DURING the festive period the Kennel Club sent out letters to all members of its Assured Breeder Scheme outlining changes which caused outrage among some of its members.

The KC wrote to explain new procedures and fees following the bestowal of UKAS accreditation this year.

Breeders must now be inspected before they can register ABS litters, and fees are to triple in 2014, rise again in 2015 and be six times higher by ‘16.

Those who have not been inspected successfully by a KC representative since January 1, ‘13 have been told that from January 1, ‘14 they will need to be visited by a KC representative and pass an assessment – or inspection – before they can register their litters as Assured Breeders, ‘in line with our UKAS status and enable the KC to continue to raise the standards of dog breeding in the UK’.

It costs more than £200 to inspect a breeder and maintain his or her membership, the letter from ABS manager Bill Lambert told members, and the KC will continue to subsidise ABS membership, but that annual full membership, including an inspection every three years, will rise from £10 to £30 a year, increasing to £45 in 2015 and to £60 in 2016.

Annual associate membership is now being offered to existing members who breed infrequently, who can pay £12 a year and pay an inspection fee of £167 when they want to register a litter as Assured Breeders.

Members who have passed an ABS inspection recently have received their UKAS accreditation and been offered £300 worth of savings on items such as health scans, insurance and tickets to Crufts.

As soon as the letters hit members mailboxes the social media sites were abuzz with many members announcing publicly that they were going to resign from the ABS. One, who said she received an ‘excellent report’ when she was inspected in 2011, said she was unhappy with the ‘huge hike’ in fees, which had to be added to the costs of fulfilling all the health tests which are mandatory as part of the scheme.

Launched in 2004 as the Accredited Breeder Scheme the ABS has had a chequered history. Pedigree dog breeders were initially angered by it arguing that the standards required for membership were well below the standards practiced by most reputable breeders. But over time the scheme was refined and developed and many of the contentious issues were addressed in 2008 Dog World through its support behind the scheme and urged breeders to join.

The scheme – or one like it – was singled out by the report into dog breeding headed by Prof Sir Patrick Bateson who also wanted to see a campaign launched to educate the public on the correct procedure to follow when bringing a new puppy in to your family.

My personal view is that the KC has done a lot to get the ABS right. Many people criticize the KC for not listening to criticism but in the case of the ABS I don’t think this is right at all which is why the scheme was tweaked and amended in its early life. Where I do think the KC has fallen down over these latest changes is in presentation and communication which is, it has to be said, a perennial weakness. And of course while they are working to get the ABS right – the sales mechanism – they have still done nothing to educate the general public who I suspect haven’t a clue that the ABS exists or what it does.

But back to these latest developments, despite the protestations online and suggestions of significant numbers of resignations Bill Lambert announced this week hat only “a very small number” of members have said they will “consider resigning” from the Assured Breeder Scheme (ABS).

And the KC said many had already reconsidered their decision to quite the scheme after receiving clarification of the position, and of the ‘many hundreds’ of other emails received since the announcement about 70 per cent were requests for inspection visits because of planned litters, said ABS manager Bill Lambert.

On Tuesday the KC said 38 had resigned since the changes were announced – the majority of these citing ‘no longer breeding’ as their reason for doing so – but that the picture would be clearer in a few weeks’ time.  

A total of 59 people who took part in a poll on the DOG WORLD website has said they had left the scheme, with 74 saying they were considering their position and one other site dedicated to pedigree dog breeders ran a poll which saw well in excess of 100 breeders say they were leaving the ABS.

Mr Lambert said on Tuesday: “Only a very small minority have said that the fee increases influenced their decision. A number of others have emailed to say that they intend to resign but it is clear that they have misunderstood the changes or have questions about how it will work. We have written to all of these to clarify the position and most of those we have spoken with so far have changed their minds once the position is clarified.

“At this stage it is impossible to say how many will finally resign; we have a lot of correspondence still to get through but hope to clear the backlog in the next two weeks so we have a more certain picture of the situation. We are encouraged by the fact that hundreds of members have emailed to request an inspection, indicating their continued support for the scheme. With more than 8,000 current members we are confident that the scheme will continue to be successful and to grow.

“Many of those who have expressed concern about the changes have misunderstood the new fee structure, so we want to address some of these misconceptions,” Mr Lambert said.

“There have been reports that Assured Breeders are unhappy with the increase in the annual registration fee, which was increased for the first time in the scheme’s ten-year history last week. While there has been concern among some of the members, much of this stemmed from misunderstanding and, furthermore, the majority of Assured Breeders remain committed to the scheme, with many giving the KC positive feedback about the changes announced._

“For many years the main criticism directed at the ABS was that every member should be inspected before they join. This criticism came from those both within and outside of the scheme. The changes that have been announced, following UKAS accreditation of the KC to certify breeders on the scheme in April 2013, will see the inspections increase, as desired.

“Every single applicant to the scheme will be inspected before they join, current members – those not yet inspected since UKAS rules were put in operation in 2013 – will be inspected before they register another litter as an Assured Breeder, and all breeders will be inspected on a three-year cycle.

“This cements the place of the Assured Breeder Scheme as a solid and robust scheme,…”

UKAS certification for the scheme was one of the key points recommended by Prof Bateson in his independent review into dog breeding in 2010, Mr Lambert said.
“The KC will be asking animal welfare organizations, vets and others to join us in directing puppy buyers to Assured Breeders so they do not unwittingly fall into the hands of the irresponsible,” he said.

“Inevitably, increasing the number of inspections carried out comes at a price, and this is reflected in the change to the fee structure. To date, a very small number of scheme members have said that they will consider leaving the scheme or not renewing their membership, and many have already reconsidered on receiving clarification of the position. Of the many hundreds of other emails received since the announcement, around 70 per cent are requests for inspection visits due to planned litters in the future.”

Mr Lambert said any current member who had paid their annual membership fee would not be asked to pay anything further until they renew their membership, at which point they will pay the increased fee of £30 per annum by direct debit.

“They will not pay for any inspections at any time, even if they have a litter prior to renewing their membership at the new price, but they will need to pay the £30 fee when they renew their membership,” he said. “This annual fee will increase to £45 in 2015 and £60 in 2016.

“In recognition of the fact that many Assured Breeders breed on a very small scale, the KC is offering these existing members a second option whereby they can choose to pay only £12 per annum when their membership renewal comes around, and under this option they will only need to pay for an inspection visit when they breed a litter. This will provide them with certification for a three year period.”

The KC has negotiated a wide range of discounts and incentives for Assured Breeders, he said.

“We would welcome feedback from members about what further discounts would be beneficial to them so that we can continue to reward Assured Breeders for their loyalty and commitment to breeding healthy, happy puppies,” Mr Lambert said.

Dog World’s associate editor Simon Parsons put a number of questions to Bill Lambert about the scheme and if you would like to read more then you can do so here http://www.dogworld.co.uk/product.php/106906