed standards and inbreeding. Dr Higgins is scheduled to do an interview with her.

Immediately after the screening of the BBC Program there will be an online discussion panel with Karen Hedberg and Dr Higgins representing the ANKC. Both have been asked by Sydney University and the RSPCA to meet with them to discuss the program. The University will be highlighting the ongoing research work on Disease Surveillance.

In the press releases Dr Higgins has highlighted the work being carried out in the fields of canine welfare, health and fitness, and shown how some avenues of research are potentially of great benefit to other mammals and humans. Arthritis research being used as a cutting edge example using cells taken from the dogs own body, where great moves forward in treating this health problem in dogs is making treatment a lot better for the dog and potentially for human sufferers of this condition.

In one press release entitled “Dog breed shows are not all show” Dr Higgins points out how dog shows encourage breeders to be aware of health and welfare matters for their dogs and the benefits of the socialisation dogs derive by attending shows.

"Judging a purebred dog against a breed standard by taking all externally observable factors, including temperament, gait and conformation into account, are an excellent way for owners to meet people and for dogs to become better-socialised companions. It’s a common misconception that dog shows are simply beauty contests that encourage breeders to adhere to unrealistic breed standards. I have worked as a vet at the Sydney Royal for the last 18 years. I have been to Brisbane Royal many times and have also been to the other Royal shows. I very rarely see unhealthy animals competing. The dog exhibitors would never want to see their animals in distress. It is a sociable pastime and an enjoyable event for the dog and the owner”, says Dr Higgins.

Difference in breeders

In another of the press releases Dr Higgins explains the difference between a registered breeder and a backyard breeder for the media. “The difference between a registered breeder and an unregistered one is that registered breeders are aware of the specific problems of their breed and work to fix them. It simply doesn’t make sense, even from a business point of view, for registered breeders to be breeding and selling dogs with known hereditary diseases. No registered breeder would want to see one of their dogs become an emotional or financial burden for their owner. They breed dogs because they love their dogs”. This fact was never looked at in the Pedigree Dogs Exposed programme, breeders do love their dogs, they are not as the programme implied in it for the glory in the show ring and the money they could make by selling puppies riddled with health problems.

Speaking on behalf of the ANKC Dr Higgins strongly emphasizes the link between caring breeders who support and help to fund health research.“By funding veterinary research at Australian universities we hope to learn as much about hereditary diseases as we can. We are also working closely with registered breeders, and national breed councils to eliminate these problems for future generations, and for the good of dogs in general”, says Dr Higgins, “We need to all work together on this to make sure that common sense, and the real ‘truth’ prevails. I have been working in this area for around 25 years and it is frustrating to see mistruths, and focus on wrong areas, actually make the plight of dogs and dog owners worse!”

Only time will tell whether this unique strategy will stop the storm which has hit the rest of the dog world from wrecking havoc on the achievements of good, caring and responsible breeders of Australia. Dr Higgins fears that although he started his campaign ten months ago he may even be too late already.

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