Snub to Poor Dog Breeding
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Nigel Williams on

A new report in Britain adds to the pressure on dog breeders to change their practices in the pursuit of pedigree traits...The report highlights the fact that inbreeding makes dogs less resilient and more prone to disease.

Concern has been growing in Britain, as elsewhere, about the severe inbreeding practiced by some people in pursuit of key traits characteristic of particular dog breeds. The country's leading animal welfare charity and the main national broadcaster, the BBC, have shunned the UK's premier dog show and a new report, published last month, calls for tougher standards to curb the deformity and disease that is increasingly occurring in the pursuit of breed traits.

“The time has surely come for society as a whole to take a firm grip on the welfare issues that evidently arise in dog breeding,” says biologist Patrick Bateson of Cambridge University, author of the report.

The report itself was triggered by a BBC program that investigated claims that the breeding process, focused on appearance rather than health, had resulted in high levels of deformity and genetic illnesses. The program, broadcast in 2008, was a public relations disaster for the dog industry. The BBC stopped televising the Crufts show after more than 40 years. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Dogs Trust withdrew their support from the show and the pet food manufacturer Pedigree withdrew its sponsorship.

The Kennel Club, which runs the Crufts show, and the Dogs Trust commissioned the report from Bateson, who interviewed breeders, vets, animal welfare charities and pet owners.

Bateson contrasted the high standard of some breeders with the ‘negligent or incompetent management’ of others. He recommends tougher breeding accreditation rules, more inspections of breeding premises and micro-chipping of all puppies so they can be traced back to their breeders.

Bateson said the dog-buying public was partly responsible for the problems, and recommended an education campaign by animal welfare groups to ensure people only bought puppies from reputable breeders and healthy parents.

The report highlights the fact that inbreeding makes dogs less resilient and more prone to disease. Even worse, some types of dog have been bred to encourage extreme characteristics such as smaller heads, flatter faces and more folds in their skin — leading to health problems.

The report highlighted the problem of syringomylelia in King Charles spaniels — a disorder in which the brain continues to grow after the skull has ossified — and skin conditions in wrinkly dogs that have been bred to be ever more furrowed. Some dogs' large heads mean that they must be delivered by Caesarian section. The report found 92.3 per cent of Boston terriers and 86.1 per cent of bulldogs were born in this way. Bateson said that “to the outsider, it seems incomprehensible that anyone should admire, let alone acquire an animal that has difficulty breathing or walking”.

“Responsible breeders have never sought to exaggerate,” says Susan Jay of the London Bulldog Society. “Unfortunately the people you cannot reach, and the people you want to reach, are the irresponsible breeders — people who are only in it for the money.”

In the wake of the BBC programme, the Kennel Club introduced new standards for more than 200 breeds, saying the rules would eliminate features “that might prevent a dog from breeding, walking and seeing freely.”

The programme led to the BBC refusing to broadcast the Crufts show last March unless 14 breeds deemed at risk of genetic deformities were excluded from the competition. The Kennel Club described the demands as ‘insupportable’ and the show went ahead, untelevised, for the first time in 40 years.

The programme analysing dog breeding was given credence by the RSPCA, after Mark Evans, its chief veterinary adviser, described the show world of dogs as ‘a parade of mutants’. The charity also described the current breed standards as ‘morally unjustifiable’.

The club subsequently changed some of its breeding rules and brought in Bateson in the hope of creating a clean bill of health.

His recommendations include: a duty of care on breeders for the health of parents and offspring and the setting up of accredited breeder schemes; health checks that allow buyers to view dogs with a parent before sale; new regulations on breeding and sales of dogs and better welfare enforcement on licensed dog breeding premises; a campaign by animal welfare organisations to educate the public in buying dogs; and amendment of the Dangerous Dogs Act to apply to all dogs shown to have been dangerous, and not restricted to specific breeds.

Vicki Woods, a columnist in the Daily Telegraph writing about her purchase of a Manchester terrier, described after the Bateson report her encounter at the breeders with an Egyptian devil dog, which had had its ears cropped and vocal cords disabled so that it could make no sound more than a cough, to conform with American breed standards.

While the issue of dog breeds may be currently high on the agenda in the UK, the American Kennel Club is now pursuing similar standards.

“The best available science and advice should be provided to breeders… Those breeders who deliver genuinely high welfare standards should be rewarded and recognised for the efforts, both in the show ring and in the market place,” says Bateson.

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