Oslo district court in Norway ruled that breeding of English Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels is against the Norwegian Animal Welfare Act. However, breeding is allowed to be continued in a form of planned, organized breed crosses bringing new genetic variation and healthy alleles into these populations.
We have seen this coming. We have talked about this for a few decades. “If we don’t improve the situation, someone from outside is going to intervene.”
The English Bulldog, together with the Pug and the French Bulldog were listed five years ago by the Nordic Kennel Union in its’ document ‘Statements and proposals regarding respiratory health in brachycephalic dogs’ as breeds where the situation caIIed for immediate actions. This report was only about BOAS – a number of other serious and common hereditary problems exist in these breeds as well.
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is burdened by heart disease. Cavaliers have also the unwanted status as THE Syringomyelia Breed.
Dogs with breathing problems and syringomyelia symptoms shown in tv and social media provoke ethical response and build a picture of pedigree dogs’ poor health.
Perhaps if the Norwegian breed clubs had been able to show that their breeding programs have decreased the frequency of the heritable problems, i.e., that the number of dogs affected is decreasing fast enough, the ban might have been avoided.
Can this happen in other countries? And for more breeds?
Yes, it can and most likely will if action is not taken. The Norwegian ruling states that the verdict could probably have implications for other breeds with serious BOAS frequency, such as the French Bulldog and the Pug, and that it gives a clear signal to ALL breeds to make thorough assessments of welfare matters.
Ethical and sustainable animal production – be it production animals or pets – is getting more and more essential as awareness of issues affecting the well-being of animals increases. We are seeing increased vegetarianism. We are seeing horse riding removed from modern pentathlon – after 109 years! – after the distressing scenes at the Tokyo Olympics when a horse was punched by a German rider after it refused to jump a fence. And we are seeing disapproval against the dog breeds most often in the headlines when discussing about the burden of genetic disease in dogs.
Wake-up calls. We have plenty of them.
To have a sustainable future without further interventions, breeders, breed clubs, and kennel clubs have to show that ’caring’ for our best friends goes beyond words into actions that ensure health, well-being, and welfare. Breeders of all breeds must respond for the health and welfare of all dogs, not just those of threatened breeds. The hobby and lifestyle around pedigree dogs must appear acceptable also to those outside that bubble, and it must be demonstrated that dog health and welfare is at the forefront of all that is done. If the health of pedigree dogs causes general resentment, the situation will gradually escalate in other countries as well.
Do you fear for your own breed?
You don’t have to, if the breed has an effective breeding program covering most important traits and is genetically diverse enough to allow healthy dogs to be found for breeding. That is IF the program is effectively followed in individual breeding decisions. And whether the outcomes of breeding in terms of health and welfare have been tracked
All dog breeds have some hereditary health problems. It is unavoidable, as dogs are living creatures. But many breeds are still in quite a good shape and maintained sustainably. Dog breeds can be divided health-wise in three categories:
Category 1. Mostly healthy.
- Breed-specific hereditary problems exist, but they are being tackled by a breeding program, which can be mandatory. Healthy dogs exist with enough numbers to maintain the breed in a sustainable way. You shouldn’t have to worry about health-related breed-specific bans. Please show others what you are doing and what has been the effect of your breeding program – this enables other clubs and breeders to take advantage on what you are doing. That way you get to work not only for your own breed but for all dogs. An example: Finnish Spitz. Other examples are more than welcome and will gladly be featured by us in DogWellNet!
Category 2. At Risk.
- Hereditary problems starting to accumulate but healthy dogs can still be found for breeding. You probably have started a breed-wide breeding program to improve the situation. Now it is important to show that your program is working in practice. And if not – you should adapt and modify the program. Many programs include health screening, but the results are not used effectively enough when choosing breeding dogs. The key challenge in some breeds in this category and the next is many breeders and owners ignoring or ‘normalising’ as breed-typical health and welfare issues. It is not okay to say ‘but this is ”normal” for the breed’ if these conditions and conformations compromise individual dogs. It is not okay for the dogs, nor the public… and the dog world is now under intense public scrutiny.
Category 3. Endangered.
- Difficult to find healthy dogs for breeding. Health and welfare problems are a direct result of breeding for specific traits. Your breed is in danger of being banned somewhere in the world. Now is the last chance to quicky start effective measures, which is an honest understanding of problems in your breed and making breeding decisions to improve. This includes health screening and, in many cases, bringing healthy alleles into the breed from outside. But may also require a rethinking of type and what are considered desirable traits.
I’m writing about the threat of bans but thinking mostly about individual dogs and how to get a good life for them. If you really care about dogs and your breed, you concentrate on health matters and forget about winning in shows and other competitions as breeding goals. The UK Brachycephalic Working Group maintains that the most fundamental criterion underpinning any decisions in relation to dogs is that ‘Maximising good health, welfare and temperament overrides all other considerations for dogs.’ I truly hope that this is a common, practical, active state of will for all of us. We cannot ignore the role of people, and people’s desires around their hobby or their dogs. But we can work to change human behavior to want healthy dogs first and foremost.
And we ask, please don’t ‘shoot the messenger’. At International Partnership For Dogs (IPFD) we work for all dogs, including pedigree dogs and we understand the need for and benefit of the diversity of breeds. We have a responsibility to inform about what is going on around the world, and how it might impact dogs and people.
We call for collective actions for health and welfare of pedigree dogs. Our Veterinary Science Officer, Dr. Brenda Bonnett writes: We ask you to work together for what is truly in the best interest of dogs and the people who care for them. IPFD is working with collaborators to help create a roadmap to engage all stakeholders. Those deeply committed to ensuring the survival of all that is good about pedigree dogs need to participate in open and respectful dialogue to identify actions for the benefit of all dogs and people. Each of us should honestly consider how our own attitudes, and our actions – or inaction – have contributed to the current situation. And then, together, let us find a positive way forward.
Welcome on board! Let’s show that we care. You can contact us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.