It was fantastic to recently read about the removal of the Basset Hound from the category three ‘high-profile’ list. This breed is (for obvious reasons, given my passion for Dachshunds) yet another of my ‘favourites’ and one I find myself instantly drawn to at shows and I have over the past few years noticed that a number of the winning dogs (like the Bulldog) have been more athletically built, have ‘more light underneath them’ and have good clean, tight eyes – in other words they have all the requirements of a working hound. For once, it’s good to see justice done and the sterling work of breed clubs, breeders and a dedicated health co-ordinator being fully recognised.

The Basset amply demonstrates the incredible things that can be achieved in any breed if everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. Despite how certain ‘finger pointing’ sections of the media and some keyboard warriors would like to portray us, the dog exhibitor isn’t an uncaring monster; we love our dogs and want them to be as healthy as they possibly can. Ms Watkins (Basset health co-ordinator) said she was delighted by the breed’s removal from category three and stated that the breed’s health group was committed to working on the health of the breed and supporting further research and health education.

‘We’re encouraged that our efforts have been recognised,’ she said. ‘I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone – breed clubs, breeders, exhibitors and owners alike – who have embraced our aims and goals to make this possible.’

A couple of groups appear to be missing from that list of ‘thank yous’ – the scientists and vets at the Animal Health Trust, who have been researching a study into inherited glaucoma (supported by the breed clubs) and spearheading the ‘Give a Dog a Genome campaign.’

These people work tirelessly to improve the lot of all dogs so it is particularly ironic that just across the Channel at France’s Alfort National Veterinary School, a similar group of people are doing quite the opposite and are purposely breeding dogs to develop crippling muscle wasting diseases. Alfort (located near Paris) prides itself as ‘the largest European training centre for pets medicine and surgery’. It also houses a research facility that studies infectious animal diseases and human health and it is the practices within this part of the establishment that has gained the interest of PETA.

Now regular readers of this column will know that I’m certainly no fan of that particular organisation and their latest campaign featuring ‘actress’ Alicia Silverstone standing barefoot and naked in a woodland setting above the ridiculous message, ‘I’d rather go naked than wear wool’ underscores the farcical nature of many of their campaigns however sometimes – just sometimes – they do flag up an issue that needs urgent action and this I feel is one of them. I had never heard of Alfort before reading the story from PETA (featured in the Daily Mail) and it is truly horrific.

The dogs (mainly Golden Retrievers and Beagles) are bred to be genetically prone to muscular dystrophy (MD) including Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) which is particularly severe. These diseases ravage their bodies and are characterised by progressive muscle wasting and increased weakness. Most of the dogs never reach adulthood and some are crippled before they even reach six months old and half endure agonising deaths before they reach the age of ten months. The video footage provided by PETA (and it is truly heartbreaking stuff) shows dogs that are clearly having difficulty breathing, swallowing and walking. Drool drips continuously from the mouths of dogs whose jaw muscles have literally wasted away. One poor dog, a Golden retriever, has so much difficulty in eating and holding down food (because of his weakened oesophageal muscles) that vomit literally covers his face. Yet still these dogs push their faces through the bars of their cramped cages to be petted…

As I said, any dog lover will find viewing the footage distressing but owners of Golden Retrievers will find it particularly gut-wrenching as the dogs (and only the golden retrievers are featured) look so similar to the ones we have at home sprawling in front of the fire or waiting at the front door, eager for a walk.

These dogs soon completely lose their ability to eat but their ordeal still isn’t over – as they are then kept alive by being fed through a stomach tube.

A lab worker can even be heard chillingly admitting, ‘I wouldn’t like to be in that Beagle’s place. The suffering is real.’

The research is funded by the French charity AFM-Telephon and a laboratory representative admits that if the French public (who, just like the British, love their dogs) were to see the condition of the dogs, they would risk ‘losing a lot of money’.

Of course there are always two arguments to every story. MD and DMD are both truly wicked human diseases that cause untold suffering and I know that there are people out there who will say, ‘but what if you had a son or daughter who had this disease? Wouldn’t you want everything tried and tested?’ – and these people are probably right, I most probably would. However I would still feel very uncomfortable about the amount of abject misery being inflicted upon the helpless animals tested and let’s not forget that these studies have been carried out for decades and yet there is still no cure for these cruel diseases. Analysis of MD studies using dogs have shown serious pitfalls when the results have been applied to humans. We are such vastly different species. I was struck by this argument when I brought up the problems found when rats and mice were tested with microchips. Many of these developed cancers/tumours at the point of injection but the veterinary elite very quickly reassured us that there was such a difference between the rodent and canine species and that such results really couldn’t be relied on. As much as we would like to think otherwise I’m sure there is an equal gulf between human and canine. Or do we just pick and choose when such experiments are relevant? Is such testing in fact just wasting precious time and money? Surely in the 21st century there has to be a better way of doing things that doesn’t involve such horrendous cruelty. Indeed, just last week a petition was handed in to 10 Downing Street calling for the abolishment of the breeding of Beagles for animal experimentation by the Run Free Alliance. The Alliance say there is overwhelming evidence that the practice, which used 3,241 Beagles last year, could be eliminated due to major advances in scientific research which has meant that more accurate and dependable results can be achieved through the use of technology. How on earth can we lecture the likes of China and South Korea when will still allow such barbaric practices in our own country…even if they are hidden away like a dirty secret. This has certainly shone a light on double standards when it comes to our dogs. How is it that a documentary can be aired that shows a tiny proportion of pedigree dogs suffering illness, yet it goes on to cause global outrage and clamorous calls for the breeding and showing of all pedigree dogs to be banned yet the deliberate breeding of dogs riddled with painful disease is permissible and such suffering can be casually ignored and slips by without barely a grumble.

One can only pray that 2017 will bring positive results and possible treatments for Muscular Dystrophy/Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy and that the experimentation on the dogs at Alfort (and all animals) will be once and for all consigned to the history books. We can but hope…

Published in Dog World on 14th December 2016.