What would we do without vets? I know, it’s something most of us prefer not to think about. Of course we all have the odd grumble about the profession (and as a bird keeper/breeder I’ve had more than my fair share of negative experiences with vets who clearly hadn’t got a clue in this admittedly specialist field of expertise) but on the whole, in our hour of need, it’s certainly reassuring to have a good vet nearby.

However, I am increasingly alarmed by the rise of a certain degree of militancy within the veterinarian field. For some reason this thinking is more prevalent among the younger vets in our towns and cities although I certainly haven’t encountered it in our excellent local rural practice, which, contradicting what I have just written, is solely staffed by young vets!

This group invariably displays a loathing for the pedigree dog and especially the brachycephalic breeds. This is fair enough; after all, professionals are entitled to their private opinion, however, on a number of occasions that private opinion is increasingly spilling over into their professional life.

Kennel Club veterinary advisor, Nick Blayney, recently made several succinct points when speaking at the BVA congress in London. Here he pointed out that criticism of pedigree dog breeding was commonplace although such criticism was often ‘inaccurate and sensationalist’ (like a certain well-known vet who publically states that dogs like Dachshunds are completely unable to play bow…a claim I can explode with video proof) and that the role of the vet was to be ‘a critical friend rather than a critic.’ This is where Mr Blayney hit the nail on the head and this is where the veterinarian profession is in danger of heading in the wrong direction.

We’ve all witnessed the disastrous politicisation of the RSPCA. The veterinarian profession is in danger of becoming yet another lobbying group that will end of alienating responsible dog breeders.

I’ve learned of a couple of recent experiences which illustrate the points made by Mr Blayney beautifully. One Boston breeder bred her litter (after doing all the necessary health checks) and everything went swimmingly; her bitch had a litter of five healthy puppies. She had these puppies checked by her local vet twice before sale and they were given a clean bill of health during the time she advertised them (after selecting a dog pup for herself) before they all went to their new homes. The lady urged the new owners to take their puppies to a vet for a health check as soon as possible, and (given the two checks she’d paid for) obviously didn’t expect any concerns. The last little boy went off to his new home…to someone who had just lost their beloved Boston bitch at the age of fourteen.

That evening she got a teary call from the pup’s new owner. The puppy had failed its examination. The breeder was horrified, how could this be possible? She had had all the puppies thoroughly checked over…twice.

‘Could we return him?’ cried the lady on the phone. ‘The vet told us he will probably be dead by the time he is six months…he has BOAS syndrome.’

Of course the breeder took the puppy back immediately and when she did so, she asked to see the report on the pup. The pup’s breed was listed as a ‘French Bulldog’ but the vet’s name and telephone number was given, so the breeder phoned him. The young vet said he’d informed the puppy owner that the puppy could go on to develop potential problems but then snapped at the breeder, ‘Listen, I don’t want to argue with you, these dogs shouldn’t be being bred at all.’

So it seems some of our vets alongside developing Mystic Meg powers of clairvoyance have at the same time elevated themselves to a position as arbiters of what should and should not be bred.

This pup subsequently went to a lovely home where he passed veterinary health checks and is now a happy healthy…and incredibly bouncy…one year old.

And there are many other circumstances of vets ‘overstepping’ the mark. Just the other weekend there was an interesting discussion celebrating the fact that Pets at Home had been persuaded by the CRUFFA campaign. In reality it was nothing of the sort; the popular pet store had simply replied with a very polite and generic reply to a request that the chain drops all images of brachycephalic breeds. One irate Frenchie owner chipped in with the perfectly valid point that she likes to buy Frenchie calendars and cards there.

She got this response from one vitriolic commentator; “So, as a brachycephalic owner you want to look at pictures of your deformed dogs? Pets at Home should be applauded for trying to stop the popularisation of the suffering in these breeds. Thank you Pets at Home for living up to pets before profit.”

Having made her sweeping statements and gross generalisations she proudly signed off with her name and for some strange reason added her MRCVS qualification. Several other vets did the same.

Now, it may come as something as a shock to this, given her profession, obviously highly intelligent individual but, Pets at Home is actually a business not a charity, and businesses in the real world do need to make profit. This chain is very welcoming to dogs (our local one is a God send and the staff are very friendly and approachable – and are the biggest fans of our Bostons) and at most of their stores you will find Pugs and French Bulldogs wandering up and down the aisles with their adoring owners. They also make up a lot of the custom at the instore beauticians. I think it would be foolhardy for the store to completely withdraw images of these dogs because If photographic images are offensive to look at what is that saying about the real flesh and bone brachys? Would they no longer be welcome in store? Such moves would lead to a revolt and boycott by legions of Pug and Frenchie owners. You see, this is the good thing about campaigns and petitions; both sides of the argument can utilise them…and, of course, money always talks. What Pets at Home actually said was that they would review such images. Yes, by all means use brachys with longer muzzles and open nostrils but a total ban would be ludicrous (especially given the popularity of videos of these breeds on platforms such as YouTube) and unworkable. It was not surprising to see the thread later deleted however, of course, in this day and age, people had taken screenshots. It would be far more beneficial for stores like these to work with the KC and push the messages that if you want one of these dogs, read the breed books (readily available in store) and hammer home the need to avoid illegally imported puppies or those from puppy farms and only buy from a recognised breeder. Such measures would have far more long lasting and beneficial effects for these breeds than this latest gimmick.

But, on a different note, how would you feel about taking your pedigree dog – especially if it was a brachycephalic breed – to a vet who holds views such as the one I mentioned above? I most definitely wouldn’t want to take my dogs to her. Maybe the RCVS should reiterate to members its very own specific guidelines for vets using social media and online forums. A few examples include points 28.3 (veterinary surgeons have a responsibility to behave professionally), 28.6b (consider whether they would make the comments in public) and 28.7c (avoid posting statements that are offensive).

And over on the BBC yet another vet was speaking about the health problems all ‘flat-faced’ dogs suffer from. Note the subtle change of syntax; it used to be ‘some’…then ‘most’…and is now ‘all’. The BBC host tutted and made remarks like ‘oh, how awful.’ He went on to say how images of these dogs need to be banned and the host of the show enthusiastically agreed, obviously oblivious to ‘Auntie’s’ hypocritical touting of the image of a Frenchie (which is being very visibly advertised in TK Maxx stores nationwide) to bring in funds for its favourite charity event, Comic Relief!

He also spoke about his deep concern for owners who have to spend vast amounts on their sick pets. It’s good to see that he is so concerned and this brings me neatly to my second story. A lady bred a litter of seven bulldogs. Her bitch naturally whelped without any problems. At five weeks old she noticed one of the pups developed ‘cherry eye’. She took the pup to her local vet who said the condition would cost about £300-400 to correct. Chatting on one of the forums however she was fortunate enough to learn about ‘bulldog friendly vets’ and a list of these people were forwarded to her. She was lucky enough to live within driving distance of one of the most renowned of these ‘bulldog friendly’ vets and he corrected her pup’s eye for the princely sum of £60.

Now, if the profession is going to set itself up on such high moral ground then it opens itself up to close scrutiny and one area that is often commented on is the wildly varying pricing structure of procedures across the country – it really is a postcode lottery.

For example, there is a shocking variation of prices charged for caesareans. How can the majority of these price differences be explained away as anything but profiteering? A number of experienced breeder friends have whelped their Bostons, Chins, Pugs and Griffons completely naturally. There are scores of videos of these natural whelpings on media platforms. Are a number of breeders electing caesareans for fear of the enormous cost of an ‘out of hours’ operation? Putting all this aside, if this vocal and often very public dislike of the ‘pedigree’ continues in the profession, will we be forced to compile a list of ‘pedigree friendly’ vets? I sincerely hope not.

As Mr Blayney stated, the way forward is for the veterinarian profession to work with the breed clubs, judges and breeders. The time for name-calling and finger-pointing has to stop. This isn’t a black and white issue; the KC has demonstrated its ability to head off trouble and be proactive instead of reactive and it’s about time a ‘brachycephalic breed council’ was set up to help and advise on the breeding of these dogs (with a defined timeline for improvements to take place) and also to manage health testing of breeding stock in a manner similar to the excellent one run by the French Bulldog Club. Of course these measures would have little effect on the health of the vast ‘pet’ population but it would add weight to our claims of being guardians of the breeds. Such councils could be set up by Kennel Clubs across the world, all sharing information and working together for the betterment of these breeds. The legacy of this would be far further reaching than stunts and the banning of images on calendars and birthday cards.

Published in Dog World on 15th March 2017