Open Letter to Dog World

RSPCA Born to Suffer campaign press advertisement

In response to a letter from Steve Dean, Chairman of the Kennel Club to the publication Dog World, we set out the background to our Born to Suffer campaign in an open letter.

You can read it here:

The Editor, Dog World

Dear Madam,

The Born to Suffer campaign is part of a wider campaign to address the many issues associated with dog breeding, which include puppy farming and helping people buy a puppy responsibly.


In February 2011 we launched a new tool to help people make a more informed choice about buying a puppy, called Get Puppy Smart as our starting point with this campaign. In addition, for a number of years we have been warning people of the dangers of buying puppies from unscrupulous breeders.

But the reality is that this advice is falling on deaf ears. New research carried out by the RSPCA has revealed that many people still think pedigree dogs and puppies are always healthy, quality animals that come from good breeding stock.

But scientific and other evidence suggests that many pedigree dogs are vulnerable to unnecessary disease, disability, pain or behavioural problems, at least partly because they are still commonly bred primarily for how they look rather than with health, welfare and temperament in mind.

We believe that breed standards and shows like Crufts are driving a desire for dogs to look a certain way, to the detriment of their health and welfare. Pedigree dog breeding and showing can have direct effects on the animals bred, especially when sires can have so many offspring.

We also believe that this in turn is driving the unscrupulous trade in ‘cheap’ dogs – the desire for something to look a certain way is an intrinsic part of human behaviour. The RSPCA’s research shows that when it comes to buying a puppy, how the puppy looks and what breed it is override all rational thinking, including how to make a responsible purchasing decision. In some ways, pedigree dog breeding is part of the same issue as irresponsible purebred breeding and even puppy farming.

Therefore if changes are not made at the top of the chain to address these important welfare issues for dogs, by the people who have the power to do so, then trying to focus efforts on the problems further down the chain, i.e. the ‘cheaper’ end of the dog market, is in our opinion a waste of effort.

If looks are the driving factor and cost is a barrier, many people may opt to buy a cheaper puppy, regardless of the risks and consequences. But they are still looking for the same attributes found in a pedigree dog.

We are concerned that the problems are far from being solved, despite the efforts being made by the Kennel Club and dog breeders. We would like to see more effort from everyone involved in dog breeding working together to make the changes that are so desperately needed and evidence that more than just lip service is being paid to this important dog welfare issue.

The RSPCA is not against pedigree dogs, but is against irresponsible breeding that creates dogs that are likely to suffer through avoidable causes. We believe that all those who breed dogs should prioritise health, welfare and temperament over appearance when choosing which animals to breed, in order to protect the welfare of the offspring and the parents.

We want to support responsible breeders and dog owners. This involves making it harder for irresponsible breeders to compete or undercut more responsible breeders, and one way to do this is to highlight irresponsible breeding and its effects to the general public. We are keen to work with breeders to progress and accelerate improvements in what remains a major welfare issue.

We are also not anti-showing, but we think it imperative that shows avoid promoting or encouraging welfare problems, such as breeding for exaggerated conformational features. For shows that have the impact that Crufts can have, we would want classes to judge animals according to their health, temperament and welfare.

We recognise the changes that were made to the breed standards when they were reviewed in 2009, however we, and several other leading members of the UK veterinary profession, still consider that these changes do not go far enough. Even when breed standards may not promote the more extreme exaggerated features they do still allow judges to select winners according to those features, as suggested by watching Crufts 2011.

People see pedigree dogs as a badge of quality, which means that the Kennel Club has the power to set the standard for prioritising health and welfare for dogs by changing the breed standards. The Kennel Club can protect responsible breeders, but this involves highlighting where there is irresponsible breeding – both within and outside the Kennel Club sphere of direct influence.

If such changes are made then we believe we will all have a much greater chance of challenging and changing irresponsible puppy breeding and buying for the longer-term.

Yours faithfully,