Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Should have gone to Specsavers?

When I got booked to do Radio 5 Live on yesterday's Apgaw report blog I made some fairly stringent conditions.
It was an evening show and there was no way I was going into their studios even if they sent a car. Nothing, and I mean nothing, gets in the way of me putting my little boy to bed. (I kid you not, I have now not turned up at two receptions - one at 10 Downing Street and one at Tory HQ, just because I couldn't stand the wobbly lip when I told my little one I'd not be the one reading him his bedtime story!)
Radio 5 didn't fancy doing the interview over the phone, too risky. So they booked the radio car to come to our house.
I'd done this only once before, for the Radio 4 Today show on the heavyweight political issue of "Is it sometimes cruel for dogs to wear clothes?" They parked in the garden, put up their satellite dish and I sat in their dinky little studio and sounded to the world like I was sitting just across the desk from John Humphry and I was still able to do the school run like a normal mum shortly afterwards!
Last night at 10.25pm the radio car turned up and it was obviously very dark. The driver/engineer couldn't see any sky to point his dish at as we do have a lot of trees.
I hadn't expected he would need to relocate as the other guy had no problem finding the sky last time.
I was already pretty exhausted, I get up at 6.20am most mornings and usually have a very hectic day being a working mum - but I had also managed to squeeze in re-reading the 56 page Apgaw document in between supervising homework, making teas and trying to get Kieran off to sleep. (Can I hear a violin playing?)
I knew it was a long radio show, they warned I might be on for 45 minutes and it was a cold night. So I staggered out to the van with a mug brimming full of steaming hot peppermint tea, my lap top, a piece of paper, a pencil and my phone. Sometimes there are massive pauses and I had a mad idea of doing a bit of work while they went to the news - I know, what a multi-tasker!
Now had I just needed to sit in the van and talk I would have been fine. But no, I discovered we now had to go on a hunt for some clear sky!
Our little country lane is of course unadopted, some would say it is actually neglected and needs to be taken into care!
So the early part of the drive certainly woke me up as I experienced a very minty shower of hot water trying to avoid giving my laptop and phone a good dipping!
After the bumpy lane it was only a short drive till the engineer found the perfect spot. He decided to park up in his plain white van - which has no BBC logos - in a very exposed spot.
He has chosen to park on the grass in the tiny Fairoaks Airport next door to our lane, which is also sometimes home to the police helicopter.
It suddenly occurred to me we could easily be mistaken for a caravanette, stopping for the night. The dish on the top could be domestic - we're just two campers hooked on TV and can't stand to miss Lie to Me on Sky1 so have pulled over to watch with a steaming-hot half cup of tea.
I have to say I felt a little uneasy. At any moment someone was going to knock on the window and move us on fearing we were the start of a new hi-tec traveller's encampment or indeed one of the eccentric band of plane spotters we sometimes disturb in our hedgerow.
The interview starts and there is always another guest who you are supposed to have an argument with - that's how the media works.
I had been wondering who it would be, would it be my favourite KC sparring partner Caroline Kisko?
No! It was KC member and Our Dogs proprietor Dave Cavill - who regular blog readers will know appeared on this very blog in the Pedigree Dogs Exposed outtakes episode. Click here to relive that one!
Dave and I go back to almost the Jurassic period, so this was in itself an odd death match. (When I must have been almost a child, Dave taught me to jive at the Pedigree Chum Champion stakes at the Metropole Hotel, Birmingham.)
The interview started and I got first go...
Rachel Burden asked, "Is there still a problem of over-breeding in this country?"

There's definitely a problem on several levels. There's an over production problem with 100,000 dogs in rescue kennels each year and 10,000 unwanted dogs put to sleep each year. And at the other end of the scale dogs are being bred into peculiar shapes that lead them to suffer.
There are a lot of dog issues and when the MPs sat down to look at them they will have found that Pedigree Dogs Exposed was only the tip of the iceberg.
It's a complete mess the way we breed dogs in this country and I think had we not been so close to a general election we'd have had legislation suggested at this point.
As it is the KC has pretty much been put on probation for a year to try and reform itself after a 100 years of no one really looking over its shoulders.
But really the report is saying let's come back in a year when we've got a new Government that may have time to table some legislation that will protect the animals and the people who are buying them.


Rachel interjects that I've made all sorts of arguments and assumptions and she gives Dave Cavill a chance to respond.

I'm pleased Beverley's given me such a wonderful opening. It's all about assumptions. There are so many assumptions in this report, so many assumptions made by that programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed. There is very little evidence, there are very few figures. The report for instance talks about eight million dogs in this country and that's wildly out. Nobody knows the numbers, nobody knows the figures. This report looks down the wrong end of the telescope. It focuses on a small number of serious problems, don't misunderstand me, as the principle of the Animal Care College I've been trying to help people breed better quality dogs as Beverley well knows, for many many years. But what I'd like try to do if we get the opportunity - is to put things into perspective.
I'm sitting here in the studio and I've got some papers in front of me, if I take off my glasses I can't see. That's a genetic problem, it's a human genetic problem. There are 3,000 human genetic problems and we're mongrels.


Rachel turns to her other studio guest, a stand-up comedian called Andrew O'Neil who introduced himself as a vegan from an animal rights background.

"The RSPCA says there are 145 different inherited diseases in dogs. If we are breeding dogs so specifically surely we should be able to eliminate them."

Next we go to Mark on the phone lines from Stoke-On-Trent.

"Pedigree perfect dogs are bred for display shows and it's all about turning a loving, sentient being into an obedient looks-good object so that we have power to make it look like the way we want it to do, to make it do what we want. It's all about power. And it doesn't matter that breeding these types of dogs creates horrific deformities and diseases. It doesn't matter that 1,000s of animals are languishing in the cold, desperate for a home. Many are going to be put to sleep. It's all about getting the trophy at the end of the day."

Back to David. Rachel asks, "Is it all about the way dogs look? What drives pedigree dog breeding?"

No, no - it certainly is! Man over the centuries has done it over pigeons, they've done it with cows to produce more milk. One of the big problems here is the misunderstanding about the health and welfare of a particular breed and what constitutes a genetic disease and this report does this, although it does not show that distinction as it clearly should do. For instance there are many breeds which have normal confirmation which do have genetic problems and there are some other breeds which actually have very few genetic problems. Until you start to separate that off and recognise that the vast majority of people who own dogs in this country love them and look after them and care for them. There are problems, don't misunderstand me, but they are being solved and one of the things I liked about the report is that it did recognise that the KC was working over a very long period of time with the Animal Health Trust and vets to try and improve it.

Rachel asked Mark who called in if he had a dog.

"Yes I'm a dog lover and a vegan as well. I've had two dogs, sadly I had a rescue Beagle who passed away six months ago - she had pancreatitis. She had terrible problems with her snout, I don't know if that's related to the deformities that you find in many pedigrees. I just think its outrageous especially when you think of all the animals that need rehoming that we are continuing to be bred, especially breeds that are going to have inherent diseases and painful deformities."

Dave asks, how old was your Beagle when it died?

"She was 11 or 12"

11 or 12 is a natural age for a dog and it died of pancreatic problems which almost certainly was the result of old age. Now Beagles don't normally have a problem with their heads or their mouths or their snouts. So in fact, you're talking about a breed that is normally extremely healthy. That's the problem, when people identify all pedigree dogs as being for some reason deformed, this is just not true.

Mark says " I don't think anyone's making that point though!"

Rachel said, back to Beverley now, let's go into more detail of the report. And I know you think it doesn't go far enough. It calls for a limit on the number of times a dog can sire pups. Random checks of breeders. All pedigree dogs should be microchipped. Champion show dogs should undergo health screening before they can claim their title. There should be guidelines to inform owners what to look for in a healthy dog. Pretty comprehensive on the face of it?

I think it's pretty shameful really that a group of MPs have to lecture the KC in what sounds to me like common sense. Yes, at the moment there is no limit on the number of times a stud dog can be used. The top winning dog can be used on every single female in the breed making every dog and bitch in the breed a half-brother and half-sister. At the moment it's totally okay according to the KC to mate a grandfather to a granddaughter. The KC banned very publicly the brother and sister and mother and son matings just around last Crufts, but they also admitted - when talking to a domestic dog show audience - that this was just a PR stunt basically. The majority of people showing are doing line breeding such as a grandfather to granddaughter. Everyone knows that's obviously wrong.

Rachel again...When we talk about show dogs we do think about extremes when actually there is a whole community of dogs out there that happen to be a pedigree but are really well loved. Rachel for example, sitting next to me here, has pedigree dogs in her family - Golden Retrievers. They are known for their beautiful gentle nature. We know what we're getting, it would be terrible to lose these breeds.

Oh definitely, I'm talking from a perspective of someone who absolutely loves pedigree dogs and wants to preserve them and wants to keep them healthy. We're the voice of the pet owner here, the majority of people own these dogs as pets yet the KC is really listening to the tiny number of people who show dogs and are protecting what is a pastime that really does need improvement. In other countries in the world you can still show dogs but there are limits, there are things put in place to protect the health of the dogs. Twenty years ago our KC just put their heads in the sand and didn't look at what other KCs were changing elsewhere. You can't close gene pools without putting things in place to preserve the health of these breeds. You can't stand back and watch the shape of dogs become distorted in the pursuit of rosettes and not take some action.
The poor old Pug, which we all think is adorable, has got so many problems. Yet they are listed in the KC Accredited Breeder scheme as not needing any health tests. Yet these dogs have tremendous problems. They have this double twist in their tail, which leads to unfortunately a twisty spine as well. Hemivertebrae.


Rachel asks, David - how much does the dog show industry fuel these problems?

I think Beverley's got it exactly right when she talks about the pet owner. What this report seems to have missed is the mass breeding of pups by people who are not in the show world. People who breed pedigree dogs and then sell them to the pet owner without any let or hindrance from the Kennel Club or anyone else. The whole of the spectrum. We're talking about more legislation but it's already in place...


"It's not Dave"
"It is"
"It isn't there..."
"It's just not implemented..."

In Sweden, and I know you know about Scandinavia, Dave. In Sweden there is consumer legislation which makes the breeder responsible for health problems for the first three year of a dog's life. This has led to breeders completely cleaning up their act. There are no pups for sale in pet shops in Sweden. Breeders insure their pups for health problems and it means that everyone is really conscientious about ensuring their pups are healthy.


"It's a different ball game in Sweden..."

But, says Rachel, Dave do you admit that there is something inherently distorting about inbreeding?
Rachel there are problems to be solved, no doubt. The more extreme breeds bring problems of their own and I absolutely understand that. Beverley and I are on the same side we just look at things from a slightly different point of view. We want to improve these things.
My view is that the vast majority of pedigree dogs are fine and if there are problems they are well managed. Like me taking off my glasses. I wear spectacles so I can see - it's a minor genetic problem, you manage it. There are some serious problems and they are being addressed.

And at that point the satellite link from our plain clothes BBC van died! If you want to hear the rest of the interview and what Dave was able to say unchallenged do have a listen on Iplayer! Would have been a better ending to the story if we'd been moved on by the police... oh well!

I went home to bed thinking how much easier that would all have been over the telephone!
And no, I didn't faint at Dave's trivialising of hereditary health problems, after all blind dogs can all go to Specsavers can't they! Obvious really.

2 comments:

Julie Hill said...

Good for you for getting your priorities in order - family definitely comes first!
Sounds like you did an excellent job in the radio show too.

alfmcmalf said...

So where oh where was Caroline Kisko?

David is a real "bless" of a man. Very sweet and delightfully old fashioned in his charm. But dear oh dear just take a look at that you tube footage of him.

He has dismissed the pain and suffering of pedigree dogs pretty much on a daily basis and at one time that hurt. Four fecking years we nursed our line bred "show" specimen which turned out to be a genetic crock of a dog. Four years!And many a pet owner is compelled to deal with genetic disease management in their dogs for a lot longer than that.

But his persistent dismissal no longer bothers me. For two reasons. No make that three. First he is a canine lightweight (his publication is respected by few and his work is often riddled with inaccuracies). Second he is clearly so deep in denial he will never be able to grasp the seriousness of the plight of our pedigree dogs. Third the machine for reform of the KC and the show world is now gaining such momentum that his days of clutching with desperation for the last few rosettes of the heady deluded past of dog showing are truly numbered.

But I ask again where was Kisko? Why she so silent?

I second the comment above. Receptions at number 10 can wait for when Keiran feels he has altogether better things to do with his evenings.