From my ‘Crossing the headlines’ column in Dog World (27th November 2015) about the misrepresentations in the national press on rescue charity intake statistics.

An interesting headline caught my eye in the Telegraph last week, ‘Pedigree dog owners abandoning their pets in alarming numbers’.

The article written by Patrick Sawyer went on to say that, “Welfare groups have warned that owners of pedigree dogs are abandoning their pets in alarming numbers after finding that they cannot cope with health problems caused by ‘irresponsible’ breeding.”

It continued, “breeds such as Pugs and Shih Tzus have become increasingly popular in recent years and as a result more and more owners are finding it difficult to cope with the health problems associated with the breeds.

“The number of Pugs left at Battersea Dogs and Cats home has almost tripled over the last five years as the breed has grown in popularity and the number of Shih Tzus abandoned because of health problems associated with their distinctive flat faces have also increased substantially.

“The home – in South London – has now issued a warning that ‘poor breeding practices are compounding problems associated with the breeds’ squashed, short-nosed faces.”

This term ’poor breeding practices’ has become the latest buzz word used by dog ‘welfare groups’ and one that I initially thought referred to those who have callously jumped on the Pug production bandwagon breeding entirely for financial gain or to those who have flooded the market with puppies of mediocre quality and poor health from Eastern Europe and Irish puppy farms. However, on reading the article it seems once again that the finger of blame is pointing at us, as it’s the ‘selective breeding carried out in order for the dogs to conform to the Pug breed Standard’ that’s to blame.

Now, I could be well off the mark here, but I don’t think many of the unfortunate Pugs that have ended up in Battersea have been bred with an eye to the breed Standard. And if they have and if indeed they are pedigree animals then one would assume that the owners that have given them up would have been able to furnish the Home with the breeder’s name and affix details – information that could prove interesting for the Kennel Club. 

Identifying the breed

I also find it very difficult to believe that the Home has taken in so many ‘pedigree’ Shih Tzus. And this is a further problem when these statistics are published, are the ‘breeds’ identified correctly and what indeed constitutes a ‘pedigree’ (I’ve been stunned by the amount of vets who have thought that our Bostons were long-legged French Bulldogs!).

I used to live on the outskirts of Bournemouth near to an area called Ferndown. It is a suburb very popular with retirees and their dog of choice is the Lhasa Apso/Shih Tzu cross. You can literally see scores of these little bow-legged, closely cropped and trimmed dogs accompanying their elderly owners. Lovely little dogs, but nothing like a pedigree Shih Tzu. And like a number of puggles, cockerpoos and dachajacks, these obviously-adored but often over-indulged dogs also have their fair share of health complaints… but of course we never get to hear about these crossbreeds’ problems as they aren’t KC registered.

Reading back on the ‘statistics’ quoted in the article, an intake of 65 pedigree Shih Tzus in a single month seems far-fetched for, given that would mean 780 in a year from a breed that saw registrations of 4,017 in 2014, I largely doubt almost one in five dogs were taken to a single rescue centre in London! I assume that figure was simply a journalistic ‘mistake’. The writer also quotes that Battersea has seen Pug numbers triple (from 13 in 2010 to 36 in 2014), not really a surprise given 9,245 were registered in 2014 and this number has almost doubled since 2010 anyway. 

According to Battersea’s website, there is a wide choice of dogs available; in fact, their “breed dogs now outnumber mongrels by ten to one”. Check out their ‘current residents’ and see if you think this is correct. Stanley the ‘Neopolitan Mastiff’ is certainly an eye-opener!

Reading Battersea’s 2014 annual report, they claim that 114 Bullmastiffs were cared for on top of the 129 taken in during 2013. Given the annual registrations have fallen from 1,678 in 2010 to 599 in 2014, again it’s hard to conceive that such a significant proportion of pedigree Bullmastiffs end up with one charity. Its annual ‘breed’ data provides an interesting read; all sorts from 15 Cane Corsos, one ‘Indian Mastiff’ (anyone?) to 17 Lakeland Terriers have been taken in.

It also begs the question, why single out the Pug when Staffie and Staffie-cross numbers continue to rocket? A recent Battersea report identified that 29 per cent (1,357 dogs) of the 2014 intake were Staffies or Staffie-crosses, up from 865 in 2000. Given that pedigree Staffordshire Bull Terrier registrations have dropped from 13,070 in 2006 to 4,937 in 2014, (proof of ‘responsible breeding’) it’s quite clear where many of the unregistered puppies from unregulated breeding are ending up. But what exactly is being done to stop it? Where are the articles in the media condemning those who continue to breed a type of dog that is obviously unwanted?

And this leads me neatly on to the RSPCA’s campaign that says, “we are extremely concerned that the welfare of many pedigree dogs is compromised because of exaggerated features and/or inherited diseases. That’s why we need you to tell us your stories. If your (pedigree) dog is suffering or you know a (pedigree) dog that has suffered we need you to get in touch so that we join together and tell the KC that this dog welfare issue cannot wait any longer.”

Marc contacted the RSPCA last week asking out of interest where one would report his [theoretical] puggle with health problems. He asked if he should put it under ‘pug’ as it was a three-quarter Pug; quarter Beagle cross. As he anticipated, he was advised to go ahead and class it as a Pug although the respondent added the promise that such information would not be used as part of their ‘lobbying’ against the KC.

So, sadly this exercise will be a waste of time unless all the dogs reported are genuinely KC registered dogs bred from KC registered stock and each and every one of the ‘stories’ can be fully verified. And I wonder when this report will hit the press; in time for Thursday March 10 anyone? Many of us have raised extreme concerns about the huge numbers of badly bred ‘pedigree’ dogs that have been smuggled into the country, many of whom have brought with them a whole range of inherited disease and behavioural problems. 

Unregulated breeders

But a number of the charities have sat on their hands and have done very little about this particular problem. Of course most of these animals won’t be registered but a fair few will certainly be bred from and any problems arising from their offspring will be totally untraceable. And this ‘traceability’ problem will bedevil the Swedish vet’s laudable attempts to breed healthier brachycephalic breeds. They have proposed a six point plan and point five says, “There should be a mapping of brachycephalic dogs with breathing problems to find out how many are not being treated by vets. Unregistered dogs would not be reached – the vets say – but the SKK had a special responsibility for the dogs it registers.”

Swedish breeders have also raised concern about ‘foreign’ dogs and unregistered stock (that like us) have flooded in recently. Now of course not all the ‘problems’ found in these brachy breeds can be attributed to these imported/smuggled animals but I’m sure they are certainly adding to the growing veterinary statistics and when policies are based upon such statistics then the origin of these dogs needs revealing.

It simply isn’t good enough to ignore their concerns… not for the Swedish breeders nor their dogs. If there is genuine concern for the health of these dogs then the rules should apply to registered and unregistered dogs alike. It is really living in cloud cuckoo land to suggest that if the kennel clubs implement and enforce changes on their breeders then puppy mill owners will eventually follow suit. They won’t. The only way forward, surely, is to make sure that EVERY puppy born in that (and this) country (whether mongrel, crossbreed or pedigree) is registered and traceable. In the past it could have been argued that such a proposition would be unworkable but now with microchipping does that argument still stand? Would it be so hard to have a system in place where every breeder’s name (and as Sheila Atter recently said, if you breed a litter, then you’re a breeder) is logged and every breeder has to pay £15 (or rather £16 now) for every puppy produced. As we know, if you breed and raise a litter correctly there is usually very little profit left. However if you aren’t paying to vaccinate, microchip and register your puppies then there is a whole lot of money to be made.

If these ‘welfare groups’ really want to make a change, why don’t they stop their gimmicky finger pointing (and understand this I don’t care whether a dog in rescue is a pedigree/mongrel or whatever… a rescue kennel is no place for any dog) and get their heads together and (with the help of vets) form and implement a separate compulsory registry for the non-pedigree/non-KC registered pup. Such a move would certainly keep in check the output of the puppy farms as their profits would be seriously dented and we could all see exactly who was producing the dogs that end up in rescue. It could also help in producing healthier dogs, not just KC-registered dogs… all dogs. Wouldn’t this be a better course of action for the RSPCA and other welfare groups to channel their energies and precious funds?

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