The Kennel Club (KC) is facing pressure from pet owners on the eve of its prestigious dog show Crufts, which starts this Thursday, as 25,000, including a host of celebrities, sign an online petition asking it to tackle a health crisis affecting Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
They may be one of Britain’s best-loved breeds but these adorable dogs also suffer from shocking hereditary health problems.
Supporters of the petition, including Craig Revel Horwood, Deborah Meadon, Binky Felstead and the RSPCA, want the KC to make testing mandatory for the two most serious conditions: a heart disease called MVD and SM, a distressing neurological disorder caused by dogs being bred with skulls too small for their brains.
“The KC’s breed health survey, published last month, reveals Cavaliers are dying 17 months earlier than a decade ago,” says Margaret Carter, who started the petition.
“Research proves that breeding from dogs tested clear increases the chances of healthy puppies yet the KC refuses to take proper action. Families are seeing their loved pets living in pain and dying young. Many have written to the Prime Minister in the hope the KC can be shamed into living up to its claim ‘to promote in every way the general improvement in dogs’.”
TV vet Emma Milne adds: “When will the KC stop seeing pound signs and start seeing sense. The UK is way behind much of Europe where other countries have seen dramatic improvements in disease prevalence in Cavaliers through robust testing.”
The BBC ditched its coverage of Crufts after the 2008 documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed revealed top show Cavaliers with inherited disease being used for breeding against veterinary advice. Despite promises of action from the KC, campaigners say little has been done to improve the lot of Cavaliers in the years since and that many successful show breeders continue to set a bad example by ignoring breeding guidelines.
Mother-of-three Charlotte Mackaness signed the petition on behalf of her Cavalier, Beebee, who started yelping in pain from SM when around six months old. Now three, she takes a cocktail of powerful painkillers every day. “Beebee came from a breeder who has won Crufts’ best of breed titles many times and who came recommended by the breed club. Sadly, my family has learnt that looks and money seem to count more than these dogs’ health.”
According to long-time owner Nicki Hughes: “The KC and breed clubs would like people to think it’s just backyard breeders and puppy farmers that don’t health test. I lost my beloved Teddy at six. He had MVD and SM. His breeder? An international judge. There is an official CM/SM screening programme but breeders have boycotted it.”
Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood and his partner Damon Scott own two Cavaliers with health issues. “It’s wrong that there is such a high probability that a Cavalier with inherit a terrible disease,” says Damon, who provided the voice over for a Cavalier version of the 80s hit The Final Countdown. It has had 54,000 views on Facebook alone and stars the couple’s Cavalier, Sophie, who has heart disease.
“Giving a voice to these dogs was really important to us. This message and their plight needs to be heard. I find it unbelievable that the Kennel Club won’t do the right thing,” he says.
View The Final Countdown movie at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tL2NhnhOcNM
Numerous famous faces are backing the campaign, including Tony Parsons, 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 urged her Twitter followers.
“We need to make sure all Cavaliers are health tested before breeding,” believes Craig Revel Horwood
“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.