An Update on Pedigree Dogs Exposed and the RSPCA

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

The RSPCA have surely gone beyond a joke. Not content with sucking millions of pounds into their flashy headquarters bank accounts every year (none of this money goes to your local RSPCA centre, incidentally – it is spent mainly on ‘administration’, ‘prosecutions’ and ‘media relations’) the society employs people such as their veterinary adviser, Mark Evans, a man who attracts little sympathy from you and me and the thousands of other responsible and sensible dog owners.

2009 began in a style even more bizarre than usual. The RSPCA advised those owners with dogs which were very young, very old or who had thin coats to make sure they were well wrapped up and wore a dog coat. Owners who did not do so might be prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act.

A few days later another press released crossed my desk. Wearing ‘clothes’ restricted dogs’ ability to exhibit normal behaviour and could ‘overheat’ them so those people to dressed their dogs up could be prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act.

Now, the aforementioned Mark Evans, commenting on the Kennel Club’s announcement about the changes to the breed standards said: ‘Our initial concerns are that the changes don’t appear to be radical enough to really make a difference and we also question how the standards may be interpreted in the show ring.’

You may feel that this is not unexpected reaction but I have saved the best until last. He also said: ‘We haven’t yet had the opportunity to look at the Kennel Club’s reviewed breed standards in detail’. What an extraordinary admission from a man who one would have thought, given that some veterinary school must claim to have educated him, had a modicum of intelligence. Such remarks are obviously made not just without thought, but without consideration, intelligence or understanding and, I suspect, solely to put the society’s and his name in the public arena. In fact, they are a clear indication of the Society’s appalling and unacceptable public face, a face which has, I am delighted to say, come under increasing scrutiny by the media over the past few months.

That said, the reaction to the Kennel Club’s announcement by the wider media has been quite positive if somewhat over the top. ‘Bulldogs to be banned’ was one headline I caught but the gorgeous picture of a Bulldog on the front page of the Times and the recent spate of ‘feel good’ stories about dogs and their owners has got to be good for dogs. I see, too that there are a number of petitions doing the rounds one of which has amassed over 1,000 signatures. One (http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/bulldog/signatures.html) is emphasises that Bulldogs can see, breathe and move. On this basis, of course, one could sign up because most Bulldogs do fulfil these criteria. However, there is a great deal more to it than that and we have to recognise that whatever our personal pleasure in and appreciation of breeds such as Bulldogs, Pekes and Pugs and the others, whether the views of opposing camps (the breed and breeders on the one hand and the Kennel Club on the other) are right or not is irrelevant.

I have criticised Clarges Street for, perhaps, fanning the flames with some of their high profile initiatives over the past few months. But had they done less perhaps I would be taking them to task for not doing enough. It is a very difficult line to draw but what is clear, is that the public perception reinforced by the ludicrous pronouncements of the RSPCA among others, is that ‘something must be done’ about the these breeds which have, it is said, strayed too far from the ‘norm’. I know a great deal has already done by breeders and respect and applaud their efforts but what is happening is outside our narrowly focused world is unfortunately largely outside our control.

What we must all realise, however devoted we are to our breeds and however dedicated we are to continuing to breed them as they now are, is that seeing, breathing and moving is simply not enough. Most dogs can move but the sort of pictures which focused on some breeds in the group rings at Crufts last year and which were highlighted in Ms Harrison’s programme, say what you like about selective editing, are not images which are going to impress anyone whose experience is with a Beagle or a Cocker Spaniel: they are just too different. I greatly regret the continuing erosion of choice and options which seems increasingly endemic in our nanny state society but we have no choice. We can, as the Kennel Club is attempting to do, try to stem the tide of anti-dog regulation. If we do nothing I am afraid we have as much chance of stopping the tide as had Canute.

The Kennel Club, having been caught on the hop by Jemima Harrison, has learned the hard way and is now trying hard to stay ahead of the game. You may not agree with it, you may not like it and whether or not they succeed only time will tell.What I can say, unequivocally, is that if we want pedigree dogs to survive and remain the unique, distinctive, beautiful, attractive companions which we all admire and love, we cannot afford raise the drawbridge and try to shut out what the wider community sees as the march of progress.I am afraid that petitions do not and cannot alter the situation in which we find ourselves.

Therefore, I would go further than ‘see, breath and move’. As I have said and written on many occasions over the past twenty years, you have to start from the beginning: imagine what must once have been the ‘normal’ dog which scuttled among the detritus of the temporary tribal settlements of nomadic early man. Not very pretty, probably, and not very big either. It would have been capable of catching small vermin and that, along with clearing up waste, would have been its primary function. But it had a very flexible gene pool and could be bred to be bigger and faster and trained to do all sorts of useful work for man: primarily for guarding, fighting, hunting or herding – then as playthings for the tribe’s children.

Crucially, if the dogs were ill, crippled or old they would be left to die. If a bitch or dog could not mate naturally there would be no offspring and the same would apply if the bitch could not whelp naturally. Natural selection would ensure that the community’s dogs provided a useful contribution. There could be no room for passengers.

I would therefore extend my definition of the healthy dog and urge all breeders exhibitors and judges to work towards ensuring that all those which are bred – whether or not they appear in the show ring can:

  • keep up with their owners on a brisk half hour walk without being exhausted at the end if it
  • see without requiring any special interference by the owner at any stage of their lives
  • see without requiring any special interference by the owner at any stage of their lives
  • mate without requiring human assistance
  • whelp without requiring human assistance
  • have at least an average life span (based on all dogs rather than for that breed)
  • have a skin and coat which does not militate against normal behaviour or the dog’s health

There is still plenty of scope here for individuality between breeds but this approach does provide a strategy which will challenge the RSPCA and other anti-pet lobbies (make no mistake, many of these organisation, whatever they say about wanting to prevent cruelty are, at root, anti-pet keeping).

None of the above will prevent genetic disease or disability of itself but it could and should provide a foundation for selective breeding which, with the continuing research being carried out, will eventually significantly reduce those problems.What is important is that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.All breeders need to have a better understanding of some of the basic concepts of genetics.Breeding good dogs is not rocket science but ignoring the essentials of good breeding practice (which we have to accept has happened) will not help retain pedigree dogs in our society.Our interest, our enthusiasm and our passion will be wasted if we do not look up, see the wood for the trees and make essential changes not to the breed standards (which are frankly no big deal for they are the outward expression of change rather than the fundamental driver of it) but to our own attitudes.


The result of this piece published in Our Dogs on 23rd January 2009 was a letter from the RSPCA from a member of their PR department, Helen Briggs.This is what she wrote:.


RSPCA: the facts

I would like to congratulate David Cavill for his excellent suggestions about what makes a healthy dog.

The RSPCA wants to help improve the welfare of pedigree dogs, but it is essential that everyone involved is in on the debate – David’s suggestions are a good example of how this can work.

I thought I would also take the opportunity to put David’s mind at rest about whether dogs should wear coats or not – and the RSPCA’s stance on the issue.

If certain dogs are young, old or have thin coats and the weather is very cold, then of course they should wear a suitable coat. As I’m sure your readers realised, the media-generated story which focussed on ‘designer dressing’ was blown out of proportion and the RSPCA has no plans to prosecute people who put appropriate coats on their dogs.

Also, I’d like to point out that the vast majority of RSPCA funds are, in fact, spent on frontline work – ie the inspectorate and animal centres. For further information about how the Society spends its money, visit www.rspca.org.uk.

The Society is certainly not anti-pet – in fact we are the largest rehoming organisation in the country and find new homes for around 17,000 dogs every year.

I replied in Our Dogs of 5th February:

Given my feelings about the RSPCA (see my videos on You Tube and my web log at www.davidcavill.wordpress.com) one of which berates the Society for its approach to prosecutions, last week’s letter from a lady called Helen Briggs in Our Dogs congratulating me for my ‘suggestions’ about what makes a healthy dog initially came as something of a surprise.Then I read it more carefully!The naivety and condescension of this response astounds me.

Where have Helen, her department and the Society been for the last twenty-five years?

I was updating the Certificate in Showing Dogs for the Animal Care College (www.animalcarecollege.co.uk) last week and came to the Unit which discussed what judges should be looking for in the sound pedigree dog.This course was written in 1985 and the wording is almost exactly that which I wrote in this column two weeks ago and to which Helen refers.I then looked at what I had written for the Diploma of Dog Breeding, in 1983.It was much more detailed for this is an advanced, Level 3 course but the basic concept was exactly the same.In the intervening years I have repeated it ad nauseum in lectures and articles for pedigree dog enthusiasts and the specialist press.No one has (rightly) ever questioned it and the concept became an integral part of the Conformation and Movement elements of the programmes developed by the Judges Working Party of which I was a member almost ten years ago.

What a shame the Society (and Jemima Harrison) could not give at least some indication of the depth of experience, the knowledge and the feelings of the vast majority of pedigree dog breeders and exhibitors before taking advantage of them in the ways they have over the last few months.

Helen goes on to say that‘it is essential that everyone involved is in the debate – David’s suggestions are a good example of how this can work’.What a cheek – I had not noticed the RSPCA getting ‘involved in the debate’.Had they been, the Society would not be making the stupid and thoughtless comments they do and Mark Evans would be hauled over the coals for his inaccurate and careless sound bites.

This letter is an example of the way in which the public relations industry spins the facts – and the RSPCA is a past master I can assure you.

Let me give you another example, one I was discussing with exhibitors at Manchester.What is interesting is that these intelligent people had not even realised how they had been manipulated.A television produced comes to you and suggests that she want to make a serious programme about pedigree dogs.This is a good idea.She has owned pedigree dogs and gives every indication that she will give the public an opportunity to have a greater understanding and appreciation of breeds.You say ‘Yes of course,’ because you are anxious to promote dogs in general and pedigree dogs in particular.

Come the interviews the programme maker wants to interview you and a colleague at the same time.Here is the scenario: you agree between you and the interviewer that you will answer questions on, say, the political aspects of the world of pedigree dogs.Your colleague is a scientist so they will answer any questions about, say, genetics and selective breeding.The interview begins but the producer asking the questions persists in asking the political questions to your colleague and the science questions to you.What do you do?Naturally you try to indicate that the question should be addressed to your colleague and you turn to him.Under normal circumstances you speak directly to anyone you are talking but you have been placed in the position of having to shift your eye contact from the camera to the side. The result, of course, is that you look devious.

Many watchers of Pedigree Dogs Exposed were horrified to find that two people who they knew were competent and confident speakers and who were used to facing tough questions at difficult meetings suddenly looked deceitful and uncomfortable.Now you know why.

Of course, by the time these interviews were completed the producer’s agenda was clear but by that time it was too late.The Kennel Club mounted a rear guard action to limit the damage and action which is continuing.

Many may later say that Clarges Street has either not done enough or went over the top and done far too much.Certainly relationships with some breeds have been damaged but we might just have to accept consequences of ‘friendly fire’ that is unfortunately the result of any drastic military or social action. Only time will tell whether all the new initiatives will be effective but the very fact that, so far, registrations have not been affected must be the best news we have had in months.

In her letter, Helen says that the question of whether the RSPCA approves of dogs wearing coats has been, and I quote, ‘blown out of proportion’.I agree but what on earth has the RSPCA been doing with regard to pedigree dogs since August but exactly that?

Incidentally, Helen also says in her letter that you can find out ‘how the Society spends its money’ by going to their web site.Sorry – you can’t.There is no indication that almost all the 147 branches of the Society are self funding, separate charities (except a note that the RSPCA’s assets of £200m ‘excludes branches’) and you should note that the item referring to ‘Support of Branches’ is £8m spent on things like training them to raise funds and producing the Annual Report which implies that the Society is all one organisation.The branches themselves get nothing.Helen says that ‘the Society is certainly not anti-pet – in fact we are the largest rehoming organisation in the country and find new homes for around 17,000 dogs every year’.No they are not.Helen writes from RSPCA headquarters in Horsham but it is the branches (which are not funded by ‘headquarters’) who do the re-homing and all credit to them for that.

Here are the facts: the RSPCA headquarters, the organisation to which legacy income tends to accrue, is run according to its ‘policies’.The policies are not published on its web site and are not even referred to on the site at all as far as I can see.You can get a copy but you have to know it exists then order it (and pay for it).When I was acting CEO for the Pet Care Trust I tried to get one and I did eventually but it took several months of badgering.However, like so much of the marketing and advertising which is done by the big charities (not confined to those involved in animals it is true but to my mind they are among the worst offenders and I am thinking particularly of PETA, here), their ‘information’ is designed to conceal rather than illuminate, to obscure rather than bring clarity and to mask rather than reveal.In short, the information they provide is spun towards making you feel guilty and putting your hand in your pocket.There is nothing wrong with this – charitable giving is an important element of our society – but too many organisations are moving close to the fine line between persuasion and coercion and Helen’s letter is a fine example of the system at work.

One Comment on “An Update on Pedigree Dogs Exposed and the RSPCA”


  1. Bravo for standing up for what you believe in! I live in the U.S. We have a similar situation with the HSUS (Humane Society of the U.S.) and PETA. HSUS is similar to your RSPCA in that they speak with the authority of a national organization, have deep pockets (nearly $79m in 2004, see ActivistCash.com), and pretend they speak directly for all shelters (no direct association actually). In the last 10 years or so, this organization has been taken over by animal rightists who basically believe animals who arrive at shelters should all be put to sleep and would love to pass “nanny laws” to mandate sterilization and microchipping of all pets, make breeding almost impossible, and thereby eliminate pet ownership, as PETA does believe. At times it seems HSUS takes the lead for PETA. In California this past year, they almost got passed such a “nanny law,” (google AB1634), only stopped by the dog fancy’s protests (we burned up the legislators’ fax machines). It came VERY close to being passed….

    On another subject, it is very sad that they passed that docking ban as I own a docked breed (English Springer Spaniel) and do not wish to be told what my breed should look like. I had been interested in importing an ESS from England but obtaining a docked puppy looks impossible now. Hence I will probably look further afield (elsewhere in Europe or Australia).

    A personal note on the BBC ban on Crufts. This seems to have been a blessing for me as this year for the first time, I got to watch this show live. We usually only get a small condensed version on one of our cable channels.

    I hope your dog fancy will be energized by the RSPCA & BBC actions. Sometimes life has to give us a jump-start in this way. Cultivate media contacts so your message gets out also. Our AKC has been set into motion by the issues in California, like your KC over the Pedigree Dogs Exposed program. Their Government Relations dept now handles these serious issues and sell wonderful “I Own a Dog and I Vote” pins and car magnets to help fund this effort.

    Best wishes, a fan from California!
    Diane


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