Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson – my July 2017 “Best of Health” article

Many Breed Health Coordinators have been waiting expectantly for Philippa Robinson to publish the results of her KarltonIndex (KI) review for 2017.

Like me, they are no doubt disappointed to have read the following announcement on the KI Facebook page recently: “I have to extend sincere apologies to everyone waiting for an update on the Karlton Index. A combination of masses more health activity and breed health information means that it takes far longer to assess each breed than ever it did back in 2013. For this, the breed communities should be very much applauded. This, together with an unexpected personal family health scare has resulted in yet another delay. However, with regard to the Karlton Index assessment I have to conclude and accept that the project just does not have the resources currently to fulfil this. Consequently, I am going to reconfigure the whole process and will report back first to the breed communities who have recently been cooperative and interactive with the work, and then wider groups.”


I have written about the KI before but, for those not familiar with it, here’s a quick bit of background. Philippa Robinson picked up her pedigree puppy, Alfie, in November 2002, having done years of research into what breed to have and which breeder to buy from. Her experience of finally getting the dog of her dreams only to have it shattered by ill-health, familial disease and heartbreak, is the motivation behind all of her campaigning.

Set up in Alfie’s memory, The Karlton Index was launched in March 2011 with the hope of bringing something constructive and helpful to the heated debates around dog welfare. Philippa brought tried and tested tools from the world of business, a world in which she had excelled for three decades, and applied them to activities related to dog health. The framework is designed to explore how people can engage with, collaborate on, and discuss dog health more objectively. The first I knew of it was when someone emailed me to say there was an article in Dogs Monthly announcing the Dachshund breed was “Top Dog” in a review of breeds. With my background in business improvement, the framework appealed and made complete sense to me as a potential way to accelerate the work being done to improve pedigree dogs’ health.
The Karlton Index measured all UK breeds for the first time in 2011, then again in 2013. I was delighted to find our breed once again rated as Top Dog against some very worthy peers including the Irish Wolfhounds, Flatcoated Retrievers, Otterhounds, Leonbergers and English Springers.
In collaborating with Breed Clubs, Philippa quickly learned that most breeds are blessed with breeders of passion and commitment, individuals who make it their life’s work to develop and nurture the best for their dogs. Working alongside breed ambassadors like that and ensuring that those individuals receive the credit, the support and the encouragement they deserve has now become a central pillar to The Karlton Index. Giving due recognition for the hard work achieved in many breeds culminated in the inaugural Breed Health Awards 2013, with the generous support of the Kennel Club Charitable Trust.
Philippa would, I’m sure, be the first to admit that her work completely changed her perceptions of where the root causes of breed health problems lie. She remains an active campaigner for canine welfare but her interests and influence go far beyond the role of Breed Clubs and the KC.
Progress and successes

Having spoken with her recently, I know how disappointed she is that she has not been able to complete her 2017 analysis in the timescale she had hoped. Being a “glass-half-full” person, my take on it is not disappointment but delight. That fact that, in just 6 years, there is so much more information that Philippa has had to review is a measure of the progress that has been made. This is particularly true when you realise that Philippa was only reviewing a sample of 20 breeds this year, not the full list of KC recognised breeds. There must be a remarkable amount of activity being implemented by these breeds and, I’d hazard a guess, the same is true in many of the breeds not in this small sample. Of course, the real test is whether or not there is any progress being made in the health of the dogs.
The KI assesses progress in four areas: Leadership, Communication, Participation and Impact. Arguably, only “Impact” matters. In reality, without the enablers (Leadership and Communication), there would be no Participation and then no Impact.
I make no secret of the fact I am an enthusiast of the KI approach. I would be, irrespective of what score my breed had achieved. I have used similar approaches in my work to help numerous organisations improve their performance. I am, therefore, keen to see what options Philippa comes up with to reconfigure the KI process. I won’t attempt to pre-empt the outcomes of this but I will comment on a couple of things I think would be really helpful to see for the future.
Firstly, the KI has amassed a wealth of information on good practices in breed health improvement. This is well-aligned with the aims of the International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD). The IPFD website is becoming the go-to place for international examples of good practice. Indeed, many of the plans emerging from this year’s International Dog Health Workshop, held in Paris, referred to the use of as the obvious repository for sharing knowledge. If there was some way for UK good practices identified by the KI to be shared using this same channel, it could be a win-win as well as reducing duplication of effort.
Secondly, in 2013 we saw the inaugural Breed Health Awards and, last year, the first Breed Health Coordinator of the Year Award. Both of these are excellent ways to showcase the fantastic work being done to improve breed health. Pedigree dogs and their health continue to be in the public spotlight and there are many vocal critics who seem not to be aware of the sheer amount of good work being done (by volunteers). What better way to shape the story than to have a range of awards from an evidence-based model to celebrate progress and achievements? We need to recognise the many unsung heroes who work tirelessly to protect the futures of their breeds.
I’ll end this month by thanking Philippa for her vision in establishing the KI and also congratulate those breed clubs who have been collaborating with her in recent months. It is so encouraging to hear about the great work being done within many breeds; long may it continue.

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