Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Thanks a (five) million!

The PDE blog has this week just tipped over five million views.

I started it in November 2010 with the following message:

I should have got this blog up and running when Pedigree Dogs Exposed was first broadcast in August 2008. Guess I hoped there wouldn't be a need... And anyway, I fully expected to have moved on to pastures new by now...  
It is now more than two years since PDE. I could never have guessed that the film's subject would have turned into such an ongoing passion. But passion it is, along with running Black Retriever X Rescue and living with my own dogs - trying not to count but there appears to be at least seven of 'em at the moment, plus two fosters. 
Inherited disorders and welfare issues related to conformation affect millions of dogs all over the world and much of the problem is due to an antiquated breeding paradigm promoted by a kennel club system founded in England and exported to more than 100 countries. The price is paid by the dogs who suffer unnecessarily and by their owners seduced by a certain look unaware of the welfare cost that often comes with it.
Almost six years and 600 posts on, the blog is more popular than ever - with well over a million hits this year already (due in no small part to the fuss over the German Shepherd at Crufts this year. The post showing the footage that the KC had edited out of the Channel 4 broadcast is now the most popular post of all time, including garnering 250,000 page views in a single day. (Links to all the most popular posts are in the sidebar on the right).

The blog is still most popular in the UK, followed by the US, Canada, Germany and Finland.

As I hope most people realise, the blog is a labour of love. I am not paid to write it and continue to refuse any offers to "monetise" it. 

I write it because I hope and believe it is effective in drawing attention to specific issues and in galvanising those who are in a position to effect change.

Thanks to PDE (the films and this blog) there is a great deal more awareness of the problems and a large community of researchers, welfare bodies and vets focusing on them - absolutely key to drive through reforms.

Today, we have a Kennel Club that acknowledges that inbreeding is an issue and has given breeders tools to tackle it - something that was unthinkable before Pedigree Dogs Exposed when first-degree relative matings were considered acceptable and there was zero awareness that breeding profligately from one top-winning sire might be a bad thing to do.

Today, we have a Kennel Club that is much more aware of phenotypic excess and has taken steps to address them (and quite big steps recently in respect of the German Shepherd).

But we still don't have a Kennel Club that acts without outside pressure. Oh how I long for the day when the KC issues a release saying it is taking action on a particular breed because an internal review has revealed a specific problem. I know there are people at the Kennel Club who would like to be more proactive, but sadly they are often thwarted by those at the top, where the batten-down-the-hatches mode prevails.  

I had a good laugh this morning at a BBC report highlighting vets' concerns about flat-faced (brachycephalic breeds).  It contained this gem:

Sean Wensley, President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) said: "Prospective owners need to consider that these dogs can suffer from a range of health problems, from eye ulcers to severe breathing difficulties." 
"We strongly encourage people to choose a healthier breed or a crossbreed instead." 
The BVA’s warning has been backed by the PDSA, Royal Veterinary College, RSPCA and the Kennel Club.

Almost blogged it with the title: "KC urges puppy buyers to avoid Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs; choose a healthier breed or a crossbreed instead".

Of course it's just bad wording by the journalist who doesn't realise that the Kennel Club would never tell people to avoid a breed - or buy a crossbreed - on health grounds.

I hope the KC will find it too embarrassing to demand a change.

In fact, the BBC piece does go on to include this frustratingly-predictable (and somewhat garbled) deflection from Caroline Kisko:

Caroline Kisko, the Kennel Club secretary, said: "The breed standards were set many years ago. If you look back through history there are some dire things that went on, and undoubtedly we would accept all responsibility for that." 
"But I would say that in the here-and-now, after all of the changes to the standards that were made in 2009, we would expect dogs to be far healthier if they are winning prizes at dogs shows."

Mrs Kisko said the problems with brachycephalic dogs were being perpetuated in the main by disreputable puppy farms. 
She said: "If we continue to allow dogs to be brought in from central and eastern Europe where there is no concern for how these dogs are bred, it is inevitable that pet owners will end up with dogs they can't deal with." 
"These are breeds which aren't hugely suited to pet homes. If you want a pet that will run around and chase a ball and so on, don't go out and buy any short-faced breed based on what celebrities are walking around with under their arm."
And this is why I continue to give up time I don't really have to write the PDE blog. General journalists simply don't have the time or the interest to dig beyond the deflection and easy reassurances uttered by the Kennel Club.

• It is, of course, in the show-ring that you will find the very flattest of faces. In fact, show dogs' faces are flatter now than they ever have been as a direct result of show-ring selection and the pursuit of prize-winning rosettes.  It is important to not be in any doubt about that.

• The KC continues to resist the introduction of minimum muzzle lengths into their standards.

• The standards still include demands that are counter to good health.

And then there's the small matter that all the recent surveys looking in detail at the health cost of having a flat face have been of of KC-registered dogs.  These studies agree that at least half of all Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs struggle to breathe (and some have put it a great deal higher than that). Remember, too, that this is looking at just one consequence of being brachycephalic. There are many others, including eye, oral, dental, mating and whelping issues.

Bottom line... Kennel Club-registered dogs are still being bred and shown under the auspices of the Kennel Club in a way that perpetuates suffering for many breeds - and which, unless things change, will lead to their extinction.

At the end of the day, that's what this blog is about.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Ivan the terrible

***UPDATE 15/9/16***

If you cannot see the photos of Ivan below it's because they were embedded from Ivan's owner's Flickr album. M. Faucheron has now exercised his right to remove them at his end so they will no longer show. 

If you missed them, they showed a "hyper-type" harlequin Great Dane with severe ectropion.

Just in case there is any doubt about how bad this dog's eyes are/were, here is the opinion of one of the UK's most senior veterinary ophthalmologists.

"There is marked lower eyelid ectropion and the dog would benefit from surgery (most  simply as shortening of the lower lids). This dog will not be able to blink effectively and all kinds of rubbish collects in the ventral fornix, so chronic conjunctivitis is also a feature. 
"Great Danes generally have rather poor eyelid anatomy and just look at all the loose skin elsewhere which gives a clue as to why they are so likely to have conformational eyelid abnormalities."
Et pour nos amis français (this dog's breeder is threatening to sue me for defamation - see comments section below):
"Il est marqué ectropion de la paupière inférieure et le chien bénéficieraient de la chirurgie (plus simplement comme le raccourcissement des paupières inférieures). Ce chien ne sera pas en mesure de clignoter efficacement et toutes sortes de collectes d'ordures dans le fornix ventral, la conjonctivite donc chronique est également une caractéristique. 
"Les déformations des paupières graves sont celles associées avec soi-disant 'Diamond Eye', car cela provoque à la fois ectropion et entropion. 
"Dogue Allemands ont en général assez pauvre anatomie de la paupière et il suffit de regarder toute la peau lâche ailleurs ce qui donne un indice quant à la raison pour laquelle ils sont si susceptibles d'avoir des anomalies de la paupière conformationnels."
(PS if the pix still show it is because you have visited before and your browser has cached them.)

Ivan de la Grisonniere 2mois

The above picture is one of the first in a series of photographs by French Great Dane owner Arnaud Faucheron. The dog's name is Ivan de la Grisonniere (from a famous French show kennel) and the pictures below follow him from two months to about three years old.

That this dog is loved and has an amazing life in a beautiful part of the world shines through in these pictures - as does Ivan's spirit.   But of course, it is overshadowed by how head-shakingly awful it is that anyone could think it was a good idea to breed a dog that looks like this.

The tragedy is that there are thousands of dogs like Ivan (and some even worse) being bred, shown and sold in Europe, where the "hyper-type" predominates.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how you can help stop this.

Ivan de la Grisonniere 2mois

Ivan de la Grisonniere 2mois












There is a petition calling for urgent action on the Great Dane.  You can find it here.

Please, please sign it - and share this post as widely as possible. 

Sunday, 11 September 2016

UC Davis challenge: prove your Bulldog is healthy and we'll diversity-test for free

The Bulldog world has gone tonto following the publication last month of a study from a team at UC Davis which found that there was so little diversity in Bulldogs (or English Bulldogs as they're usually called outside of the UK) that there was little hope of being able to improve the breed.

On social media, the comment above is about par for the course. In case it needs to be said, it is also at best untrue and at worst defamatory. Professor Pedersen and the team at the UC Davis VGL Laboratory are leading researchers in the field. The paper was published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology (a journal in fact financially supported by the Kennel Club ).

In truth, the paper was wincingly blunt about the extent of health issues in the breed:

The health problems of the English bulldog have been well documented and start with conception, fetal development and parturition. Severe conformational changes have necessitated a high rate of artificial insemination and Caesarean sections and litter sizes tend to be small. The breed ranks second in congenital disease and associated puppy mortality, due mainly to birth defects such as flat chests with splayed legs; anasarca (water babies) and cleft palate.  Although some English bulldogs enjoy reasonable health, their longevity is definitely affected by the degree of conformational change and inbreeding, which is reflected by lifespan estimates ranging from 3.2 to 11.3 years with a median of 8.4 years.  Individuals requiring extensive veterinary care at a young age rarely live beyond 56 years of age, leading to a bimodal mortality curve for the breed. 

The brachycephalic syndrome is a leading cause of ill- health and death in the breed. However, the syndrome is not caused by brachycephaly per se, as brachycephalic breeds such as the boxer do not suffer the syndrome to the same degree. The bulldog tongue is excessively large at the base, the palate is large and easily obstructed by the base of the tongue, the lower jaw is pushed forward (prognathous), and the nares are frequently stenotic and the trachea hypoplastic. This leads to loud panting during physical exercise, stridor during rest and slobbering; sleep apnea, hypercapnia and hypochloremia/hypomagnesemia; exercise intolerance, cyanosis and collapse; and choking fits manifested by gagging, retching, vomiting, aerophagia/ flatulence and aspiration pneumonia. The breathing difficulties of English bulldogs also make them very sensitive to overheating and heat stroke.

Chondrodysplasia, a heritable skeletal disorder that has been incorporated into the phenotype of many dog breeds, predisposes English bulldogs to skeletal disorders such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, luxating patella and shoulders, intervertebral disk disease, cruciate ligament rupture, hemivertebra, torsional pelvic deformity and problems with normal copulation and parturition. Prognathism predisposes to dental disease, while excessive folding of the skin, especially on the face, is associated with skin fold dermatitis, muzzle acne, folliculitis, furunculosis, and eye conditions such as entropion, ectropion, and eversion of the third eyelid. The cork-screw tail can result in tail fold dermatitis. Other heritable conditions that are related to loss of genetic diversity and inbreeding include cataract, various heart valve defects including pulmonic stenosis, hydrocephalus, cysteine urolithiasis, and hiatal hernias; immunologic disorders that include a propensity for severe demodectic mange indicative of immunodeficiency, allergies associated with atopic dermatitis and ear infections, and autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism; and cancers including glioblastoma, mast cell sarcoma and lymphoma. Although the bond and affection between English bulldogs and their owners is strong, the cost of treating health problems is often prohibitive and many of them end up in shelters or euthanized. 
Now, in response to the widespread upset from Bulldog lovers, UC Davis has posted a challenge on the university's website:

We believe that this paper accurately portrayed the current genetic and health problems of the breed, but we did mention that there was still phenotypic variability among bulldogs and that there are bulldogs that breathe freely, move freely, reproduce naturally, and that are free from skin and eye problems, allergies and other immunologic disorders. We did state, however, that it might be difficult to find a single dog that met all of these criteria.  
Therefore, we are offering a challenge to bulldog breeders and owners from around the world to provide us with proof that their dog is a purebred (registered) English bulldog and to include a narrative and photographs/videos that supports their health status.  Please email us at: with this information and if we feel that this is indeed a dog that meets the criteria listed above, our Veterinary Genetics Laboratory will provide you free of cost with a DNA collection kit and from this a genetic profile of your dog that can be compared with the information provided in our genetic assessment paper.   
We will also add genetic information from your dog to our genetic profile database for the English bulldog. Hopefully, this information will allow us to identify a genetic profile that is conducive to greater health. We may share your information online, but like the email alone any personal information regarding the owner, the dog and the breeder will be either redacted or changed.  We do not make personal information public. 

The UC Davis team says the impetus for the challenge came from an email from a Bulldog owner who sent them these pictures of their Bulldog 'Spike' (born and registered in India but now living in the UK).

Spike, said his owner, is as an active, healthy dog who loves to play. They admit he doesn't have the widest nostrils and that he snores a bit,  but overall reckon he's fit as a fiddle. He's certainly lovely and lean - always good to see in Bulldogs. And I'd agree that Spike looks good for a Bulldog - although I don't think he'd be considered show material (he is not undershot enough and he doesn't have the correct 'layback').

You can read the whole of the UC Davis statement/challenge here.

Bottom line, I do have some sympathy with the Bulldog folk on this one.  I do think there is a bit of wiggle room in the UC Davis paper.

Here's why:

The study drew its conclusions after studying DNA samples from 139 Bulldogs in total.

• 37 DNA samples were collected from dogs submitted for various diagnostic tests at UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospitals (ranging from breathing, eye, skin and joint disorders to cancer)

• 102 DNA samples came from dogs submitted mainly to test for for coat colour or HUU (hyperuricosoria) (i.e. the tests done by breeders before breeding so presumed healthy). 87 were from the USA, six from Finland, three each from Canada and Austria and one each from Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Argentina.

Now that's a reasonable spread and the researchers found almost no discernible difference between them, hence their conclusions. But of course there were no dogs, for instance, from the breed's country of origin (UK). There has also been concern expressed by some Bulldog breeders that the coat-colour samples represent "colour" breeders who they think are more likely to inbreed (ergo less diverse) and thus are not representative of "responsible" breeders.

Of course, there were dogs being tested for HUU too (a sign of a "responsible" breeder) too and I would be surprised if colour-bred dogs are more inbred that your average show-bred Bulldog. But it's fair enough to question it.

So Bulldog owners... please do rise to the challenge!

I also think it would be a great idea for Bulldog owners in general to get together to send in more DNA samples  - and not least because the current price of just $50 a dog (around £37) per dog is a bargain.

If nothing else, wouldn't proving the UC Davis team wrong be worth it? Even if they're right and you're wrong, you'd still get useful diversity info about your dog - a tool that many breeders in other breeds are now using to breed better dogs.

More info here...

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Kennel Club identifies "priority" breeds for new conservations plans

The KC has finally released more information about its new breed health and conservation plans (BHCPs).

The plans will, it claims, take a "holistic" approach, embracing genetic issues, conformation concerns and population genetics.

As revealed in today's Dog World (see here):

"To help determine the impact and importance of the health concerns in each breed, a number of evidence-based criteria will be used. Each health concern identified will be assessed and prioritised, based on welfare implications, proportion of the breed affected and likelihood of the concern getting worse in the future. The bespoke nature of these breed-specific health plans will include monitoring and review, to ensure they are up-to-date and remain relevant."

The KC has identified the following as its "priority" breeds for 2017:

Basset Hound



Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Chow Chow

Clumber Spaniel

Dogue de Bordeaux

English Setter

French Bulldog

German Shepherd Dog


Neapolitan Mastiff





St Bernard
This comprises all 11 Category 3 breeds (defined as "Breeds where some dogs have visible conditions or exaggerations that can cause pain or discomfort") and six others that regularly feature on this blog. 

I am, of course, delighted that the Kennel Club has seen fit to take my advice regarding the introduction of conservation plans  - as I proposed in this post just over five years ago.

The devil, however, will be in the detail....and also key will be how influential the breed health co-ordinators will be allowed to be. As the KC says:
"Breed Health co-ordinators will continue to be central collaborators in the identification of health concerns and risks."
Unfortunately,  many reading this will know that while there are some decent health reps others are abysmal, essentially seeing their  role as defenders of the status quo. 

Most of the BHCs for the above breeds would fiercely oppose any meaningful changes to the breed standard or any proposals to outcross (outside of the breed) to inject some much-needed genetic diversity - with one or two exceptions perhaps.  Three of these breeds have seen outcrosses - the Clumber to a Cocker (the descendants of which are now being shown in the UK); the Bloodhound and Otterhound to non-registered working dogs.  All have caused a fuss, though.

The KC, however, maintains that the project will involve collaboration across a broad spectrum of stakeholders including breed clubs and the veterinary and research community so hopefully it won't be possible for an in-denial BHC to have too much influence.

In fact, the Dog World article includes this: 
The KC has asked for any health information you have collected through health surveys or health schemes. This can be e-mailed to
I am pretty sure that's aimed at the Breed Health Co-Ordinators, but I would urge anyone with useful observations/research about genetic, conformation or diversity concerns in any breed (not just the ones listed above) to take this opportunity to contact the Kennel Club, with "BHCP - [breed]" in the subject line. That should ensure they are included when the discussions start in earnest.

It would also be a good idea to forward relevant papers as I am astonished at how often breeders appear to have never heard of key health surveys/published research on their breed.

That address again:

Please feel free to copy/blind-copy in on any emails you send to the Kennel Club.  I am very happy to act as a back-up repository of breed-specific information -  in complete confidence of course unless mutually agreed otherwise. 

Friday, 9 September 2016

Cavalier challenge exposes fundamental flaws

Want me tomorrow? Order by 4pm

Dog World columnist Sheila Atter tackles health-testing in this week's issue (see here), broadly supporting cavalier campaigners' demand for an official heart-testing scheme for the breed.

She writes:
Many of us have been urging the formalisation of heart testing for many years. There is already a panel of recognised cardiologists and several breed clubs make use of their services, so it really can’t be too difficult to regularise this can it?

But Sheila has infuriated the campaigners by her lack of enthusiasm for a mandatory testing for the breed's other big problem: syringomyelia:

The problem with syringomyelia is far more complicated, not least because the geneticists can’t really come up with an accurate explanation of the mode of inheritance of the condition. There are many breeders who have been scanning for years, and still cannot predict with 100 per cent confidence whether their pups will be SM free. 
Instead of haranguing all Cavalier breeders – and in particular those who show their dogs – critics such as Emma Milne would do more good by throwing their support behind those breeders who are health testing, nearly always the same it’s show breeders who get all the flak. If the general public were continually urged to steer clear of unregistered puppies, virtually none of which come from health tested parents, some progress might be made.
It has prompted a sharp response from cavalier owner and campaigner Charlotte Mackaness, who has posted in the Comments section:

I read with alarm the suggestion that testing for Syringomyelia was somehow less pressing because of the condition’s complex inheritance. Just like MVD, SM is polygenic with no simple test that can give a guarantee puppies will be unaffected but studies have shown that their chances are greater if their parents are clear. Surely this makes scanning worthwhile because doing something to improve the odds is better than doing nothing at all and simply hoping for the best? Playing that kind of Russian roulette is morally indefensible. 
In my book, any Cavalier breeder who truly has the breed’s future and well-being at heart is scanning and putting the results through the official scheme so, even if for no other reason, researchers have more information with which to learn about SM and the KC may stand some chance of establishing Estimated Breeding Values. 
Ms Mackaness then goes on to tackle Sheila's assertion that the consumer must take some of the blame for buying puppies from untested parents:

Undoubtedly the consumer wields a great deal of power but finding a puppy from properly health tested parents can be a difficult task for even the best-informed and patient of puppy buyers. While many breeders and breed clubs talk a good game when it comes to health, my experience is that very, very few walk the walk. 
And she issues this challenge:
I wonder whether you could find 10 litters registered within the last 12 months bred following the MVD protocol (heart tested clear at 30 months or older with parents aged at least five and heart clear), eye tested, DNA tested and with BOTH parents complying with the MRI breeding guidelines?
I appreciate this might be quite a task given the absence of an official heart scheme and so few MRI scans going through the official CM/SM scheme but it might also lend an appreciation of the barriers and difficulties facing puppy buyers. Perhaps starting with Cavalier Club committee members might save some time as it would be sensible to assume that such people follow the highest possible standards when breeding.
Well, I'll happily save Ms Atter some time in telling her that it is impossible - Cavalier breeders at the very highest level are simply not complying - in no small part because they don't have to.

But the challenge raises a really key issue. We need to make it a whole heap easier for consumers to buy better dogs. Currently, we are asking them to do way too much work - ridiculous in an age where we can order a fridge off the internet with the full expectation that it will work and that we can secure redress if it doesn't.

We've got to stop being disappointed with consumers for not doing the research and opting for instant fixes like the one offered by the peddlers of the puppy in the pic above.

 My suggestions:

• a centralised resource,  offered ideally by the Kennel Club,  where puppy buyers can:

- review best practice for that breed
- see the compliance to this best practice for every litter advertised on the KC's website

• every puppy to be sold with a 2-yr warranty (extendible at the buyer's expense) against preventible genetic defects. Plain and simple and an added value something every consumer would understand.

• speed up the puppy-buying process so that people are not being asked to wait for weeks for a new dog.

• customer reviews: we do this for absolutely everything these days: hotels; sellers on eBay; goods on Amazon. 

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Danes: the ugliness inside

Next week, all 216 Kennel Club breeds will be represented on a walk to raise money for several very deserving children's and canine charities. Pedigree Paws Unite is the initiative of Gavin Robertson, who organised a similar walk, Jilly's Jolly Jaunt, in 2013 after he won Crufts with his Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, Jilly (Ch Soletrader Peek A Boo).

Like Jilly's Jolly Jaunt, the aim is to promote a positive image of pedigree dogs; that Kennel Club dogs are happy and healthy; that every breed is capable of walking one of the 5-mile legs.

Unfortunately, the Great Dane pictured in the beautiful artwork created especially for the event by artist Elizabeth Greenslade, will not be able to attend.

He has just died of osteosarcoma, aged 4.

"Ryder" (Ch Semalda Koochie Ryder) was, I have no doubt, very well-loved by his owner Adam Chappell. You can tell from his Facebook posts and Twitter feed. Ryder was a good-looking Dane, too - a touch on the heavy side for my taste but with particularly good eyes (worthy of note because we see some really awful ones in the Dane show-ring).  I see, also, that Adam has also signed Maria Gkinala's petition calling for the FCI to act again the hyper-type Danes swamping the European show-ring.

But the problem with Danes isn't just on the outside. A diagnosis of osteosarcoma is as depressingly predictable in this breed as soft-tissue sarcomas are in Flatcoats or malignant histiocytosis in Bernese Mountain Dogs or dilated cardiomyopathy is in Dobermans.

The average age of death of Great Danes is just six years old. It's partly due to the Dane's giant size and fast growth - bone cancer is very common in many giant breeds.

But we could breed them a bit smaller. We could grow them a bit slower. We could make much more effort to document the deaths and select for longer-living lines - and we could outcross to another, longer-living breed.

Did you know, there's a breed way bigger and heavier than Danes that is still working at 15 years old and regularly makes it to 20?  It's called the Mongolian Bankhar, similar but distinct from the Tibetan Mastiff.  There is, incidentally, a fantastic initiative breeding and re-introducing these dogs as livestock guardians in their native land - check it out here.

Want some of those genes?

And if, by the way, you read that question, looked at the picture of the dog and concluded that you didn't want those genes because the progeny would't look like a Dane... then I'm afraid you are part of the problem, not the solution.

None of this, I would like to stress, is intended to sour the Pedigree Paws Unite walk. It's in a good cause. But I am not going to pass up the opportunity Ryder's death affords to highlight that there is a problem on the inside of Danes (and too many other breeds) too, and we need to do more to tackle it. It is not enough to hip score or eye-test - or have your Dane prophylactically "tacked" to prevent bloat (another big killer in the breed).

I am sure Adam Chappell would say that he would give anything to have Ryder walking proudly at his side next week.

Every Dane breeder needs to re-think what they are willing for that word to mean.

Fuck closed stud books. Fuck them to hell.

Faith aka Faybee

Just over seven years ago, in April 2009, journalist Gina Spadafori was at the VCA Veterinary Referral Centre in Sacramento with her beloved Flatcoat McKenzie who had just delivered seven puppies. The labour had stopped - but the rads showed two puppies still in there. Vet Dr Bill Porte said one was definitely dead, but he thought the other, trapped behind, could still be alive. Gina, however, was convinced both were dead. Dr Porte sent Gina home, promising to do his best. As she left, Dr Porte turned to her and said: "Gina? Have faith."

The last puppy was delivered alive later that night. Gina called her Faith and kept her. For the past seven years, everyone who knows and loves Gina has got to know Faith aka Faybee (short for "Faith Baby") better than some people get to know their own dogs. Gina is a born communicator - smart, witty and capable of transforming the most mundane of Facebook updates into something exhilarating. It shines through, too, that Gina is a good soul. It has earned her hundreds of friends.

I 'met' Gina online in 2012, shortly after Faybee's mother McKenzie was diagnosed with malignant histiocytosis. Gina and I are divided physically by the Atlantic, but connected through our career choice (both journalists) and a shared fear for the future for the Flatcoated Retriever, a breed currently fighting a losing battle with cancer - mostly soft-tissue sarcomas, but a growing number of other cancers, too.

Gina fought tooth and nail to keep McKenzie by her side - until she could do no more. It was profoundly upsetting to witness both the death of such a beautiful dog and to feel Gina's grief so acutely through her writing.

Faybee's sire too died of cancer - osteosarcoma. Neither of Faybee's parents made their 8th birthday.

For the past four years, I think everyone who loves Gina has been holding their collective breath, praying that Faybee wouldn't succumb to the blight; hoping that she had landed on the right side of the Flatcoat's 50/50 odds of dying of cancer by the age of eight.

Last Friday, Gina revealed that Faybee had been under the weather for the past couple of weeks. She took her for a full work-up and a scan revealed an enlarged spleen. They operated and found masses which seemed to be contained to the spleen, which was removed. The vets told her they could be benign. Faybee bounced back from the surgery and came home to Gina on Sunday. She was in good spirits.

But on Tuesday, Gina revealed that Faybee wasn't quite as good as she had been the day before. It was at this point, I am certain, that every Flatcoat-owning friend of Gina's felt sick to the stomach.

Tonight, I logged on to Facebook to discover that Faybee is dead - rushed back to the vets in the middle of the night because she suddenly couldn't stand. The pathology report, which came though a few hours later, revealed what by then was already known: the tumours had not been benign. Hemangiosarcoma. Quick and ruthless.

"Fuck cancer," wrote Gina tonight. "Fuck it to hell."

A couple of weeks ago, UC Davis released an initial report regarding Flatcoat genetic diversity. It concluded that despite having very little, the breed was pretty healthy.

I was actually so disturbed by this that I wrote to Neils Pedersen at UC Davis. I know Gina was shocked too. Can you really claim that a breed with such a high cancer rate is healthy?

Healthy until dead, perhaps - and that is true enough; the flatcoat suffers from relatively few other genetic diseases and it is a fundamentally functional, dog-shaped dog.

Ad hey... we can argue, perhaps, that Fabes only suffered a very short illness and prior to that lived a life full of love and fun and happiness.

But fuck that. Fuck that to hell.

I can't read the outpouring of sympathy on Gina's timeline - the emoji broken hearts; the inevitable mentions of the rainbow bridge; the well-meaning words about Faybee being at peace or in a better place. The only better place for Faybee is with Gina. Alive. Breathing.

I can no longer look into the eyes of a Flatcoat and not see the cancer. A river of poison runs in their veins.  It is why there is no longer a Flatcoat by my side.  I have built a wall round my heart in an effort to protect myself - so much so that reading about the death of yet another young dog on the Flatcoat health pages barely grazes any more. But some... some... get through the defences.

So can we please make something good come out of this? For Gina. For Faybee. For this beautiful breed.

It is not OK to predictably lose dogs at seven or eight years old (and many, many far younger).

It is not OK to accept it as just the price we pay for loving the breed, as if it's some kind of badge of honour.

It is not OK to point out that there are other breeds that die even younger or some Flatcoats that beat the odds.

It is not OK to try to deflect the blame on kibble or vaccinations or toxins in the environment.

It is not OK to throw a few quid at research and keep on breeding them the way we do - not when we know why they are dying so young and we could stop it happening.


The Flatcoat is dying because it is so genetically depleted through inbreeding that it can no longer mount a defence.

Open the stud books.

Open them now.

Further reading:

Flatcoats and Cancer

Goodbye Maisie