LONDON (AP) - Britain considers itself a nation of dog lovers.
But a new report says the country needs tougher breeding standards
and better education to curb deformity and disease caused by the
quest for the best beagle or the perfect Pekingese.
Thursday's report by a leading biologist comes after sponsors
shunned the country's most famous dog show over cruelty claims.
"The time has surely come for society as a whole to take a firm
grip on the welfare issues that evidently arise in dog breeding,"
said the report by Cambridge University professor emeritus Patrick
The report was triggered by a BBC investigation that claimed
breeding process that focused on appearance rather than health had
resulted in high levels of deformity and genetic illnesses.
The 2008 documentary was a public relations disaster for the dog
industry. The BBC stopped televising Crufts, Britain's biggest dog
show, after more than 40 years. Two major charities, the Royal
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Dogs
Trust, withdrew their support for the show, and pet food company
Pedigree dropped its sponsorship.
The Kennel Club, which runs Crufts, and the Dogs Trust
commissioned a report from Bateson, who interviewed breeders, vets,
animal welfare charities and pet owners.
Bateson's report said that while many breeders had high
standards, others suffered from "negligent or incompetent
He recommended tougher breeder accreditation rules, more
inspections of breeding premises and micro-chipping of all puppies
so they can be traceable back to their breeders.
Bateson said the dog-buying public was partly responsible for
the problems, and recommended an education campaign by animal
welfare groups to ensure people only bought puppies from reputable
breeders and healthy parents.
The report - which echoes earlier calls for reform - said
inbreeding makes dogs less resilient and more prone to disease.
Even worse, some types of dogs have been bred to encourage extreme characteristics- such as smaller heads, flatter faces and more
folds in the skin - leading to health problems.
The report pointed to syringomyelia in King Charles spaniels - a
disorder in which the brain continues to grow after the skull has
ossified - and skin conditions in wrinkly dogs that have been bred
to be even more adorably furrowed.
Some dogs' large heads means they must be delivered by Cesarean
section; the report found 92.3 percent of Boston terriers and 86.1
percent of bulldogs were born that way.
Bateson said that "to the outsider, it seems incomprehensible
that anyone should admire, let alone acquire an animal that has
difficulty in breathing or walking."
But breeders insist the problems with pedigree dogs have been
"Responsible breeders have never sought to exaggerate," said
Susan Jay of the London Bulldog Society. "I am a championship
judge in bulldogs and I have never liked the exaggerated ones, with
the very heavy wrinkles and the low-to-the-ground bent legs.
"Unfortunately the people you cannot reach, and the people you
want to reach, are the irresponsible breeders - people who are only
in it for money."
The Kennel Club said it "broadly welcomed" the report and had
already toughened its welfare standards.
In the wake of the BBC report, the club introduced new standards
for more than 200 breeds, saying the rules would eliminate features
"that might prevent a dog from breathing, walking and seeing
freely." The changes included fewer folds on the loose-skinned
shar-pei and "the preclusion of excessive weight in Labradors."
The American Kennel Club maintains a similar set of standards in
the United States.
British Kennel Club spokeswoman Caroline Kisko said the club
"is dedicated to ensuring that only the healthiest dogs are
rewarded at shows."