Crufts presenter to probe breeding issues

Crufts presenter Clare Balding will examine health and welfare issues surrounding dog breeding when the controversial contest returns to TV screens, More4 said today.

The BBC, which had been broadcasting Crufts every year since 1966, announced in December 2008 that it was dropping its TV coverage of the programme following concerns over certain breeds of pedigree dog in the competition.

More4, which is screening highlights from Crufts this year, said that between March 11 to 14, Balding will look at "the serious side of dog breeding with an emphasis on health and welfare issues that surround it".

Topics discussed over the four days of coverage will include puppy farming, status dogs and cross breeding, with a vet on hand to answer viewers' questions.

Hamish Mykura, head of More4 said: "I am really pleased that More4 has the opportunity to show Crufts 2010... Crufts is a national TV event that has been bringing pleasure to dog-lovers for decades and the current controversy over pedigree dog breeding is as interesting as the show itself.

"Crufts provides the perfect platform to educate viewers about these issues, and to highlight best practice."

Last month, Crufts organisers the Kennel Club announced that breeders will be able to access a "doggie dating website" to find the perfect match for their pedigree dog, with the aim of improving the health and genetic diversity of such animals.

In addition to the coverage from Crufts, More4 will also be showing Good Dog, Bad Dog, a one hour documentary about dog health. It will use the controversy over dog breeding and genetic problems faced by some pedigree dogs as a starting point and give guidelines for best practice.

Concerns were sparked by a BBC documentary which claimed pedigree dogs bred for shows were suffering a high degree of genetic illness.

The controversy prompted the Kennel Club and the Dogs Trust to jointly fund an independent inquiry, which made a number of recommendations to tackle inbreeding in pedigrees, puppy farming and other welfare issues for dogs.

Balding said: "I am very excited to be presenting Crufts once again and am looking forward to working with More4 for the first time.

"I am pleased that the Kennel Club are working hard to correct the problems that have emerged with some pedigree dogs."

The club has also launched a new breed information centre on its website to help prospective owners find responsible breeders in their area and see which type of dog would best suit their lifestyle.

Professor Bill Reilly, president of the British Veterinary Association, said: "The televising of Crufts is a controversial move, but a welcome one if it can be used to engage and educate the public and highlight health and welfare issues in dogs.

"In particular, the British Veterinary Association sees Good Dog, Bad Dog as a way to keep the debate in the public eye.

"It is essential that potential dog owners have access to the right information before buying their pup so they can understand how to prioritise health and welfare and ensure their pet has the best chance of a happy, healthy life."