PDE2 – a reflection, one day afterwards…

Are you one of the people expressing outrage that Jemima Harrison was, once again, biased and one-sided? Or ,maybe you’re someone saying “why didn’t she look at all the puppy farmers?”, or “why is she hell-bent on picking on the show breeders?”.

I’ve picked up a quite few comments during today and there are plenty of people who seem to acknowledge that PDE2 displayed a disturbing set of attitudes to health improvement among some breeders. They are saying the film highlighted breeders in denial and it emphasised the consequences of breeders who put success in the show ring ahead of the health of their breed. There are also quite a few comments that it re-hashed too much material from PDE1.

So, what are my reactions to PDE2 which was screened last night? Basically, it didn’t surprise me but it did disappoint me that there was almost no recognition of the good work being done by many breed clubs and many breeders. Hey-ho; that’s not going to make good TV is it? As I watched it, I kept thinking of all those “Cowboy Builders” programmes and it would be easy to dismiss PDE2 as just another programme in that genre. However, we do have to remember that we are talking about the lives of living creatures, not some shoddy bodged plumbing job.

While watching, I was following PDE2 on Twitter with the #PDE2 hashtag and it made interesting reading. There was the expected stream of “disgusted” and “horrified” comments as successive ill dogs appeared on screen, and quite rightly so. The RSPCA was active with a regular stream of “watch our ‘Bred for looks, born to suffer‘ campaign” comments. Whether these were just random RSPCA people tweeting, I don’t know. Given their PR machine, you’d assume they planned it. When Mark Evans (the former RSPCA vet) appeared, someone tweeted “Mark Evans is talking sense”!

As far as I can recall, there were no Kennel Club tweets (@KCLovesDogs) and perhaps that was a missed opportunity. The same could be said for the breed clubs of those breeds featured. How about some tweets from the Cavaliers to say they’ve invested over £100,000 in researching their health issues, or that their breed average Coefficient of Inbreeding is 5.2%. Cesky Terriers got a mention for having high COI values. Perhaps someone could have posted a tweet to say that they do have high COI values with such a small gene pool, but (as I understand it) they are generally a long-lived and healthy terrier and are actively working at improving their genetic diversity.

The section on COI really was overly-simplistic and resulted in a tweet from the MRCVS this morning to say simple advice to puppy buyers would be to ask about the COI. But, if Cavaliers are in the state they are with a breed average COI of 5.2% and Ceskys are healthy at 40+%, this advice is surprisingly naïve from an organisation of science-trained professionals.

I tweeted a few times during the programme, firstly in support of Prof. Sheila Crispin’s comment that a lot more education is needed. I also tweeted to say “Breed health improvement needs three things: enthusiasm, education and enforcement; and we need more of each”.

I suppose Sheila Crispin got relatively little air-time as she’d already appeared in the KC’s film “Dogs – a healthy future”, where she made lots of positive noises about the work being done by the KC. She was mostly left to appear shocked and speechless at the picture of the top-winning boxer’s head shape.

Dachshunds made an appearance after 41 minutes with a flashback to the pictures used in PDE1 in 2008 and commentary saying “look what 100 years of the show ring has done to the Dachshund; today’s dogs have much shorter legs”. True enough; comparing those two photos the “modern” dog certainly doesn’t have the ground clearance required by our Breed Standard. Interestingly, the “old” dog has approximately the same length to height proportions currently required by the FCI Dachshund Standard. We weren’t told what the health consequences might be of the fact that the “modern” dog has short legs. We all know that back disease is the biggest health risk in Dachshunds and that this is due to them being a dwarf breed, with short legs (not long backs). Since the “old” Dachshunds were also chondrodystrophic, it would be interesting to know if they were any more or less prone to back problems. I have a copy of the Dachshund Club Newsletter from 50 years ago where an article describes back disease as being a health concern, so I’m not sure how much different things would have been 100 years ago.

There was no mention of the significant amount of research now being done worldwide to identify a gene test to help breed away from lines more prone to back disease. It’s certainly not the case that our breed average COI values are a clear indicator of back problems.

There are two things that came across strongly in the film for me. Firstly, those people who are successful in the show ring must lead the way with health improvement. They are in the spotlight and last night’s film focussed on several people who are at the top of the game. Political commentators talk about “the Westminster village” – a closed world where all that matters is politics. Perhaps, we have a parallel world: “the Best in Show Ring village”. Emotive language on PDE2 like “powerful people in the breed” should mean they can be a force for good in health improvement. Where there are screening programmes, use them!  Where there are research programmes, take part in them. If these people lead the way with health testing, managing COI and limiting the use of popular sires, others will follow.

Secondly, Breed Clubs and Councils have to take the lead. Campaigners for health improvement are not going to go away any time soon (if at all). In some breeds, these campaigners have set up their own health and welfare websites where they are providing what they feel is the best information available to members of the public who want to buy a puppy of their breed. Where this is happening, breed clubs should be getting a wake-up call. They need to take the initiative and become the definitive open and honest source of breed health information. The film talked about the powerful breed club hierarchy; again, this suggests breed clubs can take the lead; it isn’t all down to the KC to take action.

I started by saying I was disappointed. A few weeks ago the Dachshund Breed Council was contacted by the film’s makers to ask for permission to show a screen-shot of our Health website in PDE2. This was to be positioned in a section of the film about the positive things that were happening on breed health improvement and would be accompanied by a voice-over saying: “There are also some forward-thinking breed clubs. The Dachshund Breed Council, for instance, recently came top of a poll measuring breed club performance on health.” Evidently, this ended up on the cutting room floor.

I’m not complacent about how much more we need to do in the Dachshunds. We may have come out top in the KarltonIndex review, but with a score of 40% that’s hardly world-class. What I am proud of is the unanimity of our Breed Clubs in addressing health matters and the support we get from all sorts of Dachshund owners, be they show, working or pet people. There will always be a wide range of reactions, from enthusiasm through to scepticism and even some blockers. But, I believe we are moving in the right direction. We need more enthusiasm, more education and more enforcement!


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