Imagine a show based on ruthless competition in which entirely unnatural physical features were prized above all else and incestuous relationships, allegations of poisoning rivals, and other unscrupulous behaviour abound. It sounds like a salacious soap opera, right? Except it's not. All of these things are part of the saddest reality show on TV: Crufts.
Yesterday, at Crufts - the world's biggest doggie "beauty" pageant - more than 22,000 pedigree dogs were made to prance around the ring and were pugnaciously scrutinised to see how close they come to matching the Kennel Club's arbitrary standards. They were judged on their looks - and the "victors" were those who least resemble anything that nature has created.
This cavalcade of canine eugenics is a celebration of humans' quest for the "perfect dog". Crufts is for pedigree fetishists and their egos, not the dogs whom they exploit for their own personal pleasure and profit.
Consider last year's "Cruftsgate", whereby Tori, a German shepherd who was bred to have a back that was so abnormally sloped that it impeded the movement of her hind legs - resulting in what looked like a painful and permanent limp - was crowned "Best of Breed". It beggars belief that a dog who can barely drag herself around the judge's circuit could win any award. But at Crufts - where rewarding humans for inflicting painful and life-threatening deformities on dogs is the name of the game - she is far from alone.
The Kennel Club's "Breed Standards", which judges use to rate dogs at Crufts, call for dogs to be bred in abnormal and unnatural shapes and sizes. More than 90 per cent of bulldogs now have to be delivered by caesarean because they have been bred to have heads too big to pass through the birth canal, and a natural birth would likely end in the painful death of the mother.
The perverted features that are so coveted - such as the squashed-in faces of pugs, the flattened skulls of Cavalier King Charles spaniels, and the elongated backs of dachshunds - are deformities that can leave dogs unable to lead normal lives, or worse, cause them constant suffering. Imagine gasping for air because of an unnaturally shortened airway, howling in agony because your skull is too small for your brain, or enduring constant back pain because your spine is disproportionately long.
To increase the odds of passing down such traits, breeders shamelessly force closely related dogs to mate. Yes, most pedigree dogs are inbred. PETA researched the family trees of past "winners" at Crufts and uncovered their incestuous backgrounds: for example, the 2015 "Best of Breed" pug's grandfather is also his uncle and the Pekingese "Best of Breed" 2015 award went to a dog whose paternal grandparents were half-siblings.
Generations of breeding pedigree dogs within narrow gene pools has fostered survival of the unfittest and means that today, about one in four suffer from congenital health conditions, including hypothyroidism, epilepsy, cataracts, allergies, heart disease, and hip dysplasia. Pedigrees also have significantly shorter life expectancies. Some breeds, such as Dogue de Bordeaux and Neapolitan mastiffs, live less than four years, on average - almost a decade short of the lifespan of a mixed-breed dog.
Crufts is guilty of aiding and abetting this heartbreak by implying that pure-bred dogs are somehow better than mixed-breeds, fuelling the trade in ailing pedigree puppies. And while people influenced by the cruel spectacle rush out to buy "must-have" breeds who were born to suffer, tens of thousands of healthy, lovable mixed-breed dogs are in shelters right now, desperately waiting for loving homes.
Dogs don't care about winning trophies or titles - but they are the ones who pay the price for breeders' selfish pursuits. Now that Crufts is over for another year, for the love of dogs, please refuse to support this tawdry display of human arrogance. And if you are considering adding a canine companion to your family, don't fuel the cruel pedigree puppy trade. There's a perfect mixed-breed dog waiting at your local shelter, and you can give him or her the greatest prize of all - a loving permanent home.