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Alison Skipper

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Twitter Handle: @acdalison

alison picture 2019.JPG

Form, function and fashion: health, disease and pedigree dog breeding in

the long twentieth century (2016 - projected end 2021)

Today, pedigree dogs are controversial.  Devotees admire their appearance, preservetheir lineages and participate in tight-knit breeding and showing communities; but others condemn them as unnatural, crippled by diseases linked to their exaggerated body shapes and plagued by inherited conditions exacerbated by inbreeding. How did

this situation arise, and how have vets and breeders responded to it?  What factors influenced their intentions and actions, and what were the implications for the purebred dog in the long twentieth century? This research project, informed by a rich and underexplored realm of source material, aims to answer these questions. By elucidating the formational and reciprocal influences between the dog fancy and eugenics, by situating changing ideas of canine health in their social and scientific contexts, by examining the negotiations between vets and breeders over the canine body, and by exploring how these factors came together in the management of pedigree dog disease, this work will add new dimensions to, and draw important connections between, historical scholarship in medicine, veterinary medicine and animal studies. It will also elucidate and inform the current topical debate, with consequent general impact.

1st Supervisor: Abigail Woods    

2nd SupervisorCaitjan Gainty



I have been interested in pedigree dogs and their health since childhood. Originally qualifying from the University of Cambridge with a BA in Physical Anthropology and a Vet MB, I have spent many years in general practice. My clinical involvement in the dog world as a small animal vet from a dog breeding background led me to investigate the history of disease and breeding in pedigree dogs, both to understand the past and as a tool to inform productive intervention strategies in the future. Since joining KCL in 2014, my training in history, first through an MA and now the PhD, has radically changed my approach to pedigree dog health. I am also increasingly interested in the value of veterinary humanities to inform clinical practice and sustain practitioner wellbeing.


Publications (Articles/reviews):

Forthcoming: ‘A historical perspective of brachycephalic breed health and the role of the veterinary profession’. In Rowena Packer and Dan O’Neill (eds.) Health and Welfare of Brachycephalic Breeds: A Guide for Veterinary Professionals (Taylor and Francis).

May 2020: ‘Mad Dogs and Other New Yorkers: Rabies, Medicine and Society in an American Metropolis, 1840–1920; Jessica Wang’. Social History of Medicine

June 2019: The ‘Dog Doctors’ of Edwardian London: Elite Canine Veterinary Care in the Early Twentieth Century. Social History of Medicine. Advance online publication:hkz049.

June 2019: Dan G. O’Neill, Alison M. Skipper, Jade Kadhim, David B. Church, Dave C. Brodbelt, Rowena M. A. Packer, ‘Disorders of Bulldogs under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2013’: PLOS ONE

March 2019: ‘The Victorian Creation of the Pedigree Dog: The Invention of the Modern Dog: Breed and Blood in Victorian Britain; Michael Worboys, Julie-Marie Strange and Neil Pemberton’. Journal of Victorian Culture, Volume 24, Issue 3, July 2019, Pages 398-400,


Papers Given/Exhibitions/Public engagement:

June 2020 - ‘Desperate Diseases Require Desperate Remedies’ - intercommunity collaboration and the interwar investigation of inherited deafness in Bull Terriers’ - Animal History Group Online. 

May 2020 - ‘The Dog-Doctors of Edwardian London - elite canine healthcare in the early twentieth century’ - Online presentation, Society of Apothecaries, London.

March 2020 - ‘Breeders - are they the enemy?’ Talk to veterinary students, Crufts dog show, Birmingham.

February 2020 - ‘No one over here has had the pluck to do [this] - international intercommunity collaboration and the investigation of canine inherited disease - World Association for the History of Veterinary Medicine, Pretoria, South Africa.

November 2018 – ‘Canine welfare - beyond the laboratory’ – invited speaker at LASA annual conference, Birmingham.

November 2018 - ‘Alfred Sewell – the first celebrity vet?’ - Veterinary History Society, London.

June 2018 ‘Edwardian dog doctors: celebrity vets, quacks, and the politics of elite canine health care in fin-de-siècle London’ - World Association for the History of Veterinary Medicine, Bergen, Norway.

May 2018 Before Bulldogs were Brachycephalic and when Eugenics was Everywhere: why the history of canine health still matters’ – Royal Veterinary College, veterinary student animal welfare society.

April 2018 – ‘The Dogs at Tring’ – public engagement talk at NHM Tring, Herts.

April 2018 ‘The sinister vein of albinism: changing understandings of white dogs, 1900-1950’ BSHS PG Conference, Manchester.

November 2017 ‘The ‘incalculable loss’ of Mr Taylor’s Bulldogs: love, rage and money in the Edwardian dog fancy’. Paper at ‘Animals and Emotions’ workshop, ‘Pets and Family Life’ project, Royal Holloway, London.

March 2017 ‘A Capital Standard of Merit: what was a healthy show dog in Edwardian England?’ Paper at ‘Judging Animals’ workshop, Max Planck Institut, Berlin, Germany.

July 2016 ‘Breeding for show; breeding for health: the borders of knowledge and authority between dog breeders and veterinarians in the long twentieth century’ - ASA16 (Association of Social Anthropologists of UK and Commonwealth, Durham).

December 2015: "The birth of the canine health scheme: was the Irish Setter a special case?" Veterinary History Society, London. 

June 2015: "The birth of the canine health scheme: "night blindness" in the Irish Setter"; paper at workshop, "The Dog in 20thC Science - Science in the 20thC Dog" at CHoSTM, University of Manchester.

Recent Grants, Awards, and Prizes

PhD funded by a Wellcome Trust Research Award for Health Professionals (value £134K), grant number 203385/Z/16/Z

MA Science, Medicine & Technology in History Prize 2015/16.


Other professional affiliations and activities:

Co-founder and co-convenor of the Animal History Group (

Committee member, Veterinary History Society

Member of Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, British Veterinary Association, British Small Animal Veterinary Association.

Columnist for the ‘Kennel Gazette’, official journal of The Kennel Club; various other roles in Kennel Club activities.

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