Dog World, 26 February 2010

Coincidence is a funny thing. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email containing very good news about my breed and when I read it, I remember thinking ‘this deserves to get some publicity’. A few days later, I was asked to pen a few words so hopefully the following may be of interest.

In February last year, I received a very worrying email and attached was an in-depth report, citing suspected cases of late onset PRA in Gordon Setters. One of the litters was sired by a dog that I had bred but did not own, the other was sired by his son. The breeder of these two litters was naturally devastated, very concerned and wanted to do as much as possible to prevent others going through similar heartbreak. She also sent copies to the breed clubs.

Within a week, the documentation had been forwarded on to Jeff Sampson at the Kennel Club to seek his help and advice. He must have felt that it was something of an onslaught as he was subjected to a barrage of emails on the subject. I’m sure that the breed club representatives will agree that he certainly came up trumps, responding very quickly and always being available to give guidance on the way forward. Indeed, breed clubs are often accused of actions being long and drawn out as the route of committee meetings etc are undertaken. This was certainly not the case here and those involved in the breeds management must be applauded for advancing without any delay.

A few weeks later, at Crufts, Jeff made time to speak to breeders and owners. He then attended AGM’s, answering questions and explaining how, as the form of PRA affecting Gordon Setters was late onset, it was more difficult to deal with as dogs would have already been used for breeding; owners needed to have their dogs eyes tested even beyond breeding age. There’s a wide age range when clinical signs can be found but usually show at around 8 years. Breed clubs hosted eye testing sessions at their events and offered free eye tests to veterans; information was posted on websites. A tremendous amount of work and effort was undertaken.

It’s now almost exactly 12 months since the report was first issued. During this time, the response by breeders, breed clubs, the KC and the AHT has, I feel, been outstanding.

The email I received last week was being circulated to let everyone know the position at the moment. The DNA technology available used to identify mutations is sophisticated but nevertheless it’s of little use without DNA from appropriate dogs or without sufficient funding. There isn’t space to go into full details here as this is simply a broad spectrum piece; suffice to say that funds have been raised, samples submitted and research is underway. Much is still to be done but everything seems to be steadily moving forward, thanks particularly to the effort, hard work and determination of the breed clubs and members.

This is a breed which has certainly shown it is willing to unite and put past differences aside to work together when necessary. However, it’s not the only breed to do so – Dog World has twice published breed health supplements celebrating the achievements of health conscious breeders.

Crufts is fast approaching and once again the spotlight will be on pedigree dogs and shows. Previously, this was about the only period in which the general public were fully aware of our hobby. As we all know, the last couple of years have changed this and pedigree dogs, the KC, breed clubs, breeders and the world of dog shows have all come in for some very harsh, ongoing criticism.

As a group, breeders are not very good at highlighting the positive aspects of steps that have, and indeed are, being taken. So in the lead up to Crufts, why not make a concerted effort to emphasise these? No doubt the media will be seeking the usual sound bites against pedigree dogs, shows etc and there are many only too willing to provide these and pontificate on any canine subject that takes their fancy. Some appear to have a personal axe to grind, rarely attend shows, but still have vociferous opinions which they voice at every opportunity.

Many readers may be thinking: Who’s writing this? Who is she? What does she know? Never heard of her!

So to elucidate: I have a handful of dogs which are pets first and foremost. Over quite a few years I have bred some litters and enjoyed a little success in the show ring, as have others with dogs I’ve bred. I own a small boarding kennels so come into contact with owners and dogs of all breeds.

I am not a KC member, nor even an Associate member and have no wish to be; however I do support the KC in many of its endeavours and try to encourage others to do so. The KC can and do help when they are approached and the above events in Gordons are a good example of how health concerns can be progressed.

Regrettably, no breed is without problems – crossbreeds are not exempt from this either, no matter how much some may wish to suggest it. It’s not having problems but how they are dealt with that can make a difference.