Head of section for animal welfare at the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, Torunn Knævelsrud, drew attention to what appears to be the weakest point in the Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals’ demands.
If certain breeds were now banned, or crossbreeding became mandatory, how would this be implemented and enforced? Knøvelrud's was the most thought-provoking testimony on day four of the appeal proceedings.
Before it was her turn, however, three other expert witnesses gave evidence. The first two spoke about specific reproduction in dogs.
The first expert witness to take the stand was Astrid Indrebø, a specialist in obstetrics and former head vet with the Norwegian Kennel Club (NKK). She began by stressing that giving birth is a natural activity for all animals, including dogs. The NKK is one of very few kennel clubs worldwide whose registration procedure requires information about whether puppies were born naturally or by caesarean section. One of the breeds where caesareans are quite common is the Bernese Mountain Dog, which cannot be considered extreme. By contrast, 17 percent of Pugs are born by caesarean section, which is a lower percentage than, for example, Labrador Retrievers. It is more difficult to find accurate figures when it comes to Bulldogs, one of the breeds this case is about, since a large number of puppies are still born by planned caesarean sections.
According to Astrid Indrebø, part of the problem is that there is a widespread misconception among both breeders and vets that Bulldogs cannot give birth naturally. Therefore, many prefer to schedule an elective caesarean before labour begins.
“In order for a higher percentage of dogs to give birth normally, they must be given a chance to try,” she said.
She pointed out that overweight dogs in a poor physical condition run greater risks when giving birth.
It is often claimed that the heads of Bulldog puppies are too big to pass through the relatively narrow pelvis of the bitch without intervention. Research conducted in Norway does not support this theory, however. Measurements have shown that bitches that gave birth normally and those that didn’t had identically shaped pelvises.
The lawyer representing the Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals (NSPA) wanted to know if there was a link between BOAS syndrome (breathing difficulties) and birthing problems. Astrid Indrebø confirmed that a dog with breathing problems would have difficulties during labour, but at the same time pointed out that if people bred from dogs without BOAS problems, this would result in dogs that gave birth naturally.
Artificial insemination is common
Ragnar Thomassen was the next expert witness to give evidence. He is a vet who specialises in reproduction in animals, primarily dogs, and runs a reproduction clinic in Oslo. Thomassen explained the procedures for collecting semen and insemination. He was asked why fresh semen is often used for insemination. He mentioned a number of reasons: young, inexperienced stud dogs; short “windows of opportunity” for mating; stud dogs with injuries that made mating difficult; or infection control considerations that prevented the two dogs from meeting physically. He rarely artificially inseminates English Bulldogs. The breed that is most commonly inseminated is the Labrador Retriever.
Do dog owners understand their dog’s health situation?
Rowena Packer, an English biologist and researcher, went over several research projects she had participated in involving collaborations with vets. During her testimony, she emphasised that a short muzzle in itself was a risk factor for BOAS, contrary to what the vet Professor Jane Ladlow said when giving evidence on Wednesday. She also claimed that even dogs with BOAS grade 1 had a poor quality of life, and that Bulldogs were also overrepresented when it comes to various general conditions found in dogs.
As regards birthing problems in Bulldogs, she claimed that it was a kind of “Russian roulette” to let a Bulldog bitch give birth naturally, and that in her opinion a caesarean section caused a dog considerable stress.
A new breeding regulation is imminent
The appeal’s final witness was head of section for animal welfare at the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, Torunn Knævelsrud. Torunn Knævelsrud first explained the role of the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. The agency proposes rules and regulations, which are then drawn up by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. The Food Safety Authority conducts inspections and, if necessary, makes administrative decisions to implement measures in individual cases. They also work in an advisory capacity and with communications.
The Food Safety Authority is currently preparing a new regulation with regard to dog breeding. It will probably be submitted for consultation this autumn or winter. The breeding regulation does not include measures for particular named breeds. Torunn Knævelsrud explained why not:
“We want a regulation that will cover the breeding of all dogs, regardless of whether they are purebred or mongrels, and regardless of whether the breeder is affiliated with an organisation or not. Today, a breeder just needs to terminate their membership of a breed club if they think the breeding rules are too strict, and can then continue breeding independently. Mongrels and unregistered dogs can have diseases and defects, too. Therefore assessments must be made at an individual level, with the individual dog and breeder, not at a breed level,” she stated.
The new regulation will require breeders to be registered. They must also have a breeding plan, even if they aren’t affiliated with a breed club or breeding organisation.
Torunn Knævelsrud described section 25 of the Animal Welfare Act, which Oslo District Court found the NKK and the other parties to have breached, as too harsh and unclear.
“It is necessary to go into more detail about where the line goes. If all the breeding that involves the slightest risk of disease or suffering is banned, it won’t be possible to work with animal breeding at all. It won’t be legal to work with crossbreeding either, such as there have been calls for. It’s impossible to guarantee that defects won’t arise,” she stressed.
Breed ban rejected
Torunn Knævelsrud pointed out that a breed ban has been considered on various occasions, but always rejected as being the wrong way to go. Clearly defined traits are more important than the dog’s breed.
She also expressed concern that a breed ban in Norway could lead to increased imports of dogs from countries with worse animal welfare, such as we have seen in a number of smaller dog breeds in recent years. Because the breeds themselves will hardly be banned, it would just to forbidden to breed them. And what would happen if illegally bred dogs were discovered? Would the dogs be put down? She reminded the court that for many years it was forbidden to own exotic animals in Norway, such as snakes, lizards and so on. Even so, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority estimated that there were at least 100,000 of these illegal animals in Norway during the ban, until it was lifted a few years ago. So the ban didn’t mean that these animals simply disappeared.
The Norwegian Food Safety Authority thinks that detailed regulations that clearly place responsibility on breeders and vets would be a more viable and effective means of improving the health of dogs, including the breeds in question. Torunn Knævelsrud also stressed that we need to address the health issues that exist today.
The NSPA’s lawyer, Emanuel Feinberg, focused on the inspections that the Norwegian Food Safety Authority conducted in the homes of breeders of especially English Bulldogs in 2018. No administrative decisions were made and no measures were implemented as a result of these inspections. He read from the reports and repeatedly asked if it was acceptable that a few of the dogs made snorting noises when they were aroused or asleep. Torunn Knævelsrud said that the noises in themselves didn’t signify poor animal welfare as long as the dogs were active and lively otherwise. Feinberg also asked her whether the Norwegian Food Safety Authority had at any time considered intervening in the legal action between the NSPA, the NKK and others. She replied in no uncertain terms that they had not.
After the last witness of the day had finished giving evidence, the lawyer representing the NKK, breed clubs and breeders, Anette Fjeld, began her closing arguments. She will continue on Friday, and then the NSPA’s lawyer will make his closing arguments. All the closing arguments will be covered by tomorrow’s newsletter.