Lucy’s Loophole

Lucy's Law posterThe so-called Lucy’s Law which banned the third party sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops from April 6th, 2020 was greeted with some scepticism by canine professionals as being unlikely to have much impact on puppy farming.

The dubious sale of puppies and kittens had already largely been via websites and social media and now it seems that the puppy farmers have found a loophole enabling them to shift their animals via pet shops anyway.

A 2019 amendment to the 2018 Regulations permitted breeders to sell puppies under a pet sales licence instead of a breeders licence if a dog was bred “overseas” and thus not under the jurisdiction of English welfare legislation. DEFRA stated that this was to ensure compliance with European Union Directives and World Trade Organisation rules.

Private Eye magazine has highlighted the continuing problem of puppy farming in the six counties of Ireland and in Eire where thousands of puppy farmed dogs are being shipped to England for sale in premises owned by the very same puppy farmers who have managed to obtain 5 star ratings as licensed breeders in their English premises.

Business as usual – unless of course the source of the problem is dealt with, namely the people who buy these dogs in the first place.

Don’t Ignore The Snore

Distressed pug In a world where some people try to designate truth as “fake news”, perhaps it shouldn’t be so shocking that some people are also unable to distinguish severe distress in dogs for “cuteness”. Then again, it’s imperative that it is shocking otherwise we can neither uphold evidence-based factual reporting or make the world better for dogs.

Just as an anorexic needs to adjust there distorted perception to realise that their image in a mirror is not, in fact, obese, owners of brachycephalic dogs need to realise that dogs that can barely survive a night of (greatly disturbed) sleep are not struggling purely for the perverse entertainment of humans.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed has again highlighted the plight of these poor dogs with their Don’t Ignore The Snore campaign and a terrific video.

This video is distressing (I hope). It’s meant to be. It is of course the struggling dogs that I find distressing, but perhaps if people see humans in a similar condition it may, just may, trigger them to get their dogs treated and best of all, to stop buying them in the first place.

Can You Help The Royal Veterinary College?

Dog for sale Sales of dogs have gone through the roof during lockdown with many owners buying on impulse with little or no research. The demand for “off the shelf” dogs means that most are inevitably bred illegally and with little or no regard to welfare.

The Royal Veterinary College are undertaking a study into “pandemic puppies”.

If you purchased a puppy in 2019 or 2020, please help the RVC researchers by completing their survey and help them to improve canine welfare.

Walking The Dog

Samoyed being walked As many canine professionals anticipate a spate of abandoned “lockdown” animals with schools, colleges and workplaces re-opening, news from Europe heralds new legislation in an attempt to improve welfare.

Germany is introducing a bill that, if passed would be implemented on a state-wide basis including the following provisions:

  • Dogs must be walked twice a day for a minimum of one hour in total
  • Dogs must not be chained for long periods of time
  • Dogs must not be left alone for an entire day
  • Breeders will be restricted to a maximum of three litters at any given time
  • Puppies will have to spend a minimum of four hours a day in human company
  • Ear and tail docking will be prohibited for show dogs
  • Show dogs must display “species appropriate” behaviour.

All very admirable, but the agriculture ministry has already stated that it is very unlikely that individual dog owners will be policed and that an emphasis will be placed on welfare in kennels. Even if Germany puts considerably more resources into this legislation once passed than we have in the UK with similar legislation, it seems unlikely to make substantial difference.

Meanwhile, France is also anticipating a worsening of the situation that sees between 100,000 and 200,000 companion animals being abandoned annually. 60% of abandonments happen during summer holidays. In the last annual Dogs Trust Stray survey, 69,621 stray dogs were handled by local authorities in the UK, an increase of 13,578 on the previous year.

Toulouse MP Corinne Vignon has introduced a bill in he French parliament aiming to make it harder to buy companion animals and to facilitate tracing owners who mistreat or abandon them. It includes provision making identification mandatory an raise the minimum age limit for purchase
The bill would introduce compulsory tagging, as well as raise the minimum age limit of buyers. The bill has cross-party support and is expected to be passed before the endow the year.

France has clearer legislation than the UK when it comes to breeding and selling dogs. All matings have to be declared, with dogs either registered as pedigrees with the French KC or as “types”. It is possible to register a pedigree dog after puppyhood with confirmation from an expert judge and proof of testing for heritable diseases and sociability, behaviour or aptitude. However, breed registers have been closed for several breeds, including the following since 1978: German and Belgian shepherds, Dobermann pinschers, boxers, fox terriers, dachshunds, springer, cocker and American spaniels and poodles.

It remains to be seen if legislation in either country will stem the tide of back street breeders, puppy farms and illegal imports and sales. For the sake of dogs everywhere, let us hope that a solution is found soon.

Qui eripuit canis, qui eripuit?

St Bernard Rescue Dog A story broke today that a St Bernard dog, a breed famed for mountain rescue, herself needed rescuing from Scafell Pike.

The tone of the articles was relatively light-hearted but the operation required 16 members of the Wasdale Mountain Rescue team to administer pain relief then carry a dog weighing 55kg for five hours over rough terrain, including negotiating a waterfall.

The dog is 4 years old. Young for most breeds but in the giant breeds with a life-expectancy that rarely breeches double figures, middle aged. A 2014 UKKC breed health survey of 65 St Bernards with a median age of 3 years found that the majority of the dogs were affected by at least one condition. There were 77 incidents of conditions overall, with a median age of onset of just 18 months. Hip dysplasia was the third most commonly reported problem. Reportedly, the dog taken off Scafell Pike was showing signs of pain and refusing to walk. Hardly surprising.

There are often people who risk rescuers’ lives by going into potentially dangerous environments unprepared, but subjecting such a dog to England’s highest mountain beggars belief.

It wasn’t always like this of course. St Bernard dogs have not been used for mountain rescue since 1955, not least because crossing with Newfoundlands in the mid-19thC and closed stud books made them unfit for purpose. The dogs in the image on the right were the St Bernards of 1929. Tragic hardly covers it.

Covid Cons

Dog for sale Just as the SARS COV-2 virus exploits weaknesses in its human hosts in order to reproduce, conmen exploit weakness, especially in times of crisis.

One of the major problems in improving canine welfare is that purchasers are still demanding that dogs be sold as “off the shelf” commodities. Puppy farming would stop tomorrow, “rescue” centres would be cleared of dogs and border control would not have to spend time trying to stop van loads of sickly puppies entering the country if only people researched and considered their purchases and recognised that it can take months and sometimes years to get a heathy, well-bred dog. Local authorities would be spared the cost of taking nearly 60,000 abandoned dogs off the streets annually and could spend those resources educating and assisting canine professionals and owners instead.

The vast majority of dogs bought and sold in the UK are either trafficked in or bought or recycled from puppy farms and unlicensed breeders. Complaints from potential owners that they are being defrauded and ripped off are coming thick and fast. Badly and illegally bred dogs are being parcelled out for thousands of pounds apiece to fuel the demand for a “lockdown” pet. Many of those who actually part with money and receive a dog may then face huge vet bills and many dogs and cats are expected to be dumped within weeks or months.

Then of course, the whole nightmare begins again for the poor animal as new owners, thinking erroneously that it is better to “rescue” their new pet rather than buy from a reputable breeder make room for more and have to deal with the consequences of bringing a traumatised animal into their home.

There is a very easy way to stop this. Plan to wait up to 2 years to get a fully health-tested dog, do lots of research beforehand, don’t buy animals advertised online and don’t part with stupid amounts of money.

If there is no one to exploit, conmen will go elsewhere. It’s up to you.

Dutch Courage

pug face measurement At last some real action on brachycephalic dog welfare. Pedigree Dogs Exposed has circulated the news that the Dutch Kennel Club will no longer issue full pedigree certificates to extreme brachycephalic breeds unless an independent veterinary check confirms that at least one parent has a muzzle of the required length. This refers in turn to legislation that introduced six new breeding criteria in March 2019 and stipulated standards for eye conformation, nostril stenosis, abnormal breathing, excess skin folds and that muzzle length must be at least one third the length of the dog’s head, with the aim to breed towards half the length of the head.

Predictably, breed clubs, with one notable exception, were outraged. All the usual eugenic protests surfaced including that from the Pug Breed Council in the UK that accused the Dutch KC of “being happy to see the demise of historic breeds that have existed for hundreds of years.” They are wilfully oblivious to the fact that these comparatively modern dog breeds have not existed in the current extreme forms for more than a handful of decades. The Pug Breed Council added that “The Dutch government’s decision is “beyond our comprehension.”

It is truly beyond my comprehension how anyone purporting to be concerned for the welfare of dogs could perpetuate the misery and suffering in dogs that so many of these breeders are producing. Breed clubs and Kennel Clubs perpetually lay the blame for poor breeding at the feet of back-street breeders and puppy farmers whilst not apparently recognising that they are at the top of this rotten tree, strutting their stuff with what the RSPCA’s then chief vet Mark Evans called in 2008 “a parade of mutants”.

Legislation forbidding breeding that compromises welfare has existed in the Netherlands since 2014 and in the UK since 2006, strengthened by the new licensing legislation that came into effect in 2018. Little if anything has changed though.

The Dutch KC is planning a separate registry for dogs that do not meet their criteria and another registry for outcrosses bred with the aim of improving the phenotype. Dogs on those registers can be tracked but will not be accepted on to the stud book or into the show ring.

About time too.

Maybe we will one day be able to see dogs that again represent a truly proud heritage. Dogs that can mate, breathe, eat and regulate their body temperature properly. Dogs that can play and sleep without collapsing. The Dutch Kennel Club seems to be taking the first steps towards that day. Let us hope that where they lead, others will follow – and that many other breeds suffering from exaggerated conformation will be brought into consideration.

Maybe one day humans will realise that these hideous neotenised, snorting animals with infected skin and grossly shortened lives are not grateful for the “care” that owners lavish upon them and, above all, that there is nothing cute about misery.

The following breeds are affected by the legislation in the Netherlands:

  • Affenpinscher
  • Boston Terrier
  • Bulldog
  • French Bulldog
  • Griffon Belge
  • Griffon Bruxellois
  • Japanese Chin
  • King Charles Spaniel
  • Pekingese
  • Petit Brabancon
  • Pug
  • Shih Tzu.

Fouling Their Own Territory

The final line up at Crufts was one of the most depressing that we have seen in a while. Puffed up and preened, the poor Old English sheepdog was as far away from guarding sheep as he could be, although at least he has an in-breeding coefficient of 0%. The Irish Setter has an in-breeding coefficient of 16.2%, 2.7% higher than the breed average; the miniature poodle 11.7%, a whopping 6.8% higher than the breed average, and the BIS winner, the wire haired dachsund 10.8%, also 6.8% higher than the breed average.

Even without this close level of in-breeding, deciding that out of approximately 20,000 entries, that an achondroplastic dog with a ridiculously elongated back is the best example of a dog makes me despair. The fact that this dog also needed to eliminate in the ring was also hardly edifying from a welfare perspective.

The BVA President Daniella dos Santos said “We’re concerned that seeing a dachshund crowned top dog at Crufts could lead to a further rise in their popularity and related increase in the health issues that can unfortunately affect these and other long and low breeds.”

However, this horse has possibly already bolted: as with other deformed phenotypes, dachsunds, and in particular miniature dachshunds have gained in popularity and seem to be almost as ubiquitous as pugs and French bulldogs, not least in the popular media.

How ironic that Vitality UK, a life insurance company, has chosen a miniature dachshund to promote their product. The BVA note that “…all six varieties of dachshunds– Standard Long-, Smooth-, and Wire-haired, and their miniature versions– [are] at risk of serious spinal and neurological issues which usually require surgery to fix. These problems may not be immediately obvious, but often cause them life-long discomfort and may need costly treatment”.

The most common problem is Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) which causes early degenerative changes in the discs that act as “shock absorbers” for the spine making them prone to herniate and calcify and resulting in the spinal cord compressing.

This is extremely painful for dogs and they may yelp, show a hunched back with the head down, shiver, pant, refuse to move or be unable to jump or negotiate stairs. It progresses to difficulty in walking with poor control of the hind limbs and ultimately, complete paralysis. Severely affected dogs have a paralysed bladder and may be unable to urinate and/or dribble urine. Completely paralysed dogs have no bladder function and lose the ability to feel pain.

Dachshunds are 10-12 times more likely to suffer from IVDD than other dog breeds. At least 20% of all dachshunds will show clinical signs of this disease. The median age of onset of disease is between 5-7 years, with the Standard and Miniature Smooth Haired and the Miniature Wire Haired having the highest prevalence.

Even if the BIS winner is not affected, how does promoting this type of extreme physical distortion promote canine health?

I Love Lucy

Much has been made in the press in the last couple of days about the passing of the so-called “Lucy’s Law”, with headlines trumpeting that puppy farming has now been banned.

Except that it hasn’t.

As anti-puppy farming campaign C.A.R.I.A.D state, this latest legislation just has the potential to cut off part of the supply chain, because what it actually prohibits is the sale of puppies and kittens via third parties. The only sales that will now be legal are those made directly by the breeder, subject of course to other legislation such as licensing and the sale of animals at the permitted age.

All well and good but in many ways, it changes nothing, other than making it a fraction harder for puppy farmers and back street breeders to organise their supply chain.

  • It is already illegal to import or sell puppies under 8 weeks old
  • It is already illegal to important puppies that are not suitably vaccinated with the appropriate accompanying documentation
  • It is already illegal to falsify paperwork, including PET passports, health records and pedigrees
  • It is already illegal to sell puppies when they have not been seen with their mother
  • It is already illegal to sell puppies without providing a socialisation plan

So what?

Puppies are still being imported in huge numbers, sold under age and/or with fraudulent or no paperwork, sold without a socialisation plan and sold when presented without their mother, either on their own, because the sellers claim that the bitch died or when they use a substitute bitch.

The percentage of owners that are aware of the existence of the AWA 2006, never mind their responsibilities under just this piece of legislation is small and has been decreasing since 2011.

Go out onto any street and count how many dogs are off lead alongside a road. Some of them wil have no collar either and, even if they have, it may not have a legal tag attached. Some will not be microchipped and of those that are, some will not have kept the database up to date. Many will be boarded in establishments without licences, many will have bought form breeders without licences.

All of this is illegal.

Very little is actually done about it though, because there are no resources made available to educate the public or to police the legislation.

Much of the legislation is confusing, even for professionals, and there is evidence to suggest that practitioners are not interpreting or implementing the legislation consistently.

Far too much is left to local authority discretion. DEFRA noted in <a href=”https://www.local.gov.uk/guidance-dog-control-and-welfare-police-and-local-authorities” target=”_blank”>a 2017 report</a> that “Reference was made to a lack of certainty in some areas over the split of responsibility between police and local authorities with respect to dog control issues. Varying degrees of enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 or engagement on dog control between local authorities was highlighted as an issue. Resourcing was identified as a challenge against a background of a high number of cases.”

Licence fees and fines vary widely, leaving both responsible practitioners and miscreants at the mercy of a post code lottery.

It is in this context that “Lucy’s Law” needs to be seen, because tragically, there are going to be very many more dogs that continue to suffer as Lucy did unless a radical shakeup is made of the welfare priorities for local and national government.

The Kennel Club need to actually dedicate themselves “to protecting and promoting the health and welfare of all dogs” by not continuing to register puppy-farmed dogs, expelling members such as Eric Hale, actually doing something radical to stop in-breeding  (commissioning studies is all well and good but any idiot can tell the KC why so many German Shepherds can’t walk properly or brachycephalic dogs breathe) and the stop supporting the breeding of thousands of dogs with appalling conformations.

Puppy farming could be ended overnight without the need for legislation and the consequent expense of policing it because all it needs is for people to:

  • Stop buying puppy-farmed dogs
  • Stop taking in dogs because they pity them and thinking that they are rescuing them rather than leaving space for the next one
  • Stop expecting to be able to buy dogs off-the-shelf
  • Stop buying dogs from websites such as Pets4Homes and Gumtree
  • Stop buying dogs from back street breeders
  • Stop buying dogs from breeders without having checked and cross-checked their licensing status.

This Year’s Crufts Controversies

Tragically, it seems inevitable that there would be something considering how little improvement we have seen in many suffering breeds and how entrenched poor breeding and judging still is.

In the show ring, Pedigree Dogs Exposed reports that the pug Eastonite Randy Andy won Best of Breed. I would like to think that one glance at this dog would make even the most ardent fan of snorting, brachycephalic dogs think that something was awry – literally – (I live in hope). Not the KC judges, however (I am not surprised).

The dog has severely stenotic nares and strabismus. In other words, it can barely breathe and it, again literally, cannot see straight because one eye is turned outwards permanently due to a shallow eye socket. The KC breed standard says that this dog’s eyes should be “full of fire” when it is excited. Maybe because it is so angry that humans keep on writing stupid rules and rewarding severe defects deliberately caused by in-breeding.

It is common knowledge that first cousin marriages in humans double the chance of severe birth defects in offspring. Various studies have proved that being born to a marriage of first cousins produces a one in sixteen chance of suffering from a congenital abnormality. First cousins have an in-breeding coefficient of 6.25%. If a grandfather produced an offspring via his granddaughter, their in-breeding coefficient would be 12.25% and father to daughter 25%.

Eastonite Randy Andy has an in-breeding coefficient of 19.8%. This compares to the breed average of 4.9%.

So much for the KC Pug Health Scheme. The KC Pug Information Pack says that “The Kennel Club will not register merle pugs, including those imported from overseas. This is because the merle gene in this breed carries an increased risk of impaired hearing and sight problems”.

True. However, the KC does not seem to worry that extreme in-breeding of registered dogs that are a “recognised” colour is just as likely to result in problems such as those presented in poor Eastonite Randy Andy, whose owners will no doubt use the BOB as a promotion to perpetuating his line as much as possible. The information pack does not even mention BOAS. Recent research, funded by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust, found that half the dogs in the study of 189 pugs, 214 French bulldogs and 201 bulldogs were suffering from BOAS which was likely to shorten their lives by 3 years – approximately one third of their expected life span. That is equivalent to lopping nearly 27 years off the average life expectancy of a man in the UK purely because of deliberate in-breeding fuelling the demand for severely deformed dogs. 30% of affected dogs also have a tendency to regurgitate saliva or food in addition to not being able to breathe, frequent fainting and the ever-present danger that they will just die in their sleep.

Where the KC leads, others follow.

Royal Canin market so-called breed-specific food. Royal Canin say on their website “At Royal Canin, we believe that every dog is unique. We research breed-specific traits before combining scientific and nutritional research from our veterinarians and nutrition experts to create precise nutrition for your dog. Whatever your breed of dog, this range contains a multitude of formulas tailored to individual dog breeds. ”

“Whatever your breed of dog?” hardly. You’re catered for (literally) if you have a beagle, bichon frise, boxer, CKC spaniel, Chihuahua, Cocker spaniel, Dalmatian, dachshund, French bulldog, GSD, golden retriever, great Dane, JRT, Labrador, Maltese terrier, miniature Schnauzer, poodle (size not specified), pug, Rottweiler, Shih Tzu, WHWT or Yorkshire terrier. That leaves 196 of the UKKC “recognised” breeds untouched then, never mind the remaining 150 or so that the FCI “recognise”.

Royal Canin go on to state that their breed-specific food “…features high-quality protein sources, unique nutrients, and [is] designed with specific shape, size and texture for each dog’s facial and jaw structures and biting patterns.”

Unique nutrients? This amounts to a few more herbs here and a few more (unproven) nutraceuticals there by the looks of it.

I couldn’t find any detailed information on the UK website but the Australian site does have a breakdown of the breed-specific food. Some are more active and require joint support. Others need their appetites kept under control. Then there are those whose jaws make it hard to pick up kibble. These needs are why Royal Canin make specific breed-specific diets”.

Why would more active dogs require joint support? Surely a dog that is suitably stimulated and exercised just needs to eat well, not be stuffed full of prophylactic joint supplements. There is of course no control over owners who may feed additional supplements. This suggest that amounts in food are so low as to have little efficacy, not least given that there is no warning not to give additional supplements and there is no loading dose which would be the case if a vet prescribed them.

There is very little relaible information on the nutrient requirements of different breeds. Thus, breed-specific dog and cat foods may not contain breed-specific, optimum nutrient contents , never mind a suitable dose for an individual. There are definite breed-specific nutritional needs such as carefully formulated food for large breed puppies to control growth and prevent surplus weight damaging joints. Useless though if the dog is then over-exercised. Great Danes have a unique metabolism and require more calcium and protein than small and medium-sized breeds to ensure that their bones and muscles develop properly. Arctic breeds can suffer from zinc deficiency, Bedlington terriers can suffer from copper storage disease and both Bedlingtons and Great Danes are affected by copper and calcium toxicity at lower intake levels than other breeds.

That aside, the Crufts controversy was caused by Royal Canin’s marketing of “bulldog-specific” food. Now, as they point out in their marketing, severely brachycephalic dogs can find it very difficult to eat due to the poor conformation of their face and teeth and the fact that many are struggling to breathe simultaneously through their mouths (not a normal way of breathing for dogs) just to get enough air in to survive. Many struggle to even pick up kibble and are more prone to dental caries and related health problems because of the misalignment of their bite. The explosion in the numbers of such dogs being bred, registered by the KC or not, provides a potentially lucrative market for dog food companies, especially if they can convince owners to buy breed-specific food. The in-breeding coefficient of KC-registered bulldogs is 8.4%. Pretty grim, and much worse than the pug or the French bulldog (2.5%)

Royal Canin, official sponsors, compounded the issue by using a drawing of a severely brachycephalic dog to advertise their breed-specific foods at Crufts. The massive deformed face was flaunted on a giant banner until protests by vets and other concerned individuals obliged them to remove it and apologise. This occasioned the usual counter-protests from breeders who are perpetuating the phenotype but was not picked up to a great extent by other media. Perhaps it is a form of compassion fatigue because there are so many reasons for Crufts to raise the hackles of people genuinely concerned for canine welfare.

Minor in comparison, but an indication that poor practices are creeping into non-showing activities at Crufts was the acceptance of Rachel Ward’s Shimmer in the agility ring when it was dyed pink. Allegedly she was told to remove the dye but she clearly did not, and perhaps it is time for other disciplines to tighten their rules to prevent this sort of abomination being perpetuated.