Dog health – Setting the tone

The CACEP Neapolitan meet up Bath England 2014Founded in 2011

The Karlton Index is five years old. We first shone a spotlight on dog breed health in March 2011, and then again in 2013. We are gearing up to do the third full independent assessment of breeds here in the UK later this year. So much has happened in that short five-year timeframe for us and for dogs, I’d like to focus on a few of the developments and changes that now shape the dog welfare landscape.

Changes at the Karlton Index

For The Karlton Index, there has been some surface changes such as this, our new website.  There has been a structural change in the framework itself. Following feedback from breed clubs, the fourth section, Impact, has been reviewed and redrafted. Check the new version of the Framework page here. There has also been a deep-rooted fundamental change in our approach. This is a very important change, but in fact, quite a simple one,  – we have completely changed our tone.

Pejorative and judgmental tone

In 2011 the Karlton Index report adopted a snippy tone, bordering on snide, towards many breed communities. Speaking about people and issues in that way can often make you feel good, it’s good to get something off your chest, it’s good to speak your mind, but I soon learned that in the long run it achieves very little, if anything at all. It turns out that when it comes to adopting “unhelpful” tones, I’ve been in good company.

In his 2014 report on the RSPCA, Steven Wooler highlights their tendency to use a “pejorative and judgmental tone” (Wooler, 2014: pages 15, 23, 60, 77, 125 and 126) and points out they sometimes adopt a “triumphal” tone in their dealings with the press. What I and the RSPCA need to realise, is that speaking in such a manner does nothing for the animals, it does nothing for the dogs. Our campaigning should not be about making us feel great, or about triumphalism, it should be entirely about the impact we can have on the welfare of dogs.

Extraordinary connections

“extraordinary change requires extraordinary relationships” – Peter Senge The Necessary Revolution 2008 p235

I’m very grateful to many of the breed clubs who chose to put my previous “tone” to one side, and very politely show me that there is another way. That way is to establish meaningful dialogue. That way includes one other vital ingredient, – a radical yet often overlooked ingredient, which is to sometimes stop talking altogether and instead listen.

One of the health champions to challenge me on my tone was Kim Slater in Neapolitan Mastiffs. Kim is heavily involved in the CACEP movement, dedicated to addressing the health and welfare issues presenting in that breed. She invited me to an extraordinary day in Bath, May 2014. I joined her and dozens of Neapolitan Mastiff owners as they walked through the city with these out-of-the-ordinary dogs, these controversial dogs.

I learned so much that day by listening to people. I learned about what attracted them to this breed, what concerned them about the breed and what they hoped could be achieved for the breed. That day proved to me once and for all that the quality of the conversations you are able to have WITH people about dog health is an essential starting point for generating meaningful action.

I am really pleased that the new Karlton Index website is geared towards a much more collaborative approach, with the intention of building more extraordinary connections. Through the Get Involved page, breed clubs can feed through details and information about the good work they are doing. They can request help in areas that they still find challenging and they can send in case studies of good practice to be shared across other breed communities. They can also challenge anything we have published about their breed. The site is deliberately designed now to enhance engagement and collaboration but without stifling our independence.

But what are the dogs telling us

Of course, if we all want to bring about radical reform in the health of our cherished breeds we cannot limit our listening and talking just to each other, we need to listen intently to those without voices, the dogs themselves. In the past five years there have been other significant developments that will help us improve our conversations about dog health, but more importantly developments that include more direct feedback from the dogs. Here are my current favourites.

1. Expansion of breed health resources provided by the Kennel Club
The investment they are making in health is more than ever before, visit to see for yourselves. The great news on this, is the investment is long term and long sighted. Notable changes include;

  • The recruitment of Dr Tom Lewis from AHT
  • The introduction of online education resources for breeders and owners ( )  – which is free of charge
  • And the publication of more and more data on health schemes. Future blog posts will look at some of these developments in more detail.
2. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology Journal
One of the important developments is the introduction of the Canine Genetics and Epidemiology Journal, funded by the KC. The standout feature of this is that it is open access, giving us all the freedom to read and use the information in the papers it publishes.
3. Vet Compass
A major development, also funded by KC with others such as the Dogs Trust,  is Vet Compass, based at the Royal Veterinary College and led by the maven, Dr Dan O’Neill. This, together with Savsnet, based at Liverpool University and funded by the BSAVA, will start to revolutionise the way we can use data collected in vet practices.
4. Recognition of the need to enshrine dog health and welfare in our legal and policy making structures
The work being done through APGAW and led by EFRA, is exploring the legal framework which currently shapes the supply routes for animals and pets. I’m privileged to have been actively involved in anti-puppy-farming campaigns through my collaborative work with Marc Abraham of Pupaid , C.A.R.I.A.D. and others; we work closely with politicians on this fundamental part of dog welfare. Follow progress on social media using the #wheresmum hashtag.
5. Improving breeding standards
Improving breeding standards. It is all very well pinpointing the routes to market that are measurably harmful for the health and welfare of dogs, but how about working on the high welfare routes and ensuring that more and more puppies are produced by ethical, knowledgeable breeders?

In 2014 I was invited to join the KC subcommittee that oversees the UKAS accredited Assured Breeder Scheme, giving me fascinating insight into the challenge of safeguarding high welfare across large numbers of individual breeders. I am very proud to provide an independent, pet owner perspective for the ABS and will write about that work in more detail in a future blog.

The tip of the iceberg

Those five areas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to developments in dog health. In and of themselves, one initiative alone will not achieve the reform we are all so thirsty for, but step by step, nudge by nudge, conversation by conversation, collectively they add up to a significant shift.

I am excited to be involved in changing our attitudes towards dog health and welfare, and armed with so much more data and information from these few work streams alone, I look forward to the next five years. Through better conversations with more of you, I look forward to establishing further extraordinary relationships along the lines suggested by Senge, and together who knows what we can achieve for the dogs we love.

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Philippa Robinson

Philippa Robinson

Philippa’s career as a management and training consultant spans thirty years. Her clients have included HSBC, Royal Mail, Kodak Manufacturing and Swiss Re Insurance as well as a large number of smaller commercial enterprises. She attained a Masters in Human Resource Management with Distinction from Sheffield Business School in 2012 where she was the recipient of the SIG Prize for Excellence. She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

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