Pedigree dogs are at risk of being "inbred into oblivion" because of the breeding circuit's "obsession with purity and the way dogs look", according to a filmmaker whose undercover exposé of dog shows resulted in a major review of breeding practices.
Jemima Harrison's 2008 documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed found crippling health problems across a large number of show breeds, prompting the BBC and the RSPCA to pull out of the Kennel Club's annual dog show Crufts, which will open its doors to thousands of dog lovers today.
In response to the undercover report, the Kennel Club commissioned its own independent review into breeding and says it has now put a series of safeguards in place to help improve the genetic healthiness of pedigree breeds.
But in an open letter sent to the organisation and Dogs Today magazine, Ms Harrison accused the world's oldest kennel club of not doing enough to roll back decades of inbreeding.
Referring to dogs such as spaniels – many of whom have heads that are too small for their brains – she wrote: "Some breeds are paying a horrendous price in terms of genetic disease, wounded immune systems and lifespans that, for some, average just six or seven years old."
Although she said the Kennel Club had "made a start" at addressing the issue, she added that "strong leadership" was still needed to avoid some breeds of dogs being "inbred into oblivion".
As the major governing body for dogs in the UK, the filmmaker added, the Kennel Club was particularly at fault for allowing so much inbreeding to go on for so long. "It is the Kennel Club that endorses the breed standards, runs the dog shows, selects the judges, prohibits out-crossing in all but the rarest cases, has green-lighted inbreeding, has refused to mandate health checks, and continues to register puppyfarm dogs while winking at deformity, disease and institutionalised cruelty for more than 100 years," she wrote.
The Kennel Club dismissed the allegations and said it was currently developing a series of tests which will help monitor breeds still at risk of ill health. They have also created an database where breeders can look for suitable mates and widen the genetic pool they draw from.
In a statement, the club said: "The Kennel Club is committed to ensuring that every dog's life is as healthy and happy as it can be. Whilst dog shows such as DFS Crufts are an opportunity to monitor and improve the health of dogs through conformation, or the way that they are built, we also need to ensure that they are healthy on the inside."
Campaigners believe the Kennel Club's reforms do not go far enough. Although it has advised breeders not to mate dogs with direct relatives (mother with son or father and daughter), breeders are still allowed to mate grandparents with their grandchildren.
Reformists want to see Britain follow Sweden's lead, where all dogs are measured for their genetic diversity and then vetted over which breeds they can mate with.