When the appeal proceedings between, among others, the Norwegian Kennel Club (NKK) and the Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals (NSPA) resumed in Borgarting Court of Appeal on Tuesday, the lawyer representing the NSPA, Emanuel Feinberg, continued his opening speech. It was then time for the parties bringing the appeal to give evidence: the three sued clubs and two of the breeders.
Summary from the second day of the appeal (20 September 2022) – clubs and breeders give evidence.
For the remainder of their opening speech, Feinberg and another lawyer representing the NSPA, Anne-Sofie Stigum, went in detail through the various diseases affecting Cavaliers and English Bulldogs, as well as the history behind the criticism of inbreeding and extreme breeding. They claimed they could prove that the health situation had not improved over the past 60 years, despite measures that have been adopted and implemented. Their main conclusion was that crossbreeding is the only way to resolve the problems associated with breeding.
Head of the Norwegian Kennel Club, Tom Øystein Martinsen, was the first to give evidence. He informed the court that the NKK makes use of veterinary competence in its activities, employs five vets, and assists clubs in their management of the different breeds. However, the Norwegian Kennel Club does not own dogs, and nor is it directly involved in breeding work, other than as an adviser and driving force.
Tom Øystein Martinsen pointed out that the NKK takes an overall view of things and that its main objective is for healthy dogs that function in today’s society. Now and again, this involves concentrating on one challenge at a time, and not trying to “fix” everything at once.
“We have a scientific and health-focused approach to dog breeding. There has never been so much formal competence available as now. Our focus on health has never been greater. We want healthy dogs,” asserted Martinsen.
He claimed that this development has many positive features. The various breed clubs assume their responsibilities. The Nordic kennel clubs collaborate closely and have set a high standard. The Nordic rules for breeding and soundness are the best in Europe and worldwide. The BOAS project is pioneering work.
“We are constantly on the lookout for new knowledge, and we change our rules and measures accordingly,” he stressed.
Feinberg asked whether the measures had had any notable effect on, for example, BOAS syndrome.
Martinsen replied that the strong focus on breathing problems in recent years had probably led to improvements. Systematic BOAS testing has not been in place for long, but it should be a way of documenting measurable changes in the near future.
Christian Holen, who is deputy head/acting head of the Norwegian Bulldog Club, gave evidence on behalf of the club. He explained how the club and its health work are organised. In 2015, the club launched a series of stress tests to measure the pulse frequency of Bulldogs under exertion. However, this was replaced by the BOAS grading scheme in 2019, which is a better scientific tool. The club’s soundness committee also conducts health checks, which themselves provide background information for the development of new measures.
Holen also spoke about the breed standard, denying that this encourages extreme dogs. He pointed out that the beginning of the description includes as many as six points relating to health, where it states that exaggerations and features associated with breathing problems are highly undesirable. It is true that owners and breeders want English Bulldogs to look like fine specimens of the breed, but details are unimportant, and health comes before appearance. He also mentioned that there are strict guidelines in order to avoid caesarean sections, and said that the club puts a lot of work into educating and advising breeders.
In addition, he was very clear when asked why a policy of incrossing another breed is out of the question: “Because it’s time-consuming to find suitable dogs to cross, evaluate the offspring and then backcross. BOAS testing provides us with much faster results. We’ll soon have second generation dogs ready for BOAS testing. We will then be able to document our progress.”
He also stressed that if the club and breeders are found liable in the Court of Appeal, all their work will have to cease. It is not possible to breed dogs from abroad. All Bulldogs in Norway will end up being imported dogs and there will be no control of their health status.
Aud Schønning spoke on behalf of the Norwegian Cavalier Club. She explained how the club works with various health challenges. They have prioritised working with heart disease, and this has been even more in focus as a result of the input the club received from the NKK in 2018. No dogs are now used for breeding until they are at least three years old. Serious cases of various conditions will then be visible, so it is possible to avoid using these dogs. It is also compulsory to examine the heart of any dog used for breeding.
Furthermore, Aud Schønning made it clear that it is difficult to accept the impression of breeders and dogs created by the Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals. “They paint a completely unrealistic picture,” she said.
In response to Feinberg’s questions, she also explained how the two neurological diseases of the breed are diagnosed. When a number of dogs underwent MRI scans some years ago, many of the dogs that proved to have a condition were related, and could then be eliminated from breeding quite easily. In Finland, they have received financial assistance to put in place systematic MRI scanning of a large number of dogs. This can also be done in Norway if the means are provided.
Two of the sued breeders, Lena Haugland (English Bulldogs) and Liv Anne Klubben (Cavaliers) also gave evidence. Both of them told the court about the thorough assessments and health tests involved in their breeding activities. Health, temperament and functionality were singled out as the most important factors.
The day ended with the testimony given by Åshild Roaldset, CEO of the Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals. When asked why her organisation had chosen precisely these two breeds for the legal action, she replied that Cavaliers were in a class of their own in terms of their problems, but that Bulldogs were just one several breeds that had been considered. She agreed that the courts are not the right place to deal with the actual issue, but claimed that they would not have won support for their solution involving crossbreeding/rotational breeding anywhere else.
She defined crossbreeding as using a male dog (sire) from a healthy breed, yet she had no particular views on who should be responsible for this kind of crossbreeding. “It’s not important to me who does it,” she said.
On Wednesday, eight different experts will witness in the case. They are vets, geneticists and researchers.