The annual pre-Crufts media frenzy got off to quite a slow start this year. The opening salvos of mud slinging at pedigree dogs and breeders could be said to have missed their mark. The same article - claiming keeping a dog costs £20,000 - was printed in both the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. Having read these articles I was left thinking of the expression ‘there are lies, damn lies and statistics’, because the article was taking insurance figures and twisting them to suit their own ends. A second reading however left me thinking I must make a note, in my diary, not to re-new the dogs’ insurance cover when it becomes due, if it is costing me so much money!
The first of the nationals to carry a dog related story was The Independent, on the Saturday before Crufts. It published interviews with Mike Gadsby, Zena Thorn-Andrews, Margaret Wildman, Lesley McFayden and Ann MacDonald. In the interviews, total dedication and passion for the dogs and the sport is evident, which many of us would recognise, but to the ‘ordinary man on the street’ reading this we might just seem a little crazy. Another article, which might leave the general public questioning dog exhibitors’ sanity, appeared in the Sunday Express. It focussed the time and effort involved for one couple in preparing their Poodle for Crufts. Maurice, (Ch. Crystalar Turn Of The Century), is seen in profile, with numbered points, to demonstrate the typical grooming of the dog.
On a lighter note, in the same edition as the insurance article, the Daily Mail’s Lifestyle reporter Maeve Haran devotes a whole page to canine comforters. She tells us that there is nothing better than a dog to cuddle up to and goes so far as call them ‘Husband Replacement Therapy’. Praising the dog’s loyalty and uncritical love of its owner, she tells us the new trend when a husband leaves a family these days, is for the abandoned family to buy a dog, which ‘takes the mind off the anger and agony of an imploding marriage’, adding that the presence of a dog helps everyone deal with the problems and move on to better times.
Coverage on the whole this year has been very positive, and a lot of this has been due to the sterling efforts of the KC to bring into the spotlight hero dogs such as Buster - who went on to win the new Hero Dog of the Year contest - and to highlight the many ways in which dogs benefit society as a whole. The promotion of the K9 Good Citizen scheme and Scrufts has been reported in most of the media as a good thing for dogs and for society.
Many of the articles have had a humorous flavour, such as the one printed in the The Guardian on Friday 11th March, written by Roy Hattersley. Acknowledging the presence of all canines, not just the pedigree dogs, he wrote:
‘After a lifetime spent with mongrels - known coyly at Crufts as ‘crossbreeds’ and patronised on the show's website as ‘lovable rogues’ - I expected that when I was confronted by dogs with names like Champion Arcanum Kalamikari, I would want to lead the canine equivalent of the peasants' revolt.
‘But Arcanum, if he will forgive my familiarity, is a 31kg (5st) Bull Terrier with a penchant for leaning on people who talk to him. As soon as he laid a paw on me, the class war was over. His friends call him Smiler and he made me smile too.
‘Not all the dogs at Crufts are aristocrats. The contestants who win the rosettes and silver cups have got pedigrees. But their lineage is only important to their owners. The competitors themselves remain resolutely dog-like’.
The article oozes Mr Hattersley’s great affection for dogs of all kinds, and like every dog owner he obviously enjoyed his visit to Crufts, ending his article by saying of the dogs:
‘And I, at least, am incapable of being unhappy in such company’.
The Guardian simply couldn’t decide whether to approve or disapprove of Crufts and all things canine. Prior to Mr Hattersley’s delightful piece they had let loose Zoe Williams, who ably demonstrated in an article titled Litter Louts, that she knows very little about dogs, and even less about Crufts and the Kennel Club. She opened her article by saying she was going to write about everything she knew which was good about dogs; this barely lasted three paragraphs, after which she gabbled on about how bad pedigree dogs and breeders were in particular for almost twice as long!
Largely The Guardian decided to make a joke of the whole business, by comparing the event to the Best In Show film. In an article printed on the 14th reporter Martin Kelner their screen critic, writes:
‘The idea of using a sports presenter to comment on a dog show probably comes from Christopher Guest's hilarious dogumentary Best In Show, where Fred Willard's performance as a sports guy pitched into the dog world steals the show; notably his suggestion that to liven up the bloodhound category, the animals should come on in Sherlock Holmes deerstalkers with meerschaum pipes clenched between their teeth’.
‘Mostly, though, the humour derived from the dogs and their owners. Dogs are undeniably funny, and the laughs are augmented by the enthusiasts' determination to take the animals absolutely seriously, a comedic seam that was mined quite extensively in Best In Show.’
A lot of prominence was given in the papers to the vulnerable British Breeds being promoted by the KC. Many carried interviews with Caroline Kisko on the subject. The Times was no exception, carrying an article by their Countryside Editor, Valerie Elliott, who starts by telling us that it is the young breeders who are not choosing the older British Breeds:
‘Many of Britain’s favourite dogs are falling out of fashion with young breeders. Instead, trendy foreigners, such as the shih-tzu, are the new top dogs while the jowls of our native bloodhounds are sinking lower’.
She writes a sensible piece on the whole which is very balanced, and certainly got the facts about right, although I wouldn’t say it is just the younger breeders at fault. We see a breed and fall in love with it, and have to have that breed, it has less to do with age and more with emotion.
In another article Ms Elliott covers the growing concern about the use of electric collars and the fact that the government is resolutely insisting that they do no real harm. The fact is that the Kennel Club, RSPCA, Dogs Trust, many breeders and dog trainers are against them being used on welfare grounds, and Ms Elliott’s support of this move shows in her article, which begins by saying:
"The Kennel Club is threatening to bring the Government to heel over its resistance to a ban on electric-shock collars for dogs’.
Arifa Akbar of The Independent wrote two articles, one promoting the ‘Hero Dogs’ and the other covering the Obedience competition, the World Cup between the nations. He was not alone as most of the regional papers covered these topics, and featured individual local competitors and their dogs.
All in all the coverage this year has been better than ever before, with only one damning article in the Daily Record, by Joanne Burnie, whose comments appear to have been formed without her ever visiting a dog show, let alone Crufts. It would seem she is out of touch with the new light in which the media views dogs, dog lovers, and Crufts in particular. Had she actually watched the televised coverage of Crufts, she would have seen two of the ‘poor dogs’ she wishes to set free, romping on the beach with their family. Perhaps next year she might like to attend a show or two - or review her colleagues’ articles - for a truer picture of ‘A Dog’s Life’!