Page last updated at 18:45 GMT, Thursday, 14 January 2010

'Long way to go' after dog inquiry

A report on pedigree dogs calls for breeders to make sweeping changes to improve the animals' health. The inquiry follows concerns highlighted in a BBC documentary.

Jemima Harrison, the film's producer/director, welcomes the recommendations but believes they may not be implemented fully.


The Kennel Club's 137-year-old self-appointed role as the governing body of dogs has come to an abrupt end.

The eagerly-awaited Bateson Inquiry recommends that responsibility for the health and welfare of pedigree dogs is devolved to an independent body. The Kennel Club has been sent to the doghouse.

The inquiry is the third to publish since our Pedigree Dogs Exposed, the film we made for the BBC in 2008 that lifted the lid on the extent of health and welfare problems in pedigree dogs - what we dubbed "the greatest animal welfare scandal of our time."

In graphic detail, we showed what more than a century of inbreeding and selection for the show-ring had done to some breeds and it was not a pretty sight.

Jemima Harrison with her dog Jake
Jemima Harrison's film lifted the lid on the world of pedigree dog breeding

Well, other than to those judges who seemed to think that a German shepherd is supposed to look like a frog.

The film provoked uproar from the public - and denial from the Kennel Club, although they have since introduced changes, including the revision of many breed standards, a ban on mother/son and brother/sister matings and a specific decree that no healthy puppy can be put to sleep on purely cosmetic grounds (a practice that we highlighted was still going on).

Far enough?

The pressure came not just from our film, but the withdrawal of support from key players.

The RSPCA, Dogs Trust, the PDSA and sponsors Pedigree pulled out of the Kennel Club's flagship show, Crufts.

The BBC also subsequently decided that Crufts should no longer be broadcast.

Professor Sir Patrick Bateson, author of the report, supported the corporation's decision, saying: "I think the Beeb was right to pull out."

Sir Patrick also revealed today that in the late 1980s he had been part of a working party which had recommended that new rules should be introduced for dog shows which would "disqualify animals with physical defects specifically encouraged by fashion and which compromise the health and welfare of the animals involved."

Dogs at Crufts
The BBC televised Crufts for many years before pulling out in 2009

"I was shocked then and I remain shocked that so little has changed," he says.

Clearly, Sir Patrick does not need persuading of the seriousness of the problems. But has his report gone far enough?

Sir Patrick clearly has high hopes for the new dog advisory council but without statutory powers to back its recommendations, I think there is a very real danger that the Kennel Club will dismiss suggestions as being "unworkable".

Breed purity

Publicly the Kennel Club says it broadly welcomes the report, but there were signs that they are already finding reasons to not embrace some key recommendations, including mandatory identification via tattoo or microchip for all puppies and advice that breeders do not mate dogs more closely-related than first cousins.

The Kennel Club's health and welfare Manager Bill Lambert told me at the report's launch that he thought mandatory identification was unworkable - and that limits on inbreeding should be "on a breed-by-breed basis".

Well no, Sir Patrick was very clear about this. He thinks grandfather/granddaughter matings - currently allowed by the Kennel Club - are "disastrous" genetically.

The Kennel Club's official response to the Bateson Inquiry refers mainly to puppy farmers.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are also said to suffer health problems

Of course, puppy farms are a huge problem - and the report also includes very welcome recommendations aimed at tackling them.

But there is still not enough acknowledgement of the damage done to dogs by the Kennel Club system.

Not by puppy farmers, but by those who have grown up in a world which treasures breed purity above common sense, and which believes a dog's worth can be measured by the show-ring.

For those campaigning for real, tangible improvements in dog health there is I'm afraid still a very long way to go.

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14 Jan 10 |  UK

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