This article originally appeared in the April 22, 2011 issue of Dog News. It is reprinted here by permission of the author.
A Nation of Pet Lovers Loses Its Way
I’ve been an anglophile most of my life. I grew up loving all thing British, or English, from the language to the history of the British Isles. I spent some time in the country when I was in school. Inevitably, I segued into animals that were developed in Britain. I enjoyed the time I spent in Britain and the people I met were universally pleasant, though I do recall a few cab drivers with some rather colorful language.
All that was a few years ago. Maybe things change. That was before I became aware of the animal rights movement and the RSPCA.
The RSPCA has a reputation in Great Britain similar to that of HSUS in this country and is known for seizing pets and other animals unreasonably, based on cases highlighted in the media. If you google “RSPCA seizes pets” you will find hundreds of such stories, including stories about the RSPCA seizing overweight pets from their owners. They are also on record in the infamous documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed with comments about purebred dogs such as then Chief Vet Mark Evans calling dog shows “a parade of mutants.” Evans is quoted extensively in the program.
In fact, the RSPCA received so much attention for their role in Pedigree Dogs Exposed that they had to set up Question & Answer pages for the public. On these pages you can find such comments about purebred dogs as these:
—The RSPCA is extremely concerned about the unacceptably high levels ofdisability, deformity and disease affecting pedigree dogs.— Hundreds of thousands of dogs are vulnerable to unnecessary illness, pain anddisability or behavioural problems because they’re bred primarily for how theylook rather than with health, welfare and temperament in mind...—We believe that both the selective breeding of dogs primarily for appearance andthe intensive breeding of closely related dogs for anything other thanscientifically proven welfare reasons is morally unjustifiable...—When choosing which animals to breed from, there’s often no merit attached toan animal’s health, welfare or temperament - and often the attributes rated mosthighly can result in disability or illness...— Pedigree dog owners that show their dogs obviously want their animals to dowell at shows and/or produce popular offspring. So the dogs with the most‘desirable’ attributes (i.e. those that most closely match the relevant breedstandard) are bred from most frequently. The selected features may easilybecome exaggerated, causing dogs to suffer more health and welfare problemsand a reduced quality of life...
I think the impression left on the reader is that people who breed and show dogs only care for a dog’s appearance and give little thought to the dog’s health or temperament. There is certainly the impression given, in my opinion, that massive numbers of purebred dogs (or “pedigree dogs,” as they are called in Britain) are sick and deformed.
The RSPCA also commissioned a 76-page study which denigrated The Kennel Club in Britain and the breeding practices of pedigree dog breeders. “The Kennel Club, breed societies, and the pedigree dog showing community have formally endorsed the inbreeding of dogs,” it said. This was stated despite the fact that it was estimated that less than 1 percent of dogs registered with The Kennel Club were the result of first degree matings. “Much of the suffering which some pedigree dogs endure is unnecessary and a substantial part could be avoided with revised practices.”
Some of the suggestions that came out of the report included:
— The banning of first degree and second degree matings (e.g., parent and offspring, siblings, grandparent and offspring or half-siblings).—Open studbooks.—Conducting a full ethical review of the health and welfare of current breeds. This could inform decisions, such as to enforce rapid out-crossing or (as suggested by some), in extreme cases even to phase out some breeds.—Make registration of pedigree dogs conditional upon both parents undergoing compulsory screening tests for prioritised disorders.—Training and accreditation of judges to prioritise health, welfare and behaviour in the show ring.—Development of schemes for calculating Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for disorders influenced by genetic factors. The EBV of an animal for any trait predicts the average performance of its offspring for that trait.
The RSPCA isn’t an organization concerned with helping sad puppies and kittens. It’s an animal rights group of exactly the same ilk as HSUS, with a similar agenda and the same attitude toward dog breeders and purebred dogs.
I think it’s hard to judge just how the British dog-owning public feels about pets and pedigree dogs these days. Pedigree Dogs Exposed seems to have certainly had a very negative effect on the perception of purebred dogs and dog breeders. A list member of the Pet-Law e-mail group looked up the following comments following stories about dog shows or dog breeding in the British popular press, but comments like these are easy to find on British web sites:
*Dog show-breeding stinks. The people who breed these dogs don't give a toss for their animals' welfare, no matter what they say.
*The people who breed those dysfunctional monstrosities ought to be jailed.
*There's only one breed: DOGS (read: cross-breeds, mongrels). Those which are given the label "breeds" are inbred mutants (sic).
*These kennel clubs are disgusting. The poor creatures are just status symbols for the owners and nothing else; owners who are usually loners - childless, anti-social, eccentric, vain, pompous creeps who are completely ignorant of biology.
And this one:
*Those dog breeders should be ABSOLUTELY ashamed of themselves!!!!!!!
*Crufts breeders can be disgusted all they like, the reality is the rest of the rational thinking public is disgusted with them for breeding dogs with deformities and health problems!
*These people are beneath contempt
*Then quite simply these people are not dog lovers, if they would rather have a sick and deformed dog than a healthy dog. I used to want to go to crufts as a child, as a dog lover, now i wouldnt touch the place.
*What utter morons these dog breeders are, more concerned with "correctness" than the welfare of the dogs they breed as usual.
*Some of these dog breeders really sound like a bunch of Nazis !!! Try to imagine if the same practices were applied to creating genetically pure breeds of humans . . . oh wait, that did happen, in WW2 by . . . the Nazis !!!
As mentioned, comments like these are by no means rare following stories about dog shows or dog breeders or breeding in Britain. There are virulent attacks online about pedigree dogs now, since the film Pedigree Dogs Exposed. Just how common this feeling was prior to the documentary, I don’t know, but Britain does not seem to be a friendly place for dog breeding these days. It’s possible this is a very vocal minority, but there are few people writing in defense of dog breeders or pedigree dogs, at least online.
As if this kind of bashing weren’t enough, it’s not unusual to see headlines like this one in the popular British press: “Nation of animal lovers? Study shows 10m pets suffer mental or physical stress.” Is that really possible, you may ask? Out of a nation with approximately eight million dogs, and eight million cats according to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association in Britain, this study claims that 10 million of these pets are suffering mental or physical stress? Of course, this study, conducted by the PDSA (Never heard of it? Apparently it stands for pets in need of vets, but I can’t figure out the acronym), claims far higher numbers for cats, and includes rabbits in the study. They also sell pet insurance. I’m not quite sure how they are a charity. They take people to task if they don’t feed a commercial dog food; and they are very unhappy if animals are left alone for more than four (yes 4) hours per day. I’m not sure how people are supposed to leave the home and work to buy pet food. They claim that rabbits are “neglected” and forced to live on their own, which leads to boredom and stress. In short, they have their ideas about how pets should be treated, and they want to bash millions of pet owners who have different ideas.
This sort of sensational report is common in Britain and it makes front page news. All too often it seems to lead to changes in the way people actually think about animals and treat them. It can even lead to legislative changes — all based on ideas that are pulled out of the air, with absolutely no science or experience to back them up. There can even be misstatements of facts in these reports, such as the disagreement about the pet population numbers above.
Could it possibly be that the RSPCA, groups like PDSA, and others are following in the footsteps of Jemima Harrison and Pedigree Dogs Exposed? They have seen that the more they can rile the British public about animals, the more they may be able to cash in on the public’s concern for animals? I think it’s true that the British are great animal lovers. It’s just a shame that they have been led so far astray that so many of them no longer recognize when they are being taken for a ride. They think dog breeders are their enemy, and pedigree dogs are mutants. They take advice about caring for pets from organizations like the RSPCA which seizes pets, and the PDSA which has very suspect ideas about how animals should be treated. Whatever happened to British common sense?