Jem's Big Ideas # 1: kiss goodbye to the KC register

Today, I start a series of Jem's Big Ideas: constructive suggestions that I feel have potential to improve dog health/ownership in the UK. They are intended for discussion and debate.

We can call it solutions-based-thinking if you want a fancy name for it. Makes it sound more important, don't you think? 

Indeed, I would be happy to spend half an hour talking about solutions-based-thinking at your organisation's annual conference. (I was top of the class in this module at college and my tutor said I was bwilliant). I can do a power-point presentation incorporating some fancy-sounding but ultimately-meaninglessly-titled slides. I can dress up some no-shit-Sherlock common sense as something new and meaningful. And then everyone can go home feeling much better about the whole thing.

You know where to find me!

Or you could just read the whole thang below with a whole lot less waffle and at a cost to your time of about two minutes. If you can spare another two minutes, please  tell me if you think it's a good or a bad idea and why. And if you think it's a half-good idea, tell me how you would improve it.


Get rid of the Kennel Club register.  Yep, scrap the very thing that brings in £12 million pounds a year into the KC coffers... that funds a whole heap of KC activities, genetic research, education and so on.

That KC-registration certificate? Gone..... That KC-pedigree for every dog the KC registers currently? Asta la vista, baby.

The reason?

• because the KC register has a massive integrity issue

• because there's a better way

Of course I don't mean that we forget about registering dogs. We definitely need a Register.  Indeed, we need to register *more* dogs - and in one place.

Just not under the KC banner.

And here's why.

When Kennel Clubs are confronted by those who feel they should be doing more to protect the health of purebred dogs, the response is often: "But we're just a registry!"

This has been a real sticking point for those who want KC registration to mean more.  They believe that if breeders had to jump through more health-hoops before the KC would register their pups, we'd have healthier dogs and it would set an example that would put the crap breeders out of business.

I argued this myself in Pedigree Dogs Exposed. And there are many other voices - including from within the Fancy - who would like to see their breeds subject to more stringent health-demands as a condition of registration.  But now I'm not so sure.

The Kennel Club here in the UK has resisted this at every turn, anyway. The KC's argument is that that breeders and puppy-buyers would simply go elsewhere and that once lost to any KC influence, things would simply get worse.  Indeed there is some evidence of this in the existence of rival registries which vary in quality from fantastic (individual breed registries) to total scam.

The response from the critics is that what the KC fears most is the loss of registration money which it relies on to survive. 

And the response to that from the KC is that this money allows it to do good things for dogs.

So pups continue to be sold with a KC certificate that in reality means nothing (as indeed the KC's small print now states quite clearly). Some pups will be OK; some won't; some will have been raised by breeders who care; some will have been born in horrific conditions on a puppy-farm.  It can be very hard to tell the difference.

The KC's half-way-house solution has been the Assured Breeder Scheme. The KC now urges people to buy their dogs through the ABS to avoid the risk of buying a puppy-farmed dog, something that has really pissed off breeders who eschew the scheme because they don't think it's good enough. 

So it's a stalemate... with many people thinking it is close to fraudulent that the KC (and indeed the AKC in the US and many others) will register just about anything with a pulse when the public is convinced that KC papers are an indication of quality.  (The KC's general register even includes puppies produced by breeders that have been chucked off the ABS for major welfare concerns.)

I've been thinking about this a lot recently - because we really do need a register of dogs for all kinds of compelling reasons. And, ideally, it needs to be a register that includes as many dogs as possible.

So here's my idea:

The Kennel Club makes the Register a separate entity and gives it a new and neutral name -  devoid of KC-branding and therefore devoid of any implicit value. It becomes simply a record of a dog's birth and ancestry - in exactly the same way as we have human ancestry records.

My suggestions:

Liberated from the KC badging and all the baggage that comes with it (while still copping the income from it), the door is then open to register many more dogs than currently - including crossbreeds/mixed breeds. 

This would  knock-out the competition in the UK - because would become THE place to register every dog and the sheer volume would bring down the cost of registration). And it has the clear potential to build into an international resource that eventually mines data from every other register in the world. 

Can you imagine how incredible this would be - in years to come to be able to follow your dog's ancestry back through the generations, regardless of breed or country boundaries? Wouldn't you be happy to pay something for that, in the same way that families love to research their own antecedents?

And, of course, it goes without saying that it would be an amazing resource for breeders, geneticists and other researchers.

It could also include lots more information (and pictures) of individual dogs; not just when they were born or their pedigree, but their health, their temperaments, something about their lives, when they died. This information that could be inputted by owners who would be given a log-in code that allows them access and add to an individual dog's records when the dog is registered; or even (with an owner's permission) link to the VetCompass data already being gathered in the UK. 

At the vets in 2030: "Aha, Jemima... I can see that Jake's grandparents on both sides of his family suffered from Cushing's Disease.. making it all the more likely that the excessive thirst and bald patches on Jake's tummy are due to Cushing's".

What happens to the KC? Nothing. This is just a re-branding  - and of course a commercial expansion that should boost income considerably and allow the KC to spend more money to support its claim that it is now primarily a "dog welfare" organisation.

So the KC continues to do everything it does at the moment; free of the criticism that it affords KC-registration to sub-standard dogs.  And it continues to develop the ABS which becomes more like Debretts for elite dogs - a bit anachronistic in this day and age, but something which should appeal to the Fancy.

Of course, this doesn't solve the solution of sub-standard dogs being sold to a gullible public - you need more than one Big Idea for that. But it does resolve one big current problem,  is a massive boost to dog traceability and has the potential to give us some great epidemiological data/dog demographics - something that all agree is needed.

And the reason I would trust the KC to do this when I'm their greatest critic? Because it is already set-up to do it and because I believe that when the KC's master is not just the purebred dog, but all dogs, everyone - and every dog - will benefit.

Let me know what you think...


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