The world-famous Crufts dog show is an annual four-day event that takes place at Birmingham’s NEC arena. Hosted by the UK Kennel Club, the show sees tens of thousands of dogs from all over the world attend the show to compete in breed classes and other events including agility, obedience, and much more.
For dog breeders and owners and those that simply love dogs, it might seem as if Crufts is the highlight of year – but not everyone is a big fan of the show, and there is a lot of controversy generated by the event each year.
The 2018 Crufts dog show may only just have ended, but the high-profile intrusion into the main arena at the end of the Best in Show judging is already making headlines, to a great extent eclipsing the news about the winners themselves.
So, why did someone rush the arena under the world spotlight, and why is Crufts so controversial? In this article, we’ll analyse the facts. Read on to learn more.
Even if you didn’t watch the finals of the Best in Show event itself, you’ve probably already heard that a protester ran onto the arena floor at the end of judging. He was quickly tackled to the ground by arena security whilst the competitors and dogs were taken to safety, and the prestigious silverware for the winners promptly removed.
The protester in question – who has yet to be named by police – ran onto the arena floor seconds after the winning dog was announced, throwing the event into chaos and eclipsing the winner’s big moment.
The owner of the winning dog, Yvette Short, responded instinctively to pick her whippet up and take her to safety, a move that has been widely praised by viewers. The protester was carrying a banner for PETA, (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) a controversial self-styled animal welfare organisation, who have since claimed responsibility for the incident.
This isn’t the first time that someone has breached the arena and invaded the ring either – the same thing happened in 2015 too, again, by a self-styled PETA protestor.
However, PETA, which itself receives a lot of bad press despite their noble goals, is not the only organisation to object to the show as a whole, and many other high-profile and well-respected organisations also boycott the show.
Up until 2008, the Crufts dog show was televised by the BBC. However, in that same year, the BBC aired their now-famous TV exposé of Kennel Club breed standards and judging practices, Pedigree Dogs Exposed. The show highlighted many of the issues that had previously been kept under wraps pertaining to the ethics of pedigree dog breeding, and the impact of selective breeding for exaggerations that negatively impact upon dog health.
Since 2008, Crufts has been televised by Channel 4 instead.
Additionally, Pedigree Pet Foods who were the show’s sponsors until 2008 also pulled their support for the show, which is today sponsored by Eukanuba instead.
The RSPCA is another organisation to boycott the show, using the opportunity to highlight the plight of unhealthy pedigree dogs and surrendered and abandoned dogs in need of homes.
CRUFFA, (Campaign for the Responsible Use of Flat-Faced Animals) is yet another welfare organisation that works to campaign against selective breeding that detrimentally impacts upon the health of pedigree dogs and as a result, Kennel Club judging practices, specifically those pertaining to brachycephalic dogs with flat faces.
A lot of the modern-day controversy surrounding Crufts really began to take hold in the public consciousness as a result of Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which was first aired over a decade ago but that still remains firmly within the public consciousness today.
There is no dispute that many pedigree dog breeds have undergone selective breeding to enhance certain physical traits that over time, have caused them to look very different to their historical ancestors – and that have negatively impacted upon their health.
As the UK’s umbrella organisation for dogs and dog breeds, the Kennel Club has ultimate oversight for breed standards and judging practices – and so, has the power to either normalise harmful breeding practice and the awarding of show places to unhealthy dogs, or to outlaw it.
The Kennel Club has made many changes to the breed standard of high-profile dog breeds over the course of the last decade in order to try to reverse the trend for selective breeding of exaggerated traits that impact upon health – and they also provide guidance for show judges to dictate that only healthy dogs should win awards.
However, this hasn’t translated very well on the ground, and dogs with harmful exaggerations and that are not at a healthy weight can and often do still win awards – and so many organisations and animal welfare advocates feel that the Kennel Club is not doing enough, or not enforcing their own rules, only paying lip service to the issues at hand to try to improve public perception.
As recently as 2013, research published in respected veterinary journal The Veterinary Record found that over a quarter of Crufts winners between 2001-2013 were overweight, which directly contradicts The Kennel Club’s own guidance to judges that only dogs of a healthy weight should win awards.
As well as breed-specific health issues, many dog lovers object to the show itself on principle, given the number of surrendered and abandoned dogs across the UK in desperate need of home whilst breeders work to produce a never-ending supply of puppies to compete with them for owners.
Handling and mistreatment at the show is another hot potato, with many dog owners and experts objecting to how some of the dogs at the show are handled. Notably in 2015, the dog that ultimately won Best in Show – a Scottish terrier called Knopa – still took home the prize even though her handler had been told several times that the dog should not be lifted by the tail.
Ultimately, the Kennel Club’s lack of significant success in doing what it has said it will to improve the health of pedigree dogs and ensure that unhealthy dogs aren’t rewarded means that the show continues to attract controversy today – and it likely to continue to do so in the future too unless something significant changes.