Let’s celebrate our Breed Clubs and Breed Health Coordinators – December 2016 “Best of Health”

Best of HealthI’ve had many interesting conversations with Breed Health Coordinators (BHCs) about what they are trying to achieve in their breed. One of the great things about most BHCs is that they are so passionate about their breed, its health and its development. There’s no lack of enthusiasm and motivation to make a difference, but there’s never enough funding or resource to match these.

Our conversations often lead us to discuss the available data which could give an insight into where and how the BHC could make the most difference and how this could be achieved. So, for example, what’s the value of a big, expensive and time-consuming Breed Health Survey that engages lots of owners, if nothing happens with the results? At the other end of the spectrum, Dave Brailsford’s “1% Principle” might suggest that finding a low-cost (online) way of educating lots of owners about good husbandry, breeding practices and the need for health testing could aggregate into a sizeable pool of benefits. This latter point is particularly relevant when you look at the most common health conditions identified in the VetCompass Project: Otitis, Periodontal disease and Impacted Anal Glands.

Passion without data will take you a long way, but in an increasingly complex and uncertain world, the danger is that you simply won’t be able to demonstrate the impact you are making and won’t be able to persuade owners and breeders to participate in future initiatives.

In our conversations, we usually decide that data without passion is simply “boring”. Nobody really cares about numbers. When was the last time you got excited to hear someone saying “I’m going to do a t-test” or “Let’s draw the regression line”?

I’m convinced that Passion plus Data is a winning combination for any breed that is serious about safeguarding its future.

BHC of the Year Award

The recent Breed Health Coordinator of the Year Award was a great way to recognise all the hard work of these often unsung heroes. This year’s winner was Liz Branscombe (Flatcoated Retrievers) and the other finalists were Sam Goldberg (Beagles), Penny Rankine-Parsons (French Bulldogs), Margaret Woods (Golden Retrievers) and Kathryne Wrigley (Gordon Setters). Among the characteristics being looked for by the judging panel were their ability to motivate breeders and breed clubs in relation to health matters as well as their ability to encourage participation in health surveys and research projects. Passion plus data once again!

There’s probably also a good argument for having a diverse Health Committee in addition to a passionate and numerate BHC. There’s usually someone in each breed whose day-job involves doing things with data as well as all those enthusiasts who bring breed-specific knowledge, an understanding of genetics and veterinary science, or healthcare skills. If that committee also includes teachers, trainers, fundraisers and marketing people, you’ve probably got most bases covered. However, that probably also means there needs to be a critical mass of Breed Clubs from which to draw this pool of talent.

Breed Clubs make a difference

It’s three years since Philippa Robinson published her KarltonIndex review of the work being done by Breed Clubs to safeguard and improve the health of their breeds. I thought it might be interesting to see if there was any link between the number of clubs in a breed and their score on the KarltonIndex.

The KI assesses breeds against four parameters:

  • Leadership (having a strong health team and plan)
  • Communication and engagement (of breeders and owners)
  • Participation (of breeders/owners in health improvement activities)
  • Impact (on breed health)

I’ve done the analysis for the Hound Group and I found that, on average, Hound breeds with fewer than 5 breed clubs scored 12 (out of 100) on the KI, while breeds with more than 5 clubs scored 26 on the KI. (For the number jockeys reading, this was a statistically significant difference).

Breeds with more clubs tended to have a better KI score. I haven’t had the time to do the analysis for every breed and it would be unwise to say there is a direct cause and effect relationship between the two variables.

I have, however, looked at the Top 10 KI scoring breeds and compared them with the 14 breeds that scored zero points in 2013. The top breeds have an average of 7 breed clubs per breed, whereas the zero-points clubs average 2 clubs per breed. You’d probably also expect there to be a relationship between the number of breed clubs and the number of dogs registered. The top-scoring breeds accounted for around 56,000 registrations in 2015 (about a quarter of the KC’s registrations). In comparison, the zero-scoring breeds only accounted for 5,400 registrations (approx. 2% of the total).

There are, of course, good examples of breeds with few clubs who are also doing a great job (as measured by the KI). However, you just need to look at what Philippa found in her top-performing breeds to draw some conclusions about why breeds with more clubs might be making more effort and progress on health matters:

  • There are likely to be more people on committees who are passionate about making a difference for their breed
  • It is easier to find people willing and able to join their Health Committee
  • There are more people to call on to help run health seminars, screening sessions and to promote health initiatives
  • There are more clubs who can fund-raise and make donations to research programmes
  • There are more events at which health matters can be communicated and owners can be engaged in learning how to breed healthier dogs
  • There are more Facebook Groups, Club websites and social media channels being used to reach and involve owners and potential owners in health improvement

Ultimately, the KI score that a breed achieves is not that important; what matters is whether there are enough people who feel passionate enough about their breed to get on and do something. Breed Clubs are the catalyst for most of the good work being done across numerous pedigree breeds.

Let’s celebrate the work of our Breed Clubs and our Breed Health Coordinators! Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

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