Archive for April 2015

The rise and rise of ABP – Anything But Pedigree

April 7, 2015

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals


There’s nothing like a jolly good disaster to get people to start doing something – Prince Charles

Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face, I just pick myself up and get back in the race – Lyrics of ‘That’s Life by Dean Kaye and Kelly Gordon

If you are a breeder for pedigree dogs l would ask that you sit down quietly with a cup of tea (or something stronger if you prefer – you might need it), compose yourself, take a deep breath and remember that stress is not good for you. If you feel you are not of a strong disposition or might be severely affected by what you might consider the heretical, even bizarre ideas you are about to be presented with perhaps you should give this essay a miss. We have also taken the precaution of setting up an Our Dogs advice line which we have had especially installed in case you need counselling.

We will approach the subject of this week’s Speakers Corner carefully and just whisper ‘Cockerpoo’ very quietly.

You will perhaps have read that the Kennel Club recently asked its members to compete a survey so those running the institution can assess how they perceive their club and how effective KC services are. A full review of this survey is for another time: for the moment it is enough to say that if every member completed it there would be about 1,300 responses. (In passing, incidentally, I can tell you that, having gone through it carefully, I doubt it will tell Clarges Street anything they could not quickly have discovered by reading the Our Dogs letters pages and the views of our very experienced and dedicated columnists. The questions seem to be more concerned with feelings and concepts rather than facts which, although important, are already well known.)

On the other hand a recent brilliantly designed survey to Cockerpoo owners (I commend whoever created it to the Kennel Club) by the monthly magazine Dogs Today, is incredibly informative. I have often disagreed strongly with some of the content of this magazine but this analysis concentrates on the facts – which not only provide a great deal of relevant and interesting information but should give all of us pause for thought.

Not all surveys are the same

Before I examine the detail and some of the conclusions it might be sensible to discuss surveys. They are broadly divided into three types: those which are entirely random, those where the respondents are carefully selected to provide a balanced ‘spread’ of opinion and those which are targeted on a particular interest group. Both the Kennel Club and the Dogs Today surveys are targeted surveys because they approach a specific group of people with a clearly defined interest.

To get a reasonably accurate picture (assuming the survey is well designed and has clear objectives) you do not need huge numbers so long as the respondents offer a good spread of opinion over the subject. So quite a small percentage of say, four or five percent is more than enough to establish the overall conclusions because more respondents are likely to just confirm the pattern already established.

Next I would ask you to consider the number of responses you would expect if you carried out a survey of, say, Cocker Spaniel or Poodle owners. You are asking questions about why the breed was chosen, it’s general health, whether the owner will buy the same breed again, their character, their fitness and how well they fit into their family’s lifestyle. Would you be happy with 200 responses? This is probably the minimum you would need to get a true picture so do you think 300 would be reasonable? This is probably enough for the survey to be considered valid but 400 would be better and personally I think, that bearing in mind political surveys are pretty accurate with about 1,000 responses (a different type of survey in that it is ‘balanced’ but which nevertheless provides a useful baseline) I would be delighted with 500. I would not expect anything like this number for any group of pedigree dog owners for the result of the breed health survey have been dire in most breeds.

So how many responses do you think Dogs Today received? 1,508 – that’s how many – and we know it is a true figure because it was carried out through Survey Monkey – a respected online application which provides the totals and will not allow anyone to complete the survey twice. And what is especially worrying for all of us deeply involved with pedigree dogs is that almost all owners are delighted with their dog, that they would get another one, that they felt they had excellent service and advice from the breeder and their dogs were healthy, happy and long lived.

There were 41 questions in the survey so it was not an exercise which could be completed in a few minutes. And some of the questions also demanded quite a lot of thought: for instance question 39 asks: ‘As no one registers Cockapoos it is hard to estimate how their popularity compares to other types of dogs. Can you rank these breeds as to which you feel from your own observation is the most popular dog bought recently in your area? What pups are you most likely to see? A rating of 1 would be for the type of pup you see most frequently’.

Clearly this is quite a broad and unscientific question but as 800 people answered it there is a degree of validity which is useful and the analysis is remarkable in that the results make sense in terms of pedigree registrations. For instance, from a long list of breeds and cross-bred dogs and using a complicated algorithm developed by the Survey Monkey to create a figure to enable the proportions of different breeds seen by those taking part to be compared, Cockerpoos scored 16.31 with Labradoodles scoring 12.66 compared to Golden Retrievers at 12.62, Cocker Spaniels at 15.84, Labradors at 17.36 and Staffordshire Bull Terriers at 12.43

Another question asked whether their puppy had been health tested by the breeder and whether certificates were available: it would appear that at least 60% of the parents were health tested and hip scored. About 60% of puppies were sold for between £680 and £999 and about 35% between £400 and £650 and slightly over 80% of owners described themselves as ‘very happy’ with the service that they received from breeders with only a handful being disappointed.

The full results is available It really is worth a look and I would really like to hear of any breed clubs that have carried out a similar survey among owners.

Of course, it is not all cakes and ale. Some recent research suggests that many deliberately cross-bred dogs suffer poor health and are subject to both genetic and conformational abnormalities: this is actually not really surprising because so are we humans – but there is no doubt that the knock on effects of Pedigree Dogs Exposed, (despite all the work which has been carried out by the Kennel Club, breed clubs and breeders in the meantime, are going to reverberate for many years as a result of the impact and success that supposedly ‘healthier’, deliberately cross- bred dogs are having

I know that many breed clubs and breeders are working hard to promote their breeds but it seems to me that we still have a great deal to do.

Well done RSPCA!

April 7, 2015

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today – Abraham Lincoln

Readers will know that although I often give the RSPCA a hard time I have always recognised the good work which is done by their many independent branches, so it is good to be able to report one of their successes. Unfortunately, news is seldom about the many good things that occur in our lives but focuses on the errors, mishandling and misjudgements of people, organisations or institutions. They usually occur because those taking decisions jump without analysing the possible consequences. Two recent press releases from RSPCA headquarters provide textbook examples of how such communications to the media should not be written. I was told very recently by a Trustee that the problem has been recognised and press releases are now examined by an independent consultant: they need to get a new one!

But I must not get sidetracked: I really want to concentrate on a good news story about the Society although it is, unfortunately, based on the wholly unacceptable, objectionable and repugnant circumstances that sometimes surrounds the unfortunate, disagreeable or undesirable few who view dogs not as pets to be cared for in loving homes but as factory units to generate as much cash as possible.
Quality, of course, must be paid for and I have never had any objection to people who either breed dogs and sell their surplus stock to suitable homes or, for that matter, who breed dogs as part of their livelihood. The key element is the proper care and management of every aspect of the procedure from stud dog to puppy sale. Looking after dogs, bitches and puppies is arduous and inevitably expensive: if it is to be done properly a sensible charge for stock for sale must be made (and we should accept that there are those not in the world of pedigree dogs, who care just as much as we do for the puppies that they breed as was shown by the recent survey of owners of Cockerpoos which I highlighted some weeks ago).

No excuse

But there is no excuse – that is ‘no excuse’ just to make it absolutely clear -, given that people will pay a reasonable prices for good quality puppies, for the breeding stock and the puppies themselves ever to be kept in any conditions other than those which experts and non-experts alike can describe as ‘excellent’.

It is not as though it is difficult. Freedom to move around with sufficient regular exercise, good food, clean water, good husbandry and regular cleaning of a suitable environment, good socialisation and contact with humans, a thoughtful breeding strategy and good paperwork – rocket science it is not. There is simply no excuse for treating animals in any way that is not in their best interests. Ethical and moral duties aside, The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it crystal clear what our legal duty is to those animals for which we are responsible and I am delighted the RSPCA is prepared to take those who do not fulfil their obligations to the attention of the Courts.

I do not know whether you have heard of Margaret and Gary Mazan who live in Bradford and who are breeders of Irish Setters: he is a long distance lorry driver and she is a chef. Mrs Mazan has shown her dogs enthusiastically over the years (she entered four at Crufts in 2010) and in a breed in which there is much competition did reasonably well. Back in 2013, one, Klever, was good enough to win at the Otley Canine Society Super Match. Klever has been hip scored and there are photographs on Mrs Mazan’s Facebook page of him running free and ‘relaxing’ on a sofa at home. My research indicates she began with a love of dogs and the best of intentions: she bred healthy litters and produced some sound stock. But clearly something went seriously wrong* at some stage and those who have met Mrs Mazan at shows in recent years or looked at the pictures on the websites to which she subscribes, would have had no idea that she was keeping her dogs in what the local RSPCA inspector described as the worst conditions she had ever seen.

Highlighting responsibility

However, I bring this matter to your attention not simply to censure the Mazans – that is the role of the Court – but to highlight the responsibilities of all of us who keep animals. Both Mr and Mrs Mazan were brought to the Court for seven breaches of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The process was properly and sensitively implemented in that the couple were given a formal warning and advice three years ago by the local dog warden and the RSPCA as to how the dogs should be better cared for – and for a little while the conditions appear to have improved. But this did not last very long and after the dog warden made a routine call to check and was refused access to the house in January of last year, the RSPCA with the support of the police, raided the house and took the dogs, which were in an extremely poor condition, into their care.

Mrs Mazan did not give evidence and her husband, when questioned by the Court, said that the dogs were nothing to do with him and entirely the responsibility of his wife. And this is the point: whether or not this was true and he really left the care of the dogs entirely to Mrs Mazan, he was nevertheless convicted along with her. In fact, the Chairman of the Bench specifically stated that ‘he was jointly responsible for the care and control of the dogs’. The very fact that he was aware of their very poor physical condition and the overcrowded environment in which they were kept – and did nothing to help them – meant he had directly committed offences under the Act.

There can be no excuse for allowing animals suffer: we are responsible for their health and welfare. Personally I am delighted to see that the Animal Welfare Act is being used as was intended. For all the demands for new legislation (as set out in our report in this week’s issue of the recent meeting of the All Party Group for the Welfare of Animals to improve animal care) there is little that is not covered by this legislation whether it is the conditions within large breeding establishments or the importation of puppies. The demands of the Act are sensible and specific: they just needed to be applied – as they were in this case by the local dog warden and the RSPCA.

* The Kennel Club Charitable Trust has a Breeders Helpline. This is a telephone service which offers support and advice to breeders who face difficulties in looking after their dogs or anyone concerned about the welfare of specific dogs in their area. It is available 24/7 and all calls are dealt with confidentially. The service was set up primarily for breeders who have become overstocked and under resourced such as an elderly owner who has tried to cope with a reduction in income or has an understandable attachment to their ‘golden oldies’. Calls are also often received for veterinary guidance and for advice when summonses about to be or have already been issued. The number to call is 0845 30 30 18.