Pedigree Dogs: My Future as a Vet Student

By Emma Suiter

I would like to begin my guest blog post with a couple of thanks. One  to Mark Walden for asking me to write for his blog. It really is exciting for me to meet like-minded people and to know there are others out there with a similar mind set. Especially those who want to help me get my words out there. And my second thanks are to my gorgeous guy Elliot. Elliot is a seven year old Kooikerhondje who was given to me on my 16th birthday. He was just going to be my next dog, but little did I know, he would become part of my future in such a way that he changed my ambitions.

About Me

10151669_10152298955437472_1494904300_n (1) (2)My name is Emma Suiter and I am a third year vet student at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), Bioveterinary Science graduate, dog shower, health coordinator, dog groomer, dog enthusiast and hopefully one day a dog breeder of Kooikerhondjes. Needless to say, dogs are my thing. It wasn’t always like this though. I had always loved dogs, but my true passion was purely to become a vet and look after all animals. I even imagined being a game reserve vet in Africa once. Since the age of three I knew I wanted to be a vet, and I never gave up. Even when I didn’t get the A-level grades two years running, I did another degree at the RVC to then apply for the vet course as a post graduate, and now I am finally a vet student. So I loved all animals, grew up with dogs, but wasn’t sure what type of vet I wanted to be. Until Elliot came along, and I began taking him to dog shows.

I had decided I needed to do something with Elliot. Being a rare breed I had decided I wanted to do something to help increase the awareness of the Kooikerhondje. I entered the fascinating and exciting world of dog showing, of which I am still very much a part of. And then in 2008 an explosive programme was aired. “Pedigree Dogs Exposed.”  Love it or hate it, I would struggle to find someone who doesn’t agree that the programme did highlight a problem that we cannot ignore. It was a surreal moment for me.

I had an overwhelming feeling of ‘I want to make an impact in the dog world. I’m going to fix this.’

I was always aware of the problem, but never the extent. As I watched that programme and then looked into Elliot’s eyes, I had an overwhelming feeling of ‘I want to make an impact in the dog world. I’m going to fix this.’ That’s where my new ambition of using my veterinary input and canine experience to become part of a much needed change in the dog world.

The New Goal

Going to dog shows with Elliot allowed me to observe the dog world’s reaction after that programme was aired. I listened and absorbed what everyone had to say, and kept up to date with what the Kennel Club was doing. When I started my first degree I knew I should not use it as a stepping stone for vet school, but use it to build on my knowledge on hereditary disorders and genetics in animal breeding. I threw myself into extra learning, meeting canine health researchers and completed summer projects studying diseases like Chiari-like Malformation in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. As well as increasing my veterinary knowledge, I felt it was also important to increase my dog knowledge generally and made an effort to speak to dog breeders and ask their opinions when out with Elliot. Believe it or not, this was harder for me than studying at university. 10149361_10152298955452472_898331405_nI couldn’t help but feel I was being brushed aside with my concerns. I was only 18 at the time and felt that I really was looked upon as “young and inexperienced.” Both of those were true, but I didn’t seem to be rewarded for trying to become experienced. But I did not give up, and now at 23 years of age I am finally being listened to and having the discussions I so craved. Most recently I have been elected as Health Coordinator for my breed club and things are changing with new ideas being accepted. But it took a long time. Any change, especially those involving animals and people, takes a long time.

Over the seven years of pursuing this new goal of mine, I have come across many sides of the argument, and been subject to a lot of shocking comments. These comments come from researchers, dog breeders, judges, fellow vet students, vets and pet owners. Here are some examples:

  • “How can you show your dog at Crufts but want to improve dog health? You’re such a hypocrite.”

  • “Cross breeds are lovely too. You’re being ridiculous only owning pedigree dogs. You’re part of the problem.”

  • “This is a horrible breed. It just shouldn’t exist. In fact, we should make pedigree dogs extinct.”

  • “Don’t keep looking for problems. There is such a thing as knowing too much.”

  • “Well I have more experience in dogs than a vet has knowledge. I would never trust a vet.”

  • “Vets don’t get trained in this.”

  • “You’re just against pedigree dogs.”

  • “You couldn’t possibly understand this. Talk to me when you’ve been breeding for fifty years.”

  • “Take a look at my critique; I won’t explain my choice just to please your silly little head.”

  • “What these stupid vets don’t understand is it’s perfectly normal for this breed to faint when it’s too hot.”

I don’t act differently or say different things to different people, and yet these are just a selection of comments that have been said to me in the past. And the main consensus I get from this; we are stuck in a blame culture. Everybody is upset. However I truly believe that all we need to do is step back, take a deep breath and realise that we are all responsible.  Once we all accept a level of responsibility, we can begin to work together and move forward for the dogs. Let us not forget, it’s not about who is right, who is the best, who knows the most, who’s done the most.

Once we all accept a level of responsibility, we can begin to work together and move forward for the dogs.

It’s about the dogs. Nothing will change by standing on the outskirts and shouting “Hey, what you’re doing is bad!” The only way to change something is to become part of the solution and by working together. Vets, breeders, judges, scientists all need to willing to talk, listen and trust each other. When we do that as a majority we can move forward instead of bicker. We have to stop fighting the old and start accepting the new.

The Solution?

The Kennel Club is too scared to make decisions quickly. I believe they need to be a little braver in making the much needed changes to breed standards and be harsher on judges who are awarding prizes to unhealthy examples of the breeds.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Vets are too quick to blame and get angry at the situation because they see the worst cases of breed related disorders, and unfortunately this opinion can be very easily passed on vet students during lectures. We need to be persuading new vets to become a part of the wider solution, rather than fixing the current problems and moaning about it happening. Breeders can be very defensive and nervous of changing something they have been doing for generations. They need to be willing to accept a responsibility and move forward positively with a new outlook on breeding in order to better the animals they love so much. And for the breeders who are doing everything right, they need to be rewarded and not stereotyped by the bad individuals that the media is so keen to point out (although they usually are the more outspoken individuals). 10152751_10152298955447472_903150728_nJudges need to stop placing dogs with anatomical exaggerations and visible pathology (including obesity) and be willing to shock the system and upset a few “champions” in order to make way for the new healthier individuals. And even if we all in our own categories do this, changes our opinions and our activities, we still need to be realistic of time. This isn’t going to happen overnight, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. One of my favourite quotes I would like share with you is by George Bernard Shaw, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” It’s time to stop being on a “side” of this argument and start resolving the debate.

I watched “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” earlier this week for inspiration for this article and I actually came away happy and proud as since 2008, so many changes have happened for the good. And that’s in 6 years. Personally, I am excited to see what will happen in the next 6 years. If we can all take that step and be brave, I believe we can do what I want to be a part of. We can fix our dogs.

You can also follow Emma on twitter – @emyveterinary

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