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ABS manager answers DW’s queries on changes to scheme

DOG WORLD’s associate editor Simon Parsons asked the Kennel Club’s health and breeder services manager Bill Lambert for his response to comments which have been made about the recent announced changes to the Assured Breeder Scheme (ABS).

SP: Over the holiday period members of the ABS heard from you with details of the changes to the scheme which follows on from its UKAS accreditation. Reaction on the social media and from those who have commented to DOG WORLD has been overwhelmingly negative, though to what extent this reflects the general view remains to be seen. Let’s get this one out of the way first. In spite of regular statements to the contrary, there are still those who perceive the ABS as ‘another money-making scheme by the Kennel Club’. Did the KC make any money from the scheme under the old fee structure? Does it anticipate doing so under the new arrangements?

BL: It really surprises me that there is still misunderstanding about this. The KC did not previously make any money from the ABS and will not do so now, under the new fee structure. It does, in fact, subsidise the cost of running the scheme and has for a long time. There is considerable cost attached to running a nationwide scheme which requires each and every one of its members to be visited; in fact, the average cost of inspection and of maintaining a member on the scheme is in excess of £200 over a three-year period. The maintenance fee of £10 had been held for nearly ten years. so clearly, with the additional inspections that are now required, this needed to increase, but the KC continues to subsidise the cost of running the scheme.

SP: Most of us, I thought, were aware that the advent of UKAS accreditation and the costs involved in inspection of all active breeders who belong to the scheme would mean that the price of membership would have to increase. Yet some seem to have been taken by surprise. Could perhaps this point have been emphasised more?

BL: It was made clear when the achievement of UKAS accreditation was announced that there would be inevitable fee increases. However, the fees had been at an artificially low level for ten years so we understand why some people may be taken aback by the change. The majority of the feedback that we have received, however, has been overwhelmingly positive; for quite some time both our members and those who criticise from the outside have been asking for increased inspections and the change to many, has come as no great surprise. The incentives that we have offered have also been well received. In the correspondence dealt with so far, a very small number have indicated that they might resign from the scheme or fail to renew their membership and the vast majority of correspondence has been from Assured Breeders who are requesting an inspection visit.

SP: I know you personally think very highly of the fact that the scheme is now UKAS accredited and feel this is a major step forward. Yet many breeders do not see what particular difference it will make to them – especially to those who breed only occasionally. From the point of view of the average dog breeder, who breeds only when he wants to keep a puppy himself, what benefit is there in UKAS accreditation?

BL: I can completely identify with the average Assured Breeder who breeds just one litter or less every two years or so – I am one myself. However, the importance of holding a UKAS certificate will gather momentum and it is certainly important to the puppy-buying public. UKAS accreditation for a breeding scheme was a key point in Prof Sir Patrick Bateson’s Independent Inquiry into Dog Breeding, so the value of being part of a scheme that is doing the right thing, in the view of those who were tasked to keep watch over dog breeding should not be underestimated. Many services we use will have a quality standard attached to them and puppy buyers need to be protected in the same way as any other consumer, and even small-scale breeders will sell some of their puppies to members of the public. We want people to buy from good breeders and the ABS is the very best way of helping them achieve that.

SP: Similarly with the scheme itself – when the fee was £10 annually many were willing to support it and the KC simply to show that they agreed with its principles. Now that the fee is three times higher and set to rise further, they are beginning to ask: “What’s in it for me?” This applies especially if they, like most ‘show people’, breed rarely and do all the right things and then have no need of the KC website in finding good homes for any surplus puppies. So, what is in it for them?

BL: We are thankful to Assured Breeders for being part of a scheme that is alone in standing as a realistic antidote to the problems that are seen at the worst end of the dog-breeding industry. As such the KC offers a range of benefits to the Assured Breeder, which includes discounts on health testing and other products, with a value of around £300 annually. We intend to continue adding to these incentives so that Assured Breeders get the very best deals with our partners and continue to promote the scheme through our PR and marketing activity. Furthermore, being part of the ABS shows outwardly your commitment to high standards of dog breeding. By standing together as part of such a scheme we are protecting the reputation of good dog breeders and improving the future of dogs, by giving puppy buyers a clear choice between those who are Assured Breeders and those who are not.

Those who breed very infrequently can still opt to be part of the scheme for just £12 per annum. These people will then only need to choose which option suits them when they next breed a litter; they either pay a one-off visit fee which provides certification for three years or they can opt to pay £30 and subsequent annual fees, which includes within the price the cost of the visits, so these do not need to be paid again. Lack of inspection for all members has been the one outstanding criticism of the scheme and the vast majority of breeders recognise the importance of this step.

SP: There seems to be some resentment of the fact that breeders who do not health test at all, who may breed purely for commercial reasons, and whose conditions are less than ideal, can continue to register their puppies with the KC without having to pay any more than the basic registration fee and without any inspection. Might it at least be some recognition of these concerns if ABS members could register their puppies free, or at a significant discount?

BL: I fully understand this point and have some sympathy with this view, but registration fees are in the hands of the KC membership and must remain a matter for them. However, the KC has already put in place a number of financial incentives for Assured Breeders which include a free listing on the Find a Puppy service, ten per cent discount on kennel name applications and 20 per cent off health and DNA testing with CVS, the Animal Health Trust and Optigen. In total the discounts available for Assured Breeders amount to a minimum of £300 per annum and these will continue to grow.

SP: Alternatively, should the costs of running the scheme be spread more widely – shouldn’t those who don’t agree to uphold the highest standards be subsidising those who do? And why could not a proportion of the KC’s recent £12 million windfall be put towards the costs?

BL: The KC needed a long-term plan for the future of the ABS and the money made from the sale of the Clarges Street building would not subsidise the cost of the scheme into the future. The membership decided that this money should be used to support important dog projects, and not for the day-to-day running of the KC.

The KC continues to subsidise the scheme as it is central to its objectives in terms of improving dog health and welfare, but costs did need to increase – for the first time in ten years – in order to help cover the increased cost of inspections. The KC has negotiated a wide range of benefits to thank scheme members for their support and to offset the cost of the price increase. The KC will also continue to promote the scheme as the best way to buy a puppy in all our PR and marketing material.

SP: Some feel it unfair that large scale breeder members, who regularly produce puppies for sale, do not pay any more than those who breed, say, once a year or less? Does this unfairly penalise the hobby breeders?

BL: Two options were introduced and those existing members who breed very infrequently can opt to pay the £12 annual membership and then pay for an inspection as and when they have a litter. Alternatively they have the option of paying an ‘all inclusive’ £30 annual fee, which includes the cost of a visit. Even these two options have caused some confusion so it would seem unwise to introduce a more complex fee structure at this stage.

SP: One of the grumbles about the new arrangements seems to be the timing of their introduction. ABS members were notified over the holiday period, with the new arrangements coming in as from January 1. Should they have been given more notice?

BL: While the changes start on January 1, current Assured Breeders only pay the new fee when their membership renewal falls due, so they get at least one month’s and up to 12 months’ notice, depending on their renewal date, which we felt adequate. If somebody paid their membership on last year’s prices, say in September 2013, they will not need to pay the new fee until September 2014.

To clarify the pricing structure, any current member who has paid their annual membership fee will not be asked to pay anything further until they renew their membership. At this 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. 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 may choose to only pay £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 only other change, which has caused anxiety among some members is the need for them to be visited prior to their next litter being registered – unless they were visited in 2013 when the new UKAS standards were in place, in which case they will get backdated UKAS certification, which will be valid for three years and they will not need another visit until then. We are busy making appointments to see these breeders who have puppies on the ground or have litters due shortly, and ask people to continue notifying us if they have litters planned, and we intend to get around to everyone in plenty of time. As above, those who would like to opt for the £12 per annum payment, when their annual renewal is due, will need to pay for this inspection but anybody moving over to the direct debit option of £30 per annum, when their membership is due for renewal, will not. Where breeders prefer we can delay their registrations until they are ready for us.

SP: Although members are required to have certain health tests done in certain breeds, there is still no requirement regarding the quality of the test results: it would be considered acceptable to breed from a dog with a hip score of 106 as long as it is scored! Some find this hard to understand.

BL: That is simply not true and is one of the much repeated myths about the scheme that continue to be perpetuated. There are clear requirements within the scheme standard outlining that members need to take account of health test results, but we do not ‘ban’ particular dogs on account on a single health test result, as we understand that there are many factors to consider in the selection of an appropriate breeding mate. Should it become apparent that a breeder is not taking adequate regard of their health test results and they cannot justify their decision to use a particular dog then they will be asked to rectify this and if they continue to disregard health test results then they could be removed from the scheme.

SP: The idea of the scheme is that the public are directed to breeders who operate to high standards. Yet still they continue to buy both pedigree dogs and crosses from all and sundry. Is enough being done to make the public at large aware of the scheme and its members? Is a green tick on a website enough?

BL: A green tick on the website, indicating which breeders have been visited and issued with a UKAS certificate is only one very small part of what we do to make the public aware of the importance of buying from an Assured Breeder. We have pages of information available about how to and where to buy a puppy on our website, we promote Assured Breeders throughout all of our PR with regular prominent mentions in national TV, radio, newspaper and veterinary press, highlighting the importance of buying from an Assured Breeder, in discussions about puppy buying. More4 highlights the scheme throughout its Crufts coverage and our marketing also makes the public aware of the importance of the scheme.

However, educating the public is not something that we can do alone. UKAS Accreditation will provide all outside agencies, including other animal welfare organisations and vets, with the confidence that the ABS is a truly robust scheme that they can promote with confidence and in the knowledge that it is subject to outside audit by an organisation operating to internationally recognised standards.

SP: In some breeds there is concern that breeders have to test for some problems, but not for others which are more serious – such as heart problems. And in some breeds classed as ‘high profile’ there are nevertheless no compulsory health tests. Is this likely to change in future?

BL: My personal view is that more and more valuable health tests will become available. Breeders are not the only ones who have been open to criticism regarding this; the veterinary sector has also been criticised for not doing enough and I think that genuine efforts are being made to find real solutions. It is easy to forget that DNA testing for disease is still in its relative infancy and we see a constant steam of new tests becoming available. But we have to ensure that we do not ‘overload’ good breeders with tests that may be of limited value to a breed or breeders. We urge breed clubs to continue to play an important role in the development of the ABS and ensure that it remains relevant to each and every breed by alerting us to those conditions and those tests relevant to their breed.

See www.dogworld.co.uk for more questions and answers on the ABS. – See more at: http://www.dogworld.co.uk/product.php/106906#sthash.rbcc5cIo.dpuf

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