Jeremy Hunt calls for the organisation to honour its mission and put health and welfare of dogs first
Though the existence of the Kennel Club may not appear to have much impact on those who enjoy the sport of gameshooting, it would be foolhardy to underestimate its importance, because this multi-faceted organisation oversees every aspect of the world of gundogs.
So it is deeply concerning that the 145-year-old club has been described in the canine press as being “in meltdown”.
Recent discussions in said press about Kennel Club chairman Simon Luxmoore’s application to judge St Bernards at championship-show level may seem a world away from topics more relevant to the readers of this magazine. They certainly are, but they have caused such a stir that they have led to Mr Luxmoore’s high-profile resignation.
Kennel Club rocked to its foundations
But this is the tip of the iceberg. It has opened up a can of worms that is threatening to rock the foundations of the London-based club, which last year recorded an income of just over £21.5million.
In recent weeks, more than 500 Kennel Club members also supported a vote of no confidence in two other leading names in the dog showing world. Both Mark Cocozza (disciplinary committee) and Jeff Horswell (competency framework working party) were chairmen of Kennel Club committees. The resignations were taken, said the Club, with “deep regret” and “in the hope of bringing an end or at least minimising the damage being done to the Kennel Club”. They led to a special general meeting being held on 6 November.
The perils of being a member of the Kennel Club
To become a member of the Kennel Club, it is necessary to be proposed by an existing member. Some years ago, I was proposed and duly invited — with other candidates — to attend a lunch at Clarges Street, where I was discreetly assessed in convivial conversation by members of the Kennel Club’s hierarchy. Some weeks later, I was informed I had been accepted as a member. I had to pay a significant joining fee, then my annual membership fee.
But when I wrote an article in the shooting press that was mildly critical in a constructive way, I received a letter from the Kennel Club informing me that it did not approve. It was clear I had broken an unwritten rule of those invited into the inner sanctum. I took the decision to resign.
Why should gundog owners care?
So as we watch our dogs begin another hard-working season in the shooting field — be they retrievers, spaniels or HPRs — why should we be concerned about controversy and discontent in the canine powerhouse that seems far-flung from those with dogs involved in country sports?
To set the scene, the Kennel Club rules every aspect of British dogdom with a rod of iron. Anything to do with dogs — from the £12million it earns from puppy registrations to organising of all canine events, ranging from field trials in the heart of the countryside to agility, obedience and fly-ball competitions in urban leisure centres — it is all governed by the Club’s rule book and myriad committees.
The Kennel Club has weathered many storms in the past, none more so than the aftershock following the BBC television programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which was broadcast 10 years ago. But the Club has lived on. While there are chinks appearing in the Kennel Club’s armour it is unlikely the folding of the Club will ever happen.
But the Kennel Club ignores the current unrest at its peril. It presents the perfect opportunity to destabilise the Club, which may trigger a stronger revolt among the wider dog fraternity.
Would that matter? Should we lose any sleep over the possible demise of the Kennel Club? In truth, I doubt the folding of the Kennel Club will ever happen, but the Club ignores the current unrest at its peril.
If the powers that control Clarges Street fail to acknowledge the need to prioritise major changes to placate the deeply felt concerns many of us have about the way this organisation is run, it will be usurped by renegade groups offering a registration service and little else.
While the driving force for change within the Club is being spearheaded by exhibitors and breeders involved in pedigree dog showing, our own world of field trials has not been without controversy.
Amy Bates, who runs Levenghyl Labradors with her husband Peter, has long been voicing her serious concerns over several issues relating to field trials — a sport over which the Kennel Club has total control.
I, too, have publicly expressed my own worries on other matters relating to the influence the current field trial system is having on working Labradors in general. This is something the Kennel Club should have recognised a long time ago.
In The Times of 3 June, a headline stated “Trainers hit and bite gundogs, but Kennel Club turns ‘blind eye’”. The article claimed that the Kennel Club was failing to control the mistreatment of dogs being trained for field trials and accused it of ignoring the “entrenched practice of using violence to ‘break’ or reprimand dogs”.
Bernadette Restorick resigned in March as secretary of the Utility Gundog Society of Kent and Sussex and gave the reasons for her resignation in the article. She said that despite her complaints made to the Kennel Club, it had adopted the “ostrich position”. Mrs Restorick has since written to HM the Queen — patron of the Kennel Club — to state her concerns.
In a statement to The Times the Kennel Club said: “While we cannot comment on specific cases, the Kennel Club is wholeheartedly committed to the welfare of dogs. [We take] any accusations of animal cruelty seriously and will deal with any complaint or report of an incident at any Kennel Club-licensed event. Complaints of harsh handling are a serious matter.”
These are some of the fundamental issues over which the Kennel Club should be acting, but its apparent failure to tackle concerns of genuine, caring people is fuelling a growing dissatisfaction within an organisation that claims in its 2018 annual report to have a mission “to improve the health and welfare of dogs”.
Pedigree Labrador puppies contribute a major slice of the £12million annual income from registrations. Responsible breeders only breed litters from health-tested parents and the subsequent puppies are registered with the Kennel Club at a cost of £17 per puppy.
But the only criterion required to register a puppy is that both the sire and dam are Kennel Club-registered. It means that anyone can breed from parents that have had no health checks at all. The Club makes no secret of the fact that it registers puppies of Labradors from commercial breeders.
But the dog world at large does need a professionally run, totally transparent organisation to oversee its day-to-day business. We need the Kennel Club — but it has to change.
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Who knows what the outcome will be from the inevitable public scrutiny of the Kennel Club’s top brass? Organisations such as the Kennel Club are cleverly set up to survive these crises but it will be a crying shame if the phoenix that rises in Clarges Street doesn’t get its act together and start listening to those who have the health and welfare of dogs at heart.