Welcome Jemima

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

 

I am delighted to welcome Jemima Harrison to You Tube. She appears to have joined to be able to comment directly on my talk about her television programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed. I am very pleased she did so and she and I and the others who have taken part, have had some stimulating discussion. Unfortunately, the long term damage the programme inflicted on pedigree dog ownership will not easily be undone and this saddens me as I believe that dogs are good for people and are an important element of the cultural fabric of our society.

That said, the programme highlighted many important issues which both the Kennel Club as an organisation and I, as one of many, many individuals, have been working on for years. For the record, I published the Dog Directory with Joe Cartledge in 1974, I wrote the Dog Breeding Diploma in 1982 and All About Mating Whelping and Weaning in 1986.Since then I have lectured to students and breed clubs and written extensively on good breeding practices so I have been on the side of the reformers for many years. The KC virtually ignored these problems until about ten years ago but since then has worked hard (often against the perceived self-interest of some of its own members) to make improvements. They have not been unsuccessful but they would be the first to admit that there is still much to do. I am afraid Jemima’s programme gave them no credit for the effort they have made and the considerable sums of money which have been given to the Animal Health Trust, among others, to improve the situation.

I do not challenge much that was important in the programme but the statistics quoted and the way in which clips were used so selectively to support Jemima’s contentions, resulted in a programme that was biased and distorted. I strongly object to this type of journalism, which is sensationalist in every sense and took advantage of naïve breeders and an inexperienced Kennel Club that allowed its senior spokesmen to walk into the traps set. By carefully editing short sections from long interviews – the Kennel Club gave over three hours of interviews to the programme – and masquerading as ‘scientific’ while bringing in emotionally charged elements such as the suffering of dogs and the gratuitous clips of Nazis and discussion of eugenics the programme implied that all pedigree dogs were ‘falling apart’ when this is demonstrably not true. The programme fell far short of the balance and objectivity which has for so many years been the hallmark of BBC reporting.

I was appalled so I posted my feelings on You Tube to help redress the balance. The response has been extraordinary. In just five days my talk was viewed almost 3,500 hundred times and there have been many supportive comments. Others have been less so but most have suggested that I was challenging the information in the programme. I have challenged some of it, certainly, but my main concern has been that the approach was entirely one sided and ignored the fact that many breeds do not have genetic defects in any case and that selective breeding, rather than genetic disease, have made just as significant a contribution to those problems discussed. And selective breeding is easily reversed – a much more sensible and realistic approach.

What is more we humans are riddled with genetic defects. Kettles and pots come to mind. We now know that epilepsy, arthritis, shortsightedness and many forms of cancer all have a genetic component and as these are very common in humans (who do not generally breed closely) the simplistic ‘all inbreeding is wrong’ approach of the programme is not as relevant as it would first appear.

You can see and hear my series of talks on this issue by going to YouTube and searching for davidcavill. There are many long discussions on the comments section which go into more detail and you can read Jemima’s comments and my replies.

PS December 2009  Since this was written, Jemima posted much of the interview I gave her (which was not used in the programme) on You Tube. Ofcom has also ruled that the programme fell short of the standards expected of the BCC in several important respects

Thank you for listening thus far and thank you Jemima for making the programme. I just wish it could have been made with the old fashioned virtues of fairness and balance. In the comments on my You Tube website, Jemima says that ‘There is no requirement of me as a programme-maker to give equal weight/airtime to opposing views.’ I think that sums it up and that is the problem. The public relies on the BBC above all other media organisations throughout the world, to set the highest standards of reporting. Are not fairness and balance obligations for programmes such as this? In this programme I believe the BBC has fallen short of those standards and I hope that my contribution has highlighted the problems created when they are set aside.

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