I really hoped that I could have started 2017 in a spirit of goodwill, with positive praise for the Kennel Club and its efforts to promote the pedigree dog, and in promoting breed health.
The first signs were very promising. The Dandie Dinmont folk, inspired by Mike Macbeth and Paul Keevil, have been raising money to renovate the kennel in which the breed’s founding father, Old Ginger, was born 175 years ago. £20,000 is a huge effort for a breed that registered just 88 puppies last year, and this sum has been matched by a donation from the KC Charitable Trust, making it possible to restore the original kennel and run, to commission a life-size statue of Old Ginger – to be sculpted by Alexander ‘Sandy’ Stoddart, the Queen’s Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland – and to set up a Dandie Dinmont Discovery Centre in the kennel building. This will tell the remarkable story of the Dandie and all the breeds developed from it; there are also plans to highlight all the other vulnerable British native breeds, and feature all the Scottish native breeds as well. Since the kennel is situated at The Haining, a 19th century Palladian mansion near Selkirk, a popular tourist location – especially with fans of the novelist Sir Walter Scott, in whose book Guy Mannering the original Dandie Dinmont, the character after whom the breed is named, appears – the new centre will hopefully attract a lot of interest, and maybe even some new enthusiasts for the breed.
What a brilliant idea this is – but it’s one thing having an idea, quite another to have the vision and enthusiasm to carry it through. To be honest, though, I would have expected no less from Mike and Paul who are both absolutely passionate about their breed.
Could the idea be extended to other breeds? Swymbridge, in Devon, for many years the home of Parson John Russell, already has a Jack Russell pub, while the Parson is commemorated in the church he served for many years by a stained glass window, and his carefully tended grave is to be found in the churchyard. Could an authoritative display, sponsored by the KC, be placed in a prominent position in the village? The cost would be relatively small, but surely well worthwhile?
I was delighted to discover that there is already a Staffordshire Bull Terrier heritage centre, although it appears to be fairly low key. How wonderful if the KC and Stafford enthusiasts could get together and develop this – who knows, positive publicity and accurate information could perhaps help to promote responsible breeding and lead people to value this wonderful breed for itself and its honourable history, and not simply as a status symbol.
Once started, the mind runs on in many directions. The KC has a wonderful collection of paintings, books and manuscripts. Yes, they are readily available to anyone who wants to travel to Clarges Street, and from time to time special exhibitions are mounted in the library. But what about those who can’t easily get to London, and those who don’t even know that such treasures exist? Has thought been given to a travelling exhibition that could be hosted by art galleries outside the capital? We really need to take note of the Dandie Dinmont initiative – and look to ways in which we can take pedigree dogs, their history and their future, to a wider public.
So, if all is positivity and forward thinking, why do I suddenly feel that it is all a bit pointless? That there is little point in trying to promote the wonderful experience that is owning a pedigree dog, when the KC then does something really stupid, something that could actually increase the risk of a breed suffering from an inherited condition? I’m referring, of course, to the decision that it will not be a requirement to test for Lafora in recessive-coated Dachshund puppies.
Let’s start with a bit of background information for those who haven’t been following this story. Dachshunds do, of course, come in three different coat patterns, wire, smooth and longhaired. Occasionally a puppy is born to two wire-haired parents that is actually smooth; similarly, two smooths can produce a longhaired pup. It makes sense to register such puppies under their coat type, and the KC has recently followed the lead of most other KCs in allowing this to happen. Commonsense indeed – so what is the problem? The problem, quite simply, is that around 50 per cent of Mini Wires carry the gene for an epilepsy type disease called Lafora. However, this condition is not known in either the smooth or long haired varieties.
Dachshund breeders have been very proactive on the health front, and there is now a DNA test for Lafora. Dachshund breed council chairman Ian Seath, while describing the KC decision to register pups according to coat type as ‘entirely logical’, said he feared that the decision could lead to Lafora disease being introduced into the other two varieties. The obvious way of preventing this would be to ensure that all Miniature Wire litters should be tested for Lafora or be from Lafora-free parents before they are registered. The KC are notoriously against the idea of compulsory health testing, and this was probably always going to be a non-starter – even though it makes complete sense to anyone with the good of their breed at heart – but at the very least, surely the KC could insist that any pup from Mini Wire parents must be tested for Lafora before it is registered as a Smooth? Not to do so leaves the way open for the disease being introduced into the Smooth gene pool within a very short time.
It just isn’t good enough to suggest that “Any risks to health would not be increased and concerns would be able to be managed by standard good breeding practices.” Just because it isn’t done in other breeds doesn’t mean that it can’t be done in this case. It is also curious to read that, “the KC reserves the right to DNA profile any litters where parentage may be in question.” One is left feeling that someone at the KC doesn’t understand the difference between DNA profiling – to determine parentage – and DNA testing – to determine genetic status. No one is suggesting that people will be breeding the two varieties together, only that they will be registering any puppies under their correct coat type, whether that be a smooth from two wires, or a longhair from two smooths.
‘Standard good breeding practices’ don’t always occur in real life. While most Mini Wire Dachsund breeders have enthusiastically embraced DNA testing for Lafora, there are bound to be some who ignore it. The “I’ve never had it in my lines, so I don’t need to test” syndrome is all too prevalent in some circles. Sadly, one can readily envisage a scenario where two fabulous – but Lafora carrying – wires, produce a stunning smooth puppy, which is then used at stud on several smooth bitches. Within a couple of generations people are line breeding back to this lovely dog – and no one thinks to test for Lafora, because it isn’t found in smooths…. Disaster waiting to happen – and of the KC’s own making.