The Karlton Index

A 26th October 2012

 Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple.  But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.  – George Bernard Shaw

Soon after Pedigree Dogs Exposed was broadcast I wrote about it in Speakers Corner, published it on my web log (http:/// and made a video using the text which I posted on You Tube (over 19,000 views) .  The article accepted many of the facts put forward a programme but also made it clear that those facts had been distorted and misinterpreted and unacceptable editing techniques had been used to make some of the contributors look dishonest while the programme itself was in particularly poor taste.   I was contacted shortly afterwards by a lady called Philippa Robinson who felt that my ideas and comments were unfair to Ms Harrison but the points she made seemed to me (although based on what I believed to be mistaken assumptions) to have some validity and I suggested that we meet at Crufts.  It was an extremely interesting conversation which has led to a unique and entirely unexpected dimension to the pedigree dog debate.

Philippa owned a German Wirehaired Pointer which she  campaigned in the show ring for a short while and now lives with a GWP/Weimaraner cross having lost the GWP to familial idiopathic epilepsy in 2006 which triggered her interest in inherited diseases.  Having watched PDE her immediate reaction was to side with the lobbyists but she is an intelligent and very well educated woman and quite rightly did not take all the statements from the programme or the lobby groups at face value.   She decided to do her own research one aspect of which was her contact with me.  I introduced her to senior staff at the Kennel Club who also gave her a different perspective and she came up with an idea that she put in place in 2011.  Although it was initially treated with some suspicion by Clarges Street, it is nevertheless proving its worth.

The Karlton Index

The Karlton Index ( attempts to look at the progress being made in breed health on a systematic basis.  I wrote about it in Speakers Corner: I thought then and I think now that it is a superb idea for although measurement of activity against the stated criteria will inevitably be subjective, it nevertheless provides an important snapshot of what breeds are doing about canine health and welfare and measures the progress they are making.  What is more, it is designed to ‘flag up’ the breeds that lag behind – not in a critical way but to identify what is holding them back and assist them in overcoming those barriers.

So Philippa had has already provided the world of pedigree dogs with a new tool are which will help us improve health and quality – but she has not stopped there.  She is about to complete her MSc in Human Resource Management at Sheffield Business School and this research has prompted an interest in ‘systems thinking and learning’.

The result has been what I consider to be one of the most important research papers for our world.  This is not because there is not a great deal of good research available – there is no dearth of reports and articles about pedigree dogs written by both individuals, groups and committees over many years, but beginning with the reasons behind the establishment of the Advisory Council of the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding she reviews the assumptions on which it was formed, shows and explains the mistakes made by past commentators, researchers and reports, and suggests a way forward.  Given that so very little has worked in the past, this new thinking could be immensely important.  Before I review the paper I should emphasise that it has been sent to the Kennel Club and the Advisory Council for their comments and suggestions. These have been incorporated into Philippa’s paper where appropriate.  I should also make it clear that there are two pages of detailed scientific references which back up the points she makes.  This is good, sound scientific research and I hope it will be taken very seriously and, even more importantly, acted upon.

Philippa begins by setting out the roles of the various organisations which could and should, given their stated objectives, have devoted a significant proportion of their resources to improving the health of pedigree dogs.  These are Blue Cross; Dogs Trust; Guide Dogs for the Blind Association; International Sheepdog Society Kennel Club; People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals; RSPCA; Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) and Royal Veterinary College with its associated organisations – the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA).  The mission statements of all these organisations make it clear that their prime concern is the care, welfare and health of animals with a particular emphasis on pet animals and in many cases specifically dogs.  She sets out their annual income which, for many of these organisations, is very substantial.  She goes to explain the reasons for the establishment of the Advisory Council before considering why, when so many other scientific papers, reports and publications had made almost no impact, it so quickly gained credibility.

An extraordinary development

She says: ‘Superficially, the steps taken to set up the Advisory Council could appear rational and timely, a reassuring progression towards securing better welfare outcomes for dogs. But even basic knowledge of recent dog-welfare history reveals the process may be far from rational or timely and to view it as a reassuring development is prematurely optimistic. A review of recent history suggests the creation of the Advisory Council through those seemingly simple steps was an extraordinary development.  Pedigree Dogs Exposed (BBC, 2008) did not reveal new welfare issues. It was not even the first televised report on breeding issues. So what rendered this particular depiction of the issues so influential? Why for instance was the Advisory Council not established in 1963 following that year’s BSAVA Symposium on dog breeding? If not then, why not in the early eighties following the publication of Simon Wolfensohn’s article on the subject in the New Scientist (1981) and his subsequent television report on the dangers of exaggeration?’

Philippa goes on to demonstrate several other important and pivotal reports on which no action was taken – save by the Kennel Club which made significant amendments to the Breed Standards in the 1980s.  Not only did the government do nothing but the big charitable organisations and lobby groups did not follow through on these opportunities.  Philippa goes on to develop a well argued case as to why PDE made such an impact and it is interesting that several different and independent reasons ‘piggybacked’ onto the programme in their own interests.  One important element was the development of social media which, Philippa believes, not only contributed to but generated its own momentum in bringing the issue to the top of the public agenda.  She lists a number of important forums and websites (disappointingly, Speakers Corner is not one of them!) which were provocative and within which commentators with large followings moulded opinion.

Skewed assumptions

However, although PDE was the catalyst she says, quite rightly in my view, that as: ‘it never claimed to be a comprehensive analysis of all canine welfare issues, to use it as a basis for subsequent welfare policy reform is arguably dangerous. It is also potentially confusing for the Advisory Council and its group of stakeholders’ (my italics).  She describes such assumptions as ‘skewed’ and goes on to brilliantly analyse the reasons why this is the case using direct quotes from the lobby groups and stakeholders used in PDE and in subsequent press releases and statements.  There are many but particularly telling is: ‘the testimony of Mark Evans, in particular, seems disingenuous. In the first broadcast he was speaking as the Chief Veterinary Adviser for the RSPCA – had none of his predecessors spoken out before 2008? One of his closing quotes was “unless we start now, the pedigree dog hasn’t got a chance” but he was never asked why they took until then to speak out.’  There are many more just as telling and it is interesting that the veterinary profession does not escape her devastating forensic analysis.

Philippa suggests, based on her research for her Masters Degree, that the process called Systems Thinking and Learning might provide a solution.  She explains in her paper that it is not an easy option but that it has: ‘been shown to tease out solutions even from the tensions of competing perspectives as long as they are used to fuel open, transparent, and well researched debate’.  The research into the process shows that: ‘small, well focused actions can produce significant enduring improvements if they are in the right place’ and that: ‘a good example of this is the incremental improvements the Kennel Club has made to the online services section of its website which gives access to data on health tests for individual dogs, predicts COI’s for planned matings and provides numbers of litters of puppies sired’.  All these combine to constitute a major step forward in being able to track trends and patterns in pedigree dog breeding.

Essential reading

This report is essential reading for every organisation and every individual at whatever level they are involved:  reading and understanding it will enable them to take part in meaningful, often challenging, debate so that conclusions can be arrived at which do not specifically reflect the philosophy or policy of one organisation but can provide a foundation for the animal welfare orientated community as a whole.  This is no mean ambition but is one that we should embrace wholeheartedly.

Finally Philippa Robinson recognises that improvements can always be made and I can confirm from my own experience, that she is always prepared to listen.  She has no axe to grind, nor product to sell, so I emphasise that she is not employed by anyone within the world of dogs, does not belong to any lobby group and receives no funding from anyone or any organisation for any of her activities.  If there was an annual award for services to the world of dogs she should be the first recipient.

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