‘MOT’ Health Tests

From Dog World – 18th August 2016:
cattAN ‘MOT’ health test on show dogs when they are puppies, and at two and five years old, should replace the Kennel Club’s category three vet checks, the Canine Alliance believes.

This is among the proposals it has made to the KC recently. However, the KC said today it would be unworkable and no lifetime guarantee of good health and confirmation.

Other suggestions from the Alliance are the compulsory DNA testing of puppies to verify their parentage, opening up KC membership, and refusing to register puppy farmers’ stock.

The Alliance, created after the outcry caused when the high-profile breed vet checks were introduced at Crufts 2012, may appear to have gone quiet, but it has been busy behind the scenes, and these are some of the issues it has been campaigning on ‘from day one’.

“Some people have the impression that we’re all about the vet checks and nothing else, but we have long campaigned to have CCs on offer for all breeds at general ch shows, again something the KC has looked at implementing,” said vice-chairman Tony Taylor.

“We’re pleased to see it happening, but we remain concerned about the vet checks.”

“It is likely that no one at the KC expected the backlash the checks received from exhibitors when they were introduced”, he said.

“And I am frustrated that they’re still in place. We recently suggested to the KC a proposal for an MOT check on pedigree dogs, a test which would be done when they’re puppies, repeated at two years and finally at five years.  Our idea was that the vet looks at the dog and says it is of a certain, basic level of health.  Nothing breed specific, just basically saying that the dog is healthy. We do not foresee a lengthy examination”.

The Alliance believes the veterinary profession would be in favour of the idea, keen to help promote the health of pedigree dogs, and would set a low, nationwide standard fee to make it cost effective for all parties.

“The dog concerned could then be given, for want of a better explanation, something along the lines of an MOT certificate, entitling that dog to be shown at KC events and being fit for competition,” Mr Taylor said. “It would do away with the need for the vet tests at shows with all the associated stress placed on owners, exhibitors and dogs”.

“Sadly, the KC does not seem to be keen on the idea. We find that disappointing as there can really not be much of an argument against it. All we’re asking vets to do is to say that the dogs meet some basic health requirements.”

 “The KC should push for this”, he said.

“And I would like to see the veterinary profession support us and come up with a reasonable fee so it can be done. It would provide an acceptable income for vets if every dog who competes at KC-affiliated shows has one.”

Mr Taylor also made known the Alliance’s view of the Assured Breeder Scheme.

“It’s pretty well known that we think it remains a scheme that is full of problems and issues, with some breeders been given a status that frankly they do not deserve,” he said.

Puppy farming is another subject the Alliance has raised with the KC on several occasions.

“We do have issues with it,” Mr Taylor said. “Our members are concerned that the KC is seen as money-making machine, particularly when it comes to registrations, and that this overrides a reasoned and determined effort to rid ourselves of the puppy farmers”.

“If a puppy is KC registered it’s inevitably seen as a ringing endorsement in the eyes of most ‘pet’ purchasers, but they have no way of distinguishing between responsible breeders or puppy farmers”.

“With the IT facilities available in this modern age, surely it’s possible for the KC to make a more determined effort at removing puppy farmers from the overall scheme of things, at least in terms of KC registrations if nothing else?”

The Alliance has also approached the KC about DNA testing puppies to verify their parentage.

“We think this is important,” Mr Taylor said. “All too often it seems we now see puppies being registered in a colour that is genetically impossible to achieve from the sire and dam that are listed.

“This is not simply a UK problem, of course, we understand that, but the KC is not short of a bob or two and could – we would say, should – lead the way.”

The Alliance has been looking at the KC’s structure and governance and believes the membership should be opened up.

“There are a number of points we’ve argued for right from the start, including open membership. At the moment, the KC is not the easiest, or inexpensive, organisation to become a member of. We think that a more open membership should be made available so that the people the KC seeks to govern can have a little more say in how it operates”.

“We’ve gone beyond the days of the subservient masses doffing the cap at their lords and masters.”

But according to the Alliance the KC is not keen.

“Sadly, when we last raised this with the KC we were told in no uncertain terms that it was a nonstarter. Indeed, they said that a survey they had carried out which showed no desire for open membership, with people content to let the KC get on with things as it is. Well, I’m a KC member and I don’t recall being asked that question”.

“The key point is that the whole governance of the KC needs to be looked at. I have a professional interest in these issues and I do hope that the KC moves beyond the tick-box mentality approach to governance – you do this, tick the box and yippee, we claim compliance”.

“There’s far more to effective governance than that. Good governance is not about appointing your own people to do things; it’s about independence of judgment and having people who’re prepared to speak out when things are not being done correctly or in the interests of those that the organisation seeks to ‘govern’.”

The KC must look to its wider membership and stakeholders if it is to be an organisation which can lay claim to good governance, the Alliance believes.

“I would certainly start with getting the membership of the KC opened up to a wider constituency and getting them more actively involved with this process,” Mr Taylor said. “It’s almost inevitable that in the longer term the KC will have to look to open up the membership. We’re in the 21st century for heaven’s sake”.

“There is some progress right now, but its creeping change when we really need radical action. Our hobby is not in a healthy state and is under serious pressure. It scares me how many people are saying they’re not going to shows as they can’t afford it or they’re bullied. Bullying is an issue – we know that’s the case. It’s not just social media – an area it seems the KC is happy to announce it can do nothing about – but actual bullying and intimidation at KC events”.

“Action needs to be taken if we are to have a hobby in a few years’ time! Of course, social media allows people to say things that they would probably regret with a bit of forethought and it is perhaps a malaise of modern life. That does not mean bullying or abuse on social media networks can or should be ignored. And we do not lay the blame just with the KC on this, as the social media networks themselves are notoriously weak at stamping out abuse and bullying.”

  Mr Taylor said the Alliance’s work behind the scenes had gone largely unnoticed.

“We’ve not been shouting about them from the rooftops as we thought the softly, softly approach was preferable,” he said.

“The pull-out health-check forms contained in judging books for those awarding CCs, in which they can make a note of any health problems such as the dog being lame or having an exaggeration, was suggested by the Alliance and taken up by the KC”, Mr Taylor went on.

“That’s something we put forward to the KC some time ago, but while the KC has not acknowledged that this was our proposal we’re pleased, as we get the correct end result: the forms are being used,” he said. “And – hopefully – the information gained is going to be helpful.”

“The KC’s show promotion working party, chaired by Keith Young, invited the Alliance to come to its London office to give a presentation”, Mr Taylor said.

“Our chair Howard Ogden gave a presentation that was positively received. Central to that presentation was the need to acknowledge that society has changed and it was the virtual/digital/instant age that we had to compete against to encourage people to still take lumps of their time and money in pursuit of pieces of card or rosettes, so as to become the next generation of dedicated pedigree dog breeders”.

“Essentially, without a significant and urgent input from this group of people, the dog game was inevitably going to be a disappearing hobby”.

“We left with a request that the Alliance look and act upon any way to both draw people in and keep them engaged in our hobby.”

And so the Alliance’s ‘Ask the Experts’ day was born. One was held in 2015 and another is planned later this year.

  “Interestingly, this is precisely the direction the vast majority of our members sought that we take in our recent survey”.

“The next ‘Ask the Experts’ day will be publicised as soon as we get our experts pinned down to a suitable date in the diary, and the longer term plan is to turn this into a ‘roadshow’ and move it around the country.”

The last experts’ day was held at the Sky Blue Connexion featuring several speakers including Andrew Brace, Lee Cox, Mike Gadsby, a championship show secretary and an online entry organisation which gave advice and guidance for new, or relatively new, exhibitors.

“Our experts discussed several subjects including handling and grooming, and people got the opportunity to talk to what one described to us as their idols, and who found that they were just people who want to talk about dogs and enjoy their hobby,” Mr Taylor said.

The KC said the pull-out section of judging books was an extension of what it had been doing for some years and was designed as part of the enhancements to our Breed Watch initiative.

“It was deemed as a method of identifying new breeds that may need to be added to Breed Watch,” said secretary Caroline Kisko. “There are two different forms – mandatory yellow forms for category two and three breeds, and optional forms in the back of judging books.

“We share the Alliance’s commitment to a sensible, reasoned approach to canine health issues. The Alliance has received a full response to its suggestion of the ‘dog MOT’ in a letter from the KC chairman Simon Luxmoore dated May 16.

“We believe this idea is unworkable in practice. The certificate proposed represented some form of warranty, but a health check pass cannot be a lifetime guarantee of good health and conformation.

“The veterinary check at championship shows are already in place and is set up as a structured protocol which aim to separate the roles of judge and vet. Any kind of blurring of these roles would not be productive. Furthermore, responsible breeders and owners will have good relationships with their vets and as such their dogs’ health will be checked by their regular vet.”

The issue of health certification was discussed in depth in 2013 by the Dog Health Group, which is made up of dog experts, vets and geneticists and at that time such certification was considered to be unworkable and not an effective means of protecting or improving the health of pedigree dogs, Mrs Kisko said.

The Assured Breeder Scheme was an excellent way to identify good breeders, she said, and asked what the Alliance regarded as puppy farming.

“Someone who breeds more than three litters a year? Five litters? Ten?” she asked. “Someone who owns six breeds? According to the criteria used there will be many breeders who some might count as ‘puppy farmers’, while the KC would beg to differ.

“Assured Breeders are all subject to KC inspections and have their litters checked for compliance in relation to health testing and permanent identification and, in addition to this, we insist on seeing a local authority breeder’s licence for anyone who is not an Assured Breeder and who applies to register five or more litters within a rolling year. Given the fact that we also work closely with local authorities where concerns are raised we cannot accept that there is a problem with irresponsible breeders to the extent to which the  Alliance is suggesting.

“However, we’ve made it clear on numerous occasions that if anyone gives us specific information regarding a so-called puppy farmer we will be more than happy to follow this up since we have no wish to encourage this type of trade and in fact we actively campaign against it.”

Applications to register litters are accepted by the KC in good faith, Mrs Kisko said.

“We can see no good reason to penalise genuine and honest breeders by insisting upon DNA profiling of all breeding stock. Having said that, there is provision within our regulations to require DNA profiling before a litter is registered in circumstances where there is cause to doubt the accuracy of parentage.

“That is not to say that DNA profiling will not become the norm at some stage in the future. As technology advances, it will become cheaper and thus more accessible for all breeders.”

With regard to colours appearing in litters where this is genetically impossible, she said, the KC had taken action nd would continue to do so where evidence was provided.

“And across a number of breeds there is a blanket ban on the registration of dogs of certain colours, as well as puppies produced from certain colour combinations, so it is neither accurate nor fair to suggest that the KC is dragging its heels in this respect,” she said.

With regard to more open membership, a survey showed that it should recognise achievements and commitment to the world of dogs.

“It was further clear that respondents were not in favour of regional or discipline-specific membership model alternatives,” Mrs Kisko said.

BVA president Sean Wensley, said: “The Crufts vet checks help to ensure that only healthy dogs are rewarded by judges in the show ring, and it is important that the KC continues to work with judges on their protocols and guidelines.

“Responsible breeders and owners will already have a good relationship with their veterinary practice and have regular health checks for their dogs. We would need to consider any proposals with the KC and consult with our members to determine whether and how such a scheme could be delivered, potentially alongside the vet checks.”

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