Protesters: Crufts dog show ‘glorifying pain’

The Great British Bark Off: Around 21,000 dogs and 160,000 humans attended this year’s Crufts.

Should Crufts be banned? The final of the UK’s hugely popular dog show was interrupted by animal rights activists. They were drawing attention to the health problems of pure-bred dogs.

The tagline for Crufts, the biggest dog show in the world, is “Where every dog has its day!” But instead, this year’s winning pooch had the fright of his life.

Sunday’s final did not go as planned. Just as Tease, a sleek young whippet, was being named best in show, two audience members stormed the arena. Tease’s owner instinctively grabbed the startled dog and held him tight. The protesters carried signs that read “Crufts: Canine Eugenics”. They were removed from the venue to loud cheers.

Crufts has seen stunts like this before; in fact, the show has long been dogged by controversy. Since it was launched in 1891 as a contest for the pets of royalty, it has prized pedigree beasts. These dogs may look striking, but to stay pure, they have to be inbred.

This practice has led to all kinds of hereditary health issues among pedigrees. Dachshunds’ stretched spines cause them back problems. Spaniels end up in agony because their skulls are too small for their brains. That cute snuffling sound made by bulldogs? It is because they can barely breathe.

In 2008, an explosive BBC documentary shed light on these issues, and blamed dog shows for promoting inbreeding. The RSPCA withdrew its support of Crufts and the BBC stopped airing the show. The organisers reacted by introducing new health standards for entrants and raising awareness of canine well-being.

Yet critics say that the new rules lack bite. According to the RSPCA, the health checks are “very superficial” — and they are not even compulsory. Crufts controversies continue: in 2016, a German shepherd won a prize despite appearing deformed.

The problem reaches beyond dog shows. The majority of pet dogs in the UK are pedigrees. French bulldogs, beloved of celebrities, are set to become the nation’s most popular breed.

The demand for these animals encourages breeders to produce more pups, which only makes them more inbred. The animals suffer, and the owners pay huge fees to vets.

Would things be better if Crufts was banned?

It’s a dog’s life

Yes, say some. The point of these shows is to promote an arbitrary standard of beauty for dogs. As a result, owners treat their pets’ bodies like modelling clay, distorting them into unnatural shapes. Without Crufts, pedigree dogs would fall out of fashion, and we would once again treat our four-legged friends with the respect they deserve.

Think about it, reply others. Crufts is watched by millions — it feeds our love of dogs, and is in a unique position to shape our attitudes about them. The show should take animal welfare more seriously and reward healthy hounds. In time, this will change the public’s idea of what counts as a “beautiful” dog for the better.

You Decide

  1. Are dog shows good or bad?
  2. Is disrupting a show an acceptable form of protest?

Activities

  1. Draw, or describe in writing, your idea of a beautiful dog. Pair up, and explain to your partner why your dog looks as it does.
  2. Hold a class debate: “This house believes that it is wrong for humans to breed animals.”

Some People Say...

“Humans complicate things. Dogs are simple.”

Cesar Millan, dog whisperer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Crufts is an annual four-day show held in Birmingham. Dogs compete in everything from obedience tests to obstacle courses. The main event, however, is the “best in show” contest, in which dogs are rewarded based on how well they represent their breed. First prize is a mere £100, but the owner can earn huge sums through sponsorship deals and by getting the dog to breed.
What do we not know?
Exactly how healthy competing dogs are. The show’s organisers run a range of health tests for breeds that have a high risk of inherited problems. In general, however, these are not mandatory, and in any case dogs are not judged on their healthiness. What’s more, a pedigree dog’s problems are not always visible: heart or brain diseases, say, can afflict outwardly healthy pooches.

Word Watch

Protesters
The protest was organised by the campaign group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta). See The Independent’s article in Become An Expert.
Eugenics
The practice of controlling breeding in a population so that only traits perceived as good are passed on. There were experiments in human eugenics in the 20th century, but this is now so controversial that it has effectively been abandoned.
Pedigree
Pure-bred.
Inbred
Millennia ago, humans began to tame dogs, and selectively breed them so that they would become better at certain things (like hunting). The idea of breeding them only for their appearance, not their strength and capabilities, is relatively new.
BBC documentary
Pedigree Dogs Exposed was watched by 3.9 million people. It triggered a huge outcry and led to three separate health reports on dogs.
RSPCA
Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It is the world’s oldest animal charity, and one of its biggest.
Celebrities
Famous french bulldog owners include Lady Gaga, David Beckham and Leonardo DiCaprio.

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