We ran out of space in our shortly to hit the mat April issue so we've included the bits we couldn't squeeze in here from our exciting article on the Karlton Index - a new tool to help measure how breed health is progressing. The April issue is available online now and in the shops on Thursday 10th MArch.
Why is this called the Karlton Index™?
Karlton was the Kennel Club name of my purebred German Wirehaired Pointer, Alfie. He was the dog of our dreams and we researched the purchase of that puppy very carefully, going through all the KC-recommended channels. Sadly, he was a pretty sick dog and we finally lost him to familial epilepsy when he was just four. That was in 2006 and ever since then I have campaigned on behalf of pedigree dogs to improve their health and welfare. So I have named it in his memory.
Why have you launched this?
I am launching it in March 2011 because it will be two-and-a-half years or so since the broadcast of Pedigree Dogs Exposed. It is over two years since the Kennel Club issued new health directives to breed clubs, and it is over a year since the publication of the findings of the Bateson Inquiry. I feel it is about time we took stock as to where exactly this is all taking the health of our dogs. I cannot find anywhere a really good way of measuring the progress – or lack of it – in the realm of breed health, so I have made an attempt to do it myself.
Don’t you think that this is just going to be another divisive scheme with which to beat pedigree dog breeders over the head?
No, I don’t. For a start, breeds are not competing against each other. They are simply being measured against a blueprint of good practice. Practice that, if followed, should lead to improved health and welfare in their breed. The index is about measuring what is done well as much as looking at gaps in current practice. It will help us to identify breeds that are making progress, and it will enable us to celebrate the good things that breed communities are doing. It will also facilitate the sharing of good ideas and it will help breed clubs focus on the right priorities. But I won’t shy away from the fact that the index will also highlight poor practice and will flag this up where necessary.
Are you just homing in on pedigree breeders? What about the breeders of ‘Doodles’ and puppy farmers?
The index will include breed communities for types such as the Labradoodle and the different types of Bulldog. It will also give credit to breed communities that are proactively identifying the puppy farmers in their midst and taking steps to challenge them. By giving recognition for the very best and ethical breeding practice, it will positively reinforce the message that puppy buyers should only go to reputable, honest breeders. So, yes, I hope the index will make a contribution to the elimination of puppy farming.
What gives you the right to say how breed health should be measured?
The index is not something I have pulled out of thin air. I am very fortunate to have met a broad range of canine experts while campaigning, from veterinary specialists, geneticists, breeders and, of course, high-profile journalists. It is the knowledge I have gained from them that is the substance of the index. Furthermore, the index is not set in stone and I hope that as more people engage with it, we can fine-tune the detail so that we end up with a definitive measure of progress. Suggestions on how it can be improved are always welcome, but not from anyone anonymous!
Isn’t this treading on the toes of the Dog Advisory Council?
I support the work of Professor Sheila Crispin and the council. They will be setting the overall bigger picture in which this index could sit. But rather than giving them another piece of work to think about, I decided to just get on and initiate it, using my own time and my own resources.
What makes you qualified to measure breeds using the index?
I am basing the index on similar external quality standards and applying the same tried-and-tested methodology. I think my 20 years’ professional experience of assessing commercial clients against business standards such as the EFQM and Investors in People puts me in an ideal place to do this.
Is it going to cost breed clubs, already strapped for cash, money to do this?
No. I will assess each breed ongoing throughout each year, perhaps with the help of some additional volunteers. I will gather evidence from a wide range of reliable sources and then score them. The results will be published as an index, hopefully every March. The scheme is designed so as not to distract breed communities from the very important task of improving the health of their breed. My team will do all the work. The aim is to give them an annual snapshot of how well they are doing and a reason for us to show our appreciation of that progress.
Isn’t some of the evidence you are looking for very subjective?
My experience with standards such as Investors in People is that it is very possible to place a measure on activity or behaviour that may seem subjective but can nevertheless be judged fairly. I don’t think the KC will need convincing of this, after all they have submitted their organisation every three years to an Investors in People assessment, so it is a methodology they are clearly happy to accept.
Is there an appeal process if it is felt that you have assessed a breed unfairly?
I actively invite a dialogue with any breed enthusiast, except anonymous ones, as long as their input/feedback is based on fact.