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Breeding for Conformity

The continuing problem of breeding for appearance rather than welfare

Many years ago - in 2006 - an organisation called Advocates For Animals attempted to bring the problem of breeding dogs for their appearance by conforming to an unnatural breed standard into the public domain.
Since then we have had 'Pedigree Dogs Exposed' looking at the issue - twice, and other organisations, individuals and filmmakers have attempted to highlight the problem.
Some big organisations, businesses and charities have distanced themselves from the breeding and exploitation of dogs by fanatical people who's adherence to the values of eugenics is causing so much suffering to breeds that are deliberately bred with mutations for the sake of maintaining an unnatural appearance.

This is what Advocates for Animals said at the time. Unfortunately it is still relevant -

Advocates for Animals Statement (March 2006)

To coincide with the start of Crufts 2006, the world’s biggest pedigree dog show, Advocates for Animals released a scientific report examining the welfare problems caused by pedigree dog breeding.

The Price of a Pedigree
Dog breed standards and breed-related illness, examines the vast number of inherited diseases affecting pedigree dog breeds.
These genetic diseases cause suffering and reduced quality of life for dogs and worry and expense for their owners.

The report calls for the UK Government, the Kennel Club and other breed societies, veterinarians and members of the public to take positive action to address these serious welfare issues.
The majority, three quarters, of the UK’s estimated 6.5 million dogs, are pedigrees from one of the diverse range of approximately 400 dog breeds that have been created by humans to date, all of them originating from the grey wolf.

Today, dogs are increasingly being bred for their looks and are required to conform to an ideal ‘breed standard’ of appearance. Such breed standards often involve exaggerated and unnatural physical characteristics that are detrimental to the dogs’ health and welfare.
These include extremes of size, backs that are too long in proportion to the legs, flattened faces and abnormally short jaws and noses, loose skin and skin folds and bulging eyes.

Common diseases pedigree dogs suffer from include:

    Hereditary hip and elbow dysplasia (e.g. German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever);
    Inherited eye diseases (e.g. Pekinese, Basset Hound, Border Collie);
    Heart and respiratory disease (e.g. Pug, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel);
    Breed-related skin diseases (e.g. West Highland White Terrier, Cocker Spaniel);
    Inherited skeletal problems of small and long-backed breeds (e.g. Dachshund, Chihuahua);
    Bone tumours in large and giant dog breeds (e.g. Rottweiler, Great Dane);
    and hereditary deafness (e.g. Doberman, Border Collie).

There is a danger that current trends will only intensify as dogs are increasingly seen as fashion accessories and new breeds are created to meet the demand for a novel or ‘perfect’ dog.
Irresponsible and unethical practices in dog breeding, including close inbreeding and developments in cloning, emphasise the need for better regulation of the pedigree dog breeding business.

Although scientists and veterinarians have long been aware of breed-related diseases, there is currently a lack of accessible information on their prevalence.
This may mean that members of the public buy pedigree dogs in ignorance of the health status of the breed.

The European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals has been signed by 24 and ratified by 22 European countries, but not by the UK.
It states that: ‘Any person who selects a pet animal for breeding shall be responsible for having regard to the anatomical, physiological and behavioural characteristics which are likely to put at risk the health and welfare of either the offspring or the female parent.’ 

Advocates for Animals believes that the following steps should be taken to reverse the damage caused by inappropriate pedigree breeding and to improve the welfare of dogs:
The UK should sign and ratify the European Convention on Pet Animals.

This would substantially modify, or eliminate, extreme breed standards.
The Kennel Club and other breed societies should require compulsory screening of dogs for known breed-related disorders before any dog is used for breeding. 
Registration of puppies should be made dependent on health screening of parent dogs.
Breeders should make the health of the dogs the primary goal of their breeding policies.
In addition, Advocates for Animals believes that veterinarians and the public each have an important role in improving dog health and welfare.

Advocates urges:
    Veterinarians to educate owners and potential owners of pedigree dogs about potential welfare issues.
    Members of the public to avoid buying pedigree dogs or attending pedigree dog shows.   
    Everyone who is thinking of becoming a dog owner to choose to give a home to a mixed-breed dog from a rescue
    centre, or to a pedigree dog from one of the many breed rescue organisations.

Celebrity TV vet Emma Milne, star of BBC’s Vets in Practice, said:
“Like many people in my profession I entered it because I had a strong desire to help animals and their owners.
Also like many in the profession I still want that.
At vet school you quickly start to get taught about ‘breed predisposition’ to disease. This association between breed, conformation and disease is so strong that even before you qualify you are starting to question whether this should be acceptable.

After a very short time in practice the reality becomes all too clear.
I am sick of seeing animals that are suffering in the name of the breed standard and I see it every day.
It is high time we stopped accepting that animals are ‘supposed’ to look like this and stopped genetically modifying one of the most successful species on the planet into a collection of deformed animals whose welfare is compromised from the moment they are born.”

Advocates’ Director, Ross Minett, added:
“Members of the public are led to believe that when they buy a pedigree puppy they are buying the highest quality and healthiest dog.  But pedigree dogs are bred for their appearance rather than for their good health, which often suffers as a result.
Inherited diseases cause suffering and reduced quality of life for dogs and worry and expense for their owners.
We believe that many vets are concerned about the health and welfare implications of pedigree breeding but feel unable to voice these concerns in public, since a large proportion of the dogs they treat are pedigrees.

Current pedigree dog breeding practices that damage welfare cannot be seen as ethical or acceptable. 
Members of the public who buy pedigree dogs or attend pedigree dog shows are, unintentionally, supporting a breeding system that surely cannot be justified on animal welfare grounds.
There is an urgent need to reform pedigree dog breeding goals and practices to reverse the damage done by inappropriate breeding standards and inbreeding.
Signing up to the European Convention on the Protection of Pet Animals would be a good first step towards reducing the suffering we are knowingly causing to ‘man’s best friend’.”

Sadly, since then very little has changed.
The practice of breeding for appearance to a breed standard still goes on. The suffering of puppies and adult dogs still happens. The culling of pups that do not make the standard is common practice.
Lip service has been paid. Minor changes made and promoted as major steps. Promises issued for the future but nothing has really been done and unless challenged in their practices - nothing will be done.

Vast sums have been spent on promoting these practices to persuade us that they are carried out for the good of dog breeds. Although one prominent broadcaster backed out of covering events promoting these practices another saw an opportunity for profit and stepped in.
The worst thing of all is that the majority of the UK public have not rallied to lobby government to sign and ratify the European Convention on Pet Animals. They have been fooled by the arguments against it by those who fear their profits and incomes would be curtailed if it was put into practice. It seems the majority are happy with the status quo.

Border Collie Rescue is an animal welfare organisation and not one who's priority is animal rights.
We work within the current UK structure of animal law and our job, which is the same as all other animal welfare and rescue organisations, is to clear up the mess and assist the victims.
We are overloaded and will remains so as long as the current structure and attitude remains.

It would be illogical and irresponsible for us not to call for, and support, change and join with those who campaign to encourage people to alter their relationship with animals from one of exploitation and harm to one of respect and compassion.
The issue is one of animal welfare because suffering is involved and the prvention of suffering and education to prevent it falls squarely within our remit.

We have noted over many years that some people seeking the companionship of animals are more concerned about their rights to own and control the life of a companion animal than any obligations that come with it which makes them responsible to allow an animal to lead a life natural to its inherent instincts and needs.

We are sad to observe that many prominent individuals and organisations that have considerable influence over public opinion in matters relating to the keeping of companion animals do not use their influence to promote good welfare practices, unbiased understanding and sensible breeding programs.
Much of what is promoted is for personal gain - be it power, financial or celebrity based gain. Financial gain is uppremost.

There is little altruism in our Nation of Animal Lovers

It is quite shocking to us that the UK still does not ratify the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals.
The UK is supposed to be a leader in the field of animal welfare practices and yet none of our governments have seen fit to sign this convention. We have the 2006 animal welfare act which the government deems to be sufficient but it is dysfuntional and carries no statutory obligation for any organisation, government body or individual to enforce it.

Why not? - We should ask.

It is disturbing that animals have no legal rights in the UK and that efforts to legislate some basic rights through an animal welfare bill is fought and thwarted at every level and will probably not be allowed to pass onto our statute books until it has become so watered down and difficult to implement as to be virtually useless.

Who is fighting against animals having some basic rights and why? - We should ask.

It seems that much of what we are told and fed about the needs of animals we keep as companions is dictated by organisations, companies and individuals who have vested interests in the exploitation of the animals they speak of and are reluctant to allow any legislation that may curb the exploitation that provides their income.

Why do we listen to these people? - We should ask.

We should be looking more closely at the influences and interests behind the advice we are given before we accept and act on it. Above all we should wake up to the fact that we share this planet with animals and as a dominant species we have an obligation of care to those who our domination places under our control.

The rights we have over animals are the rights of a bully in the playground, of an armed criminal over a victim.
These rights have been seized at the point of a sword, not granted to us - we have taken them.
It is about time we shared the rights we so ardently claim for ourselves with the weaker species we share our world with - and those we wish to share our homes with.

They give us so much so shouldn't we give something back? - We should ask.

Please don't sit back and allow this to continue. Do something to promote change - now.

Veto the organisations that promote cruelty - don't be fooled by their lies and motivation.

These people are not guardians of animals, they claim to be but they are in it for themselves.

Spread the word and campaign for change.

Fight for compassion. Step up to the line and make your voice heard.

Treat your companions as you would like to be treated yourself.