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Crufts: what the papers had to say

Photo by William Moores
The Utility group judging at this year’s Crufts in full flow under judge Mr Albert Wight

The last two years saw a drop in the rantings against the Kennel Club and more particularly pedigree dogs and their breeders in the national daily papers. In 2005 most reports were pro-dogs and 2006 saw an almost complete lack of coverage overall. This year the Crufts coverage was back in all its ignorant glory!

Thank goodness, then, for the more informed journalists who reported for the local weekly papers, at least they took the trouble to ask questions and report fairly on the hopes of the dog owners entered.

Several local papers featured YKC handlers who usually get ignored by the national dailies, which is odd since the national dailies have over the last few years jumped on every dog attack story which involved children, informing us that children and dogs do not mix. It would seem a good news story involving children and dogs is not news worthy enough for them.

One local paper, The Comet, featured 10 year old Charlotte Jones of Stevenage and her Border Collie Tanzy who were to compete in a YKC obedience class. The paper told readers that Charlotte had been practising hard and even detailed some of the exercises the pair would undertake to hopefully gain a place in the competition.

The nearest any national dailies came to featuring children and dogs were pictures on the benches, a typical example of which appeared in the Express on Saturday, titled 'Another shaggy dog story? No it's Crufts'. The delightful picture featured was of eight year old Charlotte Baddiley looking through the Crufts guide, with her Spinone looking over her shoulder.

While most dog owners who attend Crufts are aware of the link between the Daily Mail and Dogs Today, they might be forgiven for thinking that the Mail had yet again 'unleashed' Ms Beverley Cuddy to give Crufts, the Kennel Club and pedigree dogs a 'good savaging'. They would be wrong! This was left to the Daily Telegraph who ran a series of articles in the run up to Crufts and during the show itself. Five articles ranged from one entitled 'Cruelty row on the eve of Crufts' to ‘Should Crufts be banned?', the latter being Ms Cuddy's offering.

In the article 'Cruelty row on the eve of Crufts' by Nick Britten and Laura Clout, interviewee David Hancock who is described as a dog expert and author tells us that ‘breeders and judges who favour exaggerated features such as long ears, short legs or long spines, result in animals which suffer ill health and a reduced quality of life’, adding, ‘The dogs should come first but they don't’.

Later in the article he comments, ‘I see a lot of flawed dogs winning Crufts and other shows, it may be very flattering for the owner, but what about the health and well being of the breed?’

Obviously Mr Hancock has not looked into the numerous BVA/KC health schemes or approached the Kennel Club with his concerns. As Phil Buckley of the Kennel Club pointed out, the Kennel Club constantly looks at improving breed standards to safeguard the animals welfare, and encourages breeders to take part in health schemes.

Not to be out done Ms Cuddy leapt in with 'Should Crufts be banned?' Once again she trotted out all her own prejudices from comments on exhibitors, ‘the exhibitors can all have their bit of fun with the silly walks and eccentric topiary’, to ‘We have all had a snigger over the past few years at the bizarre goings-on in the show world: the poison pen letters which led to the best in show judge resigning in 2004; the drugging of rival dogs..’. Perhaps Ms Cuddy finds criminal activities amusing? If so, it is doubtful exhibitors would share her sense of humour.

She then heads down the well worn path of criticising the dogs, trotting out figures such as ‘there are now 30,000 genetic defects identified in pedigree dogs’. Disregarding the evident inaccuracy of the figure, it is highly unlikely the average mongrel or crossbred dog's owner will have taken it to have all the health checks prior to it producing a litter, whilst the owner of a pedigree dog is more likely to take his dogs to the vet and more likely to put them through a health scheme, therefore more is actually known about pedigree dogs than any crossbred or mongrel dog.

Ms Cuddy did not stop at dog exhibitors or the dogs, she places the blame for all the canine ills squarely on the Kennel Club, stating, ‘At the moment – I think shamefully – KC registration is no mark of quality’. Having commented that the KC will not refuse to register even poorly bred dogs which in Ms Cuddy's words are ‘from a dog that’s deaf, blind, crippled with hip displaysia or suffering from a heart condition’ she offers no constructive suggestion for an alternative, other than to hold up the Swedish KC as being on the way to being her ideal.

If Ms Cuddy and Mr Hancock had done any research, they would know that Japan has been identified as the 'poor canine health capital' of the world, because of the fashion for designer crossbreeds, and if the KC did not exist, you could end up with privately owned and run registries, and experience the problems highlighted in the Taipei Times. The Taipei Times reports on the unscrupulous puppy farmers churning out puppies, flooding the market with the lastest fashionable dogs, described as red poodles.

Lin Chiu-Li comments ‘Dealers import or even smuggle adult and pregnant females from countries such as Thailand to satisfy demand’ adding ‘Large dogs, squat dogs, so long as they are red, they took them all’ ‘Since one male can impregnate several females, they would pair females of other breeds to a male they want, kill all the males of the resulting litter and breed the females to a male of the desired breed again’.

Wang Chun-Ching, director of Kaohsiung Concern Stray Animal Association said ‘The shelter currently has 10 golden retrievers and many labradors and huskies, all former fashionable dogs’.

In later editions of the Telegraph, staff reporter Nick Britten chose to follow the lead given by Mr Hancock and Ms Cuddy, seeming unwilling to research any of the KC health schemes, YKC, the Good Citizen Scheme, Companion Dog club, the Safe and Sound scheme or other equally good things the KC are doing for the world of dogs in general, not just the pedigree dogs, but ALL dogs.

The Telegraph on Sunday was a complete breath of fresh air by comparison. Looking at the vulnerable breeds and the new laws which may have an impact on showing dogs due to transport laws proposed by the EU, reporter Jasper Copping's articles were interesting to read and well informed. He mentions designer crosses and explains they are crossbred dogs with made up names, and as a fashion accessory are costing much more than the average pedigree dog and certainly more than most of the vulnerable breeds. He interviews Paul Keevil a member of the vulnerable breeds committee, who is quoted as saying, ‘The numbers of some breeds are critically low. For everyone thinking a crossbreed is more fashionable, it is one more person not choosing a British breed’.

The Independent on the 5th March ran a very well balanced article on docking, and the animal welfare bill. Interviews were conducted with CDB and the Anti Docking Alliance, among others.

The article had a very brief history behind docking, from the dog tax imposed by William Pitt the Younger up to the present day and tells us that ‘The Kennel Club, as arbiter of standards in the dog world’ ‘Found itself caught in the middle of these arguments’, showing that once again politics can change the way we keep our dogs by more than just a dog licence.

However all was not to remain so sensible at the Independent. On the 8th of March it carried an article entitled ‘Fur and loathing in the dog world’ in which an attempt to is made to give a crossbreed a ‘name’ and status, which ironically the columnists condemn in the ‘purebred’ pedigree dog!

It interviews three pro-crossbred supporters. Shelley Hargreaves who runs the internet group Claiming she does not breed crossbreeds, Ms Hargreaves does say she likes them and owns a jack russell type terrier cross. Mark Hayhurst is also interviewed and owns a labrador x poodle dog as his wife is asthmatic. For them the choice was to find a dog, which did not shed, and some labrador x poodle dogs apparently do not shed hair. Eddie Cumberland who runs the Foxisle gundog kennel in Yorkshire now has the biggest beagle x pug breeding establishment in the UK according to the article. Crossbred pups from Mr Cumberland will set you back £1,800 each! The phrase 'fools and their money are easily parted' comes to mind. It is interesting when reading interviews with the promoters of the crossbreeds that they NEVER talk about rescue, who does pick up, look after then rehome their unwanted adult crossbreeds? Pug rescue? Beagle rescue? The RSPCA?

The Guardian stuck to safer ground, writing about goods on sale on the trade stands, before doing a general review of the show giving mention to Discover Dogs, Endal the assistance dog, heel work to music and the Southern Golden Retriever Display team.

Finally on Saturday 8th March the Daily Express printed a short article and photo of a litter of 12 labrador puppies. Having been told by the vet to expect a litter of about six pups, Missie surprised her owner by producing twelve puppies, but the biggest surprise of all was that 11 of the pups were chocolate and one was a yellow.

Nothing to beat a little of the ‘Aaah!’ factor...