Notes of Meeting 8 January 2015

Present: Carol Fowler (CF), Dan O’Neill (DO) Sheila Crispin (SMC), Clare Rusbridge (CR), Fiona Cooke (FC), Sean Wensley (SW), Lesley Field (LF), Chris Laurence (CL), David Grimsell (DG), Julia Carr (JC), Lisa Richards (LR)

Guests: Stephen and Julia Charlton (Cockapoo Club of Great Britain)
Guest Speaker:  Dr Dan Lyons (Centre for Animals and Social Justice) (CASJ);  Angela Roberts (CASJ)
Member of Parliament present: Rob Flello

Apologies:  Marisa Heath, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (GCB)

1. Matters Arising

  • Dog Advisory Council’s Recommendations for Regulation – a response from Lord de Mauley promised in a letter to GCB dated 23 March 2014 has not been forthcoming. GCB will follow up;
  • Dog Advisory Council’s final Report will be available as a pdf document soon and will be circulated widely;
  • Concern was expressed that the Minutes of the Canine and Feline Sector Group (CFSG) will no longer be available. Sheila will take this up at the next CFSG meeting and GCB will write to CFSG about this;
  • CASJ Policy Proposal GCB will forward this document to Animal Health and Welfare Board for England (AHWBE);
  • Michael Seal’s reply to GCB’s letter of 14 October following the Puppy Farm debate acknowledged the work of the DAC but did not mention whether any action would be taken as a result of the DAC’s recommendations. He said that the AHWBE continued to be actively engaged with dog welfare and had ongoing dialogue with CFSG. He advised that we should contact CFSG direct regarding our concerns and priorities.  Claire Horton’s recent appointment as a member of the AHWBE is very much welcomed. Claire will be able to provide a companion animal perspective.
  • Concern was re-iterated about Defra’s preoccupation with farm animals. CL suggested direct contact with the Welsh Assembly where individual Assembly Members are responsive to AW concerns. RF pointed out that even when legislation is in place, local councils do not always take note;
  • Use of the House of Commons conference call facility is welcomed – not as a substitute for regular face to face meetings but to enable us to call upon expert advice for specific items on the agenda.

2. DBRG and CFSG

Should we apply for membership of CFSG? DG felt that there is potential for DBRG concerns to be diluted if conveyed via a hierarchical process through successive layers (ie, DBRG to CFSG to AHWBE to Government). It is important to maintain a clear, independent voice.  Effective use should be made of the media and other mechanisms to ensure that a high profile is given to dog breeding issues raised by DBRG so that pressure can be applied and the Government challenged. It was pointed out that Sheila Crispin and Mike Radford were the only two independent members of CFSG. LF thought that continued constructive comment from the outside was important.  The issue of funding was raised and the difficulty of a truly independent group having sufficient funds to be effective. This matter will need to be raised at a future meeting.

We decided we should delay a decision about representation on CFSG until the next meeting.

3. Presentation from Dr Dan Lyons, Centre for Animals and Social Justice, ‘Overcoming Whitehall’s indifference to animal welfare: a political scientist’s perspective.’

Dominant belief systems

Dominant belief systems are the main factor in determining policy as well as funding. Public opinion only has a marginal impact. Government policy remains much the same even when Ministers come and go. An exception was the Hunting Act. Change was made because there was not the industry impact of farming and pharmaceuticals and it also became a party political issue. Animal welfare is better tackled from a cross party approach.

Animal policy belief systems

There are differences between a welfare based approach and the objectification approach. Whitehall’s approach is objectification and contrary to public opinion. There is a strong industry impact on policy decisions.

Lessons for Dog Breeding Welfare

Currently there is inadequate welfare protection, ineffective/difficult enforcement and Government indifference.  Simplification seems to be a euphemism for deregulation.

Deregulation Bill

The abolition of record keeping seems perverse.  Making changes to the Dog Breeding Act 1973 through the Deregulation Bill rather than revising the legislation is another indication that simplification is a euphemism and the Government isn’t interested. Economic Growth overrides everything and there is no duty on the Government to consider animal welfare. Mike Radford quoted the Wooler Review (Pt 28 p13) in his letter to DERFA on the Deregulation Bill.  Animals are ‘victims of an obsessive fetishism of cutting red tape.’ There also appears to be an attitude that, we can’t give ‘animal welfare people’ an inch or they will take a mile. Welfare is subtly organised out and subject to ‘non-decision making’.

Taking Animal Welfare Seriously

Animal welfare needs to be accepted as a matter of justice, not personal whim, and institutionalised within Government as an Animal Protection Commission (as proposed by CASJ). This should include: deliberate, democratic decision making; a duty to promote animal welfare; strategic targets; an impact assessment. There should be an Animal Welfare Select Committee. Animal welfare groups need to be more politically sophisticated.

Deliberate democratic decisions

If the public are at the heart of decision making from the outset this overcomes people’s feelings of disenfranchisement with politics.

Animal welfare impact assessment is not measured properly. This is another symptom of Whitehall indifference.

An Animal Welfare Select Committee would hold the Government to account.

Animal Welfare Groups

There is plenty of focus on policy shortcomings and what is required but groups also need to focus on the political processes. Resources should be devoted to developing appropriate pressure. This could be achieved by a 20 year plan and strategic approach.
CASJ could be catalyst for harnessing public support but needs backing from all groups.

Questions and discussion

SMC reminded those present that the link between animal abuse and human abuse had been recognised for some time and suggested working more closely with other groups with related interests. There could be shared philosophies with child protection and protection of the elderly.

The Welsh Assembly is a good model where existing policy areas have been broken up and new ones formed.

Q from DG:  MPs say the majority of mail is in relation to animal welfare but why is this not resulting in action?
DL:  Historically support for issues has come from back bench MPs but if they take up Ministerial positions they tend to ‘forget’. Specific policy making areas are insulated from public opinion. Government accountability is low with General elections only every 5 years.

Q from CF:  What actions can we take immediately?
DL:  Trying to get issues onto political party manifestos; raising issues with MPs in the run up to the General Election is particularly relevant in order to feed into party thinking and build momentum and awareness. It is probably not worth lobbying AHWBE because it is structured in such a way that Animal Welfare is a peripheral issue for them.

MPs want to see all animal welfare groups agreeing about what they want before considering action.

(CF will produce a written example of points to make to an MP during a constituency consultation regarding the Reform of Dog Breeding).

4. VetCompass (DO)

Dan O’Neill outlined the background and progress made so far of the VetCompass (VC). Post ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’ it was agreed that data needed to be collected from primary veterinary practices to support claims that dogs were suffering unnecessarily from breed related genetic problems. Increasing scientific evidence will have the impact of improving animal welfare.

VC started as a RSPCA funded PhD: Epidemiology of disorders reported in dogs and cats in general practice in England. Scientific papers get fed back to veterinary profession but they are failing to make much difference. If fed out to other stakeholders it has more impact and better decisions. Owners have a much bigger impact as they spend the majority of time with the animal and are in a position to make the difference to welfare, also breed selection and day to day care. VC uses ID systems so there is no identification with human data but it can trace individual animals via many different criteria. 299 vet clinics are feeding in. There are more than 10m unique episodes of care and over 811,000 dogs.

So far results have been detailed in 11 peer reviewed publications. The process is now switching from specific disorders to specific breeds.

VC makes use of public infographics. These can transfer key results from full published papers.  They are perfect for social media such as Facebook and can be read in the optimum time of 50-90 seconds. They are colourful and clear and provide education for owners – therefore are very empowering. There are also interactive pages on the VC website showing the prevalence of disorders and demographics. The VC database has the capacity to provide huge amounts of information and has the flexibility to work with a wide range of groups. Dan O’Neill’s position in VC is currently funded by the KC Charitable Trust.

DogWellNet will be launched at Dog Health Conference in Dortmund, Germany (14-15 February 2015)  DogWellNet is a website where many KCs around the world have contributed information on dog health for studies. DO is attending the DHC and will report back.

5. Deregulation Bill

DG submitted an FOI request to DEFRA to obtain background documents relating to the rationale for the Government’s proposed repeal, contained in the Deregulation Bill, of the requirement for dog breeders to keep specified records.  Written records are required currently under the Breeding of Dogs Act, 1973.  DEFRA have refused to disclose this information.  A formal complaint has been submitted to the Information Commissioner challenging this refusal. It is understood that a case officer has been assigned and we now await the decision of the Commissioner.

(Lord Trees stated in the House of Lords: ‘There is a simple pro forma to fill in and you keep a record every time that the bitch breeds. To remove that will not see a surge in the gross domestic product of the United Kingdom, so why imperil animal welfare for no obvious purpose?’)

6. After the Advisory Council (AC)

It was agreed to leave a more detailed discussion on this until next meeting.

Actions to be carried forward: it is intended that the Priority welfare conditions will be added to the BVA website (a review of the Canine Health Schemes is currently in progress); wide distribution of the AC Final Report; David Sargan (Cambridge University and former Advisory Council member) is to chair a Working Group funded by the RSPCA that will address the issues of selection for extremes of conformation. No timescale has been set as yet; Lisa McCaulder (former AC member) has produced a checklist, using a simple weighted scoring system, for those carrying out local authority inspections of dog breeding establishments; AC Recommendations on legislation will now be lodged formally with CFSG.

Defra Codes of Practice:  It is the intention that DEFRA Codes of Practice will become non-statutory and based on industry standards. This a matter of concern. DG said that the removal of the statutory basis of the Codes and their replacement with industry defined guidance had the clear potential for undermining the species-specific minimum standards that are associated with the five core criteria of the Animal Welfare Act. The Act states that these criteria are to be met ‘to the extent of good practice,’ and any codes in place are likely to determine what this means. The removal of the statutory basis of Codes of Practice may well have the effect of reducing standards of welfare for all species.

Serious concerns have been raised by CARIAD and Canine Action UK on the Code of Practice for the Sale of Dogs from Licensed Pet Shops. This will need to be discussed at a later date. Please see separate joint paper from CARIAD and Canine Action UK.

7. AC Breeding Standard (CL)

The document is based on practical inspection requirements. The working party set up to produce an agreed Breeding Standard with the KC has completed its work without achieving its ideal goal. The compromise reached is that the KC Assured Breeders Scheme Contract plus Guidance more or less equates to the Council’s Breeding Standard.  We feel it is less than satisfactory, however, as the KC ABS Guidance is not enforceable.

CIEH Model Conditions and Guidance for Dog Breeding Establishments

Current legislation allows charges to be passed on to the licensee. Local Authorities may not realise this. Lack of funding is often given as a reason for not carrying out thorough and frequent inspections of breeding establishments. A recent letter from Defra to all LAs has reminded them that all breeders who are carrying out a business (not just those who breed five or more litters per year) needs to be licensed.

8. Puppy Contract Update  (LR)

The KC agreed in principle with the Puppy Contract but made considerable changes to the sale aspect including, ‘Breeder makes no warranty as to the health of the puppy.’ However, the KC is now happy to have this statement removed. The RSPCA legal department are redrafting the Contract based on KC suggestions. The time frame for the Puppy Contract to be ready is in the next couple of months. 10,000 downloads of the Contract have so far occurred and feedback positive from the Cockapoo Club of GB.

9. DBRG Revised Objectives

Item deferred until next meeting.

10. AOB

Margaret Carter’s petition to the KC that no Cavalier should be used for breeding unless both parents have been MRI scanned according to the BVA/KC Scheme and Heart tested in line with the breed club scheme. The petition has now reached more than 3,500 signatures. KC has issued a flat refusal. CF made the point that the Cavalier breed has reached point where it has nowhere to go and that the scale of suffering is unacceptable.  In this situation exceptional measures need to be taken. CR said that assessment under BVA/KC scheme has a low uptake due to poor promotion. She said that fundamental changes are needed. More research and refining of the CM scoring are also needed. Useful discussions might be had with the Scheme’s panel and BVA/KC.

Beebee’s Story Charlotte Mackaness wrote of her experiences with her Cavalier, Beebee, who was diagnosed with CMSM.  Copies of Beebee’s Story were distributed. The story is a reminder of the devastating affect CMSM has on the family of a much loved pet (not to mention the life of pain which this dog will endure) It also illustrates that taking the advice of the breed club when buying a puppy isn’t always successful.

11. Date of next meeting

12 March 2015, Portcullis House, Westminster, 12.00 – 15.00, room to be decided