Crufts needs to stop glorifying pedigree dogs and embrace the power of the mutt

Mutts are beautiful animals – no less capable of the same love and companionship a pedigree dog has to offer

Kate Ng
Thursday 10 March 2022 17:42 GMT
Czkwska the Pug (C) stands between two Tibetan Mastiffs at the Crufts dog show at the NEC Arena on March 8, 2018
Czkwska the Pug (C) stands between two Tibetan Mastiffs at the Crufts dog show at the NEC Arena on March 8, 2018 (Getty Images)

Each time I see a pug in the wild (read: the park), I can’t help but smile. Look at that silly face and lolling tongue, framed by squashy wrinkles and topped with a curly tail, how could you not?

But on the inside, I feel sorry for the poor creature. Years of inbreeding to look a certain way means that the breed is riddled with genetic health problems – from severe breathing issues and deformed spines, to eye and skin ailments. I know someone whose pug had to have an eye removed because the shape of its skull causes eyelids to roll inwards, causing its eyelashes to rub directly on its cornea and damage it.

Have you ever heard a pug scream? It’s a terrible, screeching sound that seems to say: “Existence is pain”.

But pugs and other brachycephalic (flat-faced) dog breeds, such as French and English bulldogs and Boston terriers, are far from the only pooches with problems. Theirs are just some of the most prominent issues facing the modern canine.

Inbreeding is behind the German shepherd and golden retriever’s proneness to hip dysplasia, the basset hound’s tendency to develop the bleeding disorder Von Willebrand disease, and the shih tzu’s patellar luxation, a condition where the kneecap becomes displaced or dislocated.

The annual international dog show Crufts, hosted and organised by The Kennel Club, bears some of the responsibility for the plight of these purebred dogs. Throughout its 136-year history, Crufts upheld strict breed standards that have resulted in major compromises in the health of the canines they judge.

Under The Kennel Club’s direction of the pageant, inbreeding went unchecked. After a BBC One investigative documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, opened the lid on health and welfare issues faced by purebred dogs, the club was fiercely criticised and lost various sponsors and trade exhibitors.

The BBC, which had broadcast Crufts for more than 40 years, withdrew its coverage of the show in 2009 and has not renewed it since. Although The Kennel Club complained that the programme was “unfair treatment”, the documentary triggered no fewer than three inquiries into breeding standards and resulted in sweeping changes to improve the health of pedigree dogs.

Last year, The Kennel Club rolled out revisions to breeding standards for French Bulldogs and Dachsunds. The guidelines now warn breeders and buyers against looking for “extreme” or “exaggerated” features, such as a shortened nose and long bodies that hang too low to the ground.

However, it falls far short of action taken elsewhere to stop the spread of genetic problems caused by inbreeding. In February, Norway banned the breeding of British bulldogs and cavalier king Charles spaniels because the health problems arising from both breeds violated animal welfare laws.

But the show must go on, and Crufts is back after being cancelled for only the second time in its history in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is broadcast online and on Channel 4 and More4, where it is watched by more than 4.5 million viewers.

The Kennel Club also holds Scruffts, an informal version of Crufts for crossbreed dogs. Although this show doesn’t hold anything close to the prestige of Crufts, I think it should. Mixed-breed dogs – or mutts, a term which I lovingly prefer – appear to lead healthier, longer lives than their pure-bred counterparts.

Studies from VetCompass show that cross-bred dogs live 1.2 years longer than pure-breds. There also appears to be a general consensus among veterinary professionals that mutts tend to be more resilient to genetic disease, although they are still prone to common disorders.

However, there is still hope that cross-breeding could lead to healthier dogs. In Norway, the Oslo District Court’s judgement on the breeding ban on British bulldogs and cavalier king Charles spaniels said it would not extend to breeders who want to to end the animals’ health problems and added that “serious and scientifically-based cross-breeding could be a good alternative”.

This isn’t to say that pure-bred dogs should be phased out completely. Personally, I have an affinity for Welsh corgis and grew up with a labrador and a bichon frise. But mutts are beautiful animals – no less capable of the same love and companionship a pedigree dog has to offer. Why should we treat them as less?

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