Monday, 19 September 2022

Let's Ban Breeding!/? - A Legal Case in Norway - part 1/3

The Land of Hope

If you missed the dog-related happenings in Norway at the beginning of February 2022, you must have been on another planet or dimension for some days. The headline “Norway bans the English Bulldog and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel” hit the mainstream media and spread rapidly worldwide, translated into many languages. And I literally mean worldwide.
The Norwegian animal welfare organisation, Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge (Animal Protection Norway), took the Norwegian Kennel Club (NKK), the two breed clubs related to the mentioned breeds, and six breeders to court.
The lawsuit claimed that the parties mentioned above had been violating the Animal Welfare Act by conducting the breeding of these varietis since it is written in the law, “breeding shall encourage characteristics which give robust animals which function well and have good health”.
According to the accusations, these codified requirements have not been fulfilled.

The whole case started back in 2018. Throughout this whole time, Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge has run various campaigns calling attention to their mission, including collecting funds for going to court. This matter became well-known to all dog lovers in the country who could also actively engage in the fight for a better future for dogs.
Meanwhile, in July 2021, the Norwegian Parliament amended the breeding clause in the Animal Welfare Act.

When the verdict was announced, the international media flooded the news: even the registered breeding of the two breeds is completely banned in the country.
The triumphant and emotionally touching statement of Åshild Roaldset, the general manager of Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge, proclaimed:

“This is first and foremost a victory for our dogs, and for us at Animal Protection Norway. It is a historic verdict that attracts international attention. (…)
“Now we have the wording in the law after the Oslo District Court ruled that dogs must be bred healthy. (…)
“This verdict has been a long time coming. For many decades, sick dogs have been bred in violation of Norwegian law in a systematic and organised betrayal of our four-legged friends. Today it has been confirmed that this is a crime.”

Previously, Åshild Roaldset also announced that if they won the lawsuit, they would take other breeds to court and expressed their hope that this approach would also spread to other countries. I have seen some reactions from animal welfare activists in different countries wishing to have similar improvements in their country.

Lucky dogs in Norway!

Obviously not Obvious

After my short brief—you might have indeed missed the news or cannot recall the major bits of the story—let’s look behind the media coverage and delve into some other aspects of the case.

No, these breeds will not disappear from Norway. In fact, it is a bit confusing what the verdict actually means and how to implement it.
According to the statements having landed in the media, it is definite that the verdict aims to ban the reproduction of all dogs representing these two breeds. Breeding these animals was the whole scope of the case, and all the announcements referred to breeding. You can still import dogs from abroad or enquire through any channel, for example, backyard breeding or the illegal puppy trade. So, the fans of these two breeds can sigh with relief; they can still keep such dogs. They simply can’t have any with the label “bred and registered in Norway”. 

If the verdict means that at all, as some days later, an interview emerged covering the uncertainties around it.
First, the Norwegian Kennel Club (NKK) stated their point of view: the court cannot rule on a general ban, and the verdict can have force exclusively on those who were present at the court. Namely, the NKK, the two breed clubs, and the six breeders.
This point of view was upheld by the relevant Norwegian authority, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, adding that they could only impose such a ban in line with current regulations. They also expressed they will not recommend such bans as they dispute that it is the solution in the long run. The lawyer of Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge expectedly disagreed with this interpretation.
And just to add some spice to make the story even more colourful and challenging to follow, the official announcement of Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge states that the anticipated verdict “does not imply a ban on serious breeding of Bulldog or Cavalier, as serious and scientifically based cross-breeding could be a good alternative”.

You see, the media coverage seemed simple, although the whole case is a bit messy around what the verdict exactly states.
The story and the debates will obviously carry on, primarily because, as expected, the NKK filed their appeal in court. The legal debate will continue in September 2022. And when you read these lines, it might have even been completed with a verdict. 

Evidently not Evident

If you heard about the legal case of the two breeds in Norway, you probably got insight via the writings of journalists, or you met the opinions of others on social media. You probably have not digested the complete verdict with all its explanations and reasonings. It comprises some dozens of pages, and even though it is available in English, just a few of us enjoy reading and comprehending massive legal documentation. Therefore, many of us have primarily indirect information on the case.

For instance, Daily Mail penned that “lawyers representing the animal rights group successfully argued for the ban, saying that because of the history of selective breeding in the country, none of the animals currently living in Norway can be considered ‘healthy’”.
This sentence can be easily misunderstood and consequently misinterpreted. The “considered” refers to a legally defined healthiness according to the law. It is not about the actual state of health of the individual animals.
I have a friend who is involved in animal protection in Hungary. She was over the moon and claimed that the judge examined each and every dog before the verdict ruled a ban on both breeds and found the six breeders involved in the reproduction process guilty.

I am not sure that my friend read the Daily Mail article or got any detailed briefing on the case. She most likely has just used common sense to figure that such a decision requires running a detailed and thorough examination of the subject of the “investigation”. In this case, the subject is those breeds in question. And the individual dogs themselves.
But surprisingly, that is not what happened.

The NKK implemented the BOAS (Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome) functional grading system years ago to tackle the health issue. They presented statistics about the distribution of the dog population in the different functional groups. Yet, no data on the health state of individual dogs got assessed.
The evidentiary procedure of the lawsuit was the battle of scientific papers—none of them from Norway.

Meanwhile in Norway

The Norwegian media covered another story involving a different dog welfare issue simultaneously. It has not caused similarly loud coverage and has not hit the threshold of international news outlets either. Presumably because the coverage can only be accessed with a subscription at Dagbladet.
Luckily, I got the article in English translation. I wanted to understand the story after I had briefly heard about it around the time when everyone had been arguing the legal case of the breed bans on social media.

Initially, it grabbed my attention that running puppy farms is legal in Norway. Two companies operate such facilities with significant annual turnovers. The industrial reproduction of dogs is definitely a good business everywhere in the world. Their existence causes many debates.
I am confident—or at least I truly hope—that there are specific breeding regulations in countries where it is allowed, and these facilities have to fall in line with regulatory criteria.
The biggest concern is that such mass production of puppies does not ensure well-socialised dogs for society.

What truly surprised me even more than the existence of puppy farms was a generalised hosting scheme: you can have and raise a dog while the legal owners are someone else. In the story I will shortly describe, according to the written agreement, the female dog was “obliged” to breed twice during its life.
Luna, the Labradoodle under this scheme, got pregnant. Vet checked and considered to have genes worth passing on. After mating, she had constant fatigue and slept almost all the time. Her keeper took her back to the dog hotel (as they call the facility) when she was nine weeks pregnant to give birth soon. She gave life to twelve puppies, staying with them at the “hotel” until the puppies were eight weeks old, then went back home to her host. The new mother had a fever and felt constantly weak.
A year later, she got mated again, but this time her body gave up. After having given life to three puppies—and nine still inside—Luna collapsed and passed away.

Certainly, there is disagreement about what precisely happened and whose responsibility it is that a female Labradoodle died during labour a year later when she had difficulties with the first litter.

The host insisted on having reported that something bad had been going on with the dog and had raised her concerns about Luna’s health state.
The breeder, who is also the dog owner, states that they follow strict ethical breeding guidelines and even stricter breeding requirements than the NKK. She also believes that criticism comes from the fact that their success irritates others.
The representative of the NKK claims that after the first problematic labour, this dog should not have had another litter of puppies in her condition.
It also revealed the Norwegian Food Safety Authority had filed reports of concerns on animal welfare matters related to the activity of the “hotel”. The sad news is that making adequate supervision is not possible as identification of dogs (such as microchipping) in Norway is not compulsory. There is no traceability, no database. An investigation is not feasible in many cases.
Besides the authority, Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge—the animal welfare organisation having taken the NKK and the breeders to court—has also received a good number of reports. Åshild Roaldset, the CEO of the organisation, commented on this case as “this bitch may have died due to unfortunate circumstances”.

I do not want to go deeper in this story and express definite conclusions, as a more thorough investigation would be necessary with accurate details. However, one can take from this story some significant points. 

Personally, it surprises me that such industrial facilities are absolutely accepted in the country. And I’m not saying that because their success irritates me.
Of course, we should see all the circumstances and investigate the breeding protocols and rules such institutes are obliged to follow to evaluate their effect on dog welfare.
This hosting scheme is also strange for my taste. The sublime idea of the modern family dog being kept as a companion under such a lease-like hosting agreement is kind of weird. I truly understand it is financially beneficial if you do not have to bother with your dog as an owner and breeder, others will do. They can keep and handle the dog; still, you can have the puppies. I know everyone loves dogs. But it is just so utterly apparent that it is purely about money.
There is one element of the story I cannot come to terms with. Who on Earth would grab a pregnant bitch out of her regular habitat a short period prior to starting labour? It is a huge stressor. And stress affects health—both for the mother and puppies. 

The inconsistency in the image of dog welfare in Norway raised my eyebrow. That is the primary reason I considered it essential to reveal this story in the scope of the Norwegian lawsuit.

On the one hand, the image of a highly progressive animal welfare approach captured worldwide attention. Thanks to the restless work of the local animal welfare organisation, the health of animals is ensured even before conception.
Yet, on the other hand, the representative of the very same animal welfare organisation comments on the probably avoidable death of a bitch at a puppy farm—which is a socially and legally accepted institution in the country where you can lease a dog as a family member—as she “may have died due to unfortunate circumstances”.
If you are an advocate for animals, you fight for their rights in all cases. You do not turn a blind eye to one situation and shout out loud at others. You are not selective and do not run double standards!
There might be campaigns against such practice that led to the Labradoodle’s death. If not, I do hope they will start it soon. Otherwise, the organisation discredits itself.

A dog is a dog. And All dogs should be treated equally. No matter if it comes from a registered kennel with individual registration or from a breeding facility with little or no traceability.

Let's Ban Breeding!/? - A Legal Case in Norway - part 2/3
Let's Ban Breeding!/? - A Legal Case in Norway - part 3/3

This writing is a chapter of the book “Let’s ban breeding!/?” to be published at the beginning of 2023.

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