Which Way Will The Kennel Club Go?
Today sees the opening of what the Kennel Club claim is the ‘world’s largest dog show’ – Crufts. It probably is. In which case it’s a great chance for the Kennel Club to demonstrate to the largest audience, genuine, meaningful actions which will improve the health, welfare and lives of dogs. Something not obvious to seasoned Kennel Club watchers like myself. But, I guess I must give them a chance, after all they’ve said lots of worthy words since this time last year. Perhaps, despite my doubts, now is the time when Kennel Club words become Kennel Club actions.
Tomorrow they have a perfect opportunity to prove doubters like me wrong when they’ll be presented with a petition that’s gained over 30,000 signatures and lots of high profile backers such as Deborah Meaden, Pixie Lott, Craig Revel-Horwood, Tony Parsons, Linda Robson, Fern Britten, TV vet Mark Evans and many others.
The petition, organised by campaign group Cavaliers Are Special calls for the Kennel Club to make health testing mandatory for the two most serious conditions which affect this popular breed. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels suffer from a number of shocking hereditary health problems. The campaigners, backed by a number of experts want testing to be mandatory for a heart disease called Mitral Valve Disease (MVD) and Syringomyelia (SM), a distressing disorder caused by dogs being bred with skulls too small for their brains.
Many European countries do have mandatory testing for cavaliers, including Denmark where the risk of MVD has fallen by over 73% for the breed since compulsory heart testing was introduced. The condition is the biggest killer of cavaliers in the UK (20 times more prevalent than any other breed) and the Kennel Club’s own Breed Health Survey stated they’re dying 17 months earlier than a decade ago. However, there is no KC heart scheme in this country.
“For too long those with the power to make a difference to Cavalier health – the breed clubs and Kennel Club – have done nothing. The pet-owning public have said enough is enough,” says Margaret Carter, a former health representative for the national committee of the CKCS Club turned whistleblower, who started the petition.
“Research proves that breeding from dogs tested clear increases the chances of healthy puppies yet the KC refuses to take proper action. Families are seeing their loved pets living in pain and dying young. They want the KC to live up to its claim of “making a difference for dogs,” she adds.
TV vet Emma Milne, who has been a vocal supporter of the pet owners’ campaign will be with the campaigners tomorrow, making a return visit to Crufts after an 18 year boycott.
I first asked her what she hopes to see has improved during her long absence:
To be honest I’ll be amazed if anything has changed. From the veterinary perspective it feels like these dogs are getting worse and the alarming rise in popularity of brachys is real cause for concern. I really want to see if the vet checks are working and how many dogs winning prizes have been health tested and bred from. I’d love to be overwhelmingly silenced, as I’m sure many of my opponents would as well but that remains to be seen!
Specifically on the health of cavaliers, I asked Emma why she thinks the Kennel Club are so reluctant to introduce testing:
I have no idea why the KC won’t introduce the testing as so many other countries have done. It’s simply common sense. You end up feeling like it must be to keep breed clubs on side and keep taking the cash. Medically it’s pretty indefensible.
I’m no health testing expert, but as with so much when it comes to the Kennel Club, I believe Emma’s right and money sits slap bang in the centre of this. I’ve written before how the Kennel Club could make a big difference, but choose not to (read more). With a breed as popular as the cavalier, there’s a heck of a lot of money being made by those in the breeding business. Aside from the obvious sales of puppies, the Kennel Club takes a £16 fee for each puppy that’s registered with them (£14 for their Assured Breeders). That amounts to a lot of money in a year just from a single breed with an average litter size of five. One large scale breeder, (some may say puppy farmer) in the last year alone registered over 30 cavalier litters with the Kennel Club with not a health test in sight. The Kennel Club knows this, and does nothing but take the money. The numbers of cavaliers being bred may be falling, but there are still a lot of breeders and puppy farmers registering cavaliers every year.
If health testing became mandatory, it would undoubtedly reduce numbers in the business of making money from breeding cavaliers, including but not exclusively, the puppy farmers. The impact on Kennel Club coffers would be significant. The impact on the health of this breed would also be significant. Now which will the Kennel Club prioritise?