The Kennel Club has come in for a real roasting since the broadcast of Pedigree Dogs Exposed. Regardless of its distasteful, distorted and unfair portrayal of the Kennel Club. But all the Kennel Club has tried to do, like thousands of other organisations, is to attempt to bring order to its interests. And it has been very successful, it is a virtual monopoly and it very firm with those. But even though it has no statutory powers, it is blamed for any failure as there is no-one else conveniently accountable so there is no chance that government, local authorities and the charities will attempt to lay the blame anywhere other than Clarges Street, even though they are not actually responsible for the problems we see in some pedigree breeds. Why not I hear you cry? Let me explain.
Let us look at the whole situation through a different window. If you give it some thought it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that, despite all the fuss, the Kennel Club is not directly answerable for what pedigree dogs look like because human beings delight in the extreme. Whether it is in sport, music, buildings, faster cars, bizarre artistic creation or the selective breeding of dogs, cats, birds and other animals, humanity is hard wired to strive for difference and ascendancy: it is what makes us human. The Kennel Club does not and in fact, cannot, control what people 'like'.
When my wife insisted on having, dog, part of the compromise was that I chose the breed. I was immediately attracted to the Spitz group and after a great deal of discussion a Finnish Spitz is the breed I selected. I think they should be much more popular but many people do not like the style and shape of the dog. It looks too 'fox like,' it can be noisy, although it does not have to be, and they are not the easiest to train - doing what you want simply is not their style. But we like that: we like the independence and the smart, alert look of them, the 'handy' size and we are lucky to have had excellent dogs and to have subsequently bred some very good ones.
Others have different views: they want dogs to work to the gun, to train to a very high standard, to be very good with children or to be as little trouble as possible. Or, and here we come to the point, they want dogs that are very big, very long, very heavy, very brave, very strong, very delicate or with an unusual shape, head or expression. The Kennel does not dictate these preferences - the public does and breeders, many of who are interested in their breed and want to win well and breed better dogs only reflect them. What us more, in just the same way that they like the look of their dogs, so do others who may not want to show or but simply want a pet. And if there is a market it will be filled.
But once there is a market, those who are not concerned about quality will come forward to fill it. Just because we are dealing with a sentient being does not mean others may not treat it as a commodity which will make profits if it can be sold with sufficient margin. Again, the Kennel Club cannot be blamed for this - and it is not Crufts or dog shows that contribute to the problem either - it is the very media which have turned so viciously on the fancy in recent years.
Let us look at the facts. Now that Crufts does not receive the blanket coverage provided by BBC 1, the exposure of the general public to pedigree dogs via Crufts and dogs shows is tiny. 50,000 plus is a very respectable figure to squeeze into the NEC but it is a very small proportion of the total population and there are very few spectators at the other shows held around the country. So the impact of pedigree dogs generated by the Kennel Club and its activities is tiny
So where is the interest in the extremes of dogs propagated? In the media, of course! How many times does the Churchill insurance advertisement appear on TV, on posters and in newspapers and magazines every day - hundreds! Children see that cute little Bulldog time after time after time throughout their most formative years and view it as a cuddly, adorable family friend with a sense of humour. Why is it surprising that when they grow up they like the large head, the wrinkled skin, the turned up nose and the thick set build? Those children will be exposed to other conformations, it is true, but nothing is telling them that one is preferable to the other. When they go into the toyshop and are faced with a fluffy version to take home and sleep with, do their parents say, 'No - you should have this Border Collie instead - a Bulldog shows characteristics which lead to genetic disease?' Of course they don't. Pedigree Petfoods use a Bulldog in their advertisements, Eukanuba use a Boxer and the Harry Potter films have added to the popularity of the Neapolitan Mastiff.
I am surprised, now I come to think of it, that the RSPCA are not calling for legislation to prevent advertisers from using the 'at risk' breeds in advertisements. That sort of legislation would be easy to pass, easy to implement and, I suspect, rather more effective than lashing out at the easiest target - the Kennel Club.
David Cavill has been writing about dog, pets and the politics of pet ownership of over 30 years. He is Principal of the Animal Care College (www.animalcarecollege.co.uk), Chairman of the Pet Care Trust (www.petcare.org.uk) and Chairman of the Pet Education, Training and Behaviour Council (www.petbc.org.uk)