Kennel Club (KC) spokesman Bill Lambert had agreed to meet me for lunch, and I suspect he thought he was walking into the lion?s den. ?You do have a reputation for being somewhat caustic,? he said. However, Bill, as a breeder of bull terriers, is made of tough stuff.

He had contacted me because he felt I?d been unfair (Gundogs, 22 May) about the Kennel Club?s Assured Breeder Scheme (ABS), and in this case I did feel that my comments were too negative.

The ABS was first launched by the Kennel Club (KC) as the Accredited Breeder Scheme in 2005; the subtle change in name was part of the KC?s bid to gain recognition for the scheme by the UK Accreditation Service, which it did in March this year.

The aim of the scheme is simple: to promote good breeding practices and to help puppy owners find responsible breeders. Criticism of the scheme ranges from the fact that breeders with little or no experience can join it, to the promised inspections of premises being rare.

A move in the right direction

After my article was published, a vet wrote to me, saying: ?I still think the scheme is the way to go, even though it?s not perfect. Untested stud dogs can only be used by special permission. The lack of health-tested FTCh studs isn?t the fault of the ABS scheme. Its members already spend more in kennel-name fees, ABS membership and health tests than the person who breeds a one-off litter from untested dogs. As a result, their puppies cost more to produce.

?The whole scheme is undermined if poor-quality dogs can knock out puppies at half the price and the public buys those. Sadly, there?s still a feeling in the trialling world that it?s a choice between FT awards and health testing.?

Needless to say, Bill agreed with these sentiments, pointing out that with working gundogs other than Labradors, only a small minority of breeders ever health test their stock. ?There may not be health problems with most working spaniels, but why not get the dogs tested to prove it?? Bill said. ?Reluctance to test seems to be based on a fear of failure.? I conceded that Bill had a good point here. I agreed with him, too, that the scheme should be open to all. Just because someone rarely breeds a litter doesn?t mean that they can?t make an outstanding job of it. Most of the current members are small-time breeders producing just one or two litters a year.

Bill pointed out that until the scheme was introduced, there was no form of regulation whatsoever, so the ABS has to be a move in the right direction.

I tackled him on the subject of inspections and it was clear from Bill?s response that the KC feels that the lack of inspection is a current weakness of the scheme. He assured me that ?we are aiming to inspect every member of the scheme before they are accepted. After the initial inspection, members will be checked at least once every three years. Some might be inspected more often ? high-volume breeders sell more puppies, so if they are doing something wrong it will affect more people. Towards the end of the year, no one will be accepted until they have been inspected.?

Inspections are expensive, so accusations that the ABS is a moneymaker for the Club aren?t fair, especially as it costs a mere £15 to join the scheme. I suspect that this modest sum will have to rise if the scheme really is to have suffi cient inspectors to undertake the checks Bill outlined to me.

Joining the scheme allows unlimited access to the KC?s online Find a Puppy service (www.findapuppy.org.uk), plus additional advice and information from the KC?s Health and Breeder Services Department. The puppy buyers will, according to the KC, ?gain confidence knowing that the breeder has undertaken to follow basic good practice as laid out by the scheme?. For those breeders who take the scheme seriously (hopefully the majority), this has to be a good thing.

Lastly, I suggested to Bill that breeders might join if membership gave a discount when registering puppies. I was delighted to hear that this is a proposal that is under consideration.