KC Membership Consultation – initial thoughts

Posted December 4, 2016 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

The primary function of democracy is not to ensure that people get what they want: it is to ensure that they accept what they get.  And they are much like less likely to accept it if they feel their interests are not well represented – Jeremy O’Grady, Editor of UK magazine, The Week

I have had it on the highest authority that over the last few years, whenever the Kennel Club has spoken to focus groups or carried out surveys, the number of times the issue of widening the membership has been raised is minimal. I have to accept that this is the KC’s experience and despite my own writings and those of other columnists over many years, it may be there really is no appetite among grassroots canine activity enthusiasts to challenge the status quo.  But I would make two points.

The first is that the vast majority, the 1,250 or so members of the KC are not only seen as being separate and distant from the real world inhabited by most of those involved in showing, agility and the rest but are perceived to have perhaps inadvertently, placed psychological barriers against application in addition to the complications and time involved – not to mention the costs.  For most there is little point in even discussing the issue.

The second is that it is a matter of principle: in the 21st Century any organisation which aspires to be representative should actually be representative.  It is true that many members hold influential positions within the world of dogs, many give freely of their time and contribute a great deal financially but the fact that their enthusiasm and hard work keeps the boat afloat is not in itself enough.

Trawling through the back issues of Our Dogs as I sometimes do, this is a thread that has been running through edition after in edition for decades.  And I am the first to accept and celebrate that much has been done in the 50 years in which I have been involved in dogs.  Clarges Street can be proud of the impact which it has made in improving the health and welfare of dogs and much other canine related reforms and innovations.  For me, although there are always matters of opinion as to the best way forward for the promotion of pedigree dogs and in maintaining their popularity, the one real elephant within our world has always been the elitism which, rightly or wrongly, deliberately or otherwise, emanates from Clarges Street.  This is not personal: individual members do not see themselves as elitist but the perception persists that although there is a great deal of welcome transparency the KC remains a ‘club’ which is little different to the other much less visible cabals which exist at so many levels throughout our world.

I sincerely hope that with the publication of the recent article in the December 2016 Kennel Gazette members will allow this perception to finally be put to one side.  The new proposals, which are based very much on what I and other commentators have been saying for many years, are to be commended and I sincerely hope they will be accepted by the membership when a formal proposal is put forward as a future Annual or Special General Meeting.

A different perspective

Having said that, may I ask you to consider an equally valid but slightly different perspective on these proposals?

The suggestion of Town and Country membership (I think these are terms which are more usual and certainly more egalitarian than ‘full’ and ‘general’), and household membership are sensible but minor: the key proposal is that all members will be equal in paying £60 a year (£50 if paid by Direct Debit) for membership of the Kennel Club with full voting rights for Country members after a three-year period.  Some many feel that this delay is unnecessary but it is not uncommon: for instance, a similar sensible protectionist principle is embedded in the Rules for Southern Counties Canine Association for exactly the same reason that it is being suggested by the Kennel Club i.e. because anyone can join the Association without being proposed and seconded.

Others may suggest that the fee is on the high side (and I would agree) but the amount is irrelevant: it is the principle that is important.  Country members,  understandably, will not receive some of the ‘perks’ of Town members but as all have voting rights and the differences are entirely a matter of financial contribution to separate external services, the move towards acceptable democracy will have been made.

There are other minor distinctions between Town and Country members but they pale into insignificance besides the suggestion that Country members may apply for membership rather than to need a proposer and seconder and that they would not need to undergo the current inspection which some see as an unnecessary and somewhat dated practice which harks back to the 19th century.

Value for money

Those who wish to take advantage of the facilities which are available in London will be expected to pay an additional £100 for that privilege.  While I have always felt that the £150 total membership fee is far too high this has never been anything to do with ‘value for money’: the facilities, the restaurant and the services provided for members are exceptional and having been a member of London clubs and visited many others, I can assure you that the vast majority are far more expensive.  No, for me, it has always been about the cost of the vote for those who are not members but are nevertheless entitled to have their direct ‘say’ should they so wish.  Although there are many ways in which grassroots participants can have their say through the canine press, through the KC Breed Liaison Councils, the Question Times and writing direct to the Chairman, the voting process, although all too often flawed, is fundamental to democratic societies and institutions.

The hurdle of ‘approval’ by the Board would remain and although I do not think this is necessary and I understand the reasoning, I would argue that this should be a formality (I am afraid this is not the case at present).  There are already rules in place to rescind membership should that be necessary on grounds of criminal conviction or misbehaviour within the world of dogs: it does not seem reasonable to make an assumption that people will not behave well and therefore retain barriers to membership.  Surely in this day and age we should be assuming that people will behave well: it would be much more sensible to make it easier demand a resignation or injection if it can be shown that the member disregarded the rules or behaved inappropriately.

Finally, the press release suggested that these proposals will attract great deal of feedback.  It will be interesting to see whether the assurances that I have been given over the years that the grassroots are not actually that much interested or even care about becoming members of the KC.  However, of one thing I am sure: there are likely to be approximately 1,250 people with a great deal to say.

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RSPCA effectively challenges Breed Specific Legislation

Posted December 3, 2016 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

Any committee is only as good as the most knowledgeable, determined and vigorous person on it. There must be somebody who provides the flame – Lady Bird Johnson

It was interesting to see on a recent Facebook page somebody bemoaning the fact that the ‘same old, same old’ subjects kept being recycled without anyone coming to a conclusion.  I am afraid it is the way of the world but it is not surprising because although any particular problem may seem simple, there can be many thousands of opinions as to how it might be solved – and with a complex problem the ‘solutions’ are close to infinite.  It is a reflection of the unique DNA which each of us carries: even people who are generally of ‘the same mind’ will often differ.  This is why we had tribal gatherings, senates, assemblies, moots, convocations and the like in the past and why we have committee meetings now.  My views on committees are well known (a smaller the better – and a committee of one is best) but I concede that conclusions based on my view are less likely to be acceptable to the majority (even though, again in my view, they are likely to be right!) than those which are the result of a broad-based (hopefully sensible) groups which recognises or represents a wider view.

It is why, since John Major introduced the concept in the early 1990s, governments insist that legislation should be based on ‘evidential need’ rather than because any government or Minister thinks that it is ‘a good idea’.  Part of the reason for this concept was that there were several instances (the Dangerous Dogs Act being one of them) where legislation had been introduced without sufficient forethought: a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to public and media demands after a series of serious dog biting incidents.  It is also the reason why there is now a requirement for government departments to review any legislation introduced after a five-year period with a public consultation to see whether it has been effective.

Those of us who were around at the time remember that the DDA actually had the support of most of the animal care related charities and lobby groups and it is an excellent example of the law of unintended consequences for it was quickly realised by everybody (outside government circles) that it was a car crash piece of legislation which cost a fortune to implement, did not achieve its objectives and increased stress on everyone involved from the dogs themselves, the owners of many perfectly well-behaved dogs, the police, local authorities and those charities whose veterinary surgeons were increasingly forced to put dogs down for no good reason.

A new RSPCA report sums up the position perfectly

The reason these thoughts have come into my mind is the recent publication by the RSPCA which reviews the Dangerous Dogs Act and the two subsequent, minor amendments.  Entitled ‘Breed Specific Legislation – a Dog’s Dinner’, the 30 page report sets out the history, the effectiveness (in this case ‘non-effectiveness’), and proposes a number of solutions and recommendations.  The UK legislation was a world first and the concept was soon followed by other countries although, as the report points out, it has been reversed by three European countries and many US administrations simply because it does not work and is extremely costly.  The introduction says: ‘25 years on, the RSPCA now believes it is paramount that the UK government launch an enquiry into the effectiveness of BSL, assess other options to improve human safety and welfare and ultimately repeal the breed specific part of the legislation.’  Having sat on several committees over the last 20 years trying to persuade successive governments to do exactly that there is no doubt in my mind that this sums up the situation perfectly.

Unfortunately, although the RSPCA says it would like to thank everyone who contributes to an assisted in this report there is no list of the names of committee that put it together: a shame because I personally would like to thank them and especially the person that provided the ‘flame’ in the quote from Lady Bird Johnson.  This is a report which, if you will forgive the pun, has a real ‘bite’ and includes an extraordinary two pages of detailed references which show quite clearly how much work has gone into it and that it is, indeed, evidence-based.  The wording of the conclusion could hardly be bettered: ‘The RSPCA strongly believes that the evidence presented in this report clearly shows that BSL has been ineffective in achieving its goals of protecting public safety and reducing the number of prohibiting types of dogs.  Since its introduction in 1991 a significant proportion of dogs involved in fatal incidents are not those prohibited by law and hospital admissions due to dog bites have increased substantially in the past decade despite the provisions.’

This is not for a moment to say that just repealing the Dangerous Dogs Act and its subsequent amendments is the answer.  It needs doing and it needs doing soon but it should also provide an opportunity to focus on implementing effective regulation and education to ensure that biting incidents reduce rather than increase them.  This is important because the whole objective of the DDA was to reduce the incidence of dog bites and an initial assessment of the act five years after it was introduced found that there had been ‘no significant reduction in dog bites’ and in fact, in the period between 2009 in 2015 the total number of hospital admission episodes for dog ‘bites and strikes’ increased from just under 6,000 to just over 7,000 each year.   As far as those who have died as a result of dog related incidents (there were 30 in all) two thirds involved dogs of breeds or types not prohibited.

A specific breed is not a good predicator of risk

Danny Mills, one of Europe’s foremost researchers into canine behaviour says in the report:  ‘Not only is a specific breed not a good predictor of risk, I would also argue that the promotion of breed as a risk through legislation like this may even be counter-productive as it gives the impression some breeds are completely safe and we know that the vast majority bites from come from breeds not listed’.  He continues: ‘We need responsible owners and responsible behaviour around dogs… This is a complex problem with social as well as biological dimensions which need to be considered if we really want to address the risk posed by dogs or people attracted to certain types of dogs.  From a biological perspective, until we have a validated genetic test, I would say solutions like BSL are themselves dangerous, because they might give a false sense of security and thus increase the risk’.  He goes on to indicate that a number of countries and regions outside the UK are now retracting such legislation in recognition of this.

Of course, whenever there is a media storm around an incident people begin to report dogs that they consider are of a ‘Pit Bull’ type and the number of seizures each year since 2006 has gone from almost none to over 1,500: each costs many thousands of pounds to progress.  The report highlights the number of dogs which are killed for no good reason and discusses the particularly difficult problem of puppies which may or may not grow up to fulfil the ‘definition’ of a banned breed.

The report draws our attention to the ways in which this problem has been tackled in other countries particularly in Canada and Australia and proposes ten recommendations with which not all will agree but nevertheless suggest possible solutions. One of these is that there should be a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of the several resources which are designed to help people and children stay safe around dogs.  This is a matter on which I have touched on many occasions.  Charities, lobby groups and non-governmental organisations such as the Kennel Club do much good work but they seldom work together because they are more interested in protecting their ‘brand’ they are in getting the message out.  This includes the RSPCA of course but I am hoping that as it becomes more influential, the Canine and Feline Sector Group which represents most of those organisations (including the RSPCA) will be able to resolve this sort of problem.

I congratulate the RSPCA which so far, under its new CEO, is focusing on its true objectives.  The subject of this report is one of them and it is well worth reading.  You can find it quickly by searching for RSPCA BSL dogs dinner.

 

 

 

How is your entry fee spent?

Posted September 16, 2016 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get – Warren Buffett
Last year there was an explosion of stories about coffee in the national press when media retail analysts at Allegra Strategies carried out a study to assess whether consumers were receiving value for money when they picked up a takeaway coffee.  I was fascinated, although not surprised, to see that the cost of the coffee itself was just a fraction of the total.  Coffee served in a medium-sized £2.20 cappuccino was just 8p, the total cost of the cup, lid, stirrer, napkin and sugar amounted to 16p, milk cost 8p while the rest was taken by staff (25%), rent, rates, capital equipment, overheads and VAT (about 37p).  The profit made by the shop accounted for 13% of the total.  It reminded me that when we buy a litre of petrol or diesel the actual profit made by the fuel company is just a fraction of a penny (in this case the vast majority of what we paid comprises tax).  The report’s authors came to the conclusion that despite the cost, a cup of coffee was ‘good value’ because of the ‘café’ environment and ambience, time spent resting, free Wi-Fi in many outlets and meeting with friends contributed to the purchasers’ enjoyment.

These thoughts came to me as I was beginning to sort out paperwork for the next committee meeting of Southern Counties Canine Association where we will be reviewing the balance sheet for 2016 and taking decisions about how we provide the best value for money for exhibitors next year.  This annual review takes some time for, as I explained a few weeks ago, the conflicting demands shows have to take into account must be fully thought through: mistakes can be expensive.  In the process I turned up the 2015 balance sheet and I thought it might be interesting to share with you exactly how your entry fees are spent – although I must emphasise that every show will have different expenses and priorities.  What follows is just one of many scenarios – and this just covers the show costs not the costs of running the society as a whole which includes honoraria and expenses to some committee members whose administrative contribution is significant and in addition to actually working at the show and attending committee meetings.

 

The breakdown

 

The show income as a whole in 2015 was a fraction over £196,000.  This was made up of entry fees of £155,000, catalogues sales of £12,000, trade stand receipts of £22,000 and caravan fees of £5,000.  About £600 came in from spectators’ car park fees and as this amount had been decreasing over several years, the committee decided the cost of collecting it was more than the income so spectators’ parking in 2016 was free.  In fact this had an unexpected bonus for exhibitors in that we were able to park cars much more quickly as there was no need for them to be separated off as they entered the show.

Entry fees are made up of three separate entities: the charge for one dog where challenge certificates are on offer, the charge for one dog where challenge certificates are not on offer and the charge for a dog that is entered in a second class.  With 8149 dogs entered this equates to an income of £19 per dog as far as entry fees are concerned (this amounts to a significant subsidy from those breeds which do not have tickets incidentally) but the other fees and charges coming in, which make up the total turnover and subsidise entry fees, means that the available income is £24 per dog: this is a convenient point at which we can start to break down how these costs relate to entry fees.

By far the largest expenses are the rental of Newbury showground, tenting and benching: this costs a fraction over £11.60 for each dog entered – almost half the entry fee for dogs being shown in classes with tickets.   Rubbish and waste disposal is almost exactly £1 pound for each dog entered as is the cost of ground preparation and repair which we have to pay on top of the rental.  Catering for judges and stewards and hotel and judges expenses account for a further £2.45 while security, which includes management of the caravan site, is 75p per dog.  Printing and postage is another major expense.  Southern Counties, like most other shows, only sends hardcopy schedules to those who entered the previous year using a hardcopy entry form but this is still over 2000 and although most schedules are distributed at dog shows by the canine press as a service to exhibitors, we still send many by post which is becoming increasingly expensive.  The total is £2.50 per dog!

Do you want to sit down at the show?  We spend £1,500 hiring tables and chairs and your stewards cost you 37p for every dog entered (excellent value for money in my view).  Other expenses include public address and radios, fire extinguishers, first aid cover, veterinary cover, advertising, insurance, rosettes (£1,500 in 2015) and the repair and maintenance of stewards boxes, signs and other bits and pieces required for judges hospitality and insurance all of which brings us very close to the £24 for each dog that your entry, trade stand and caravan fees make available.

 

Keeping costs down

 

In September Southern Counties committee, like every championship and general show committee in the country at some time, will be sitting down to see whether we overspent on any area or in other ways can save money to enable us to keep entry fees as low as possible commensurate with running a show which is attractive to you as an exhibitor both in the quality of the judges we select and the services we provide.

In 2016 we saved a significant sum by changing our refuse contractors but we know that most of our other costs will be rising by 2 or 3% and although we made a small profit in 2015, is too close to the breakeven point for comfort and I know our Treasurer will be suggesting an increase in entry fees although this will be subject to a spirited challenge from the rest of the committee who will be fighting your corner.  They will argue that if we can keep our entry fees low we will increase the number of dogs entered which will consequently enable us to stay in the black.  Our Treasurer will argue that we cannot afford to take that risk and that the entry fee for most people, is only a very small fraction of the total expenses of attending a show when you take into account travel and other associated costs.  The committee will then argue that fuel prices remain low compared to a few years ago and that you, the exhibitor, only see the ‘headline figure’ when comparing us with other shows.

As Chairman I will argue that exhibitors are thoughtful and intelligent and that they are prepared to pay for a good, fair judge at a show which is a pleasurable experience and that these factors are more important than the entry fee.  We will eventually settle on a figure which we hope will be within the parameters of our direct competition in 2017 and that our judging panel will attract enough dogs at that fee to keep our heads above water.

That’s what it’s all about folks: quality, value and service – getting the balance right and you are likely to be successful.  Getting it wrong means long queues of complaint at the secretary’s office.  Believe me, no championship show wants that.

Judging lists – are they fit for purpose?

Posted May 19, 2016 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

The first limb of the test of ‘reasonableness’ focuses on the decision-making process – that is whether the right matters have been taken into account in reaching the decision. The second focuses upon its outcome – whether, even though the right things have been taken into account, the result is so outrageous that no reasonable decision-maker could have reached it –Lady Hale, current President of the UK’s Supreme Court

I should begin by emphasising the importance I place upon all children attending school and being properly educated.  I taught for many years and one of my responsibilities was completing the daily register for the children in my classes and I can assure you that there is no problem in identifying those parents who were responsible and ensured their children did attend regularly and those that cared little.  We had class registers too so those children who had left the premises once they had been registered would be quickly picked up.  The problem of truancy varies throughout the country (I taught in five different schools during my career) and it is clearly more difficult in some areas than others.

That said, there is no doubt that there are good reasons why children might not be at school on a particular day or at particular times.  For instance, during the many years that the semi-finals of the Junior Handling competitions were held at Richmond Championship Dog Show many parents were reluctant to allow their children to have a day off school when the breeds in which they were interested were scheduled on the Friday.  As a result I wrote on a number of occasions, both in Our Dogs and in Dogs Monthly, to say that the enthusiasm, dedication and skill that our Junior Handlers developed through their interest in dogs was a valuable educational exercise as well as being enjoyable competition.  There are also other perfectly acceptable reasons why children should be taken out of school so long as it is not detrimental to their overall educational attainment.  Children learn things when they are away from home which may well have an impact on language, history, geography and mathematics and science: I went to the Epcot Science Park two years ago Florida and even at my age learned a surprising amount during my visit.

I therefore applaud the father who refused to pay a fine on taking his daughter out of school for ten days for a family holiday given that her attendance was clearly regular and that her parents were not being irresponsible.  So I was pleased, too, when the High Court confirmed that the law was not being applied reasonably.  The judges sensibly ruled that the magistrates should take into account the ‘wider picture’ of the child’s attendance record outside of the dates she was absent during the holiday.

 

Should regulations serve or penalise a community?

 

By definition, regulations are designed to set boundaries of behaviour and those boundaries often require the forcing of normal and natural ‘grey areas’ into the straitjacket of black and white.  This often means that the ‘wider picture’ is set aside and sensible decisions taking into account all the circumstances are ignored to save time and effort.  It allows narrow minded nit-pickers to argue that they are only ‘following the rules’ but as many have observed, ‘law’ and ‘justice’ are not necessarily the same.

It is a problem not just confined to schools: every aspect of our communities are affected.  For instance, what is a reasonable number of dogs to be judged before you are considered competent?  If you are an experienced judge and have fulfilled all the other criteria for a particular breed but are one dog short of the number required to be passed for tickets, is it reasonable to refuse your application to be on an A3 list.  Some breed clubs will look at the overall picture and reasonably come to the conclusion that one dog will not make any difference to your ability to judge the breed.  Another club, perhaps in the same breed, will say that the rules specify 90 dogs and that having judged 89 is not enough.  You can guess which side I am on.  I believe that regulations should be applied rigidly to those who are deliberately trying to buck the system and should be applied flexibly for those who have shown that they are sensible and responsible.  I understand that this requires a value judgement on behalf of those applying the rules but one hopes that they themselves are sensible, reasonable and flexible in their approach: all too often this is not the case.

 

There are plenty of examples

 

There are many breed clubs, I know, who are sensible, up-to-date and pragmatic in their approach.  To give you one example, I applied to join the A3 list of a breed by email, sending a generic application form and seminar completion certificates as attached files last year.  I had no response from one club (I later discovered that you have to fill in their specific form for the application to be considered) and from two I received an email telling me that their Judges Sub-committee met on a specific date each year and the application would be considered at that time and, were I to fulfil the criteria and have the support of the committee, I would be added for the forthcoming year.  All well and good you might reasonably say and I should add that this was the expectation the Judges Working Party had when this system was first set up back in 1999 (I was on that working party).  At that time judges list had to be updated on somebody’s computer, the list printed out and sent round to championship and other shows who expected it each year.

I submit that these days this is not good enough.  From two of the clubs I had an email to say that my application would be circulated to their Judges Sub-committee.  This was done and I was elected onto the A3 list:  their online judges lists were updated within three weeks!  Surely that is the way to do it?

These thoughts were triggered by a recent problem with a judge who some years ago was elected onto a breed club’s B list as she had judged the required number of dogs, the required number of classes, attended and passed a breed assessment and had passed a Judges Development Programme assessment for the breed (one of the most senior and highly respected judges of the breed was on the panel).  She gives tickets in two breeds in the same group and is on the B lists of several other breeds in the group.  The point I’m trying to make is that she is experienced.

Quite rightly, when she was asked to officiate for the breed at a championship show without tickets, she checked with the breed club to make sure she was on the list.  This particular club has a ‘rule’ that people cannot be listed unless they apply to remain on it each year (although there is a three-year ‘grace’ period).  In my view this is daft.  I am quite happy that people should be removed from the list if they lose the confidence of the breed (i.e. do not judge according to the normal parameters, they clearly show that they do not understand the breed or they have been convicted of cruelty or fraudulent behaviour) but to expect busy all breed judges to reapply for a list every year does not seem reasonable.  The Kennel Club, in allowing people to judge tickets, insists that the Judges Sub-committee confirms each appointment just in case any of the above information is relevant but they do not expect a judge that has already been passed to complete another questionnaire.

However, as I said, she did check with the breed club and was told that her name had been taken off the list because of the three-year rule but that there was an upcoming Judges sub-committee meeting and if she immediately provided all the necessary it would be discussed at the meeting.  You would have thought that under the circumstances, given that she more than fulfils the criteria required by the breed club and she had been previously on the B list, she would simply have been reinstated.  This was not to be.

The reason given to her was that if she was added to the list retrospectively ‘it would set a precedent for the future should anyone be late in presenting their application’.  She was also told that the information will be kept on file for when the 2017 list was being compiled.

The point I would like to make is that her application was not being refused because she was not competent or capable but solely because it did not fit with a rule which, in my view (and I hope yours), is in itself unreasonable.

The way in which club lists are compiled was set up by the Judges Working Party back in 1999 and was designed specifically to enable people who felt that they were ready to judge at any particular level two apply without feeling that they were in any way ‘advertising’ their expertise or ‘asking’ for an appointment.  It never occurred to us in the time that this would prevent clubs ‘talent spotting’ and inviting people to apply for lists that they felt could and should judge the breed.

I think it is time for the Kennel Club to review the relevant regulations and that the Advisory Criteria for the Compilation of Breed Club Judges Lists which was published in 2003 the updated to further emphasise the importance of clubs being ‘realistic and reasonable’.

 

German Shepherds – Crufts 2016 was a low point for the breed

Posted April 29, 2016 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

 

The greatest patriotism is to tell your country when it is behaving dishonourably – Julian Barnes

 

Finish Spitz are not known for being quiet and biddable.  They have a mind of their own: the Finns describe them itseppäinen (that is ‘stubborn’ if you are being polite and ‘bloody-minded’ if you are not).  The breed standard says that they should be ‘lively’ and they certainly are: standing still does not come naturally.  They are also expected to range in the Finnish forests searching for capercaillie (very similar to the black grouse we have in Scotland) travelling many miles well away from the hunter.  In fact, we were once walking with a Finnish breeder and, used to our own dogs going beyond the horizon if they were off the lead, complimented him on his youngster who was well-behaved and stayed close.  He told us he was going to sell it as a pet as it was not adventurous enough: he needed a dog that would go well out of sight and bark when it found a bird.

But they can be trained.  In recent years, as we have understood the breed better, our own dogs have been positively civilised.  They do not bark unnecessarily, they will ‘stay’ ‘come’ and we have no concerns when they are off the lead.  Although, that said, some owners do not train them as well as they might.

In Finland dogs are seldom shown as most owners are more interested in their hunting ability and not what they look like.  But when they have earned three working trials Challenge Certificates they appear in the show ring because to become a champion they are required to have at least a ‘Good’ grading at a championship show.  This does not mean that they are not beautiful examples of the breed.  Last year when judging at the Jyväskylä Championship Show in Finland, Angela found just such a dog and she suggested that he would do well in the UK and perhaps he should bring him over and show him at Crufts.

He did so and the dog got his first UK Challenge Certificate under breed specialist Lucy Byrne and was pulled out in the Group by one of our breed’s most respected all-round judges, Jeff Horswell.

 

One example among thousands

 

I tell this story because on the Thursday before Crufts this intelligent, working dog travelled in the hold of a Finnair jet, went through the performance of certification, injection and paperwork patiently and calmly, travelled to Birmingham, stayed in strange hotels, faced the inevitable noise and, for a dog at least, the chaos of Crufts without turning a hair.  He stood for the judge to go over, moved beautifully on the green carpet both in the breed ring and a huge noisy main ring, stood calmly for both judges without a care and certainly no visible signs of stress.

He is just one example of around 22,000 dogs which behaved impeccably over the four days of Crufts.  They and their owners are to be congratulated on having stable, well-behaved dogs which are all that the Kennel Club Good Citizen Scheme could desire.  On their benches and moving about the packed halls, they allowed any of 160,000 people, many of which were children, and their pushchairs, electric wheelchairs and tricycles to approach them, stroke them, bump into them without protest, complaint or objection.

Approaching this whole subject from a different direction I would draw your attention to the editorial in Our Dogs which appeared in the week of Crufts.  Our leader writer asked everyone to be ‘press aware’ and suggested that we should ‘enjoy Crufts to the full but without fuelling the hacks of Fleet Street with tales of woe, or threats or poisonings and let’s all think twice before leaping to the keyboard to have a go at this or that issue’.  This polite request was directed at the few thoughtless exhibitors who cannot resist passing on the latest, usually un-attributable, gossip.  In the event, I and many others were disappointed that at the top end of our sport several people who should certainly have known better, behaved in a way that provided the press with plenty of damaging ammunition without a journalist having to lift a finger.  The Kennel Club and breed clubs’ work of eight years since the debacle of Pedigree Dogs Exposed (and many years’ much less publicised efforts prior to that broadcast), was damaged in a few days by a handful of experienced exhibitors and judges who undermined the extraordinary success of every other aspect of the event with their thoughtless and covetous behaviour.

 

It matters not whether the rules were broken

 

Were rules broken?  It does not matter: common sense was rejected and disastrous decisions were taken with no thought for the consequences on what has been a gradually improving image of pedigree dogs in the UK.  I will say no more about the Gordon Setter whose lap of honour in the Group would have been cheered and recognised as an example of good sportsmanship. This writer is seldom lost for words but I was close to it and almost in tears as I watched the recorded coverage of the Pekingese struggling around the ring and the German Shepherd Dog in a state of near panic.  There really can be no excuse for putting any dogs through such trauma.  The Pekingese is a small dog and we can have some sympathy: the world of dogs could almost have got away with that but I am afraid that the ‘explanation’ from the GSD fraternity about the crowds, the carpet, that it was ‘fine in the breed ring’ (no it was not – the evidence is freely available on You Tube), and the ridiculous suggestion that one of our gentlest and thoughtful judges handled the dog roughly, exposed a degree of desperation which was shown to be ridiculous by the exceptional behaviour of almost every other dog that appeared in the group rings: almost all of them and their handlers coped brilliantly in precisely the same conditions.

Back in September 2014 the Kennel Club issued advice on the uses and abuses of social media and said: ‘Anyone judging at Kennel Club licensed events is warned that in certain circumstances the Kennel Club will refer inappropriate content to the Judges Sub-Committee for a review of status and future appointments.’  One wonders whether the decisions of the owners/handlers to bring these two dogs into the ring was itself ‘inappropriate’ perhaps even to the extent of bringing the world of dogs into disrepute.

Two, perhaps three years ago the Kennel Club brought together all the Pastoral Group Judges for a meeting at the Kennel Club Building at Stoneleigh for a seminar which tried to bring some understanding and consensus about German Shepherd Dogs.  Gary Gray and his team put together a number of excellent presentations and I sincerely hoped that some progress was being made to bring the extremes to at least some semblance of understanding if not actually together.  It was clearly a waste of time.  When the spine of any dog is not just bent but has an angle of  130° in the middle of its back (watch the slow motion coverage I am not exaggerating) and its rear pasterns are virtually flat on the floor at the extended trot, a breed must be considered a long way short of fit for purpose.  I am not for a moment suggesting that we should be returning to the ultra-long level backed dogs with the extended second thighs of the 50s and 60s but there must surely be a reasonable compromise which allows this breed, which should be so greatly admired, to return to its roots.

I have used this picture before but I have no hesitation in bringing it to your attention again.  This photograph was used as a frontispiece of a book published in Germany in the mid-1950s which at that time typified the correct type for German Shepherd Dogs.  The fact that it is German breeders who have distorted this lovely breed beyond recognition does not make it right or mean that we in the UK have to slavishly follow suit when what is happening is not in the best interests of the breed’s health.  I rest my case.

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The changing face of veterinary services

Posted April 29, 2016 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. Yogi Berra (One of the US’ greatest baseball players)

 
If you have never watched Gogglebox on Channel 4 you have missed a real treat.  Now on Series 8, the programme allows us to look into the lives of ten families and couples sitting comfortably in their living rooms and watching real television programmes during the previous week.  Sections of the programmes play and then we see and hear the comments being made by various families and groups.  You could be forgiven for thinking when you first watch it that it is scripted but you are actually eavesdropping on real viewers and the whole show gives credence to the hackneyed phrase ‘you couldn’t make it up’.  The whole show is clever as well as funny.  I won’t spoil it for you but I must tell you that the various reactions to the Crufts Best in Show were absolutely hilarious.  It is well worth watching each week and you can catch the Crufts episode by going to the Channel 4 website, signing up and searching for Googlebox, Series 7, Episode 5.

What I have found fascinating is that in the programme, dogs are central to this cross-section of family groups, partnerships and friends.  What is more, most of them are pedigree dogs and are generally seen curled up on the sofas with their owners’ arms around them.  It is a reflection of a point I have made on several occasions: that dogs are woven into the cultural fabric of our society and despite all the efforts of the anti-dog lobby this is more true now than perhaps it has ever been.  This is borne out in a recent article in The Times Magazine which highlighted how much we spend on our pets, dogs accounting for by far the highest expenditure.  The article was triggered partly by recent surveys by Petplan and Direct Line where one finding was that 54% of owners treasured their pets more than their partners!

Nearly half of all households in Britain own one or more pets, with more people owning dogs than cats (8.5 million: 7.4 million).  The accuracy of these figures cannot be guaranteed although it may be that the new requirement as of April 1st that all dogs should be microchipped will eventually give us a more realistic estimate of the number of dogs.  But we do know that it is in the millions and this is reflected in the increasing size of the ‘spend’ on pet ownership.  Pets At Home has reported an income of £729 million for the year ending March 2015 and that was a 10% increase on the previous year.

The Veterinary Marketing Association?

What is more, we are prepared to spend a great deal more in keeping our dogs alive as technology and techniques to do so have improved.  Although many thousands of dogs continue to have a role which supports the work or activities of their owners or handlers, the vast majority are no longer hunters, trackers, herders or guards.  They are pets and, as Nick Henderson, former President of the Veterinary Marketing Association (that very title tells you something in itself) and co-founder of the BSAVA said in 2010, ‘Pets have become surrogate children to thousands, possibly millions around the world, we can give thanks that this is the case since without such sentiments small animal practice would be a quiet place indeed’.

Since then things have moved forward rapidly partly due to the advances in veterinary science and surgery.  In some ways, Nick Henderson suggests, the clinic provides an outlet for owners to ‘express their true devotion’ and practices are more than happy to suggest tests and procedures which would have been impossible just a few years ago.  Conditions which would have resulted in a dog being put to sleep because further help was impossible until quite recently can now be treated very effectively although, it must be said, often very expensively.

Dippydoodah, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, had a seizure and within days was under a general anaesthetic in an operating theatre having a brain tumour removed.  It was located with a state-of-the-art MRI scanner and two neurosurgeons, an anaesthetist and nurse were able to remove it before he returned home none the worse for his experience.  A year later, a further brain scan showed the tumour was starting to grow back again: this time it was suggested he should have targeted radiation therapy.  Almost every day for four weeks he had to be anaesthetised and held in the same position each day so that the specialist could deliver, in total, twenty high doses of radiation to the tumour.  Once again he returned home and is currently well.  The total cost?  £25,000!

Dippydoodah’s case is not unique and the veterinary community is happy to help.  Davies Veterinary Specialists based in Hertfordshire, has a staff of 170 and day-to-day procedures include open chest surgery, knee surgery, tumour removals and cataract surgery. It has six wards, three radiography suites, emergency blood analysis and an orthopaedic theatre which regularly replaces hips which cost anything up to £5000.  Although few breeders take out pet insurance many pet owners do and by next year premium income is expected to exceed £1 billion (compared with 853 million in 2014).  And premiums will continue to rise: in 2015, 911,000 claims were made – up 9% on the previous year.

James Herriot has become a distant memory

The veterinary world has changed a great deal in a few years not just in terms of the range of techniques and treatments that are now available but in its business model.  This may be because the number of female veterinary surgeons graduating from veterinary schools has been greater than males for many years but I understand that as standards of entry have risen most graduates whether male or female are, rightly, dedicated to serving the animals they treat rather than becoming a partner and running a business  The small, privately owned practice with one or two partners has virtually disappeared in favour of franchised veterinary groups which run as normal businesses employing veterinary surgeons, practice managers, veterinary nurses and veterinary receptionists as and when they are needed.  The U.K.’s top 100 veterinary businesses had a turnover in 2014 of £1.36 billion: it is speculative but entirely possible that the profit margin was greater than Pets at Home in its entirety!

The result has been a much more business orientated approach focusing on marketing, customer care, business plans, cost analysis benefits and the rest – James Herriot it isn’t!  Inevitably, there is a tendency to select more expensive treatments for clients rather the basic procedures in exactly the same way as your garage might ask, ‘Is it an insurance job?’ before working out your quote.

And people love their pets so geriatric veterinary medicine is a growth area.  It used to be that we could take sensible, thoughtful and loving decisions for our pets and kindly put them to sleep just before their life reached its natural ending.  That is no longer the case: modern pet owners want to keep their pets with them for as long as possible and they are prepared to pay for it.  When pets used to become seriously ill putting them to sleep was often the only option.  Now in an age of kidney transplants for  cats and chemotherapy for dogs, euthanasia has ‘begun to feel like a cruel way out’.

This provides an ethical dilemma for all those intelligent, animal-loving and skilled people upon whom we rely to make sure our animals are cared for properly when they are damaged or ill: should the lives of our pets be prolonged at all costs because that’s what our clients want (and will provide increasing profits) or should our role be to provide sensible, pragmatic advice which if followed will save clients’ money, relieve their stress and their pets’ pain and, perhaps by doing so, give another animal a loving home?

There is much discussion about these within the veterinary profession but as it becomes more and more business orientated the view on the ground will almost always be different from that expressed the ivory towers of veterinary academia.

PS: A recent visit to my own veterinary surgeon was interesting.  They are now part of a large group but sensibly charge £10 for micro chipping compared to others locally which range from £12 to £25.  My consultation fee seemed reasonable too so it does pay to ‘shop around’

 

 

The straightjacket of proxy votes

Posted April 19, 2016 by davidcavill
Categories: pedigree dogs

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country – Franklin D. Roosevelt

When the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher began the process of reform of company structure in the UK so that companies could compete more effectively internationally (and to make Britain more attractive to foreign investment) it also wanted to promote the idea of a shareholding democracy and furthermore, to ensure that even small shareholders could some impact on the way in which it was run.  There was also a demand to simplify the structure of companies so that they were all subject to the same rules and regulations.  There were several stages in these reforms and the process was finalised by the Companies Act 2006 – which runs to over 500 pages incidentally, and cannot be described as a ‘easy read’.

Although I was in favour of the Kennel Club becoming a Company Limited by Guarantee (partly because it had taken on too many commercial commitments to continue as a private club and partly to prevent the possibility of ‘carpet-bagging’ which had occurred in similar non-statutory organisations) one of my concerns was that proxy votes (the mechanism within the articles of any company by which every member could have a voice) became a legal requirement for meetings of members.   In theory it sounds a good, sensible and very democratic idea but it has some serious drawbacks.  My apologies if you remember my previous discussions on this subject but given the immense changes which are taking place within the Kennel Club, I think it is important to revisit the principles of proxy voting and the effect it can have.

A proxy is someone who attends a general meeting and votes in place of a member of the company. Every member of a company has a statutory right to appoint a proxy.’  This means that every member of the Kennel Club receives an invitation with their Annual or Special General Meeting paperwork which allows them to nominate another member to vote for them.  At one time (and this remains true of the vast majority of clubs and societies in the world of dogs whether or not proxy votes are enshrined in their constitution) it was possible for somebody at the meeting to propose an amendment prior to the item being voted upon.  This very sensible arrangement allows members to discuss the merits of the item and make minor changes which can make it more acceptable to those voting.  So an item that might be rejected at the meeting may be amended in a way that it allows it to be passed.

An administrative straightjacket

But the Companies Act, in theory to ensure that agenda items which are to be voted upon are the same as those which appear on the agenda papers, may not be changed or amended in any way.  In effect, this means that any discussion which takes place at the meeting cannot be reflected in the agenda item: it has to be an acceptance or a rejection.  A further ‘straitjacket’ in this arrangement is that each item may be voted upon by the member not present on the basis of the information that they have received from the board of directors which, naturally, as they have taken the decision, may largely reflect their view in favour rather than any good reasons there might be against it.

I am reminded of one of Parkinson’s Laws which explains how administrations ensure that committees vote for what they want: three or four options are presented only one of which is reasonable (the others are too expensive, too complicated or otherwise unacceptable) so the committee does not really have a choice.  Either way, discussion on any item at the meeting can only be based on a challenge to it or an acceptance of it and those who have voted by proxy are not privy to that discussion so cannot, if they have voted, change their vote.

A further difficulty is that there may be a feeling among members that because they have a proxy vote there is no need for them to attend: if the number of members attending goes down then the influence of proxy votes increases.

The next stage is who should have an absent members’ proxy vote.  If the member accepts or rejects the item their vote stands whatever the discussion at the meeting but otherwise a ‘blank’ proxy vote can be given to any other member who holds it and that person can vote as they wish.  However, proxy votes are often given to the chairman of the meeting rather than to somebody who will be: independent; will be present at the meeting; has listened to the arguments and will therefore vote on the basis of the discussion which takes place on the item.

So, proxy votes should be given to people who can be trusted: perhaps people who think as you do.  This is not for a moment to suggest that the chairman or the board members of any company cannot be trusted but, by definition, as they will have been involved in development and conclusions of the proposal, they will, understandably but almost inevitably, vote in favour of it despite any dissent from the members of the meeting

And this is important because?

You may reasonably ask why all this is important.  There was a good example of the last General Meeting of members when the question of the purchase of the Emblehope Estate was on the agenda.  Several members had serious concerns about this major investment with some having a detailed knowledge both of estate management, the estate in question and gundog and working trials.  Why, asked some members, should such a huge amount of money be spent on land which would not provide any facilities for dog shows? Others, of which I was one, wanted to know whether the estate as a whole would be self-sustaining.  By and large, the questions were answered satisfactorily and the item went through but, had those present voted against as a result of this new information which was newly available, it would have gone through anyway.  In fact, on two further items, the meeting took account of the discussion by members and voted against but the items were passed anyway simply because enough members not present had voted for them or provided proxies to members who did so.

It worries me that items may be put forward at future Annual or General Meetings of the Kennel Club which could fundamentally change the way in which it is organised and which might be passed, despite those members present having considered all the arguments, wanting to reject it.  Do not misunderstand me: change should come and, in fact, must come but it has to come with the consent of members and not be railroaded through because those members unable to attend have voted on the basis of the information they have received rather from the than from the often very perceptive comments made by those members who do make the, sometimes, considerable effort to attend.

One way in which these difficulties may be resolved is to ensure that there is plenty of time for debate well before the date at which proxies must be lodged.  Those who were present at the Welsh Kennel Club’s annual dinner in 2015 may remember that Simon Luxmoore, the new Kennel Club Chairman, in effect recognised these problems when he said that that there may be an ‘arrogant management style that used to, and in some cases still does, pervade London clubs. Perhaps this style is perceived to exist in the way the Kennel Club has conducted its business. If this is the perception – and we all know perception is more important than fact – then we should be very mindful of what our stakeholders are telling us’.

Regular readers will know that this stakeholder is of the opinion that openness, transparency and debate is the hallmark of democracy and this neatly brings me onto the question of ‘governance’ which is on the agenda for the forthcoming Kennel Club AGM in May.  From a recent letter circulated to all members from Mr Luxmoore, it would appear that this is a first step in what might be long-term and fundamental changes.  Such changes are, in the opinion of many, long overdue but the Kennel Club is not a ‘company’ in the normal sense of the word in that it has been established to make a profit: it is a representative organisation in which its members have an active role and share accountability.  It is all very well suggesting that the members install board members who are responsible for taking day-to-day decisions but if a proposal has a tendency to distance the decision-making process from the membership in the long term (as it did when the board, for what it considered to be perfectly sound reasons, decided to drop the Kennel Gazette without consultation) then it is important that everyone who has a vote, whether or not they are present at the meeting, has the opportunity to consider all the options very carefully indeed.