Notes of Meeting 2 October 2014, Portcullis House

Members present: Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, MP, Dan O’Neill, Clare Rusbridge, Carol Fowler, Harvey Locke. Marisa Heath
Guests: Dr Fiona Cooke (Local Government Survey), Ray Woolmer (Companion Spaniel Project), Rob Flello, MP (Chairman, APGAW Dog Strategy Group)
Apologies: Lisa Richards, James Yeates

1. APGAW Dog Strategy Group Update (Marisa Heath)

The current strategy overview is still in draft form but will be finalised shortly. Its four main issues are:

  • Dog control (breed specific legislation, dangerous dogs, dog attacks, stray dogs)
  • Dog breeding, dealing and trade (health and welfare of puppies and dogs, backstreet breeders / dealers / puppy farms, importation, online selling)
  • Responsible dog guardianship (behaviour and training, care, vet treatment, owners, handlers, etc)
  • Dog identification (compulsory microchipping, registration, etc)

Post Pup-Aid debate, Rob Flello, MP, will write to local authorities (LAs) with excerpts from Hansard explaining more clearly the roles, powers and responsibilities of LAs. Current legislation does give LAs considerable powers but issues relate to interpretation and enforcement. LAs often justify lack of action based on funding constraints and non-statutory requirements. The reality is that there is no new Government funding for dog wardens/inspectors and LAs will not use non ring fenced funding for this purpose.

In the current financial and political climate Marisa Heath suggested that the KC Assured Breeders Scheme (ABS) could offer an option for self-regulation in breeding. The ABS has shortcomings but also benefits and opportunities. A plan might be that the KC administers the ABS and feeds the results to LAs. LAs would then charge lower fees for ABS members compared to non ABS licensed breeders. LAs would inspect all licensed breeders but ABS members less frequently. The KC would benefit by more breeders being brought into the ABS. Funding could be sought from a small levy on pet food being directed to a Dog Board who would fund wardens/inspectors in LAs. This is simply an idea that is being aired.

2. Update on Canine and Feline Sector Group (CFSG)

A meeting took place on 24 June, however, Minutes are not yet available. As soon as they are CF will circulate to members of DBR. It is understood that CFSG agreed to invite representatives from the Dog Advisory Council to join its membership, a development which is much welcomed. We were also informed that Marisa Heath has been appointed Secretary of CFSG, which is also welcomed. The appointment will provide an important link with APGAW and also with DBR.

3. DEFRA and Companion Animal Welfare

We note the fact that companion animal welfare is not adequately provided for within DEFRA, nor has any response been given to the various papers and recommendations submitted by the Dog Advisory Council. There seems to be a lack of understanding within DEFRA of the need for independent welfare advice. Instead there is reliance on groups which comprise industry representatives. Farm animals have some protection from the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC) but there is no functioning equivalent for companion animals. This disparity we feel is something which should be addressed by DEFRA and the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England (AHWBE). Geoffrey Clifton-Brown will be writing to the Chairman of AHWBE to this effect.

4. Local Authorities and Dog Welfare (Dr Fiona Cooke)

Fiona outlined her findings in her PhD study into the role played by local authorities (LAs) in animal welfare. She identified huge disparities in LAs’ understanding and application of the Animal Welfare Act. Animal welfare is spread across 18 departments in LAs. There is a huge variation in fees for licensed dog breeders, often based on historical precedent or differing ways in which the funds are being used. There is often little or no expertise in welfare or specifically companion animal welfare in the persons with responsibility in these areas. The proportion of LAs with an AW inspector rose from 40% in 2009 to 60% in 2011 but these roles may have been nominal and it is not clear that there was an actual increase in the work carried out. Only 11% of inspectors engaged in animal welfare work on a daily basis. However, 70% of AW inspectors reported that the Animal Welfare Act had made the implementation of their tasks easier. LAs often contract out their dog welfare statutory requirements (stray dogs) and the holders of these contracts are not necessarily licensed. The police have responsibilities for dangerous dogs.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown suggested that the approach to effective implementation of dog welfare action by LAs could mirror a recent successful approach taken towards shotgun and firearms licensing by police constabularies.

5. Companion Spaniel Project (Ray Woolmer)

Ray outlined his ideas for a project to breed healthy companion Spaniels suitable as family pets in the 21st century. The long term aim is to breed small Spaniels with the typical temperament of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel but without the genetic diseases which plague the CKCS breed. He plans to use his working Cocker Spaniel foundation bitch with a Cavalier with a good heart background and without SM (age of the dog and MRI scan to be performed as late as possible). In the coming weeks he will be visiting two other like-minded breeders and hopes that the idea of the project will expand. It is understood that breeding back to a Cavalier in the second generation is not possible and another breed will need to be chosen for the F2 generation. All offspring will need to be carefully monitored, including MRI scanning, using the BVA/KC scheme. Ray is looking for support from individuals and organisations, including the Kennel Club. He intends to work with Tom Lewis at the KC and possibly Sarah Blott, at the University of Nottingham Vet School. Both are canine population geneticists. CR suggested that her PhD student at the University of Surrey, Penny Knowler, may be interested in this project and suggested that Ray speak with Penny. Penny’s study is an investigation into aspects of the inheritance of CM and SM.

6. Updates: Breeding Standard, Puppy Contract, BVA/KC Heart Scheme, CMSM Scheme

  • The Puppy Contract has been agreed by all parties. The remaining differences relate to the Puppy Information Pack (PIP). It is likely that the KC will retain its own PIP as part of the Assured Breeders Scheme.
  • The CMSM Scheme has screened 354 dogs, 222 of which have been Cavalier King Charles Spaniels at 18 centres nationwide.
  • The BVA/KC Heart Scheme is still on the agenda now led by cardiologists Mark Patteson and Anne French. There is still no news on when the Scheme will be finalised and implemented.
  • It is understood that the agreed Breeding Standard is nearing completion. The KC ABS group met recently but there is as yet no further information. Chris Lawrence will let us know as soon as there is some definite news.

7. Future role of DBRG and revised Objectives

A discussion took place about the future of DBRG – whether in view of the setting up of the APGAW Dog Strategy Group and the Canine and Feline Sector Group we should continue. It was decided that as the Dog Advisory Council was coming to an end at the end of 2014, we should continue to represent an independent viewpoint (as distinct from the other stakeholder groups). We would also focus on the Breeding issues unlike the other groups which will look at all dog welfare (and control) issues. We will continue to meet four times a year at Portcullis House.

DBRG’s Objectives will need to be revised in the light of recent developments.

We discussed whether others may be invited to join. Harvey Locke suggested Sean Wensley (BVA) and this was unanimously agreed. Harvey will approach Sean. Clare Rusbridge thought some members of the DAC might like to join us. Sheila Crispin will be consulted on this, and it is hoped that Sheila will continue with us, offering advice and attending meetings when she is able.

We were happy to be defined as a campaign group/lobby group.

The list of recipients of the Notes of meetings will be revised and expanded.

8. Date of next meeting

Thursday January 8, 12.00 – 14.00, Portcullis House, Room M

(In future CF will try to arrange meetings to fit in with other meetings at Westminster)

Unfortunately there was no time left to discuss Dan O’Neill’s article, Progress in purebred dog health since the Bateson Report of 2010’ published in Vet Record. Dan has some exciting plans and projects involving VetCompass going forward into 2015. He will outline these at the next meeting in January 2015.

Notes compiled by C Fowler