I sent a little hero-tweet to TV vet Scott Miller earlier this week - thanking him for mentioning BOAS and breed standards in an item on ITV's This Morning and asking him a question.
As many of you will know, brachycephalic health is a huge focus for me at the moment. Just over a year ago, I called for vets to stand up and "grow a pair" on this issue (see post here). It got widespread publicity and led to over 40,000 veterinary professionals signing a petition demanding action.
The Kennel Club bowed to the pressure and set up a Brachycephalic Working Group (more about that another time); and they continue to fund the Cambridge BOAS group which has found that, among their mainly show-bred study group, only 15 per cent of Bulldogs can breathe like a normal dog and around 50% of brachycephalics have clinically significant airway disease.
Brachycephalics have become a hot issue at vet and animal welfare conferences - and increasingly in the mainstream press, too. Research interest has led to paper after paper elucidating just how fucked these dogs are.
It isn't just the breathing.
And yet Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pugs are more popular today than ever before. Ten years ago, one in 50 dogs registered with the Kennel Club was an extreme brachy. Today, it is one in six, with an absolutely terrifying rise in the popularity of French Bulldogs, set to become the UK's most popular dog this year.
Eighteen months ago, I started CRUFFA - The Campaign for the Responsible Use of Flat-Faced Animals. The aim? To reduce demand by persuading advertisers, companies, organisations and individuals to stop featuring extreme brachycephalics in their media; to stop promoting these dogs as cute or desirable. Where unavoidable, we ask that only the most moderate dogs are used in an effort to counter the normalisation of very flat faces, podgy bodies, saggy eyes, panting and excessive wrinkling. To give you an idea, CRUFFA would like to see more of the Bulldog on the left, used recently in an ad campaign, and less of the Bulldog on the right, which won Best of Breed at Crufts this year.
CRUFFA also monitors social media, praising where moderate dogs are used - and trying to educate where dogs that are clearly suffering are presented as cute. This happens way too often - and not least because dogs that are in respiratory distress often too like they are smiling.
I also made this video which is posted to try and counter the view that snoring/sleeping sitting is a sign of airway obstruction. It troubles me greatly that there are dogs out there that are chronically sleep-deprived because of the lack of awareness that this is a serious problem. Unlike us, dogs can't open their mouths to breathe when they are asleep. If they have nasal obstruction, they have to wake up to grab some oxygen.
I don't have a huge amount of time to dedicate to developing CRUFFA because I am neck-deep finishing a BBC Two series on Parkinson's Disease (my day job). But I am proud that the idea of tackling brachy demand by appealing to advertisers/companies/media has met with such a positive response, with support from the British Veterinary Association, Dogs Trust, RSPCA, PDSA and many others.
The BVA is even working on a guide for advertisers which will highlight the issues around using extreme brachycephalics (and other phenotypically disadvantaged breeds such as Shar-Pei). The Vet Record will no longer accept advertising that features brachcyepahlics. Even UK pet supermarket giant Pets At Home has committed to taking care over their brachy-use. Earlier this year, I was invited to present a CRUFFA poster at the 3rd International Dog Genetics Workshop in Paris.
So.... I was hopeful that Dr Miller might respond positively to my suggestion that he could help by not posing for pictures with brachycephalics, even allowing for the fact that his practice in posh Richmond, Surrey, will have a lot of paying brachy customers on its books.
But no. First, he liked a response to my tweet from a Bulldog owner.
I replied to Janet (presumably no relation), saying the concern was that a glam image with a Bulldog would promote the breed.
To which Dr Miller replied:
Of course, we all do our bit in our own way. And I am grateful that Dr Miller highlighted the issue on TV earlier this week. Every little helps.
But to conflate concern about brachycepahlic suffering with the holocaust?
Frankly, Dr Scott Miller, you're an arse.