Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppies UK
Craig Revel Horwood (pictured with dog Sophie) confesses to being 'unbelievably in love' his the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and is heartbroken after she was diagnosed with a diseased heart
Sadly, that happy state of affairs may end soon. Sophie shares a curse common to many Cavaliers: a diseased heart. Now, despite a regime involving eight tablets a day, Sophie is unlikely to survive for very much longer.
'I am so upset, ' says Mr Horwood. 'You know it's imminent, but you have to take one day at a time and enjoy it.'
Sophie's condition highlights a serious issue — one that sheds light on modern attitudes to animal welfare.
For centuries, mankind has been refining descendants of the wolf into ever-more-specialised breeds of dog.
Many of them are prey to some particular illness or other, but some varieties are so riddled with inherited defects that even breed enthusiasts are calling for action to combat the problem — either by mixing them with other breeds or by getting rid of them altogether.
Sophie shares a curse common to many Cavaliers: Mitral Valve Disease which is fatal for the animals
And so it is with the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
The breed is a longer-nosed version of the King Charles Spaniel and the result of an attempt in the 1920s to create a prettier dog from a small pool of 'founder' animals.
Mild of temperament, the Cavalier is the pet of choice for many families, and last year some 5, 100 puppies were registered with the Kennel Club — the nearest thing to a regulator in the dog world. Famous owners have included Princess Margaret, Ronald Reagan and Frank Sinatra.
But that cute little head masks a terrible problem.
'I cannot support the breeding of Cavaliers and will, sadly, not be getting another, ' says Carol Fowler, a former owner. 'I don't believe human selfishness should mean that animals suffer.'
Cavaliers disproportionately suffer from two major defects. The first is Mitral Valve Disease (MVD), in which one of the valves controlling blood flow through the heart shrivels over time, reducing the amount of blood pumped into the body. Affected dogs can end up struggling for breath, before finally dying of the disease.
The second is a very distressing condition called Syringomyelia (SM). Put simply, this involves the brain being too big for the skull. As a result, the brain squeezes through the opening leading to the spinal cord, causing fluid in the spine to press on nerves, resulting in pain and disability.
Critics of the Cavalier breeding fraternity ascribe this suffering, in part at least, to the quest for a dog with a puppy-like appearance.
'Years of breeding for a prettier head has resulted in too small a skull, ' says Margaret Carter, a one-time Cavalier breeder. 'Seventy per cent of Cavaliers will have gone on to develop SM by the age of six.'
But it is not just Cavalier King Charles Spaniels which are prone to hereditary problems, Labrador Retrievers (pictured) are especially likely to develop obesity which leads to a collection of other health probelms
She has witnessed the consequences at first hand.
'My Cavalier was a top stud dog, and he started showing signs of SM at the age of 11, ' she says. 'It got so bad that he ended up screaming with pain. It couldn't be controlled and he had to be put down.'
Ms Fowler endured a similar experience to Mrs Carter with her first Cavalier, called Bonnie.
'Bonnie had to be put to sleep aged five as a result of unbearable pain, ' she says. 'It broke my heart to know how much she'd suffered during her short life, and how little I could do for her.
'I foolishly got another Cavalier, Rosie, only to find out through an MRI scan that she, too, had SM. She fared better as a result of early surgery and drug treatment, but developed MVD and died aged 11.'
Mrs Carter was a leading light in the Cavalier Breeders Club until removed from her position as spokesman on health in 2008. Her crime was to say in a BBC TV documentary that she had seen a scan confirming that a champion Cavalier, which had sired many litters, suffered from SM.
Dog breeding and showing are, she says, 'almost like a cult — a kind of brainwashing. People know that inbreeding is dangerous in humans, but somehow don't see that it's dangerous in animals.
'There is a kind of code of silence that you do not talk about health problems in your breed, ' she adds. 'It's about status. It's about not wanting to have to remove your best dog from the show ring or your breeding programme; about puppy sales and stud fees; it's about prestige.'