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Group judges happy with KC meeting


As part of its long-term strategy to ensure that only healthy dogs are placed in the show ring, the Kennel Club hosted a major meeting at its Stoneleigh show centre last Thursday.

There was an excellent turnout of well over 70 judges, primarily from the Non-sporting groups, who listened attentively to Chairman Ronnie Irving's address, updates from Dr Ruth Barbour, Chairman of the Breed Standards and Conformation Group of the Kennel Club Dog Health Group, Frank Kane, Chairman of the Kennel Club Breed Standards and Stud Book Sub-committee and Professor Mike Herrtage, The Dean of the Cambridge Veterinary School.

The meeting focused on the changes that have been made to improve breed health – including those within the high profile breeds – and what more needs to be done. It also emphasised the essential role that judges play in moving breeds forward.

Ronnie Irving, spoke of the progress that has been made since the first Group Judges’ meeting held in February 2009, including the formation of three new sub-groups (Breed Standards and Conformation, Genetics and Health Screening, and Accredited Breeder Scheme) to support the Dog Health Group.

Dr Ruth Barbour, who organised the seminar, talked about the health and welfare issues related to the high profile breeds and focused on the reports received from judges and Kennel Club observers, as part of the Breed Watch programme. These reports are being shared with the relevant breed clubs as a basis for discussion and the process will continue in 2011 to enable year on year comparisons.

Frank Kane then emphasised the very important role senior judges have, to ensure that the Kennel Club Challenge Certificate is only awarded to healthy dogs.


Changes

He spoke about the changes that were made to the breed standards, which focused on eyes, skin, nostrils and muzzle length, coat issues, substance, movement and exaggeration, and how the changes would, and already were, helping to improve the health of the high profile breeds.
Mr Kane emphasised that fact that a Breed Standard ‘ensures that the breed is fit for function. Absolute soundness is essential.’ He stated: ‘Breeders and judges should at all times be careful to avoid obvious conditions or exaggerations which would be detrimental in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of the breed.

‘From time to time certain conditions or exaggerations may be considered to have the potential to affect dogs in some breeds adversely, and judges and breeders, are requested to refer to the Kennel Club website for details of any such current issues. If a feature or quality is desirable it should only be present in the right measure.’

The final talk was given by Professor Mike Herrtage, who has been instrumental in the work done since 2002 on the conditions discussed throughout the day.

Professor Herrtage provided the visual images of dogs affected by breathing, skin and eye conditions and also varying degrees of lameness. This proved extremely useful for the judges present to see in reality the major effects of genetically inherited problems. Professor Herrtage, throughout his talk, asked the judges not to reward dogs affected by these conditions as the top winning dogs are very often chosen for future breeding plans.

However, the occasion was obviously intended to be a two-way communications exercise advising judges of KC developments and current KC thinking, and at the same time asking group judges for their views on the various topics.

Agreement

During the afternoon the judges were split up into four groups and given the opportunity to discuss the matters of the morning. There was general agreement that the presentations were excellent and that Mike Herrtage’s talk provided a great deal of important information; it is thought that this should be distributed more widely – a shame that it was not videoed so that it could be have been uploaded to the KC web site. There was a great deal of discussion about the fifteen breeds selected for veterinary assessment prior to them being allowed to go into the Group ring. In general, the feeling was that this was a positive move, although there was some disagreement about whether a judge should be present during the assessment.

What was particularly interesting was the information that the Kennel Club had received very positive and supportive comments from many of the breed clubs within the selected group. It was also made clear that if there were no health issues with any of them they could be removed from the group and that other breeds might be added if health problems appeared
Overall, there was a very positive response to the KC’s continuing campaign to ensure the health and welfare of pedigree dogs

OUR DOGS asked long standing critic of the KC, Jean Lanning, for her views and found her in a positive frame of mind: ‘I was pleasantly surprised. An excellent professional presentation. Just what was wanted to enable an important core of the dog game to engage with the top brass of the Kennel Club.

Miss Lanning continued: ‘The talk by Professor Mike Herrtage was excellent. The Kennel Club's view was that it should be done quietly and separately with only the Veterinary surgeon and owner present. What was interesting to learn was that so many of the veterinary health issues now identified, were in fact well-known by those early stock breeders! They already knew that dogs which, were cow-hocked, fish-tailed, or ‘dot and carried’ on the move etc, had problems they did not wish to promote in their breeding stock. As they say, nothing is new!

‘Regarding inspection of Best of Breeds by veterinary surgeons, I feel this is something of which we do not have to be afraid. However, there must not be a blurring of the lines. Dog judging and veterinary inspection must be kept as completely different issues. Judging must remain the same, with the judge retaining the right to declare a Best of Breed.

Private

‘The veterinary check must take place quietly in a private area. The owner of course to be present, but not the judge. Both owner and judge to subsequently be issued with a full copy of the vet’s report within seven days. Both owner and judge, having the right to appeal, (if necessary) which would be seen as natural justice! I left feeling optimistic! Trusting that our governing body is, at last realising that it must reclaim its rightful position not only as the custodian of pure-bred dogs, but also the one and only undisputed leading authority in the land.’
Another Group judge , Kari Wilberg commented: ‘I thoroughly enjoyed the KC’s Group Judges seminar. I thought all the speakers were excellent and a lot of work had been put into their presentations. The group discussions in the afternoon went well. I just wish that all the useful information presented could be shared with more people. A lot of breeders and exhibitors have no idea about all the good work the KC does. Our Dogs should keep informing your readership about the KCs effort to improve the health of pedigree dogs. I think this could benefit the dog game as a whole.

‘As far as the veterinary inspection of BOB winner prior to entering the group ring; I will reserve my opinion until it has been tried out. It will for sure be interesting to see how the KC will get this arranged. If it is to be done on a permanent basis. I think the veterinary examination has to be done without the breed judge present.

‘I think the KC should be congratulated with the work they do concerning the health issue and I for one look forward to the next meeting.’

Speaking about the day, Dr Barbour said: ‘The meeting was extremely useful for discussing the progress that has already been made to help ensure that all dogs are ‘fit for function, fit for life’. Much valuable feedback was received from the discussion groups, which will now be considered by the Breed Standards subgroup of the Dog Health Group.’


Positive

Commenting on the judges meeting, Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary, said: ‘Dog shows can be, as Professor Bateson said, a positive lever for change and judges have a vital role to play. New initiatives such as the Breed Watch programme and giving judges power to exclude or withdraw dogs from the show ring means that they can now make more of a difference than ever before.’

From reports of the meeting it seems that the Kennel Club is not, as is often alleged, simply indulging in a series of knee-jerk reactions to the extremists – it appears to be well aware that the extremists will never be satisfied. The message coming out of this meeting was that the KC’s strategy is not to react, but instead to lead and certainly not to follow. What came across strongly was that the KC’s objective is to influence and lead rational and sensible public opinion.

By this leadership it intends to prove to the public at large that the world of dogs itself is fully capable of being responsible. The view being promoted, and one that Our Dogs supports, was that if the dog game is to be successfully left to be self-governing and free of outside interference, it must keep ahead of the game and must be seen to be sensible and reasonable in all that it does.

Comments from many of our columnists and readers support the view that now is the time for the KC to take such a lead and that enough is enough in terms of outside interference and constant attempted tweaking by people or groups who lack the necessary knowledge and experience. You only have to look at what happened to the campaigns led by the Countryside Alliance or the Council for Docked breeds to see what can happen when legislators get involved.

The day has certainly been praised by a number of previous critics of the Kennel Club who were present and appreciated the two-way dialogue and the opportunity it gave everyone to be involved.

What a pity there is not the opportunity to do the same thing for individual breed judges of the ‘high profile’ breeds which are mainly concerned. Surely it would not be beyond the capability of the Kennel Club to organise such a wider event and invite all judges to come along - and not just Group Judges.