A red-faced Kennel Club (KC) has found its social media accounts flooded with posts from owners of one of Britain’s best-loved dogs, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, accusing the Club of hypocrisy over its handling of a health crisis affecting this popular breed.
Today saw the start of the KC’s National Canine Health Testing Week to raise awareness of the importance of buying puppies from health-tested parents. However, worrying numbers of Cavaliers suffer debilitating hereditary disease and yet the KC does not insist on screening before breeding.
Over 21,000, including a host of celebrities, are supporting a petition asking the Club to introduce mandatory testing for the two most serious conditions: a heart disease called MVD and SM, a neurological disorder caused by dogs being bred with skulls too small to accommodate the brain.
The KC has invited dog owners to post canine selfies on social media under the hashtag #NCHTW in support of health testing but has found itsFacebook and Twitter accounts filled with images asking why health testing isn’t compulsory for Cavaliers: a breed so badly affected by genetic problems.
One such is Donna Farrand. Her four-year-old Cavalier, Freddie, is undergoing cranial decompression surgery today in an attempt to reduce his SM pain. “While the KC messes around with meaningless soundbites, Freddie is having part of his skull removed.”
Barry Richardson’s Cavalier, Archie, lost his battle with SM aged three: “Words cannot describe my anger at how trivially the KC treats this issue. It’s saying #itshiptobehealthy; this should be the norm. It needs to ditch the gimmicks and do the right thing.”
According to long-time owner Nicki Hughes, all kinds of breeders are guilty of not health testing properly: “The KC and breed clubs would like people to think it’s just backyard breeders and puppy farmers. I lost my beloved Teddy at six. He had MVD and SM. His breeder? An international judge.”
The Cavalier health crisis was revealed in the 2008 documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which showed top show Cavaliers with inherited disease being used for breeding against veterinary advice. The BBC later ditched its coverage of Crufts, the KC’s most prestigious event, because of the outcry.
Figures released days ago from Denmark that reveal its compulsory heart scheme for Cavaliers saw a 73 per cent reduction in MVD will add to the KC’s blushes, which doesn’t even have an optional heart scheme for Cavaliers despite promising one over seven years ago.
The KC describes itself as “The UK’s largest organisation dedicated to protecting and promoting the welfare of all dogs” but TV vet Emma Milne believes it is motivated by money. “The UK is way behind much of Europe where countries have seen dramatic improvements in disease prevalence through robust testing. When will the KC stop seeing pound signs and starting seeing sense?”
Even human sufferers of SM have been posting selfies in support of Cavaliers. Lynn Burton has had two major brain surgeries. “As a human, I can tell you about the constant pain, tingling and numbness. Some days it is so excruciating I feel like my head is ripping apart,” she says. “Cavaliers can’t speak. To allow puppies to be born without doing everything possible to reduce the chances of them suffering like this is inexcusable.”
Numerous famous faces are backing the campaign, including Tony Parsons, Binky Felstead, Linda Robson, Fern Britten, TV vet Mark Evans and many others:
“Please can I ask you to sign and retweet this petition to save dogs’ lives”, Pixie Lott has urged her Twitter followers.
“We need to make sure all Cavaliers are health tested before breeding,” believes Craig Revel Horwood, who has a Cavalier called Sophie with hereditary heart disease.
“We should be breeding for health, not creating problems for our loved pets,” says Deborah Meadon, who has been a staunch supporter of the Cavalier health campaign.
Follow the campaign on Twitter @healthycavalier and on the Cavaliers Are Special Facebook page