Three years ago I watched with mounting horror the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed. I was at a loss to understand why Crufts ignored so many of the physical problems inflicted on the dogs in the name of a 'pure breed'. Three years on and Jemima Harrison, producer of the original, has returned with a follow up about what has been changed in three years. In turns out very little.
Pressure has meant that Crufts has relaxed some of its rulings about standards of appearance but the fundamental issue on breeding has yet to be tackled.
Dogs are being bred, and often repeatedly inbred, with known major health conditions and deformities. The animals with the greatest genetic purity are being used for breeding because the traits of specific breeds are then exaggerated - but it is often these traits that cause horrific suffering.
Whilst the Kennel Club claims no legislative power, there is a lot more it can be doing to protect the health of future dogs.
Firstly, it has the power to change the rules of entry at Crufts. The largest dog show in the world, any changes here are likely to resonate loudly within the dog show community. Ensuring health is judged alongside beauty will encourage dog breeders to consider the actual wellbeing of the animal rather. Easing its standards and allowing dogs of mixed-pedigree would also be a major step forward as a mixed gene pool makes for healthier dogs. These dogs are currently left for the secondary 'fun dog event' Discover Dogs.
Secondly, the breeders' scheme has long been in need of overhaul. With the stamp of the Kennel Club backing breeders up and down the country people may be led to believe they are getting a dog of good health and welfare. However the system is self-accredited allowing poor breeding standards and practises to prevail in the name of the Kennel Club's Accredited Breeder Scheme.
This year, health checks by independent vets at Crufts passed only nine of 15 high profile breeds. Although the 40% which failed, including pekinese and bulldog, were not given their best of breed awards, Crufts views the failure of the dogs to pass veterinarian medicals is a private matter.
The Green Party is fighting for the health of these animals to be taken seriously. As Professor Gerhard Oechtering explained in The Guardian recently dogs need their noses for heat control and without this their health and welfare drops massively.
In the case of pugs, the extreme short nose and flat face seen as desirable for the breed may their restrict breathing to such an extent that if the dog becomes excited, the airways can become sufficiently blocked by the soft palate that they pass out. Also inbreeding the dogs to produce screw tails, which the Kennel Club specifies "should be curled as tightly as possible over the hip" and "a double curl is highly desirable", can cause pain or paralysis and conditions such as spina bifida .
Diseases are becoming more prevalent and life-spans are dropping. It has become a grotesque business that will get worse with time for as long as these breeding practises not only continue but are celebrated.
The change should be made within the industry itself but the government must also step in and ensure the welfare of man's best friend is secured by the law. The Green Party has long supported the steps that Jemima Harrison calls for in her documentary: a new independent regulatory body for dog breeding funded by new registration scheme for all dogs and a joined up strategy for tackling stray dogs, dangerous dogs and puppy farms.
The Kennel Club proudly states on its logo "Making a Difference for Dogs" and its time it lived up to that motto by making a real difference to the health and wellbeing of the animals we hold so close to our heart.
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