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THE Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) was one of three organisations that produced influential reports on the animal welfare issues associated with dog breeding in the aftermath of the broadcast of the television programme ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’ in 2008, so an update from the group, discussing progress made since, is well worth reading.* An introduction, listing various initiatives over the past three years, indicates that quite a lot has been achieved, while the main body of the report suggests that much more could be, and perhaps should have been, done, which at first sight may seem contradictory. However, it probably more accurately reflects the complexity of the subject and the difficulties involved in reconciling the different interests of the many players with a role to play in helping to bring about improvements in this field. The importance of cooperation and collective working on this issue was highlighted by a BVA Animal Welfare Foundation stakeholder group in 2009, as well as in the report of the Independent Inquiry into Dog Breeding by Professor Sir Patrick Bateson in 2010 (VR, January 23, 2010, vol 166, p 90). It is firmly re-emphasised in the APGAW's update, which points out that ‘Without collective working, the problems will not be solved and dogs will continue to suffer, which is contrary to the interests of the Kennel Club, vets, welfare organisations and of course, most significantly, the dog-owning public.’

The report makes a number of recommendations based on the findings of APGAW's original review (VR, November 7, 2009, vol 165, pp 546-547) and an assessment of progress based on information obtained from a survey of APGAW members. Perhaps one of the most interesting questions arising from the survey relates to stakeholders' views on whether there were any ‘no brainer’ changes or reforms that could have been introduced that would lead to improvements. A number of suggestions were made, which rather begs the question, if these really are ‘no brainers’, why aren't they happening?

Also of interest are the APGAW's comments concerning the change of government since it originally reported, and the need to constantly remind politicians of the issues involved. It explains that, in 2009, there were a number of MPs and members of the House of Lords who were involved in discussions around dog breeding and demonstrated support for suggested measures that might involve government action. However, it says, ‘The General Election changed the political landscape and, whilst we have some idea of those who are still interested in the issue, research has revealed that many politicians do not know much about it, and do not regard it as a serious problem.’

As the report notes, there is still political interest around dangerous dogs and suggestions for a compulsory microchipping and registration scheme. However, this rather limited view misses the point that many of the issues are interrelated and that a holistic approach to irresponsible dog ownership and breeding is needed. It remains unfortunate that, while in Wales and Northern Ireland, ministers are seeking to crack down on irresponsible breeders by tightening up the regulations on the licensing of breeding establishments, Defra has no plans to review existing laws in England.

The recommendations made in the report are useful, as is an action plan for taking them forward. They cover such matters as microchipping, with the point being made that identification of the dog needs to be linked with ownership details; education, which is seen as essential in raising awareness and understanding of the issues; the role of local authorities; and breed standards and showing. A recommendation that the powers of the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding should be extended and that it should be provided with long-term funding is an important one, albeit perhaps a little ambitious in the current political climate. The emphasis of the report is very much on pedigree dogs but, as the APGAW points out, the problems are certainly not limited to pedigree dogs and the issues cannot be viewed in isolation.

In the conclusion to the report, Neil Parish, the APGAW's chairman, draws attention to the progress that has been made over the past three years and the dedication of groups concerned about the welfare issues associated with irresponsible dog breeding to resolving the many problems that remain. Elsewhere, the report refers to the potential power of action from government in helping to resolve some of these issues more effectively. The report may be right in suggesting that it would be unwise to rely on more regulation either happening or being able to completely solve the problem, but maybe what is needed is a bit more commitment from government to help move the whole thing forward.

* A healthier future for pedigree dogs. Update report, July 2012. Available at www.apgaw.org/reports-and-publications/pedigree-dog-report-2012

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