From the letters page of Dog World (8th March 2013)

A few nights ago I was flicking through the TV channels at home and, despite the vast array of channels, as usual, there was precious little worth watching. However, I did have the misfortune of stumbling across a documentary on BBC3 focussing on the every day lives of the inhabitants of the Harpurhey council estate in Manchester. Now, the only thing that held my attention was the sight of a litter of eight ‘boxer’ puppies – eight snow-white puppies galloping through the kitchen and front room of a crowded two up two down styled terraced house. I was intrigued and continued watching. It turned out that the couple owned an almost-identical pair of white ‘boxers’ (siblings?) and, of course, the inevitable happened and a litter was born. The programme followed the couple’s desperate attempts to find the pups new homes before they sank beneath an unrelenting sea of faeces and urine! A friend later told me that the previous week’s episode showed a couple whose pair of ‘chihuahuas’ had given birth to a litter of five pups.

Now, the couple I watched were totally ill-prepared for the birth and care of the eight lusty pups who were all housed within a tiny house with no sign of a garden and it got me thinking; how would EFRA’s select committee deal with a scenario such as this? The careless mating of two white boxers with no pedigree or any idea of their background, no genetic testing and certainly no breeding licence, how would their recommendations tackle this all-too common occurrence?

I see dog breeding in Britain as a pyramid and, at the base of this pyramid are the producers of the often advertised ‘rare, blue staffies’, the unusual, white ‘boxers’ and the myriad of designer (mongrel) cockerpoos, jackadachs and labradoodles. At the narrow pinnacle of this pyramid are the KC-assured breeders – those individuals working tirelessly, complying with rules and regulations and spending money on tests for their breeding stock to free their chosen beloved breeds of inherited illnesses and genetic disease. Now, the answer to the problem of dogs in this country seems quite simple to me; no need for long-winded committees. All that’s needed is a good dose of common sense – something most dog people are imbued with. Simply change the construction of this ‘pyramid’ and have the KC-assured and regulated breeders forming the broad base and body of the structure and the ‘accidental’ and designer mongrels at its narrow pinnacle.

The British dog-buying public have become confused in recent years. Many still see (totally erroneously) the pedigree pups as beset with illness and disease and the crossbred ‘designer breeds’ as being free from potential problems. This is sadly the true, long-lasting legacy of the damaging documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed”. That programme was the tipping point – the thing that levered open the gate for the mass production of the designer dog which are now often advertised proudly as being “healthier than a pedigree dog”.

The gullible British public have sadly bought into this sales pitch and are still willing to part with £800/£900 for the privilege of owning a mongrel. This sorry state of affairs would have been totally unthinkable just several years ago when such pups would have been given away free! I’ve visited a certain dogs’ trust kennel and I was shocked by the amount of staffie-types and ‘doodles’ that were housed within its walls. It certainly wasn’t overflowing with pedigree dogs!

Can’t committees like EFRA see the real problems? Are they so blinkered or do they not see the amount of staffie/mastiff type crosses that are sadly seen as a status symbol to those who really have no place owning any kind of dog and especially a type so ill-fitted to a life in an inner city. These are the people who desperately need education and, if necessary, legislation on the consequences of reckless breeding. Their animal’s progeny are the ones filling up the kennels.

EFRA should tackle this problem, the real problem – the thoughtless producers of these unregistered, non-pedigree animals and leave the pedigree world to be dealt with by the Kennel Club (which would do itself a whole dose of good by only registering pups whose parents have completed ALL the necessary health checks, not registering pups of colours not recognised by the respective breed standards and by bringing all breeders under its ‘Assured Breeder’ scheme. The framework is there in place, so why not make full use it? Then, maybe, with a strong advertising campaign using social media, the term ‘pedigree’ would once again be seen as something worth having – a sign of quality and caring. It would be seen as a badge of honour instead of (as is currently the situation with many, especially those that don’t show) an irrelevance or added expense.

What we certainly don’t need is even more ill-thought out measures and restrictions by the likes of EFRA and administered by the veterinary profession which would, once again, penalise the law-abiding citizen and allow the problem makers to escape scot-free. For example, EFRA’s idea of limiting breeders to two litters is nonsensical; the very breeds they deem a problem often have large litters of eight or more pups, so two litters would still produce a sizeable population (and if you were looking to breed for profit these are the very breeds you would then choose!) whilst our small, toy or native endangered breeds could be hit hard and for some it would certainly strike the death knell.

Do the likes of EFRA want to see an end to our hobby? Every week seems to throw up yet another new threat, attack or challenge on us. It seems to me that there is a nucleus of people worldwide who are hell-bent on finishing off our great pastime. They see showing dogs as a mainly-white, middle-class pursuit and elitist. No matter which hoops the Kennel Club jumps through, it will never be enough for them. They will keep on making demands. My fear is that eventually having been strangled in red tape the great breeders this nation has created will throw in the towel and simply give up. This will be disastrous because despite a damming media campaign, a large percentage of the British public obviously still love and wish to own a pedigree dog. My fear is that, as these caring guardians of our breeds quit, their place will eagerly be taken by the unscrupulous or we will see even more stories of puppies being smuggled in from dubious establishments in Europe. The Kennel Club needs to stop being so apologetic, ‘grow some’ and far more vigorously defend the rights of its members before they are signed completely away. They should be ‘shouting’ from the rooftops about the successes breeders are achieving through testing schemes, for example, the startling progress being made in the health of breeds like the Bulldog. EFRA stated (re: health standards) that “progress was too slow” but these changes simply cannot take place overnight and the people on this committee would do well to read Mike Tempest’s incredible article in last weeks DW. We, as a community, need to become far more vociferous and stop sitting on our hands hoping that someone else will make a stand.

Scenes such as those witnessed in the BBC3 documentary are the ones that need consigning to the past. Far from penalising and punishing the KC-Assured style breeder, EFRA should in fact be praising and encouraging them. If EFRA is really so concerned about dog health/welfare and is looking for somewhere to focus its considerable energies, may I ask it (given the recent shocking findings on what goes into our food) to channel its investigations into what horrors lurk in the food of ‘man’s best friend’ and the subsequent problems such feeding may cause.


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