CHANGING BREED STANDARDS and DOG HEALTH
Exclusive Interview with Meg Purnell-Carpenter,
November 2008 | TheDogPress.com
Barbara J. Andrews, Editor-In-Chief
As the Animal Rights agenda sweeps across our country, the average owner is unaware of the inroads it has made in other nations and the impact it will have on our right to own a purebred or “purpose-bred” dog. Masquerading under the "humane" label, it is a serious threat to the personal choices of dog owners across the globe, and sadly, there is some validity to the problem.
Meg Purnell-Carpenter (MPC) pictured judging Crufts, judges dogs all over the world but she is most gratified to serve as Vice Chairperson for The Kennel Club (of England) Breed Standards Committee. The Kennel Club is the oldest and most revered dog registry in the world, literally setting the “standard” for those breeds which originated or were carefully developed in the British Isles. As the “fancy” for quality purebred dogs spread throughout the world, wealthy dog lovers obtained the best terriers, setters, and many of the toy breeds from England, now known as the United Kingdom. That is largely true even today. Most Parent Clubs in the U.S. (and other countries) based their Breed Standards on the Standards from TKC.
This interview was conducted by telephone following a program on the British Broadcasting Corporation which depicted purebred dogs as inferior to the average mutt due to genetic abnormalities caused by “breeders.” Various pure breeds of dogs were used to portray physical, behavioral, and skeletal deformities. While such problems admittedly exist due to exaggeration and the quest for extremes of type, they are not nearly as common as was indicated by the program. In fact, the examples provided were in themselves gross exaggerations.
Viewers were deliberately led to believe that purebred dogs are inferior to the general canine population. To the informed, the motivation for the deceitful program and gathering of information is clearly that of the Animal Rights movement which has successfully infiltrated our societies from local government to the highest political levels.
With that in mind, we present this exclusive interview from “across the pond.” Meg and Barbara (BJ) Andrews have been personal friends for nearly three decades. Meg is known world-wide, not only as an astute and accomplished judge, but as a breeder of true working dogs. Her German Shepherds have long been sought after by law enforcement agencies on three continents. Meg was among the first to introduce the Akita into British show rings, the first to import top specimens of the Beauceron, and more recently, the Korean Jindo.
BJA: According to recent reports, the BBC broadcast on Pedigree Dogs has resulted in damage to the Kennel Club, the sport of purebred dogs, and to individual breeders who strive to produce healthy dogs that fit the breed standards. The program suggested the TKC was involved.
MPC: This is absolutely untrue, the Kennel Club did not sponsor this program. As it turned out the program was so one sided that even the Pet people in this country said “You know I saw that program on the BBC and wasn’t it one sided ?” Remember these were not people who are in the breeds, they are people that just sit at home and love their pets.
BJA. As what we in America would call a “Board Member” of The Kennel Club (England), what can you tell us about that health research study? I understand the Kennel Club has been working for years to develop health testing programs, identify genetic problems and eradicate them from the quality purebred dog..
MPC: The Kennel Club have been working for over ten years trying to assist breeders in developing health testing and screening within breeds to help breeders identify genetic problems and eradicate them. The kennel Club Charitable Trust has given more than £2 million UK pounds in health related grants .Much of this money has been used to help develop new health tests for inherited diseases, directly benefitting pedigree dogs.
The health research study itself, The Charitable Trust is set up and administered by the Kennel Club, and as you can see, donates heavily into research on inherited diseases in the dogs.
To be honest with you, it is not to produce a superior quality of dogs, it is to breed dogs that are fit and able to lead a normal healthy life. The progress that has been made on health has been amazing. For example, they have or did have a condition in Irish Setters and Irish Red and White Setters called “CLAD” and this condition was eliminated through mandatory health testing. There was a lot of research funded by money put in by the breed clubs and also The Kennel Club Charitable Trust. That’s only one of many as an example. There’s still a great deal of work being done by The Kennel Club for breeders and we are working together to eradicate a lot of the health problems.
BJA: Do you have, what we in the states call puppy-mills or backyard breeders who breed more for the income than the betterment of their respective breed?
MPC: Yes, yes, yes! To be honest with you I think that these people are mainly the ones causing us the problems. The majority of the breeders, in this country, care deeply about the health of their dogs. OK, we will always have a few breeders who don’t want to comply. That’s the law of averages and human nature. However, we have puppy mills, backyard breeders, call them what you like, who never health test their animals and they breed enormous quantities and quite frankly, I wish that the societies that are criticizing the Kennel Club and the dog breeders in whole, would investigate some of these.
BJA: The same is true here. Why don’t they turn the attention where it belongs?
MPC: Absolutely! I agree entirely.
BJA: Well then, is it fair to say The Kennel Club has a steeper hill to climb in educating those breeders and helping them to eliminate hereditary problems?
MPC: Right, well what we have here, and you and I have talked about this before, is the Accredited Breeders. This scheme was criticized in the beginning, there were lots of teething problems, however this is a scheme which I personally belong to and to become an Accredited Breeder, you must guarantee that you will health screen your stock for any inherited conditions that are within your breed. Now some people just won’t join, like your puppy backyard breeders. However, this scheme is now improving all the time and there are now three thousand two hundred breeders on Accredited Breeder Scheme.
It has been going only a couple of years so this is a good program and well received. However, what everybody is trying to do is educate people to buy their puppies from stock that had been appropriately tested for their breed. In doing this, hopefully it will guide prospective owners from the backyard breeder and the puppy mill and put them onto people who care about the animals and care about the health. It’s not so much the look of the animal that people are complaining about, except obviously some are over exaggerated; it’s the actual health situation.
BJA: Well 3,200 Accredited Breeders is a lot for such a small country!
MPC: Absolutely! And since the program, you can imagine there have been more people wanting to join the Accredited Breeders scheme. Breeders are up in arms, because they hate what is going on. It’s hurting everybody involved in Pedigree dogs.
BJA: Basically The Kennel Club is the only registry? Are there competing registries in England?
MPC: Not really. There was an alternative several years back it, may well still be in existence. However, people in this country do not want that. You see I believe in your country, your breed clubs own the standards, here it is different The Kennel Club owns the standards, not the breed clubs. Now that is the difference. So therefore, they are responsible for those standards. If somebody goes off and registers with some other registration society, they couldn’t then come back and register that dog with The Kennel Club, that is to say, a dog which is already being registered with an unrecognized society or registration.
BJA: What about the natural human desire to win which in itself leads breeders to exaggerate breed features, such as flat faces or eye shape and size that could lead to physical impairment?
MPC: Well, I’m probably going to say something now that I shall get shot for…. And I can tell you that the Pekinese people have all been complaining. They came in to a meeting at the Kennel Club, they knew they had to do something four years ago and they have NOT done anything at all. The problem is that they couldn’t even agree with themselves let alone agree and join together. And now they have got to do something and everybody is complaining about it but they had the opportunity to do something for their breed and themselves.
The problem is that we as breeders, we all breed for whatever we think is the correct thing to breed for. So you have people, just as you say, who want to win. Now yes, it is good to win and I want to win and so do other people, but unfortunately some people overlook the health considerations so that they can breed something that will win in the show ring. Now the judges over here are being educated so that if there is a problem with the breed that they are judging as regards the health, they are not veterinary surgeons, but if there is something obvious, like the dog is lame or it has got something with the eyes, or if there is anything which they can see upon examination that they feel may be detrimental to the health of the animal, then they have been advised not to put these dogs up for awards.
BJA: Well that also answers my next question – whether it is true that The Kennel Club is instructing judges as regards awards.
MPC: Then the answer is yes, that the Kennel Club is instructing judges not to award dogs that exhibit features that could be detrimental to canine health. That’s absolutely true.
BJA: The conflict here as an example would be the Pekinese standard, so…
MPC: Well, that’s the same here but they were given the opportunity to do something about it and now they are all shouting and saying, The Kennel Club has done this and not done that. However we gave them that opportunity four years ago when they came into a meeting as I mentioned earlier, it is only in the past weeks that the majority of the Pekinese breeders have started to talk to each other and have now reluctantly accepted their new standard.
I don’t know if you were aware, but there was a movement by Europe, somebody put together a format of breeds which they felt should not be bred at all or that needed immediate attention. That came out about 5 years ago, maybe even longer, I’m not sure because I’m not good on time, but there was a sub-committee formed at the Kennel Club of which I am a part, wherein we were asked to look at this list of breeds we were given, breeds that they felt in Europe were having problems with health. Some of the breeds, I have to say I personally, didn’t agree with. However, this was something which the government could well sign up to and so we explained this to the breeds concerned and had them come in to The Kennel Club to discuss it. We explained to them, your breed is in trouble. We don’t think they really realized how much trouble they were in because if the UK government had signed up to this, then they were going to be in very deep trouble. So we in actual fact, had started to change standards on breeds that were at risk.
This is long before this BBC program ever came out. And you know some of the breeds that we’ve helped, we thought were really, really going to be difficult breeds to deal with but in actual fact, they have turned out to be excellent. Particularly the Bulldog people. They have been really good. They have tried so hard to improve on their breed.
And then you have others that really think in fact it was something which more or less, well, I can say it, actually it was printed in one of the newsletters and it said words to the effect, “OK, well tell them what they want to hear and then they’ll go away, they won’t come back again.” That is not somebody who cares about their breed! They’re just hoping that the Animal Rights people or The Kennel Club or whoever, will go away and leave them alone and they can continue on exactly as before.
BJA: I understand. That has been true here as well. Tell us about Hip Scores and how it relates to breed improvements.
MPC: Hip scores! We have had hips being scored for many years now since I was a kid. So it’s been going on a long, long time. I am happy to say, the hip situation in a lot of breeds has improved tremendously!
I’m talking now not just as a breeder but as somebody who owns a boarding kennel where we have all the breeds come in to board. (editor’s note: Meg owned one of the finest quarantine facilities in England, now turned into general boarding when quarantine was lifted in the U.K.)
The thing is, we see far less now than we’ve ever seen. Certainly if you are joined in the Accredited Breeder Scheme, and your breed is one of the breeds that needs to be x-rayed, then you have to do it. I would say though, the hip dysplasia scheme has been extremely successful even before The Kennel Club instituted the Accredited Breeder Scheme.
I’m not talking as a vet when I say that but I think the vets would say that as well. I mean we’ve now got mean scores for the various breeds. What they do is take the average of the breed and, without going to look it up, let’s say for example the Akita is 14-15 average score. Well some of the breeds that in the past have been 25 or 30 average have now come down to an average of say, a 15 to 18.
BJA: Well that’s a quite definitive grading. Not only for the individual dog but as you just pointed out, your system is much easier to track over the years as regards improvement within individual breeds. Here we don’t get that, we get Good, Fair, Excellent, whatever.
MPC: Well we get ours scored and you have a score from 1 – 126 and obviously the lower the score the better. They then set an acceptable score for that breed based on the numbers and however many are done. And it seems to work because there’s more and more being done. People want to comply, and the other thing is of course, if somebody comes and buys a dog from me and I haven’t had their parents x-rayed and so if their dog then gets hip dysplasia, they can come back and sue me because I haven’t taken proper precautions.
This is nothing to do with Kennel Club, nothing to do with breed clubs. In this country we have something which is called Trading Standards, and if I breed from two dogs that haven’t been x-rayed or let’s say the breed has eye problems, and I haven’t had their eyes done and the puppy develops that condition and I can’t prove that I’ve x-rayed or certified the parents, I’m in deep trouble.
BJA: I’m sure that will come here too. It is already being back by the Animal Rights Movement so I see many Legislative changes and legal challenges in the near future. Also, our readers are curious, will the accredited breeder scheme remain voluntary or will it become mandatory in order to breed and sell puppies in the U.K.?
MPC: That is not the plan, provided people do their health screening and such like, they’re not going to be made to be an Accredited Breeder, but I think what will happen in the future is even if they don’t become an Accredited Breeder, I think that they are going to have to comply with laws and regulations on health and welfare.
BJA: Yes, same here. Now tell me… if I dare ask given the rift between The Kennel Club and the Royal Society Of Prevention of Cruelty To Animals, how do you feel about the RSPCA?
MPC: I don’t think I better tell you because you might print it…(laughing) I know how I feel personally; I feel it would be rather nice if they put their own house in order before they go out and criticize anybody else. You know, I had somebody say to me, I don’t know that this is 100% true but I do believe it is, that he was asked (he being an architect) whether he would do the design for the new R.S.P.C.A. headquarters? And when he found out it was going to cost $5 million he refused to do it. My feeling is, if that is true, the money should be going to saving dogs and all other pets and not to be having such palatial headquarters.
BJA: Absolutely. So for Americans, the RSPCA would be the “forefather” of our Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals (SPCA) which are individually operated here, meaning a person or group can start a “branch” under that name. But more worrisome to all dog owners in the U.S. and especially to breeders, is the Humane Society Of The U.S. or HSUS. It is seen as a primary Animal Rights organization which in fact, is often depicted in type as H$U$ due to a reputation for being more about the money than about the humane treatment of animals. It takes in an estimated $200 million dollars per year in donations and is said to be heavily invested in the political structure.
MPC: Well I don’t know about that but certainly, the R.S.P.C.A. is a body that had been established for many, many years and yes you’ll find some people that say, ‘Oh yes they’re wonderful’ and then you have a lot of people that do not have any time for them whatsoever.
BJA: Yes, it’s the same here. We’ll talk more about that situation later but getting back to breed problems, the most popular breeds in this country are those which are fairly natural, not tremendously exaggerated, so do you find that to be true over there? Is the pedigreed dog, the breeds which really don’t have that many structural or genetic problems, are they the more popular breeds in England?
MPC: Not necessarily I would say. You see, I think the other thing is, some of these Breed Standards haven’t been altered for goodness knows how many years. Some of the things that are said in the standards, I think encourages exaggeration if you know what I mean. For instance, if you have a large dog and the standard says something like “massive bone” well, that encourages breeders to breed bigger, bigger, bigger. Whereas, if you put large bone or strong bone, you know what you’re looking for but it’s not excessive. You see what I mean? What breed are you thinking of in particular?
BJA: Well I was just thinking about what you said earlier, that there are some breeds that wouldn’t need dramatic changes to their standard, just minor adjustments to the language itself.
MPC: Of course, you’re absolutely right, there are a lot of breeds like that. Now I’m not saying they don’t need health screening, because if they are health screened and kept up to date, the breed can remain healthy. But let’s say a breed may be predisposed to something like hips, well, wait, let’s take the Labradors, they are a very popular breed over here, very sound, but yet you do see problems in hips. Many people are breeding them, and there are a lot because Labradors are so very poplar, not just as pets but also in the show ring. Now that dog as described in the standard has nothing which is exaggerated. So it’s just monitoring the health screening that needs to be done.
BJA: What about Designer Dogs. Do you have much of a problem in your country? Here, if you go online and type in Designer Dogs you get almost a half million returns for websites selling them.
MPC: We don’t have Designer Dogs with the Kennel Club. They’re not registered with the Kennel Club but dogs can be registered as cross-breds for the purpose of competing in Obedience and Agility, much as I think is the case with the AKC and for the same purpose.
BJA: Well of course, but are people breeding them?
MPC: Yes, they’re all doing the odd ones. There again, take the Lab-ra-doodle, they are at absolutely enormous prices. It’s just because it’s a “Designer dog” that people like. They are fetching three to four times more than people are getting for dogs which they’ve screened, done the health testing for and are so carefully bred. But mind you in fairness, I have to say some of them are actually doing some screening and such like, but really, the buyer is getting a cross-breed dog and not only paying a pedigree price but having possibly double the inherited health problems from the breeds they are crossed with.
BJA: Meaning what?
MPC: Well obviously, in that regard, you stand to get, not just the faults related to the one breed, but you could double the odds of problems because you may well get the health defects of both breeds multiplied into the puppy you buy. And it would be ever so much more difficult to test for and track health problems in cross-breds which have no historical database and history of screenings and testing to which the breeder (or buyer) can refer.
BJA: Well Meg, we could talk for hours but we’ll end this with a promise to our readers that we will keep in closer touch with the impressive progress being made by The Kennel Club. We can greatly benefit from the advancements already made in your country. We’ll talk again after the Holidays. Thank you for your time and for the work your committee and The Kennel Club have done to preserve pure breeds while being so forward-thinking about health defects.
MPC: I trust that better communication such as this will be to the betterment of all breeds. Since you first came over here, the world has become smaller indeed. Thank you for the opportunity to speak directly to your readers there. Yes, we shall “talk” again!