Archive for January 2009

My response to the All Party Group on the Welfare of Animals

January 7, 2009

The APGWA have called for evidence re their enquiry into pedigree dog breeding. It requires a covering letter explaining ones qualifications for comment, an summary and up to 2,000 of evidence.

This is my response:

7th January 2008

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare

Dear Sirs,

I have been involved with pedigree dogs for almost forty years as an exhibitor, breeder and judge. In 1973 I was responsible for publishing the Dog Directory, a reference book listing responsible breeders, the intention of which was to make good breeders names and contact details easily available to the general public. It ran to many editions but was eventually overtaken by the Internet. I wrote the book ‘All About Mating Whelping and Weaning’ in 1981. It went to three editions and is considered by some to be the standard work on the subject.

I am the principal of the Animal Care College, a non-profit making distance learning organisation set up in 1980 to deliver accredited home study courses to both enthusiasts and professionals in the animal care sector. In 1984 was asked by the Manpower Services Commission to assist in the creation of the Animal Care Lead Industry Body for Animal Care (ACLIB) for the then government’s training schemes which developed National Vocational Qualifications for the sector. The ACLIB has since been incorporated in to Lantra, the Learning Skills Council for the industry. I am the publisher of the oldest established weekly newspaper devoted to specialist canine interests (Our Dogs) and for fifteen year published the specialist monthly magazine Dogs Monthly. For eleven years I was as a senior manager of the Dogs Home Battersea so have an interest in and knowledge of, rescue and rehoming both dogs and cats.

I have also served as a District Counsellor and was Chairman of the Environmental Services Committee of Bracknell Forest Council which had dogs and dog control as part of its remit.

I am he longest serving trustee of the charity, the Pet Care Trust (and for a few months was Chief Executive while the organisation developed a new and more relevant strategy) and was a member of the committee which developed the Model Licence Conditions for Boarding Kennels and Catteries. I made contributions to the modification of the Dangerous Dogs Act, had some input into the Animal Welfare Act and its continuing establishment of secondary legislation through discussions with Defra. I have worked closely with other charities and non-governmental organisations. I have therefore been deeply involved in the political, educational, economic and social background of the animal care sector at many levels.

I clearly have an interest. I am a member of the Kennel Club and judge extensively both in Britain and abroad. However, as a teacher with twenty-five years experience and an in depth knowledge of dogs and pets in society, I believe that I have a clear-sighted and balanced view of the issues involved in this enquiry.

My full CV is available at www.davidcavill.co.uk

No part of my submission is confidential.

Yours faithfully

David Cavill

Summary

  • The proportion of pedigree dogs who suffer as a result of genetic disease or selective breeding is small

  • There is a great deal of confusion in the media between the terms, ‘genetic defect’, ‘genetic disease’, and ‘selective breeding’ which has led to many misunderstandings in the public mind

  • Much research is being carried out to improve the quality of life of affected dogs has already had a considerable degree of success

  • The programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed was distorted and misleading which encouraged organisations to ‘catch the publicity wave’ which exacerbated the misunderstandings

  • The charge that these problems are the direct responsibility of the Kennel Club and/or hobby breeder, show exhibitors or judges is inaccurate

  • It is important to ensure that all breeding stock is DNA tagged to ensure meaningful pedigrees

  • Breed standards should include a mandatory requirement for breeders and judges to give the health and welfare of the breed the highest priority

  • Adequate enforcement of current law and regulations through the Animal Welfare Act (2006) is more than sufficient to address the issues raised

Evidence

Dogs, including pedigree dogs, are an integral element of the cultural fabric of society in Britain and their importance socially and economically is immense.

Some 5% of pedigree dog breeds in the UK (10from a total of 200) have significant genetic defects or disease, many of which have been caused by the thoughtless application of selective breeding. However, of those breeds only a proportion are affected and many live perfectly normal, long-lived, healthy lives. It should be noted that the study carried out by Imperial College to which there is likely to be constant reference in some submissions to your committee, was on just ten breeds and the overall genetic health of pedigree dogs was not studied. Just because animals are closely bred does not in itself, mean that they will be subject to genetic defects. Selective breeding (as in cows for milk, sheep for wool or chickens for eggs) can have positive outcomes in terms of usefulness or health.

It is essential that these problems are addressed but it is important to keep the proportion of dogs affected in proportion

A further (approximately) 30% of breeds have some genetic defect or minor distortion of the normal canine conformation which is an inconvenience rather than a serious disadvantage. Again, only a proportion are affected and the vast majority are fit and healthy

The majority of breeds are affected by genetic defects to the same extent as the human population and are minor. DNA research is throwing up an increasing number of genetic shortcomings in humans and we learn to live with them as we have with serious defects such as diabetes, cataracts and Alzheimer’s as well as more minor problems such as short-sightedness and baldness.

Much research has been and is being carried out both here and abroad into every aspect of genetic defect and disease and much progress has been made over the last few years. This research is being led and funded by Kennel Clubs in many countries which are fully aware of their responsibilities for canine health and welfare. In the UK the Kennel Club/Animal Health Trust is the coordinating body.

The programme which triggered this enquiry, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, was extraordinarily biased and misleading. The programme was made by a producer who has written ‘there is no obligation on my part to promote a balanced view’. Calls to ban particular breeds are a similarly subjective over reaction.

Although it is true that in the past, breeders have used selective breeding to distort the conformation of some breeds to the point where they were uncomfortable and in pain, there have been powerful forces (of which I hope I have been one) against these practices over the past thirty years and there is no doubt that the worst excesses have been amended in the UK (This is not true of some other countries, incidentally but is certainly the case as far as Britain is concerned). Although selective breeding will increase the chances of genetic defects and genetic disease this is not necessarily the case. Selective breeding can be used to improve stock and to eliminate genetic defects if use knowledgably and intelligently.

The gradual establishment of a pedigree base which is tied to a DNA tag is one way in which this process could be advanced more quickly. The Kennel Club through its registry, although it is not legally binding, is by far the most highly regarded and would be best placed to institute this reform

Minor adjustments to breed standards are unnecessary. I have long advocated that every standard should include the introductory phrase ‘any characteristic that militates against the best interests of the health and welfare of the breed should be severely penalised’. The Kennel Club have not yet gone quite that far but they are close and a phrase with that intention was included in all standards some years ago. It is not strong enough in my view but I believe that it will be made more forceful shortly

The UK has adequate laws regarding the commercial breeding of puppies for the pet market but these are not applied by those responsible for their enforcement. There is no doubt that puppies bred by those termed ‘puppy farmers’ are the source of many of the genetic defects we see. Providing stock for the market is not, in itself, wrong but if the selection and care of breeding stock and the socialisation and upbringing of the puppies is inadequate then quality suffers across the board. We do not need more laws – we just need those we have to be applied effectively.

Like democracy, the Kennel Club is inadequate in many respects but also like democracy, any alternative would be less satisfactory. What is clear is that the Kennel Club is totally aware of its responsibilities and dedicated to the improvement of the health and welfare of dogs. I believe it can be trusted to carry out those responsibilities.

My recommendation is that no parliamentary action needs to be taken although the APGAW may rightly conclude that the situation might be reviewed in a few years time.


David Cavill