WHEN THE Kennel Club introduced the mandatory vet checks on 15 so-called high profile breeds at Crufts in 2012 it’s pretty fair to say the UK dog show scene went in to virtual meltdown.

It wasn’t just the tests themselves that got people riled it was the way they were introduced at what is probably the highest profile dog show in the world and we then saw six bests of breed fail those test there was a feeling that the KC had shot itself squarely in the foot.

In the aftermath of that Crufts we saw a public meeting being called which was attended by a huge number of people unified in their hatred of the new vet checks. In pretty short order a new body was formed called the Canine Alliance and its aim was to persuade the KC to overturn its ruling demanding that the winner of BOB in the 15 breeds classified as ‘high-profile’ be scrutinized by a vet before taking part in group competition.

Like so many of these things the furore died down and so did the number of dogs failing the vet check and without regular high profile failures to fan the flames the dog showing community has got on doing what it does, the vet checks go on and the Canine Alliance has been largely becalmed. As if in an attempt to add to the sense that the situation was getting better the KC announced that Chinese Cresteds and then French Bulldogs were to be removed from the high-profile list and all has seemed quiet – there were no failures at Crufts this year!

But all that changed at Birmingham National championship show earlier this month when a St Bernard failed and this weekend just gone, at Bath, another St Bernard best of breed failed to clear its vet checks and what has annoyed and angered people is that the bitch CC winner, who failed her check on conformational grounds two weeks ago at Birmingham National, passed the test this week.

Vet Chris Laurence, who is president of Bath Canine Society, told Pat Muggleton that 18-month-old Bernmont Heathcliffe (Hamlet) had epiphora – defined as excessive tear production usually caused by irritation – in both eyes and mucoid discharge in one. But Chandlimore On The Bottle – who at Birmingham National was said to have eyeballs too small for her eyes – sailed through without comment.

She had been the first of her breed to fail a check after winning BOB at a general or group championship show. Officiating at the National was eye specialist John Goodyear.

This week, On The Bottle’s co-owner, Tan Nagrecha, called the vet-checking process ‘pointless’, and the Canine Alliance said what had happened with his bitch ‘amplified the stupidity of the system’. Miss Muggleton said it had made the whole thing a mockery.

Mr Nagrecha said he had been determined to carry on showing his bitch – who now has two CCs – after she failed the vet check at the National. “And now she has passed – with flying colours,” he said. “If a vet has any reservations he or she has the opportunity to write comments in the comment box contained in the vet check form, but no comment was made at all, so I assume he was fairly happy with the conformation of her eye and the health of her eyes.

“I was very pleased, but it just shows that the whole system is pointless. All it has managed to do is upset the judge and dishearten and offend the breeders and exhibitors. On The Bottle’s co-owners are fairly new to the breed and it has been very upsetting for them. I take a more pragmatic approach to it, choosing to face it head on and deal with it.

“As an exercise these checks are pointless and the results appear to be random. My bitch failed her first check because of the conformation of her eye, which the judge or breeder would not be experienced enough medically to be knowledgeable about. The vet at Bath seemed to be looking for signs of illness or harm to the eye caused by infection or irritation. To be frank, I believe he was following the vet-check guidelines, as that is how I understand the guidelines… As a judge myself one can only check to see if the eye is generally healthy and not ‘extreme’ in any way as to cause instant concern or alarm.

“We know our breed has a long way to go in stabilising issues highlighted by the Kennel Club, and we as breeders are supporting the KC on that, but it takes time and patience to achieve changes in the breed.

“The KC would be better advised to consider investing in a vet to be present at one of our major club championship shows to do a check on exhibits present to get a more clear picture of the breed in total, instead of the same exhibit being passed or failed at different shows.

“Clearly the two judges at Bath and the National thought On The Bottle was worthy of the CCs. However, the two vets looked at her eyes with a different view. If they were totally unacceptably extreme both vets would have failed her, and I suspect both the breed judges who put her up would have picked up on there being a health problem, and however much they may have liked the rest of her would not have awarded her so highly.”

Miss Muggleton said: “The fact that Tan’s bitch failed two weeks ago and passed this week makes a mockery of the whole thing. Very few St Bernards are being vet checked so I don’t see what difference these checks are making to the breed generally.

“St Bernards’ eyes have improved immensely; we try to improve the breed and the KC keeps knocking you back. You can’t change things overnight. At the end of the day nothing’s perfect – even people. It’s an insult to the judges – our judge at Bath, George Gwilliam, wasn’t very happy either – he’s a breed specialist.”
Discussing her experience at Bath Miss Muggleton, who bred Hamlet, said: “The vet said my dog had a slight mucoid discharge, although neither the handler Marisa Jeffries nor I could see it – or anybody else I asked for that matter. I wouldn’t take a dog to a show if it had bad eyes. The vet said my dog’s eye was a little bit wet but it was very windy where we were being judged. There’s nothing wrong with his eyes; his father and uncle were made up.”

The Canine Alliance said the system was causing ‘fury, insult and heartache’.

“We have consistently denounced the whole system of veterinary tests to exclude a best of breed as nonsensical,” said vice-chairman Tony Taylor. “We have always declared that they serve no purpose whatsoever other than to provide a fee to a vet who could otherwise be looking after ill and unhealthy animals. The quality and health of pedigree dogs is not advanced in any way whatsoever by the checks.

“The stupidity of the system is amplified when a dog can fail one week and then pass the following. No doubt, the KC will tell us that ‘it is on the day’, so please, Kennel Club, tell us how this has improved the health of the breed? All it has done, once again, is cause fury and anger for experienced judges who have their ability questioned, and heartache for exhibitors/breeders who put their life – not to mention considerable amounts of money – into breeding and showing healthy dogs, only to find that this is cast aside by an inexplicable veterinary decision.”

“We have already been contacted by some highly experienced judges, in this country and from overseas, who have said that they will not accept an appointment to judge one of the high profile/category three breeds as they do not agree with the veterinary tests and would not wish to have their skill and integrity as judges tested in this way. This does nothing but damage these breeds who are now losing the opportunity of having the input from these top judges.

“We have also had numerous requests from our membership to seek clarification of who actually voted for this procedure to be introduced – by this they do not mean the General Committee but the individual members. We know… collective responsibility and all that. But these changes have had such a damaging impact on our sport/hobby they – we – surely have a right to know?

“The KC is uber-fast at reacting to pressure from people outside the world of showing and breeding, especially if a camera and sound boom are involved, and yet it will not listen to the people it seeks to govern. This heavy handed, illogical approach will do nothing to bring longevity to our hobby – is this what the KC really wants?”

Mr Laurence, who is a KC member, said Miss Muggleton’s dog was the first he had failed since the checks were introduced: “This dog had epiphora in both eyes and discharge in one eye,” he said. “The problem with St Bernards is that they all have a degree of ectropion; it is a general issue with the breed, and this makes it more prone to any sort of eye problem. If you put a dog with ectropion in a situation where the eye becomes stressed and vulnerable that dog is likely to fail.
“When I do these checks I say to some owners to be careful because one day the dog will fail because the eyes are not normal; either there is ectropion or entropion or a degree of both and that makes it prone to eye disease. That’s why we do the checks.”

Mr Laurence said the KC had set down rules which state that if there is any sign of epiphora the dog should fail.

Surely the fact that a St Bernard bitch can fail, then pass a veterinary check at shows a fortnight apart demonstrates the futility of the current arrangements and if those in charge of decision-making cannot now accept this, what on earth would it take to convince them that their policy is mistaken?

If the bitch had failed at the first show on some temporary condition, then we might just possibly be able to understand why another vet might consider her okay the next time she was tested but so far as we can tell, it seems that one of the vets thought her eye conformation was unacceptable, whereas the other one felt it was okay. Presumably the shape and size of her eyes cannot have altered significantly within two weeks? If there is this much variation of opinion between the vets doing the checks, then what is the point of them?

One accepts that judges may have differing priorities. After all they have a great many different factors to take into consideration, including condition and performance on the day. So it is inevitable that show results will vary week on week. But surely the expert vets who have the power to overrule judges’ decisions should show unanimity on matters of basic conformation and their effect on welfare? Otherwise why put everyone through this procedure?