Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Cruelty of Crufts?

From The Daily Telegraph

It's the biggest canine beauty contest in the world, with 22,500 competitors fighting it out to be top dog, there will be bitching, grooming and millions of pounds spent on getting that million dollar look.

Shar-Pei dogs are noted for their folds of wrinkly skin
But as dog breeders across the world converge on Crufts 2007 to fight it out for the most prestigious prizes in the dog world, an almighty row is raging behind the scenes which calls into question the very principles on which such shows are based.

For some Crufts, and other dog shows represent a world which favours superficial beauty over health, putting the personal whims of breeders and judges before the well-being of the animals.

David Hancock, a dog expert and author, says the demands of 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.

"The dogs should come first and they don't," Mr Hancock says. "Dogs that are not sound are capable of winning Crufts. Breeders shouldn't be looking for superficial perfection, they should be looking for soundness in structure, movement and temperament."

Bloodhounds, for example, now have so much loose skin around their eyes, thanks to modifications made by breeders, that they risk getting painful grass seeds in their eyes, Mr Hancock says.

The St Bernard, fondly regarded as a mountain rescue dog, is now so weighty with such heavy eyelids and loose lips that it would be severely handicapped in any snow rescues. And short-faced dogs like the Pekingese and Bulldog only have 20 per cent of the scenting capability of longer muzzled dogs - a real disability in the canine world which relies so heavily on scent, he says.

Shar Peis, famed for their soft folds of wrinkly skin, can suffer eczema and other skin complaints, and bulldogs which often suffer breathing difficulties due to the large heads which they have developed, more often than not are born by caesarean section due to their comparatively small behinds.

"When human excesses and arrogance get out of hand, it's the dogs who suffer. I see a lot of flawed dogs winning Crufts and other shows and it may be very flattering for the owners, but what about the health and well-being of the breed?" Mr Hancock told Dogs Today magazine.

He says vets and the RSPCA should do more to encourage the Kennel Club, which runs the competition, to change the breed standards upon which the dogs are judged, to encourage breeders to change their agenda. He also wants health testing, currently voluntary, to become compulsory.

Phil Buckley, spokesman for the Kennel Club, said it constantly looks at improving breed standards to safeguard the animals' welfare, and encourages breeders to take part in health schemes.

"If we notice problems with a dog, we contact the breeders association. For example, in the case of the British bulldog, the breeding standards used to say "head massive" which lead to problems in some areas.

We contacted the breeder's council and in conjunction with then we amended the breed standards to say "head in relation to rest of body. That was in the 1990s and we have already seen an improvement."

So far Britain is not among the 18 European countries who have signed up to the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals. This requires dog and cat breeding associations to revise their standards to eliminate "extreme characteristics detrimental to the health and welfare of the animals".

But the Kennel Club is actively lobbying parliament not to sign up to the convention, saying it has adequate measures in place without the need for "inference from politicians who are not experts in dogs."

Acting Chief Veterinary Advisor to the RSPCA, David McDowell said the charity broadly shared Mr Hancock's concerns and said responsibility for change lay with the club.

"We have highlighted the problem on many occasions. But until breeding standards are changed, breeders will breed dogs which will win shows."

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