The British Connection

Fallout From a Canine Alliance, Veterinary Response and a Pug Demonstration


Last month, I told you how the Crufts Best of Breed winners in the 15 breeds deemed as “high profile” were inspected after their wins by a veterinarian. Six of them, the Pekingese, Bulldog, Clumber Spaniel, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff and Basset Hound, failed their checks, so were not allowed to keep their Best of Breed card (even though the expert judge had chosen them for that award), nor could they compete in the group.

They were allowed to keep their challenge certificates, however.

All hell was thereby let loose, and the following Thursday evening 320 people, angry at what had happened, gathered in the Midlands to discuss what could be done. Those present, including many high-profile personalities, among them 61 members of The Kennel Club, agreed to the formation of a “Canine Alliance” to represent the views of breeders, exhibitors and judges. A steering committee was appointed, and a resolution adopted to invite The Kennel Club to suspend the veterinary checks and not to reintroduce them until “they are transparent, there is clarity and fairness and they are nondiscriminatory.”

Since then, one can safely say there hasn’t been a dull moment in the British dog world. Everyone involved has had their say, often at considerable length.

There’s not enough space here even to touch on it all, but here are a few of the major points.

It soon emerged that the main reason for the six failures had to do with eyes. I suppose we ought to be pleased that the vets did not find, for example, any breathing or conformation difficulties sufficiently bad to stop any dog from going into the group.

The eye issues provoked various questions. Any dog can have a minor eye injury at some stage in its life, especially if allowed to enjoy the rough and tumble of a normal canine existence. If this leaves even the tiniest mark, should that effectively ban it from ever winning Best of Breed again?

Some standards, including those of the Basset and Clumber, allow for a specific eye shape, or an unexaggerated degree of haw showing. But if that eye shape is likely to be seized on by a vet as reason to fail the test, what’s the point in breeding to a standard?

The KC has not issued specific details of why any of the dogs failed, deeming this to be confidential, but one of the two vets who did the inspections, Alison Skipper, who has had connections to the show world, wrote a dignified article in general terms, expressing her point of view, which is summed up in her final sentence: “If we choose to spend our leisure time, or in some cases our careers, in the world of dog showing, we should remember that we wouldn’t be able to do it without the dogs, and the least we can do in return is to choose healthy body shapes for them to live their lives within.”

Earlier she wrote: “…it’s all too easy to overlook chronic low-level discomfort, and I think it’s undeniable that some breeds are associated with issues of this kind.” In particular she instanced dogs with “exposed, irritated inner eyelids.”

Does this mean that dogs with, say, lozenge-shaped eyes or a bit of haw are by definition suffering “low-level discomfort”? It would be interesting to know what the breeders and owners who live with these dogs week in, week out, think.

The KC chairman Professor Steve Dean, himself a veterinarian, wrote a long article in defense of the veterinary checks. He made no concessions to those who felt they were unfair, other than saying that in future pen torches would not be used to make a detailed examination of the dogs’ eyes. This had happened to two of the breeds at Crufts, even though it was stated in advance that no diagnostic aids would be employed.

The vets, Alison Skipper and Will Jeffels, later wrote a letter in their professional journal praising the KC’s courage in taking this step “against great opposition from many very influential figures…”

Meanwhile, the new Alliance had not been idle, asking for a meeting with the KC. To its credit the KC agreed, and Mike Gadsby, Robert Harlow and Lisa Croft-Eliott from the Alliance visited the KC headquarters in London, where they met with senior KC staff members Caroline Kisko and Kathryn Symns. The subsequent press release was headed “A positive meeting,” and I suppose the fact that it took place at all, and that views were taken seriously, is indeed a step in the right direction, whatever your viewpoint.

However, the outcome can hardly be thought of as all that positive from the Alliance viewpoint as the KC did not agree to its principal wish, the suspension of the checks. Nevertheless, the Alliance was asked to come up with specific proposals to put before the KC.

Mike Gadsby, one of the UK’s most successful exhibitors, and among the best known of those involved in the foundation of the Alliance, put forward his views in depth. The KC replied to most of his points; for those of you interested in the details, they can be found online. Suffice to say it’s the targeting of certain breeds which is the main sticking point. Some have pointed out that dogs with eyes with at least as much haw as the Clumber could be found among winners at Crufts in breeds which are not on the “high profile” list.

So, what is the answer? Some have suggested a basic vet test for all dogs of any breed whose owners wish to show them. Others point to what happens in Sweden, where judges are told to look for specific points of concern in a much larger number of breeds, but the whole thing is done in a far less confrontational way.

And what of the judges? Those involved in judging the breeds which failed the Crufts tests were among our most experienced all-rounders and breed specialists, including two of our very top judges. What next? Is there the slightest point in having judges, if their opinions can be overruled so easily?

Meanwhile, the show scene rumbles on. The first big show after Crufts, and the next one with veterinary checks in place, was the United Kingdom Toy Dog Society. Three breeds in the Toy Group are on the list. As it happens, the official show vet at the UK Toy show is none other than Will Jeffels, the man who had done the checks on Toy day at Crufts three weeks earlier, and had failed the Pekingese.

As you can imagine, there was considerable anticipation, not to mention apprehension, about what would happen. The Pekingese BOB award was given by the judge to a well-known Group-winning champion, bred and handled by the famous Bert Easdon, who incidentally judged the breed at Crufts. His dog went in for the check and was passed, as was the Chinese Crested, who came from the Czech Republic. The vet also passed another Peke, one who had won her third CC at a recent breed club show but needed to pass the check before she could claim her champion title.

That just left the Pugs. There were two judges, one for dogs and one for bitches. After they had awarded the CCs they came together to assess each other’s winner before, hopefully, deciding on a joint choice as BOB. But where were the dogs? Neither CC winner (a champion male and a young bitch taking a first CC) appeared. Their owners had agreed to refuse to challenge for the final award, and so neither was declared BOB! Sustained applause showed that many ringsiders supported their stance.

Strangely enough, the vet who would have had to look over the BOB, if there had been one, had passed the Pug he examined at Crufts. However, reports of the process by which he had come to this decision had angered many Pug people, and they decided not to let this happen again.

So, will this be the start of a general trend? Will even people from non-high profile breeds take a similar stand? Or will it fizzle out? Time will tell!

Let’s leave this topic with one more piece of news. A popular event on the spring canine calendar is the Contest of Champions, to which 64 top dogs of all breeds from the previous year are invited to compete in a knock-out format, under overseas judges whose names are not announced until the night. Proceeds of the evening, which is combined with a dinner-dance, go to canine charities.

This year’s judges were one each from Finland and Japan, and two from the Netherlands. And who emerged as the overall winner, beating some of the top dogs of the time? None other than the Bulldog Ch. Mellowmood One In A Million, the same bitch who had been the judge’s choice for BOB at Crufts but who had been rejected by the veterinarian!

All this doesn’t leave much room for the rest of the news, but we must mention the final results of the Toy Dog show, celebrating its 40th anniversary with an entry of 1,953 dogs, 117 down from 2011. BIS judge was Alan Bendelow of the Kimbering Chihuahuas and Pomeranians, connected with the society for almost all those years. His choice was Sarah and mother Rosemarie Jackson’s Maltese Ch. Benatone Gold Boots, top of his breed for the past two years. He had won no fewer than nine Group 2nd awards but never the top spot, and Sarah was just beginning to despair that he would ever do so — so what a show at which to “break his duck.” Remarkably, he is the third generation with which this talented owner-handler has topped the Toy show, with his record-winning sire Ch. Benatone Gold Ring winning in 2009 and with the latter’s imported sire UK Am. Can. Ch. Hi-Lite Risque Gold Fever in 2004.

Runner-up BIS this time was the Italian Greyhound Ch. Dalanset Sarastro, his highest win so far.

As usual, the same day saw the show for the Scottish native breeds, with 739 dogs (up 37) in the 12 breeds. The BIS winner under Sighthound expert Dagmar Kenis Pordham has a remarkable story. Trevor and Birgit Hayward of the famous Foxearth Smooth Collies had sold a puppy to a pet home, one the Haywards had originally intended to keep. A few years later the new owners met with problems and were no longer able to keep the bitch, so Trevor and Birgit took her back. They got her in show condition and after just five shows at the age of 7, Foxearth French Eclipse is a champion, with BIS at a specialty and now BIS at the Scottish Breeds!

This makes 64 champions owned or bred by the kennel, mainly Smooths plus a couple of Roughs and several Dachshunds, an extraordinary total under the UK system. Earlier this year, Dog World newspaper awarded Trevor and Birgit their Award of Excellence, in recognition not only of their successes, but of their efforts to promote and safeguard their numerically small breed, of their encouragement for newer enthusiasts, and their determination to bounce back after their time of adversity.

Runner-up BIS was a Golden Retriever bred in Spain, Tesoro de Ria Vela for Thornywait, who, with a working qualification to his name, now becomes a full champion.

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