The recent airing of the BBC Documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed in Australia was an insight into the blinkered thinking of those breeding dogs for shows. Never mind the functionality of an animal, but focus entirely on the look, a look based on a mythological view of the breed. German Shepherds barely able to walk because of the need to match the animal's genetics to a breed standard stipulating a sloping back. King Charles Cavalier's with brains too big for their skulls (the opposite problem to their breeders). Hopefully the documentary and the public reaction to it has cracked a tiny ray of light into Kennel Clubs.
In the past few days, the English Press has looked again at some of the issues with the Savannah cat (here and here), a breed sensibly banned from import into Australia last year. Its ban from Australia was on environmental grounds. However, there is an animal welfare issue with the breed that reminds me of the tunnel vision of many show-animal breeders: first-cross Savannah cats are pretty well all born prematurely.
The breeders have never successfully got female servals to accept mating from a domestic tom-cat. First-cross Savannahs have all come from a male serval crossed to a female domestic cat. The problem is, the gestation periods of the two species differ by about 10 days and kittens are born according to the female timetable, thus all born a week or so early.
In investigating the Savannah issue last year, I was amazed that the breeders refer to this predictable outcome as a "miracle". Apparently, they become skilled at raising premature kittens. That's not a miracle, that's an animal welfare problem that is simply avoided - don't make different species breed.
Of course, the advocates for the cats in this country will whine that only fifth generation Savannahs were destined for import and these are "no different" to an ordinary domestic cat (even though we want to sell them to you for a hundred times or more than the cost of a cat you could get from the RSPCA). But they have to be derived from first crosses, that continue to be bred with a predictably higher kitten mortality rate than need be. I'd hazard a guess that there's probably a very high wastage rate of early crosses as people find them too hard to handle as pets - another welfare story waiting to be exposed?
Posted by Tony Peacock, founder of 'Feral Thoughts'