As dog owners, most of us will have been there. A trusted friend that has got a bit long in the tooth, the back end is a bit unsteady and the odd accident is becoming a more frequent occurrence. You know that it’s time for that final trip to the vet, but you keep putting it off. Maybe they are just having a bad day......, things will be better tomorrow......;
You know you should but you just can’t bear to bring yourself to do it. Head and heart; rarely ever in synch.
Well, I put it to you that that bastion of all things British and Doggy, the KC, has reached the stage where a one-way ticket to Switzerland would not go amiss. In fact it would be less of a mercy killing and more of a public service.
Over the past couple of years all of the wheels have very publically fallen off the wagon for the KC. The “Great” British Public, our great nation of dog “lovers”, who would rather see ten innocent men go to the gallows than one dog mistreated, have had to wake up to the fact that the so-called guardian of the gates, were actually the ones who were responsible for untold doggy suffering in the name of conformation and breed standards.
But came the cry – Bulldogs have always looked like that haven’t they? King Charles’ Spaniels have always suffered from Syringomyelia (brain too big for skull, for those of you who don’t know
As a piece of investigative journalism, the BBC investigation of the KC and dog breeding probably wasn’t going to win anybody a Pulitzer, in fact it got quite a few of its “facts” wrong; but it did serve as wake-up call and a sharp kick in the teeth to anyone who thought that everything was sweetness and light in the world of dog breeding.
KC sanctioned eugenics was rife, and all in the name of breed standards. Since its inception in 1870, the KC has moved heaven and earth to change the way that dogs looked, on the whim of a few people who considered that their “eye” was good. The early days of the KC were spent developing a set of “Breed Standards” – a blueprint if you like of how every dog breed should look and behave that in reality were a set of personal preferences that paid scant respect to how the breed looked at the time. So for example in the case of the English Bull Terrier, the muzzle and legs were too long, the chest not wide enough and the tail – well the tail shouldn’t exist at all. Such doggy “perfection” was sought through a judicious programme of breeding in order to exert genetic pressure on those traits that the people” in the know” wanted to alter. So, after 20 generations muzzles were flatter, chest more barrel shaped, legs shorter and tails docked. Nobody seemed to notice that the poor dog was now having severe difficulty in breathing as a result of a dramatic shortening of the nasal passages – what the hell, as long as they looked “good”. There is nobody alive today who can remember what a proper English Bull Terrier should look like; the KC breed standard became just that, the standard by which the entire breed was judged and people gradually forgot what the unadulterated dog looked like. The fact is that the KC not only sanctioned this, they were prime movers in this assault on dog genetics.
What people fail to realise is that such changes in nature happen over 1000’s of years, gently and generally for the common good. In order to achieve such change in the space of 60 years, phenomenal genetic pressure has to be exerted.
Let me put this in simple terms, if you are breeding for a specific genetic trait, say in the case of the Bull Terrier, a shorter muzzle; every puppy that did not have a shorter muzzle would be killed; you would ONLY keep the one that had trait that you sought to promote, which may only show itself once in a hundred litters – so if the average litter size is 6 that 599 pups that get the chop. Those pups “lucky “ enough to have a slightly shorter muzzle would then be bred together in order to further enhance the trait, and so on and so on, until you eventually get to a dog that is so far removed from the original that it is unrecognisable.
For the Victorian founders of the KC, looks were everything. Health and happiness were readily sacrificed for a dog that was easy on the eye. Half a century of intensive eugenics changed the face (literally in some cases) of the British dog population. And the standards have stuck.....those breed standards that were originally thought up in 1870 were still the same ones that were used in the show ring until a couple of years ago. Then along came the BBC and stuck its beak in firmly where it wasn’t wanted. The documentary revealed scandalous breeding practices and a KC executive board who were spineless and unrepentant. Not until the BBC pulled sponsorship and coverage of Crufts, did this specious organisation crawl off its belly and start to construct a defence of the indefensible.
However, the damage has been done. The public image of dog breeding has been delivered a mortal blow. For most of the public, the words responsible and breeding don’t appear in the same sentence. Dog breeders are PR speak for puppy farmers (a term that I have never really understood). We all keep multiple teams of bitches in thrall to constant whelp, and at any time have at least 20 litters on the go at once. This of course is complete rubbish, but every Daily Mail reader knows that it’s not.
The very organisation that was supposed to look after our own and the dog’s best interests has been caught with its pants down and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Their best line of defence; deny all knowledge, blame individual breeders and generally hide until it has all blown over.
The problem is we only have ourselves to blame – we let these morons get away with it. We still do.
For every pup that is registered with the KC, the KC recoups at least £27. £12 per pup from the breeder when they register the litter and £15 from the new owner, when they change the details of ownership. Not to mention the £30 odd quid for a 5 generation pedigree that some new owners are stupid enough to stump up for. Aside from the ridiculous accessories available from the KC, sticking with the bare essentials of the £27; there were roughly 34,000 new pups registered in the Winter Breed Records Supplement. Also bear in mind that is only the working dogs section (spaniels, labs and HPRs) and that the winter quarter is the slowest for puppy breeding, which is still a cool £920,000 over the course of a year heading to the KC (and that is a whacking underestimate). Bear in mind that the working dog section is one of the smallest, so add to this the revenues from Toy, Utility and whatever else you care to name and it’s pretty easy to see that the KC is FILTHY RICH.
What the hell does the KC do with all this money?
What do we get for all this money? It’s pretty had to tell. It’s certainly not good PR! It’s certainly not a political voice – where was the KC when the Animal Welfare Act 2006 was being introduced – all sitting in a gentleman’s club in Mayfair I’d wager. It’s not animal welfare – these are the buggers who have got us into this mess in the first place.
Well, we do get a dog (and pony) show – now sponsored by a furniture company. That says it all really. We get post menopausal women, who should know better, doing vaguely sexual dances with sheepdogs; we get fly ball; we get a “gamekeepers” show class that has never seen a bloody gamekeeper in its life and we get a blanket ban on showing any dog with a docked tail! Peter Purves –shame on you.
I also get an email once a month telling me who has won the regional shitzu-throwing championship, despite numerous communications telling them that I couldn’t bloody care less.
All in all, it’s not a lot for a million quid a year.
Oh I nearly forgot, how could I, the KC administer the only “working” aspect of their business, the Field Trial.
In general, Joe Public doesn’t want to know about dog breeding. Oh, they want a cute looking little puppy, preferably in the colour-way of their choice, with as many FTCh’s in its pedigree as possible – surely red is good, so the more red, the better the dog, right? The public doesn’t want to know about the messy bits (the sleepless nights, the constant worry in the first couple of weeks, that nagging thought in the back of your mind that the guy on the phone isn’t really after buying a pup, he’s just checking you out so he can rob you later, the pups that you lose despite doing everything you possibly can.......). They don’t want to know about the years of slog of a couple of dedicated breeders that have resulted in the Working Cockers that we have today.
Most of the guys I sell dogs to, have a vague idea that FTCh is good, but in terms of blood-line or line breeding, they are completely out of their depth. That in itself isn’t really a problem, I’m more than happy to walk anyone through a pedigree, pointing out the highlights and the reasons why a particularly pedigree appeals to me. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder and never more so than when you are evaluating a pedigree – what I might consider absolutely perfect for my kennel, the next man may think is pretty average. One man may want all FTCh’s, whilst another more self aware owner, may consider that such a dog may be too hot for his or hers abilities as a trainer.
There was a particularly interesting radio debate recently on the genetic effect of the internet, which I think is quite relevant to this argument. A somewhat eminent Professor has come up with a theory that the internet is directly responsible for changing the way that we process data. In effect, the internet is exerting extreme genetic pressure – somewhat in the same way as the KC exerted in the early 20th century amongst pedigree dogs. In essence, this is changing us from an organism whose higher functions are centred on critical evaluation of data, to one of data collection. Because there is so much information available to us @ the push of a computer key, we are sacrificing the ability to critically analyse the data in return for the ability to gather larger amounts of it.
What the hell has this got to do with the KC and dogs I hear you ask? Bear with me. Because we are losing our critical abilities, we now know a little about a lot, rather than a lot about a little. So when it comes to dogs, people have lost the ability to look critically @ a dog and tell a good one from a bad one. How many times do I see people who want to buy a puppy based solely on how cute it looks and in particular what colour it is! Colour doesn’t matter a damn (unless it is fox red and you are a shooter!), what matters is conformation and breeding, temperament and health. But these are secondary issues for the vast majority of puppy buyers. People focus on the things that are easy to understand, rather than the important stuff that can be a bit more complicated.
I believe however, that this fundamental lack of doggy knowledge is important, as we now place increasingly heavy reliance on those four letters FTCh, as a guarantee of quality. Because people generally don’t know what they are looking at, they rely on a proxy to make that assessment of quality for them – the Field Trial Judge. And, as we all know, Field Trials are organised, managed and policed (!!) by the KC.
That is why it is particularly troubling that the one word on everyone’s lips at the moment when you mention the words Field Trial is corruption.
David Tomlinson’s recent article in the Shooting Times has stirred up a veritable hornets’ nest. There is not a working dog forum at the moment that is not wrapping itself up in knots about this @ the moment. Interestingly enough, some pretty heavy hitters are getting involved as well in what seems to be groundswell of animosity towards the KC.
You would have to be pretty blind not to see that FTs and Working Tests are rotten at the core. They are based on the personal subjective opinion of a judge, who is open to favouritism, cronyism and a couple of other isms that I can’t think of @ half past one in the morning. We all know it goes on; you only get made up if you have something to offer in return. “I’ll make your dog up today, if you make mine up tomorrow”
It’s not surprising really, the letters FTCh can boost a stud fee by a couple of hundred quid – not bad if 5 people a week are bashing down your door for a stud. Win the Cocker or the Spaniel Championship and you really are talking big money.
However, all that doesn’t mitigate cheating. And that it is what it is – cheating. It’s not giving a mate a bit of a helping hand; it’s not quid pro quo, it is out and out blatant cheating. Ungentlemanly conduct, perpetrated by people who would have you believe that they are gentlemen. How can we rely on FTCh as a sign of quality and a guide for breeding, if the very process by which we arrive at FTCh is flawed at best and downright corrupt at worst? Yet if the common knowledge of what constitutes a good dog is been eroded, what else have we got to rely upon?
Yet again, the KC has been ominously silent on this matter. Is this because they don’t care? Or are they so complicit in this that they fear another bout of investigative journalism? One thing is for sure, if it is left to the KC, nothing will be done and we will be left to make breed choices based upon a false meritocracy.
Let me offer you an alternative.
It is clear that the KC cares not one jot for the working dog community. It has been silent at a time when we needed their voice and it has unrepentantly pursued self-interest at the expense of sort of practical morality.
As a community we a poorly represented by this body. The KC is morally bankrupt and in the current vernacular, in every sense, sub-prime.
It is also clear that we need some form of pedigree registration, both in terms of maintaining our high conformation standards and policing current breeding practice. Why does this have to be done through the KC? Can we not learn from our colleagues in the hunting field, who have taken it upon themselves to administer and police breed registration amongst hound packs?
The time is ripe for the working dog community to shove two fingers up at the KC and break bonds with the specious organisation. We need to set up a working breeds register independent of the KC that recognises our commitment to welfare and breeding standards, which have been so plainly lacking whilst under the stewardship of that organisation. We also need to wrestle control of Field Trials away from the KC and implement step change that will cauterise this current corruption.
A huge task, but if we don’t do it, Judas will sell us down the line again for something more than 30 pieces of silver.
So are you willing to take the old dog to the vet for one last time?............