Crufts is considered to be the U.K.’s most prestigious dog show attracting more than 27,000 dogs and over 150,000 visitors over four days at the NEC Birmingham. In recent years it’s also become the most controversial.
The show’s reputation took a serious hit back in August 2008 when Jemima Harrison’s BBC documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, raised concerns about genetic diseases in pedigree breeds. The documentary showed a prize-winning Cavalier King Charles Spaniel suffering from syringomyelia, a condition caused by a dog’s brain being too large for its skull. The documentary also featured Boxers with epilepsy and Pugs with breathing problems. Despite these serious health issues the BBC claimed that affected dogs were not excluded from dog shows and some had even gone on to win “best in breed.”
Following the subsequent backlash the BBC announced that it would no longer televise Crufts, ending a 40-year relationship with the event, and the RSPCA also decided to cut ties with the show. In October 2008 the Kennel Club confirmed that it would undertake a review of each of the 209 pedigree breeds in the U.K.
Further shockwaves were sent through the Crufts community after health inspections recommended by the Kennel Club were carried out on 15 “high profile” breeds. Six breed winners (the Basset Hound, Bulldog, Clumber Spaniel, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff and Pekinese) failed the examination by an independent veterinary surgeon, which put an abrupt end to their chances of going on to win the highest Crufts accolade, Best in Show.
Dog fanciers around the world were up in arms protesting that Harrison’s documentary and animal rights activists were infringing on their rights to breed and show.
Since then the debate has raged on, with those against dog shows like Crufts arguing that they contribute to the suffering of pedigree dogs by prioritising looks over health and encouraging well-meaning but ill-educated people to buy pedigree dogs from breeders. The anti-Crufts camp also complain that the changes the Kennel Club made to its standards after Harrison’s documentary haven’t gone far enough to safeguard the health and well-being of all pedigree breeds.
Supporters of Crufts argue that the Kennel Club’s revisions to its standards, which include limiting the number of C-sections per bitch to two and banning first-degree-relative matings, is evidence of significant progress.
Another fresh Crufts controversy this year concerns not the health of the dogs but their nationality. Following the change to British quarantine laws in 2001 dogs from outside the U.K. were allowed to enter the contest. Each year an increasing number of foreign mutts enter. In 2009 1,100 dogs came from abroad; this year 2,995 are registered to take part. Crufts 2015 is set to be an international melting pot with dogs from all over Europe, Thailand, the United States, Brazil and South Korea due to arrive on British soil over the next few days.
Unfortunately those visiting hounds won’t receive a warm welcome from all quarters. Some members of British canine societies believe that Crufts judges are encouraged to choose foreign dogs as winners to keep their breeders happy so they keep paying to come back.
“I haven’t entered this year,” said one, who wished to remain anonymous. “I already know who will win — and it’s not a dog from Britain.”
Will you watch Crufts on Channel 4 this year?