Over the years I have been very well aware of the negatives associated with Crufts and of course, along with many others, am hugely concerned about breed standards and how some dogs are suffering when bred for looks with health being somewhat disregarded. However, my absolute intention of going to Crufts this year was to highlight some of the positive aspects of the show – alas this wasn’t to be.
I have no experience of the showing world, I’m actually not a fan – that’s just a personal thing and no blight on those who do show responsibly. I was really interested in exploring 'beyond the show ring' though and as I was a mere 8 years old when I last visited Crufts, I believed going this year would give good opportunity to report my honest opinion of what I experienced.
For as long as dogs are bred, there will be dog shows, and many who show their dogs are truly dedicated, principled, caring owners - I witnessed a lot of them over the weekend. I have friends who show, and I know they are dedicated to their dogs and their breeds. I respect these people – their dogs are beautiful, happy animals who revel in the show environment and great fun is had by all – thing is, that wasn’t something I witnessed across the board.
I was affected so deeply by some of the things I saw that I decided to leave the event a day early and return back home to the Isle of Wight.
There has been discussion on my own personal Facebook page about the show; there are those who passionately defend it, alongside those who just as passionately boycott it, and I welcomed the opportunity to hear both sides.
What was apparent from that discussion was that those who are there to show their animals don’t necessarily see further than the task in hand; showing their dogs. I, in contrast, was able to walk the halls at leisure, revisit areas as and when I wanted to. I had hours and hours to explore and really see what was happening - which, when trying to gather a picture of the ‘whole’ experience, is an advantage over those restricted by showing timetables.
During the same discussion on my Facebook page, it was also pointed out that it would be useless for a miserable dog to be shown – and of course this is true, a dog that truly dislikes being in the show ring isn't going to win prizes – but – I do not lie when I say that there were some really miserable and stressed dogs there that shouldn't have been. One handler even admitted this to me about his own dog after I made the observation that it looked confused, saying – “He has no choice, I want him here.”
That was when I had to walk away.
But back to it.
On Friday, armed with camera and notebook, I collected my pass and went into the hustle and bustle that is Crufts. Not going to lie, the sheer scale of it overwhelmed me a little, and it took a while to decipher the plans and show lists in the catalogue supplied.
With my plan made, I explored.
First impressions of course from me was “Ohmegawds looks at all the glorious doggies!” The 8 year old me will always charge forth with big fluffy fairy wings when surrounded by dogs. But, after I’d gotten over my initial excitement and gained my composure a little, I began to see deeper and my whole experience went from childlike wonder to real worry for some of the animals involved, which I just couldn't shake off.
As was pointed out to me yesterday, there is good and bad everywhere – and I agree there is – however, when the welfare of animals comes into play there is absolutely no excuse for negligent treatment – at all, full stop. The ‘good and bad’ argument becomes null and void. No dog show, no award is worth the suffering of any animal - and I stand by this opinion.
Alone on the benches
The more I explored, the more I saw things that saddened me – for example, dogs being left alone on benches (the area the dog is designated whilst waiting to go into the show ring).
Jagger, the Red Setter (Edit 16/03/15 Toxicology reports show that Jagger wasn't poisoned at Crufts)
Now, to give a clear perspective (for fear of being shot down; I have already had a lot bun flinging for expressing my opinion), the majority of dogs had their owners/handlers with them – however, many dogs were left alone for long periods of time. On several occasions I did a repeat ‘sweep’ of the hall to see if the dog’s owners had come back an hour or so later and found that many hadn't. What I couldn't understand was that whilst I was very sure they wouldn't leave their dog tied up outside of a shop, for example – owners were happy to leave their dogs in halls where literally thousands of people are able to walk around freely – able to touch, poke, prod, handle badly and – worst of all, feed these dogs whatever and whenever they pleased. I noticed this on the Friday, only to learn on Sunday morning of the death of Jagger, the beautiful red setter, who had allegedly been killed by being fed meat laced with poison on the Thursday whilst being left “for a short period of time.”
Surely, we as owners, or those who are charged with the responsibility of another person’s dog have a duty of care to supervise these animals for their safety – and heavens forbid a child had unknowingly handled one of these unattended dogs and provoked an uneasy response from them. Who ultimately takes the brunt of that? The dog. Frankly, if you’re leaving your dog unattended for any period of time during a show such as Crufts, you only have yourself to blame if something happens to them whilst you are away. This cannot be blamed on the Kennel Club, however, there is room for proper regulation by them to ensure, as much as is possible, this kind of tragedy never happens again.
The Crate Issue
I saw many dogs in crates too small for them, and sometimes multiple dogs in one crate which was too small for their needs. The dogs spent hours in these crates and I was really upset at seeing them pressed against the wire.
Whilst I am very sure that there are people designated to look after the general welfare of animals during the event, I didn’t see one person clearly identified (by way of clothing, tabard, etc) operating as such (and I was looking for them). Surely, with animal welfare officials openly circulating during the whole event on behalf of the Kennel Club, incidents such as these would be reduced heavily?
The sound of a dog crying out in pain is heartbreaking, especially when that dog is having a comb dragged through its fur whilst it is cowering on a grooming table. What added to my anguish on witnessing this, was the handler shrugging it off, laughing at me when he noticed I had seen what he’d done. I certainly didn't find it funny, and I'm pretty sure the dog didn't either. The excessive over-grooming of some of these dogs seemed utterly ridiculous to me. No show, no prize or amount of kudos is worth pain.
I began to count, but stopped after reaching double figures, the number of dogs being jerked harshly by thin conformation leads digging into their skin with some dogs visibly struggling. There is nothing beautiful about seeing a dog having its head held up unnaturally. Some assume that stance happily and easily – others don’t.
Best In Show – Knopa the Scottish Terrier
Of course, there has been a furore on internet dog forums throughout the night and into today regarding the handling of Best in Show Winner Knopa, the Scottish Terrier who was picked up by his tail and neck during judging by its American handler.
Hundreds have complained about the treatment of Knopa, with others defending the handler’s actions. Despite the argument from those who breed Scottish Terriers that they are “bred to have strong tails.” The Kennel Club’s guidelines are very clear:
“Exhibitors are reminded that the Kennel Club believes the practise of picking up dogs, often Terriers, by their tails and leads when lifting them to and from the table during judging is both undesirable and completely unnecessary.”
Many are calling for the handler to be disqualified – the Kennel Club issued a statement during the online debate:
“We want to address the posts we have had regarding the handling of last night’s Scottish Terrier, Knopa. It was made clear to the handler at the show that it is not acceptable to pick a dog up in this way, and despite repeated requests not to do so, she went ahead. The handler is from the USA where it is customary to pick up terriers in this way, but it has no place at Crufts and this is put in writing to all handlers before the show.”
Surely, if she ignored advice, she shouldn’t have gone on to win the competition with her dog?
There are more handling issues that have been highlighted elsewhere, but because I wasn’t witness to them, I won’t go into detail.
Many of the dogs seemed to enjoy being in the ring, they loved being around the other dogs and adored the fussing they received – that I cannot deny. But apart from all the very obvious and important aspects breeding and breed standards, which is way out of my remit here; I am not an expert and cannot comment on these things other than express my absolute support of a complete and in-depth overhaul of breed standards – as a layperson who had really hoped to be able to focus on some of the fun positive aspects of the show, only to witness many negatives, my wish list for Crufts would include:
1. Visible Animal Welfare staff wearing appropriate clothing to identify them as such, circulating the event constantly to ensure proper standards are maintained regarding the welfare of all dogs.
2. Banning of all crates not suitable for the size of dogs, and immediate disqualification of handlers who do use these crates. Show over.
3. Less emphasis on repetitive over grooming which can cause pain.
4. Ban on dogs being left alone at the benches. (meaning that each dog being shown is accompanied by at least two people so that comfort breaks, etc. are covered and the dog is never alone.)
5. Rules, not guidelines, written by the Kennel Club regarding safe and proper care in the handling of all dogs, with the absolute assurance that breach will result in disqualification.
In conclusion, many of the issues I experienced at Crufts weren’t the fault of the Kennel Club itself, but lay with a minority of handlers who place their dog’s welfare second to the glory of showing a prize winning dog. This side of the show was not the celebration of dogs as I’d been promised, but an ego feeding exercise from people who really should know better.
Even one dog suffering is one dog too many.
Crufts really needs to make a stand now – lead by example. There is absolutely no point in doing amazing work on one hand, to ruin it all on the other. The Kennel Club needs to put their money where their mouth is; tighten up regulation, move away from archaic activity and embrace modern dog ownership. Work harder on safety and welfare, make absolutely sure that the dogs registered with them are proven healthy and happy just as they promote, by insisting on changes needed in breed standards, and create a real celebration of the wonder of dogs - pedigree and all in between.
All of this is possible, and within reach with a lot of hard work and dedication, and I’d like to be there when it happens.
You can read my response to the feedback from this article here.
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