Friday, 15 May 2015

Jem's Big Ideas # 1: kiss goodbye to the KC register

Today, I start a series of Jem's Big Ideas: constructive suggestions that I feel have potential to improve dog health/ownership in the UK. They are intended for discussion and debate.

We can call it solutions-based-thinking if you want a fancy name for it. Makes it sound more important, don't you think? 

Indeed, I would be happy to spend half an hour talking about solutions-based-thinking at your organisation's annual conference. (I was top of the class in this module at college and my tutor said I was bwilliant). I can do a power-point presentation incorporating some fancy-sounding but ultimately-meaninglessly-titled slides. I can dress up some no-shit-Sherlock common sense as something new and meaningful. And then everyone can go home feeling much better about the whole thing.

You know where to find me!

Or you could just read the whole thang below with a whole lot less waffle and at a cost to your time of about two minutes. If you can spare another two minutes, please  tell me if you think it's a good or a bad idea and why. And if you think it's a half-good idea, tell me how you would improve it.


Get rid of the Kennel Club register.  Yep, scrap the very thing that brings in £12 million pounds a year into the KC coffers... that funds a whole heap of KC activities, genetic research, education and so on.

That KC-registration certificate? Gone..... That KC-pedigree for every dog the KC registers currently? Asta la vista, baby.

The reason?

• because the KC register has a massive integrity issue

• because there's a better way

Of course I don't mean that we forget about registering dogs. We definitely need a Register.  Indeed, we need to register *more* dogs - and in one place.

Just not under the KC banner.

And here's why.

When Kennel Clubs are confronted by those who feel they should be doing more to protect the health of purebred dogs, the response is often: "But we're just a registry!"

This has been a real sticking point for those who want KC registration to mean more.  They believe that if breeders had to jump through more health-hoops before the KC would register their pups, we'd have healthier dogs and it would set an example that would put the crap breeders out of business.

I argued this myself in Pedigree Dogs Exposed. And there are many other voices - including from within the Fancy - who would like to see their breeds subject to more stringent health-demands as a condition of registration.  But now I'm not so sure.

The Kennel Club here in the UK has resisted this at every turn, anyway. The KC's argument is that that breeders and puppy-buyers would simply go elsewhere and that once lost to any KC influence, things would simply get worse.  Indeed there is some evidence of this in the existence of rival registries which vary in quality from fantastic (individual breed registries) to total scam.

The response from the critics is that what the KC fears most is the loss of registration money which it relies on to survive. 

And the response to that from the KC is that this money allows it to do good things for dogs.

So pups continue to be sold with a KC certificate that in reality means nothing (as indeed the KC's small print now states quite clearly). Some pups will be OK; some won't; some will have been raised by breeders who care; some will have been born in horrific conditions on a puppy-farm.  It can be very hard to tell the difference.

The KC's half-way-house solution has been the Assured Breeder Scheme. The KC now urges people to buy their dogs through the ABS to avoid the risk of buying a puppy-farmed dog, something that has really pissed off breeders who eschew the scheme because they don't think it's good enough. 

So it's a stalemate... with many people thinking it is close to fraudulent that the KC (and indeed the AKC in the US and many others) will register just about anything with a pulse when the public is convinced that KC papers are an indication of quality.  (The KC's general register even includes puppies produced by breeders that have been chucked off the ABS for major welfare concerns.)

I've been thinking about this a lot recently - because we really do need a register of dogs for all kinds of compelling reasons. And, ideally, it needs to be a register that includes as many dogs as possible.

So here's my idea:

The Kennel Club makes the Register a separate entity and gives it a new and neutral name -  devoid of KC-branding and therefore devoid of any implicit value. It becomes simply a record of a dog's birth and ancestry - in exactly the same way as we have human ancestry records.

My suggestions:

Liberated from the KC badging and all the baggage that comes with it (while still copping the income from it), the door is then open to register many more dogs than currently - including crossbreeds/mixed breeds. 

This would  knock-out the competition in the UK - because would become THE place to register every dog and the sheer volume would bring down the cost of registration). And it has the clear potential to build into an international resource that eventually mines data from every other register in the world. 

Can you imagine how incredible this would be - in years to come to be able to follow your dog's ancestry back through the generations, regardless of breed or country boundaries? Wouldn't you be happy to pay something for that, in the same way that families love to research their own antecedents?

And, of course, it goes without saying that it would be an amazing resource for breeders, geneticists and other researchers.

It could also include lots more information (and pictures) of individual dogs; not just when they were born or their pedigree, but their health, their temperaments, something about their lives, when they died. This information that could be inputted by owners who would be given a log-in code that allows them access and add to an individual dog's records when the dog is registered; or even (with an owner's permission) link to the VetCompass data already being gathered in the UK. 

At the vets in 2030: "Aha, Jemima... I can see that Jake's grandparents on both sides of his family suffered from Cushing's Disease.. making it all the more likely that the excessive thirst and bald patches on Jake's tummy are due to Cushing's".

What happens to the KC? Nothing. This is just a re-branding  - and of course a commercial expansion that should boost income considerably and allow the KC to spend more money to support its claim that it is now primarily a "dog welfare" organisation.

So the KC continues to do everything it does at the moment; free of the criticism that it affords KC-registration to sub-standard dogs.  And it continues to develop the ABS which becomes more like Debretts for elite dogs - a bit anachronistic in this day and age, but something which should appeal to the Fancy.

Of course, this doesn't solve the solution of sub-standard dogs being sold to a gullible public - you need more than one Big Idea for that. But it does resolve one big current problem,  is a massive boost to dog traceability and has the potential to give us some great epidemiological data/dog demographics - something that all agree is needed.

And the reason I would trust the KC to do this when I'm their greatest critic? Because it is already set-up to do it and because I believe that when the KC's master is not just the purebred dog, but all dogs, everyone - and every dog - will benefit.

Let me know what you think...


* Those domain names? Mine... all mine...

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Crossing the rubicon - and no going back

There's a fabulously snobby piece in this week's DogWorld in which Dachshund exhibitor Lee Connor decries a designer-dog breeder for mating a Bichon x Shih Tzu with a Miniature Poodle and dubbing the resulting mix a "Daisy" dog. He writes:
"Yes, the very first litter of 'Kennel Certificate registered Daisy puppies' have been born in the UK. You can take your pick from a range of colours; from the run-of-the-mill blacks and chocolates to the rather more fitting creams and champagnes. 
"The advert, which has certainly caused a lot of interest and comment on social media, states that the Daisy puppies are from a “carefully planned breeding… to produce the highly sort [sic] after hypoallergenic designer toy breed, ‘The Daisy’ (ideal for allergy sufferers)”. 
"The mother it goes on to say is an “F1 hybrid Bichon x Imperial Shih Tzu” (note, in the style of the famous Marks & Spencer adverts, this is not your usual Shih Tzu… this is an Imperial Shih Tzu) and the father is a “KC-registered show-quality Chocolate Miniature Poodle”.

"The advert then assures us that “only the very best bloodlines have gone into this breeding to produce the very best quality… an outstanding litter of non-moulting adorable Daisies”. 
"And, dear reader, you too can buy into this hypoallergenic dream of a dog for a mere £900." 
Now,  granted, the chances of this being a quality breeder are less than the chances of seeing a ridgeless Ridgeback in a show-ring. There's no mention of health-testing and the "Kennel Certificate registered" claim is undoubtedly a scam designed to sound like "Kennel Club registered". I also agree with Connor that their coats are going to be high-maintenance.  And, yes, there's the concern that "Imperial" might mean a tea-cup Shih Tzu as it's a term used by breeders pitching at the teeny-weeny-cute market.

(Been thinking of a coffee mug meme for this... "No tea-cups here... [pic of weeny dog] runts are for ....." What do you reckon?)

So all in all, I'd be hard pushed to make any claims for this particular litter. But wouldn't it be nice if Connor + co expressed the same righteous indignation about shitty breeders of Pugs or French Bulldogs or one of the other purebred dogs du jour?

Plus if you're gonna do a three-way cross (something that's often advocated in livestock breeding as there is evidence that it results in the most hybrid vigour), in principle you could do a lot worse than with these three breeds.

It is true that all three can suffer from hereditary cataracts (although may not be the same mutation) and slipping patellas, so you'd need to take that in to account when choosing your stock (and yes, we have no evidence that the breeder in this case has done this). But all three are long lived (13-14 on average) and have moderate conformation.  This is a pic of a Shih Tzu x Bichon - an attractive little dog. Throw Miniature Poodle into the mix and the result should be a really smart, athletic cookie. Kept clipped, pas de problème!

© Sue Thatcher
But this is ignored by Connor in favour of raising a red-herring question mark over this mix's ability to give birth naturally. 
'I would like to see the figures for caesareans among these so-called designer breeds especially among the ‘toy/miniature’ ones like the miniature labradoodle featured on the Jonathon Ross show the other week. Surely if you breed a six pound bitch out of a ten pound mother by a four pound father you are setting yourself up for far more whelping difficulties than the uniformity, that took many years to stabilise now found in our recognised pedigree toy and miniature breeds. Of course the numbers of pedigrees needing such interventions will and quite rightly so be available but is there anyone out there collating figures for dogs such as the Daisy?"
Well no. Although we can get an idea by looking at the C-section rates for the individuals concerned (source) in this three-way cross and their average weights.

Bichon Frisee - 5.6% (3-6kg)
Shih-Tzu - 21.1%  (4-7.2kg)
Minature Poodle - 5.3% (7-8kg)

I think there's a pretty good chance that this mating would result in a natural birth. And certainly a better chance than in Lee Connor's own breed, the Standard Smooth Dachshund, which has a C-section rate of 31%.

The Standard Smooth also has a whopping  risk of back disease (IVDD - invertebral disc disease).  One in four will suffer from this condition which is at best painful at at worst paralysing. (Source)

That's a higher risk for that single health problem than for all the major health problems put together for any of the breeds in the Daisy 3-way cross.

Finally, Connor also gets aerated about the fact that some designer dogs come with a pedigree! 
I mean, how could they when they're mongrels? 

He writes:
I wondered how one would possibly go about creating a ‘pedigree’ for what is essentially a mongrel litter. Surely, by their very nature, the background of most of these dogs would be at best sketchy.
Well no, not always. There have always been selectively-bred crossbreeds with extensive pedigrees (think lurchers and other working dogs). And an increasing number of "designer dogs" are now being bred with care and with their ancestry well-documented.  But of course, in Connor's Fancy-fuzzled head, there is no good to be found in any crossbreeding.  People who breed them know nothing, are nothing, produce good-for-nothings and are only ever in it for the money.

Ah, and it's all the fault of PDE, despite the designer dog trend being enormous in the US where PDE made little impact.

I am depressed by another anti-crossbreed report in Dog World this week, too, concerning the proposal to be voted on at the KC's upcoming AGM re a working party to discuss crossbreed registrations. (Read it here.) There are mixed messages coming out of the KC on this one, no doubt reflecting that on the one hand it sees sense more inclusivity as the way forward while having to cope with the purists who hate crossbreeds and mongrels - so much so that some would rather the KC wound back and the block and didn't recognise them at all, not even on the activities/companion register.

Dinosaur judge Jean Lanning believes that the KC acknowledgement of crossbreeds "is inadvertently encouraging the trend and the public perception of the endorsement this brings. Also, a breeder of these crossbreeds is able to be a member of the KC Assured Breeder Scheme.”

Shock horror! And so very revealing. If you loved dogs... if you truly loved dogs and your professed concern was that the poor crossbreeds were being so badly bred... wouldn't you want them to be produced under the auspices of an initiative that encourages better husbandry/welfare?

Apparently not. 

Also troubling Lanning (and indeed many others) is the KC's registration of imported dogs, some of unrecognised colours ‘such as blue Bulldogs and French Bulldogs’, which she says indicates that another breed had been introduced.

Yeah, because colour is sooo a bigger issue than the fact that one in four of even the "best-bred" French Bulldogs suffer from Brachycephalic Obstructed Airway Syndrome or that both breeds struggle to give birth naturally.

As you may have noticed, I  loathe the unthinking putting-down of crossbreeds when we've all seen the damage that breeding for purity can do - and the constant fretting about the ingress of foreign blood when an injection of new genes in genetically-depeleted breeds could be of real benefit.  And, boy, the fancy is just so clueless in this respect. Who do they think they are convincing now that the public is so much more aware of the health issues in pedigree dogs? Seriously, you're never going to convince the buyers by trashing the opposition when you need to put your own house in order.

There's also the small matter that it smells like racism.

So while Connor and his ilk tut-tut in their ever-decreasing circles, the public is buying crossbreeds with silly names in their thousands because they think they're fashionable and fun.

Now, some of these breeders are awful. Really, really awful.

But I have to be honest and say that until someone outlaws the crap, fast-buck breeder, I'd much rather they were putting a Shih-Tzu x Bichon to a Poodle than mating together two Pugs or two Cavaliers or two Standard Smooth Dachshunds.

There's less of a chance of producing a short-lived dog that suffers.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Best in Show Daily joins the 21st Century

Link to article

For those that don't know, Best in Show Daily is an online US magazine for show-heads.  It is marked - in my mind at least - for endless scrolling ads for dead-eyed show dogs and an almost total buy-in to the show-world paradigm.

It whinges a lot about those terrible animal rights peeps spoiling their lovely hobby and continues in the main to promote damaging and unscientific breeding practices (top-winning dogs must be the best... nuffin' wrong with popular sires... hybrid vigour in dogs is a myth... line-breeding is good).

As you might imagine, it hated Pedigree Dogs Exposed. 

"Pedigree Dogs Exposed was incorrect, totally and fantastically and horrifyingly wrong, in its conclusions," wrote one of its contributors, Cardigan breeder Joanna Kimbal, who also writes the blog.

In fact, although Joanna clearly disagreed with Pedigree Dogs Exposed, she writes a lot of sense on her blog. I suspect that if we sat down over a cup of tea we'd find much on which to agree.

And it was a real pleasure to see this new article by Joanna who has been off the scene for a while.

In How we must change as breeders and why, Joanna delivers a strong piece arguing for reform in the way we breed dogs. And, specifically, she makes a very strong case for genetic diversity.
"Maximum genetic variation is essential to a population that can withstand stress. If you lose genetic variation, you end up with substantially lower resistance to disease and you stand a good chance of concentrating deleterious genes. Loss of genetic variation is why we have such huge problems with cancers in Flatcoats, or epilepsy in Poodles, or Fanconi in Basenjis."
She continues (with my bolding):
1) If you’re looking at your potential breeding stock, and your potential breeding decisions, you should add a very important criterion: Genetic “otherness.” We all know the mantra – breed for temperament, health, conformation. But we must – MUST – add non-relatedness to our list. This takes two forms: First, if a dog is substantially non-related to a bitch, their puppies will be more valuable to the breed than the puppies of a closely related dog and bitch. Second, families are best used widely, not narrowly. If there are four breedings to be done, using four sisters once is better for the breed than using one sister four times. 
2) We need more people breeding their dogs. If we’re going to make wider breeding happen, we need buy-in and breeding on a much wider scale. Please note that I don’t mean we necessarily need more puppies – we need more mothers and fathers being used, more dogs left intact, more bitches making the babies. WE NEED MORE BREEDERS. We must critically examine how we sell our puppies, how we restrict our buyers’ breeding choices, and how we determine which dogs are breedable. The current model is NOT SUSTAINABLE. Going on as we are doing now is 100% doomed to fail, as our human numbers dwindle and the dogs being shown and bred become more and more closely related. They are two converging lines, and where they meet (where our breed reaches a point at which it is no longer capable of being sustained in a healthy way) is visible. So this is not a choice we have. We MUST change enough to carry our breed forward.
Read the whole thing here.  

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Old English Dinosaur Club - update

A couple weeks ago, I reported on the Old English Mastiff Club's decision at its recent AGM to never-ever, not-in-their-lifetime-or-anyone-else's decision to refuse to recognise pied mastiffs - the piebald dogs that are occasionally born in purebred Mastiff litters. (See here)

The Club didn't give a reason - it stated simply:

"At the O.E.M Club AGM, it was unanimously decided that the deviant colour known as pied, would not be accepted for inclusion in the colour description of the breed standard, now, nor at any time in the future.

But now Mastiff old-timer Betty Baxter, in her breed notes for Our Dogs, has revealed the reason: they're idiots.

Betty is in her 90s now so should, perhaps, be forgiven the ability to string a coherent sentence together but I don't want to be accused of editing what she wrote so I reproduce it here as it was printed.

"As I am still housebound I was not able to go to the OEMC ATM but apparently a god deal of time was given to the question of pieds. It was decided that both clubs of that colour because of health problems. Apparently, they are subject to skin trouble. Both Lyn McKevett and John Bromley have done a lot of research and say that if there is just one pied in a litter, then all the other puppies are carriers for the pied gene. I am told that 2 have already been registered as ‘tiger’. As I said above, the KC is to be asked by other clubs to stop registering this colour, on health grounds. Both clubs are in agreement here.”

Just in case you're in any doubt:

• there have been no reported health/skin problems associated with the piebald colour in Mastiffs.

• if Lyn McKevett and John Bromley have been accurately represented here, I suggest they do a bit more research in order to understand the basic principles of inheritance of a recessive disorder. It is not the case that "if there is just one pied in a litter, then all the other puppies are carriers for the pied gene".  One shudders at the thought that a whole litter could be condemned for this and removed from the breeding pool in a breed that is teetering on the brink of genetic viability because it is so inbred.

• Pieds can only be registered as either fawn, brindle or apricot (the standard breed colours) or 'colour not recognized' (i.e. not "tiger")

But of course they have to make stuff up in an attempt to cover up the real reason which is good old-fashioned bigotry rooted in baseless beliefs about purity.

At least I can say this with confidence: the Kennel Club will not acquiesce to demands to stop registering piebald dogs (albeit it will be as "colour not recognised"). These days the KC asks for proof of such claims.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Holy fatness! Labs, flab and the delusional Fancy

The posting of this pic has prompted a humdinger of a scrap on the Purina Pro for Professionals Facebook page.

"Holy fatness!" says one camp.

"You haters!" says the other.

His breeder claims: "I can assure you that he is solid muscle and great coat! A Labrador should not have a visible tuckup (per the standard) and there should not be ribs seen but only felt. He's a gorgeous boy and I'm proud of him and his accomplishments in the care of his wonderful owners and handlers!"

Have a look at the difference between Trouble and the 1964-born Am Can Ch Shamrock Acres Light Brigade ("Briggs") - one of the biggest winning American Labradors of all time.

This is what 50 years of the show-ring has done to the Labrador in the US.  And I am at a total loss to understand how anyone could think the dog on the right is any kind of improvement.

I live in a part of the UK where we see mainly working-bred Labs - although we did have a show-bred Lab in the village who wheezed, waddled and limped his way into old age.  It distresses me to see what the show-ring has done to the breed.  My vet told me recently that they are doing an increasing number of laryngeal tie-backs in obese Labs.

Now I am sure that Trouble is a loved dog with a good quality of life.  He is not brachycephalic; he's not achondroplastic; he isn't plagued with fester-pit wrinkling.

But he certainly looks fat to me - and fat is a welfare issue for dogs, particularly Labradors who are so prone to joint disease in older age - whatever their hips scores when they are younger..

There's a considerable irony in Purina using this dog to flog their dog food because the company itself produces this body-condition-score graphic featuring the yellow Labrador.  Trouble would score a 7/8... way too heavy.

And, of course, one of the most compelling studies ever on Labrador weight came out of Purina's own laboratories. It found that keeping Labradors slightly underweight extended their life by two years.  In also found that the age when 50 percent of the dogs required treatment for a chronic condition was 12 years among the lean-fed dogs, compared to 9.9 years for the control dogs.

The dogs in the UK show-ring are not so obese. This is this year's Crufts Best of Breed.

But they are still nothing like the gloriously-lithe dogs that actually do the work the breed was developed to do.

Here's what Labradors looked like 100 years ago - this is Horton Max who in 1916 won the Labrador Dog Challenge Certificate at the National Dog Show in the UK.

Now as it happens, Max wasn't purebred - he was three-quarters Flatcoat, and only one quarter Labrador. Despite what many people think, dog breeds have not been trapped in closed gene pools since the beginning of time. For the first few decades of the Kennel Club (founded in 1873), stud books were not closed and the Kennel Club was happy to register dogs on the basis of how they looked. Flatcoats and Labs were pretty commonly interbred and as the short-hair gene is dominant, many of the flatcoat-lab crosses were registered as Labradors, with no restrictions on their ability to compete in KC events.

Indeed, Max's maternal grandmother, Vesper Belle, wasn't even KC-registered.

This wasn't universally accepted though and after a fuss about the "half-breeds" the Labrador Club was founded and the KC stopped them competing in conformation shows (although they were still allowed to compete in KC field trials).

For some time after this, Labradors remained dual purpose. This is Bramshaw Bob who won Crufts in 1932 and 1933 - a working gundog.

And this is Cheveralla Ben of Banchory, who won Best in Show at Crufts in 1937 - a far cry from today's show dogs.

Today, dogs like this are only seen in the Gamekeepers classes, and they don't win outside of them.

There was a glimmer of hope  last year when the Labrador Retriever Club of America wrote a strong letter to AKC judges urging them to pay special attention to the standard which asks that "labrador retrievers shall be shown in working condition, well muscled and without excess fat" (a letter that I note has now been taken down off the Club's website)

So it is depressing that Trouble won Best Veteran at the biggest Labrador Show in the US. And he wasn't the only chubby chops at the Potomac show.

This dog won Best in Show - in flagrant disregard of the standard that asks that the length of a Labrador's legs are half the height of the dog. This dog has loose lower eyelids, too, not ideal in a working breed (see here).

There is a pet obesity epidemic in the US and UK; our perception of what is normal in dogs has shifted considerably - as it has in humans too.

The tragedy is that the show-ring could play such an important role in protecting against pet obesity by ensuring that its winners are truly fit and lean.  Instead, exhibitors and judges continue to cite the hallowed standard as the justification for the choices they make while anyone with eyes in their head can see that the dogs aren't even close.

Seriously. It's delusional.
Leave a comment here or join in the debate on the Pedigree Dogs Exposed Facebook Group

Monday, 13 April 2015

KC mails crossbreed owners inviting them to breed

This is Luna - a pretty collie x girl who is registered on the KC's Activities Register.  She is three years old and spayed. This morning, her owner was completely thrown to receive this email from the Kennel Club. Other people have contacted me about this KC mail-out, too.

Click to enlarge

I honestly don't know how I feel about this. 

Is it inappropriate pimping in a country where several thousand strays/unwanted dogs dogs are PTS every year?

Or is the KC is simply doing the right thing in trying to educate the pet or casual breeder before they willy-nilly breed their dogs? As it happens, I think well-educated pet breeders have much to offer and I don't think that breeding should be the sole preserve of show breeders. 

Over to you...

Leave a comment here or join in the debate on the Pedigree Dogs Exposed Facebook Group

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Another dog show poisoning

(Read the whole article here)

Shortly before Pedigree Dogs Exposed aired, I showed the film to Beverley Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today.  I asked her: "Do you think this will bring down the Kennel Club?"

Beverley has been in dogs for a long time. Her family bred Bearded Collies and at one point Beverley herself showed and even judged. She also once worked for the Kennel Club. In other words, she knew this faction of the crazy canine world as well as anyone - and certainly better than I did at the time.

Beverley thought about it. And then said: "No," she said. "I don't think so."

And she was right. It didn't.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed holed the good ship Kennel Club, but did not sink it. The old girl listed and swayed but stayed afloat.

What followed were some ad hoc repairs, a paint-job, a glossy new brochure, slicker PR, a few extra quid thrown towards good causes, and it set sail again.

Now, even I can congratulate the Kennel Club for some reforms. At the recent Dog Health Workshop in Dortmund, KC Chairman Steve Dean said to me: "Some of the other Kennel Clubs here make us look quite good, don't they?" and I agreed. They do.

But for all the talk of health at the Dortmund workshop, it was all within-the-box stuff - how to slow the rate of inbreeding; not reverse it by opening up the stud books for those breeds that need it.

Remove the veneer and the Kennel Club is still same old vessel with the same old hands on the tiller; men in fusty tweed and women in a nice practical wool-mix with delusions of being blue-chip but who in reality have always travelled steerage. (The Kennel Club never was on a par with the Jockey Club - perhaps because, in the sport of Kings, trotting round a ring is the precursor to the main event, not the sole purpose of it.)

And today, the critics are not just from without but increasingly, and divisively, from within.  Even the previously loyal dog show press now dares ask questions that would have been unthinkable a few years back - last month causing KC Chairman Steve Dean to jump ship from Dog World to write his column for the more obsequious Our Dogs.

I've continued to chip away too - often, these days, accused of curmudgeonly obsessiveness. In fact, I would love nothing more than to walk away.  It pays me nothing and costs me dearly in time. But - for better or worse - there's no one else out there doing what I do.

And I do it because I can't shake the panic that the dogs aren't safe.

So the KC has continued to sail a stormy sea.  Pedigree Dogs Exposed and the fall-out over inbreeding and phenotypic excess may no longer be headline news other than here and on social media, but it has left the Kennel Club very vulnerable. It was only a matter of time before it was rocked by another tsunami.

And so it came to pass at this year's Crufts with the allegation that Jagger the Irish Setter was poisoned on the show's benches by a jealous rival.  Weeks on from Crufts, I am still getting calls from the Press wanting juicy quotes on the wicked lengths dog-show people go to win. This week it was a writer for Vanity Fair utterly convinced that there has been a Kennel Club cover-up (not helped of course by the dog's owners refusing to accept that their dog probably picked up some baited meat meant for foxes or rats near his home in Belgium).

I pointed out the problems with the conspiracy theory - as I have to the dozens of media calls I've had on this.  Jagger died more than 24 hours after he'd left Cruft's and the laced meat in his stomach was undigested, suggesting the dog ingested it long after he left the show. The toxicology report, too, found a fast-acting poison - too fast for Jagger to have been perfectly OK up to shortly before he collapsed. I also pointed out that no one would be faster to cry foul than me. The Vanity Fair journalist was clearly unimpressed. "Is there anyone else you would suggest I talk to then?"

There was a lot of other bad press surrounding this year's Crufts, too. Thousands signed a petition to have the Scottish Terrier stripped of his Best in Show handling because of the perceived (if not actual) cruelty inherent in the way the dog's handler lifted him by his tail and jaw. There were claims of other poisonings, too. Then there was the social media shit-storm prompted by pictures of an obedience competitor apparently beating up a Border Collie in the car park.

No matter that all the claims turned out to be dubious, baseless or unprovable. No matter that the Kennel Club did a pretty good PR job in an impossible situation.

And now, today's Mail on Sunday prints a piece by columnist Liz Jones which is as damaging as anything we've seen printed in the mainstream media before; far more poisonous in terms of its spread than the vermin-bait that killed Jagger.

Note too the shift from what we've seen before. Gone is the mildly-humorous Best-in-Show-type piss-take about frou-frou Poodles, handlers in garish suits or long-haired blonde woman who look like their Salukis.  Dog-showing isn't funny any more. It's something bad.

And, again, no matter that the Secretary of the show Jones attended disputes the writer's version of events (see here) or that the author has zoned in on non-issues and extrapolated stupidly regarding the preferableness of rescue dogs

Because here's the rub. Every new scandal - real or imagined - inflicts further, deep-down reputational damage to the Kennel Club and dog-showing.

How do I feel about this? In truth, I'd rather the KC/show world was beaten up for the real issues. I have a strong sense of fairness and some of the recent press has been unfair.

But if the upshot is that dog-showing continues to lose favour, call me happy. I hate the damage that the show-ring has done to dogs and the mainly superficial reform we've seen so far is never going to repair it. If dog shows cannot be re-invented in such a way as to truly reward health and function, then they should be condemned to history; as inappropriate, fundamentally distasteful and pointless as human beauty pageants.

I think, deep-down, the Kennel Club knows this, but it is in a tough place: on the one hand trying to appease claims from the dog fancy in the US that it has pandered to animal rights activists; on the other being drawn towards a more modern agenda by the Scandinavian KCs, campaigners, science and good common sense.

My recent blog about the KC becoming more inclusive of crossbreeds/mutts was an April Fool but I have little doubt that it's true. A more all-embracing Kennel Club is an obvious step. It needs a turn of the generations though. There are still too many backward-thinkers in a position of power at the KC hindering true reform.

Can you imagine a future where there is no discrimination between purebred and crossbreed? Where the KC records pedigree info for all dogs, building into an amazing international resource like Where the stud books are open and the emphasis is on conservation? Where dog shows, should they exist, are places to show off fitness and function as well as good looks?

I can.



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