International Cavalier Symposium Belgium 2014

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Finally, and eagerly awaited, there it was: the International Cavalier Symposium, october 25th2014, held in Brussel, Belgium.

Since the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed in 2008 broadcasted in the UK and also in the Netherlands,  the Dutch looks at the breeding of pedigree dogs with utmost astonishment. The criticism goes on and on  and the geniein the bottle is unleashed.

Belgium did a runner up with a heartbreaking reportage in the year of 2010 which the Netherlands immediately followed  by a broadcast of the television program Zembla  in 2011 with. The same year the consumer program Radar  gave its blessings to the Foundation Dier & Recht, who described pure bred dogs as: “if you buy a pedigree dog, you buy a disaster dog.”

Meanwhile, there are many negative publications about dog breeding appeared. The exaggeration of breed characteristics is denounced and the intrinsic value of the dog starting point become to measure the welfare and wellbeing of the pedigree dog. Meanwhile numerous advocacy for animal welfare is deposited on this topic.

One may hope that it has been awarded the contemporary breeders, along with the modern science, to seek clearer insights into this difficult matter and that they can peacefully work on what the objective of all connected Club Breeders world is: To maintain and improve the well-beloved breed.

Therefore, four years ago the Breeding Value Project “Cavaliers for Life started with the aim improving the health of the breed and ensure a bright future  by using the latest techniques in the field of genetics.

The project is a collaboration between employees of the University of Leuven and Utrecht, the scientific committee of the Royal Cynological Union St. Hubert, the Council of Kennelclub in the Netherlands, veterinarians, breed clubs, judges and breeders.

They have worked hard in this fokadviesproject, very hard. The two animators, the Belgian Jacques Arnold and the Dutch Pauline Jordens are both passionate lovers of the breed and have put all their knowledge and time into this project.

And now there was therefore a symposium where participants from as many as 14 countries. The start was blown up early, because the program was full of seven relevant expert speakers.

The hotel, where the day was organized, was surrounded by a beautifully shaped sculpture garden with water features and within the Belgian hospitality it was mixed into a futuristic atmosphere.

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Dr. V. Bavegems

Old friends met again and new contacts were made, in short, all the ingredients for a fabulous day where there with a joyous glimpse into the future.
The first presentation was given by Dr. Valerie Bavegems who is a cardiologist more than earned and a member of the Belgian Wekgroep Cardiology and also of the European Society of Veterinary Cardiology.

Valerie gave detailed insight into the issues of the Cavaliers heart.The Heartproblem, Mitral Valve Disease, is the most common heart disease in dogs and also in Cavaliers.

The diagnosis is made by means of auscultation and echocardiography with Doppler and the regurgitation of blood to the left atrium of it causes a heart murmur.

To get a pedigree in the Netherlands for a Cavalier puppy the parents must have been monitored annually by a certified internist or cardiologist and should not be bred with animals younger than five years who have a murmur.

Dr. Bavegems also made a comparison with obligations for breeding Cavaliers abroad and advises to use only researchers and approved annually examined breeding animals up to the age of five years. Also with regard to this condition: no scientifically proven correct figures of sufferers within the population are known.

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Dr. Paul Mandigers

The next speaker is Dr. Paul Mandigers Specialist Internal Medicine and European Veterinary Specialist Neurology, moreover, he is an advisor to the Board of Directors and the Cavalier Club Netherlands.

Dr. Mandigers explained during his presentation that the understanding of SM and CM is not simple and straightforward. He now no longer speaks of the diseases Syringomyelia and Chiari Malformation, but a syndrome because there are probably various complex genetic factors underlying the origin.

According to Dr. Mandigers presentation is established that the syndrome needs time to develop and that it also occurs in other breeds.

The costly, bulky screenings that are already done about 10 years by nearly all Cavalier Breeders Clubs, conducted yet no result or solution.

In spite of this, he thinks about MRI scanning (and maybe  including using the CT scan) especially older dogs could be interesting. Partly because perhaps other exposed factors might affect (foramen) Dr. Mandigers also mentions the importance of Breeding Values.

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Dr. F. Coopman

Veterinarian Dr. Frank Coopman is the third speaker and comes from Belgium. He collaborates with the Dr. Van Haeringen Laboratory and medical laboratory Zoolyx from Aalst to access genetic testing for the veterinary practice and for breeding pets.His dream is to find any application for breeders develop.

Such applications must help them to make an appropriate choice for a dog and must be able to make a prediction of the expected breeding results. He introduces packages containing several individual genetic testing.

The results of the combined wide packages should not be construed as a means of exclusion, but as an aid in the correct (er) combining breeding animals. There are DNA markers available for diseases as Episodic falling, dry eye sydrome etc. But there are also combination packages that color variants and exterior features testing.
Dr.Coopman recommands that continueing collecting data is a basis for breeding values and the development of new genetic tests is an absolute must. He also says that no animal should be excluded for breeding.
The previous speakers outlined the framework in which the Symposium really is about; the sustainable breeding of purebred dogs. Concepts such as inbreeding coefficient, and estimated breeding values and male-advice programs are explained in the remainder of the program and deepened.

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Katrien Wijnrocx

The next speaker, Katrien Wijnrocx graduated in 2010 as Master of Biology, Evolution and Behavioural Biology. From 2012 she worked at the University of Leuven in the research Pets Genetics. Since 2013 she started her docoraatsproject dealing with the sustainable in breeding purebred dogs.
Cavaliers for Life takes part in this project with the goal of sustainable breeding for the Cavalier.

This is achieved through data collection and data processing, followed by a genetic evaluation and a dog-advice program. The data collection consists of collecting pedigrees, DNA testing and the results of health investigations.releating to the heart and Syringomyelia / Chiari Malformation (SM / CM).

Up to now, there have already been 509 853 pedigrees collected, 21 502 heart scores and 150 SM / CM scans delivered and so are 600 DNA test Episodic falling and 600 test Dry Eyes / Curly coat.
Subsequently, the data processed at a estimated breeding value. A breeding value is an estimate of the genetic predisposition of a dog for a particular characteristic. Typically, a characteristic determined by genes and environmental factors.

Using mathematical models and modern computer programs, the genetic predisposition of an animal for that particular feature determined, wherein the environmental influences are filtered out.
The genetic predisposition to a characteristic is expressed by a number. The vision for the future that involves each bitch are indicated all males suitable taking into account the inbreeding coefficient and genetic evaluation.

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Dr. Steven Janssens

As copromoter of the genetic project Katrien Wijnrocx then spoke Dr. Steven Janssens, PhD in Agricultural and Applied Biological Sciences, Master Statistics and Agricultural engineer. He emphasized in his presentation in particular the importance of international cooperation as an international assessment of the reliability of the breeding value estimation increases.

He also said that it is very important that as many data of the dogs are collected (pedigrees, surveys, reviews, etc.) in a central database. These data form the basis of the genetic calculations. If the central database is not sufficiently fed with correct individual performance information, no correct breeding values can be calculated.

The breeding value estimation for a dog is calculated, done on the basis of all the results of both the dog itself, the ancestors, brothers, sisters, offspring, etc. These data also will be compared with the entire population. Dogs with a higher breeding value will bring an offspring who will be better than average. Dr. Janssens emphasizes once again that breeding is long term work.

The emotional, involved speech which was then held by Mrs. Sheena Maclaine. She is Chairman of the English cavalier Club and touched the audience deeply.

Mrs. Maclaine is also a breeder and lover of Cavaliers and has in recent years greatly defended her breed against all the negative media attention. She has also taking the appropriate measures for the future of the Cavalier.

She recounted the period after the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed on August 19, 2008, that month after month bad stories were written and broadcast about the dog breeding without mentioning all the good work within the several breeds. Especially the Cavalier was negative on a continuous basis in the media and constantly under attack.

And that all, while the English Cavalier Club was long engaged with health programs. The specific heart examinations were done for years and all breeders have to undertake heart testing for their breeding stock.There was already done, on reduced costs, screening for SM / CM. But nothing helped. The negative perception about the breed remained.

The English Kennel Club was put under pressure by animal welfare organizations and the media. They even lost the right to sponsor Crufts, moreover Crufts was no longer broadcast by the BBC.

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Mrs. Maclaine

Breeders of Cavaliers were dubs as criminals and villains and were threatened if they walking their dogs in the park. As chairman of the Cavalier Club Mrs. Maclaine received numerous threatening letters. The number of registered Cavaliers in England declined dramatically. There were 11,000 Cavaliers registered in 2008, meanwhile, that number dropped to 6,500 in 2013.
Pedigree Dogs Exposed highlighted Cavaliers with regard to SM / CM, while it is known that there are, unfortunately, many other breeds that are sadly affected by either CM or SM or both. Not only breeds from group 9 as the Chihuahua, Griffon and the French Bulldog, but also can be seen in breeds as diverse as the Weimaraner.

The President stressed the importance of working together in the future. Both scientists and breeders worldwide must collectively learn to understand the disease and from there try to find practical and workable solutions to the breeders.

The scientists and breeders have great expectations of each other.

Both parties want a quick solution, but the reality is that neither moves quick enough for the other and both are limited by the constraints of budget. But the witch hunt must stop, and also must stop the finger pointing, this is our beloved breed, so dear to us all….

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Ing. Arnold Jacques

The final speaker of the day is the unsurpassed Ing. Arnold Jacques, MSc, President of Cavaliers for Life and initiator of this Symposium. As director of an agricultural software company he is mainly engaged in the development of programs for the breeding of various species.

Except breeder and lover of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel he is chairman of the Belgian Breed Club for English Toyspaniels, Japan Chin and Pekingese and a member of the Scientific Committee of the KKUSH. He analyzed the problem that the puppy buyers are very critical and protected by the government. Finally the media will constantly keep the Pedigree Dog in sight.

Therefore organized kynology must mentality change, but also from breeding method. Moreover, there is international cooperation nessacary because a race simply does not stop at the border of a country.

Collectively the problems must be addressed and both media and consumers explained must be explained what is all done for the breed.

There are now 22,000 Cavaliers indexes available, but in connection with the privacy laws they may not be published.

But breeders participating in the project can request breeding values of their own dogs. Moreover, they can also breeding values of their dogs on the official site of the Cavaliers for Live website. Clubs can become breeding values of a group of dogs, obtained from the condition that the club provided a list of the results of heart tests, a file containing the pedigrees and will sign a statement that Cavaliers for Life may use the data for breeding values.

In a next phase, the Breedingindex can be calculated for each dog on the basis of the breeding values for the heart, the breeding values for Syringomyelia and breeding values based on DNA tests for Episodic Falling, Dry Eye and Curley coat Syndrome.In short, there is work to be done, as Arnold Jacques says: ” We are all jointly responsible for the future of our race. ”

It would be expected that the Dutch Cavalier Club this data would have provided, but this is not how it went. So the honor of the first club who made use of this option is the Danish Cavalier Club. They receive therefore at the Symposium an USB stick with all indexes from about 1800 Cavaliers.

Arnold Jacques ended the day with thanksgiving to all speakers, scientists, sponsors, breeders and volunteers participating in the project.

Special thanks are pronounced his colleague from the first hour Pauline Jordens, and John Wauben, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors, which is very involved in the project.

The day ended with a festive Belgian beer and chat about what difficulties can be overcome and the hope on the horizon. It was a good day, remained the international group.
We were tired, all together, it was dark allready but oh, how satisfied we were.

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Pauline Jordens

Text : Anne-Greet van de Wal
Photo’s : Pauline Jordens & Danny Charpentier