After the loss of my first dog, Bonnie, I decided to find out as much as I could about the industry and culture of dog breeding and showing. I also joined an on line support group for owners of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels with Chiari malformation / Syringomyelia (CMSM) where I found many other owners all over the world whose dogs were affected.
The Cavalier Club
The first step I took was to join the UK Cavalier Club in order to get to know some breeders and members of the national Club Committee. I wanted to learn about the role of breed clubs, how health problems were being tackled, and also to learn about the role of the Kennel Club and its relationship to breed clubs. I assumed that the health and welfare of the breed would be the main concern of these organisations.
However, what I found was that although there were some concerned breeders on the Cavalier Club committee, its main function was to run dog shows. The Kennel Club seemed to take no responsibility for the genetic health of the dogs and referred the issue of health back to breed clubs. In turn the breed clubs had no powers (and no will) to enforce its Code of Ethics on members.
The item in the national club’s code of ethics, ‘No dog which has a known physical defect that could be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the offspring or the breed in general should be used for breeding,’ was and still is being routinely ignored by many Cavalier breeders. Similarly the clubs’ breeding protocol for breeding away from Mitral Valve Disease is largely ignored. It is common practice to breed from under age dogs.
The suggestions I made to the Cavalier Club were either ignored or rejected and there was resentment at my perceived ‘interference.’
The involvement of my MP, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
It came as a major surprise to me that in our nation of animal lovers, there were no laws to protect dogs from the welfare impact of hereditary health problems.
As the Companion Animal Welfare Council pointed out in its ‘Report on Breeding and Welfare’ (2006), this was a much neglected area of animal welfare.
The Animal Welfare Bill went before parliament in 2005 and a ‘duty of care’ was placed on all those who own animals. Pedigree/purebred dog breeding was listed to be dealt with as part of the secondary legislation of the Animal Welfare Bill. The UK government did not sign up to the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals.
I decided to go and see my MP, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown in November 2005 and he agreed to support me. He arranged a meeting with DEFRA officials involved with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) which took place in April 2006. At that meeting we were assured that the problem of hereditary health in pedigree dog breeding would be dealt with in the AWA secondary legislation, and that DEFRA would be working with the Kennel Club to ensure better protection for the dogs. DEFRA officials pointed out that the Kennel Club’s Accredited Breeders Scheme was a start and there would be a public consultation period about the issue in due course.
Since 2006 there have been decidedly watered down responses from DEFRA. And various Ministers’ responses to Parliamentary Questions put by Geoffrey Clifton-Brown have been non-committal. DEFRA have removed ‘Pedigree Dog Breeding’ from its list of items in AWA secondary legislation, replacing it with ‘Dog Code’. To date we (and others) have been told by DEFRA that pedigree dog breeding ‘is not a priority for the government’.
A Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs was published by DEFRA in 2009 emphasising an owner’s ‘duty of care’ but it does not include the breeding of dogs. Under the law, dogs still do not have the protection afforded to farm animals from the welfare impact of harmful genetic traits and diseases!
In October 2010 Geoffrey and I met with Neil Parish, MP, the new Chairman of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW). Neil Parish confirmed that APGAW were keen to retain an interest in the issue of dog breeding and to follow up from their report, ‘A healthier future for pedigree dogs’. APGAW meetings during 2011 and 2012 have kept dog breeding on the welfare agenda. In 2012 it published a Report Update in which it acknowledged the progress made by the Kennel Club but recommended further reforms as a matter of some urgency. CavalierCampaign became a member of APGAW in 2011.
We also met with Lord Henley, the DEFRA Minister responsible for Companion Animal Welfare and were accompanied by Harvey Locke, President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA). Lord Henley said that DEFRA would take a keen interest in the recommendations of the Dog Breeding Advisory Council and was sympathetic to our concerns.
The Kennel Club
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and I also visited the Kennel Club in 2006 and met with Dr Jeff Sampson and Caroline Kisko. On both occasions it was very clear to me that my concern about Cavaliers and Syringomyelia was not taken seriously. Ms Kisko described Syringomyelia as a ‘newly emerging problem’ and did not believe it to be widespread. The Kennel Club representatives at that time did not support the MRI screening of breeding dogs.
However, since the Royal Veterinary College CKCS SM conference in 2006, and the Rugby International Symposium on Syringomyelia in 2007, the Kennel Club has supported further research into Syringomyelia by funding Dr Sarah Blott and Dr Tom Lewis’ Estimated Breeding Values project at the Animal Health Trust.
Eventually, it is hoped that accurate estimated breeding values (EBVs) will be available for all Cavaliers. When the genes/gene markers for SM have been identified the EBVs can be converted to genetic breeding values (geBVs), but this depends of course on the full co-operation and disclosure of MRI and phenotypic data from breeders. Unfortunately breeder compliance has been inadequate and disappointing and four years from the start of the project EBVs for CMSM are still not available. It is hoped that the new BVA/KC MRI scheme, launched in January 2012, will speed up the process of data collection. However, response to the scheme by the majority of breeders, including the Cavalier health committee, has been negative. It beggars belief that in spite of the serious threat to the future of the Cavalier breed, human self interest is put ahead of the health and welfare of the breed.
Companion Animal Welfare Council
The Companion Animal Welfare Council‘s Report on ‘Breeding and Welfare in Companion Animals’ was published in 2006. I contributed to this Report during the public consultation period and Syringomyelia in Cavaliers was highlighted as an inherited problem which was having a huge impact on the welfare of the breed.
The Report was followed up in April 2008 by a Workshop meeting at the House of Lords to look at how the problem of Syringomyelia was being tackled and what more could be done. Representatives from the Cavalier breeder community, the Kennel Club, RSPCA, veterinary experts, scientists and canine geneticists were there. I was present as a pet owner accompanied by Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, MP. For me it was a landmark day, a day when scientists and welfare representatives at the highest level came together to help Cavaliers; a day when all the hard work of the previous five years seemed more than worthwhile.
An outcome of the CAWC Workshop Meeting was that an official BVA/KC scheme for CMSM was agreed. An official BVA/KC heart testing scheme for MVD was also agreed.
The Cavalier breed and their owners and breeders owe a debt of gratitude to Lord Soulsby and Dr James Kirkwood (CAWC) who organised the workshop and set the ball rolling in seriously tackling the health problems of the Cavalier breed.
Pedigree Dogs Exposed 2008
Whilst researching for her film, Jemima Harrison, from Passionate Productions tracked me down and asked if I would be willing to take part.
It was an honour to take part in the Pedigree Dogs Exposed film which aimed to inform the general public about the consequences of irresponsible and unethical breeding. Maybe the vast majority of puppy buyers will no longer be quite so naïve. Hopefully they will properly research their chosen breed; know what questions to ask; insist that breeders perform health screening; only buy a puppy from a compassionate and ethical breeder who truly loves her dogs; and only buy from a breeder who accepts responsibility for the health and welfare of the breed as a whole. ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’ put the issue of dog breeding at the top of the animal welfare agenda and resulted in the publication of three more welfare reports on the issues around dog breeding. Its impact has stood the test of time and was followed up in 2012 by a second film (Pedigree Dog Exposed 2).
Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding
The Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding (DAC) was set up in response to ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’ and the publication of the three subsequent welfare reports. Under the Chairmanship of Professor Sheila Crispin, the Council has begun its huge task in establishing priorities, setting standards for breeders, giving advice to puppy buyers, and coaxing the Kennel Club and breed clubs to implement reforms. However, with insufficient funding and no regulatory powers, the Council’s work will be hampered. I am a member of the Council’s expert panel.
Will all these things bring about a change in the world of dog breeding and the world of Cavalier breeding in particular?
The Kennel Club and breed clubs need to reorganise their priorities, not just by tinkering with changes to breed standards but by fully and genuinely placing the health and welfare of dogs above the subjective beauty of the show ring. They say that they are doing this but both the KC and breed clubs have a conflict of interest which is probably insurmountable. Change may come from public pressure and legislation to protect dogs from the suffering resulting from irresponsible breeding. However, the signs are not good that change will come from within the existing system. The Cavalier clubs have failed to impress on their members the need to follow the BVA/KC CMSM MRI scheme. The Kennel Club refuses to use non KC registration as a weapon against breeders who continue to breed without health testing. It refuses to limit the number of times a stud dog may be used or embrace wholeheartedly the idea of periodic out crossing to maintain genetic diversity. The Kennel Club is loud in its condemnation of ‘puppy farms’ and yet continues to register dogs from such breeding establishments. The Kennel Club speaks of ‘level playing fields’ for all breeders and seems unable to focus on putting its own house in order in setting the welfare standards which would give puppy buyers confidence in the KC brand.
There have been some. More DNA tests have been introduced; small changes to breed standards in some breeds have been made in an effort to encourage less exaggerated conformations; the KC have created a list of high profile breeds whose conformations can cause suffering; more Cavalier breeders are MRI scanning their dogs; some breed clubs are getting to grips with the genetic health challenges facing their breed; vet checks have been introduced at major dog shows for the 14 high profile breeds; a limit of 2 caesarian births; vet procedures to alter physical features are now to be reported to the KC; a lower limit of 4 litters for KC registered breeding bitches; the first phase of Mate Select has been launched by the KC so that the Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI) may be found for any KC registered dog; there is more public awareness about health and welfare issues involved in dog breeding.The KC has made some improvements to the Assured Breeders Scheme which achieved UKAS accreditation.in 2013
Two websites which give puppy purchasers information about breed related problems are:
Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW):
An Independent Regulatory Body for Dog Breeding
Is what I and others believe is needed in order to bring about effective measures to protect the health and welfare of dogs.
Dog Breeding Reform Group (DBRG)
DBRG was set up in 2013 by myself and colleagues as a campaigning group to support the Dog Advisory Council and press Defra and the Government for some key changes to the outdated regulations governing dog breeding (see separate page)
Update September 2014
It is clear the the present Government will not entertain the idea of an independent regulatory body for dog breeding. Instead it prefers the industry (ie the Kennel Club) to regulate itself. This ignores the fact that less the 40% of all dogs in the UK are registered with the Kennel Club and only 15% of those are bred by Assured Breeders. The current Minister for Companion Animal Welfare is Lord de Mauley. The Animal Health and Welfare Board for England (AHWBE) seems not to be concerned about companion animal welfare. The recently formed Canine and Feline Sector Group (CFSG) represents key stakeholders (ie, it is not independent). It is preparing its programme of priorities for dog welfare and it is hoped that some of the breeding issues will be tackled.
Sees the end of the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding due to lack of funding and government support. The Council’s Final Report can be seen here: http://cavaliercampaign.com/welfare-reports/