After hours of being paraded, posed and prodded by judges, one dog will be declared “Best in Show” at Crufts next week. But make no mistake: there are no “winners” in the appearance-obsessed world of dog breeding and showing.
The Kennel Club's “breed standards” – against which dogs at Crufts are judged – call for dogs to be born in shapes that nature never intended, with devastating results. The excessively wrinkled skin that judges prize in the Chinese Shar-Pei is a breeding ground for bacteria, and many of these dogs suffer from recurring skin infections. If the skinfolds rub against their eyes, the result can be lesions and even blindness. Bloodhounds also suffer from chronic eye irritation and infections because of their droopy eyelids.
Dogs among breeds with long necks and large heads, such as Great Danes, often have compressed spinal cords in their neck vertebrae, which can cause them to wobble and fall over – a malady known as “wobbler syndrome”. Many bulldogs, pugs, Pekingese and other brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs cannot breathe well – let alone go for a walk or chase a ball without gasping for air – because of their unnaturally shortened airways.
To increase the odds of passing on certain traits that are favoured by show judges, breeders resort to orchestrating canine incest, mating mothers with sons and fathers with daughters. This also greatly increases the odds of passing on recessive genes which can result in offspring with debilitating afflictions such as hypothyroidism, epilepsy, cataracts, allergies, heart disease and hip dysplasia.
The same genes that give Dalmatians their spots also cause them to produce high levels of uric acid, which can result in bladder stones and urinary obstruction. German shepherds may inherit degenerative myelopathy, a spinal-cord disease that causes them to lose coordination in their limbs, become increasingly weak and eventually become paralysed. Doberman pinschers, Great Danes, Irish wolfhounds and German shepherds are prone to sudden death from cardiac disease.
The BBC stopped broadcasting Crufts following the airing in 2008 of Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which revealed the suffering of pedigree show dogs. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has stated that dog shows “actively encourage both the intentional breeding of deformed and disabled dogs and the inbreeding of closely related animals”. About one in four purebred dogs is afflicted with serious congenital defects, such as hypothyroidism, epilepsy, cataracts, allergies, chronic ear infections, hip dysplasia and other ailments that have been handed down through generations of inbreeding and breeding for distorted physical features. Dogs don't care whether they measure up to judges' arbitrary standards – yet they are the ones who endure the pain and misery of humans' pursuit of the “perfect dog”.
Even dogs who never set foot in the Crufts show ring lose because of breeders' pursuit of ribbons and trophies. All the new puppies breeders bring into the world in the hope of producing a “Best in Show” contender will either fill homes that could have gone to dogs languishing in shelters or end up homeless themselves. And many of these puppies will go on to have litters of their own, bringing even more dogs into a world that doesn't have enough homes for those who already exist.
Dogs deserve better than to suffer and die for a “beauty” pageant. Please stand up for the underdog: Refuse to attend or watch Crufts and other dog shows. If you're considering bringing a canine companion into your home, please adopt and have the animal spayed or neutered instead of buying from a breeder or pet shop. When you adopt, everyone wins – a dog gets a second chance at life, and you get a friend who'll take first place in your heart.
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