Margaret C

Why did I give an interview to Pedigree Dogs Exposed?

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I bought our first cavalier in 1976, a present for my daughter on her 8th birthday. We went to a small fun show and won a couple of classes. The judge said she thought Betsey was a nice cavalier and we should think of showing her..............and so it started.

All my dogs have been house pets, I have never had a 'dog room' and because of the difficulty of keeping both sexes together I mainly kept male cavaliers, preferring them as show dogs and companions.

I was a very small time exhibitor and breeder.

My biggest ambition was to show a home-bred cavalier at Crufts, and in 1992 I bred a singleton puppy ( the litter sister died at birth ) that was not only to fulfil that wish, but was to become a Champion and a leading UK stud dog for five years.

Beautiful, playful, intelligent, and loving, with a hint of mischief and the ultimate show dog, I don't think he ever realised he was a dog. As far as we were both concerned we had an equal partnership.

I loved him and I miss him still.

In 2001 I found out Monty had sired offspring suffering from a little known neurological condition called syringomyelia.

When I was told about the symptoms I realised I had seen champion dogs in the ring bunny hopping and scratching. One had been sired by Monty, but there were other unrelated sufferers sired by other leading stud dogs.

I realised that if unrelated top stud dogs were siring this condition the genes must be rapidly spreading throughout the cavalier population in the UK and abroad, and I honestly believed that when other cavalier breeders realised the significant threat to the breed they would join in to try & stop the condition spreading.

How naive I was.

I was on the Cavalier Club committee, well placed to raise awareness of the problem & to help the researchers investigate the problem. This I did for the next five years.

The Cavalier Club gave their backing to SM research, and there were some notable breeders that supported the collection of DNA & later MRI scanned their cavaliers & bred to the unofficial guidelines, but the top breeding & showing kennels were antagonistic from the start, denying there was any problem.

As time went on talks & seminars were arranged and later there were some subsidised scanning schemes, although it was mainly the smaller hobby breeders that attended. The successful showing & breeding kennels were not represented, and became even more hostile to the idea of SM research

I saw my own cavaliers, Monty's sons and grandchildren develop SM symptoms, and had calls from people that had affected offspring and grandchildren. Over those five years I also received many distressing calls from owners of unrelated SM diagnosed dogs, some that had to be put to sleep at less than a year old.

Through the Cavalier Club I started a scheme to deliver cavaliers that had died to Cambridge researchers for post mortem and cell tissue donation. Nearly all had died of MVD.
On one occasion there were two seven year olds that dropped dead from heart failure within 24 hours of each other.

I started to question how many breeders actually tested their cavalierís heart before breeding, let alone follow the MVD protocol in its entirety.
I realised that the vast majority of breeders had only paid lip service to those guidelines for years.

Early illness & death from MVD has become accepted as the norm, no longer something to be shocked at, and it is easily explained away to those that have bought cavalier puppies.
It seemed to me that the same attitude was beginning to develop in regards to syringomyelia

At the Cavalier Club Championship show that year the dog that won BIS was widely known to have SM, but he was still being used widely at stud & he already had one champion son.
He was producing beautiful puppies, he was already high up in the stud dog list and it was more than possible he would end up as the next year's top sire.
I knew from first hand what harm that would do to the breed.

Carol Fowler, a very determined pet owner who had been forced to euthanise her first cavalier because of SM, and later found her second little girl was affected, had gained the support of her MP and taken her concerns to Parliament and Animal Welfare Groups .
There was a workshop arranged by the Companion Animal Welfare Council ( CAWC ) using SM in Cavaliers as a model of inherited disease in animals. A limited number of breeders & Cavalier Club committee members were invited. At that point some of the regional club committee members became alarmed and very indignant that they were not all being represented.

The CAWC meeting agreement included the recommendation that there should be a meeting between Kennel Club, Researchers and Cavalier Club to develop schemes for EBVs & a grading panel for MRI scans.

It was at this point I found that although I was the Cavalier Club SM spokesperson and the only Cavalier committee member with any real knowledge of the condition, ( I was a named researcher for one project ) I was not to be included in these meetings because of objections from regional representatives.

All these points....... the hostility of the successful breeders, the denial of the extent of the problem, the lip service paid to the MVD protocol, and the acceptance of early illness & death from MVD, the prospect that it would become acceptable that an affected dog could be used outside of the recommended guidelines, and the knowledge that pressure had successfully been used to remove the person best qualified to help the club take planned initiatives forward, made me realise that the will to make changes did not exist in the cavalier world.
For most of the influential people involved in breeding and showing cavaliers, or in running breed clubs, the welfare of individual cavaliers, that may live very painful lives, & their owners who would have to pay the emotional & financial cost was not their priority.

I decided to give an interview for the documentary because after five years the denial that SM was a problem was stronger than ever. The breeders that were scanning were becoming discouraged, as they faced hostility for doing so, and then found it almost impossible to find suitable scanned mates for their cavaliers.

I had become convinced that the only way things were going to change was for the pet buying public to know that there were serious inherited problems in the breed.

A well informed public that demanded to see evidence that the dogs were health tested was the only factor that would persuade breeders to change.

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