I absolutely love dogs and spend lots of money both giving to charities which help dogs, or buying treats and quality food for my own rescued pooch. It's for this reason and because the internet is watching us, that I am currently being followed around the web by banner adverts on almost every page I visit, urging me that as a dog lover I must want to attend Crufts, right?
Well actually no. It's exactly because I love dogs that I will not be attending Crufts.
Crufts claims to be 'the UK's biggest celebration of dogs' but I think it could be more accurately described as "the UK's biggest celebration of dogs bred to look a certain way often to the detriment of their health and welfare".
Many people will be horrified to learn that underneath the glossy veneer of the UK's biggest beauty pageant for dogs, lies the ugly fact that the way some of our favourite breeds of dog have been bred to look, can cause them chronic discomfort, pain and suffering throughout their lives and can even lead to their premature or painful deaths.
This is because most pedigree dogs are bred according to the Kennel Club's 'breed standards' which set out what an 'ideal' example of that breed should look like. It's these standards that the dogs at Crufts are judged against. However, some physical features have become so extreme over the years (e.g.dogs bred to have short, flat faces like pugs/bulldogs or dogs bred to have very wrinkled skin like Basset Hounds/Shar Pei) that they can cause pain and suffering as standard. Meanwhile, Crufts rewards those who continue to breed dogs putting looks over welfare and knowing they may be likely to suffer.
While it's good to see Crufts now giving some coverage to a handful of dogs for the positive influence they can have in people's lives in the 'Friends for life' feature and for the recent introduction of 'Scruffts' for mutts (though in 2013 it was a 'blink and you'd miss it' segment), the coverage is still dominated by dogs who through no fault of their own may suffer because looks have been put before health.
This year, fed up with dog shows judging dogs based on their looks, when it's often those very looks which cause suffering, the RSPCA has launched 'Ruffs 2014', our alternative online dog show which puts welfare and happiness over looks and celebrates dogs who will never be 'perfect' according to 'breed standards', but we think are champions. Visit our Facebook page from today (Wednesday 5 March) to cast your vote. Categories include 'Perfectly Imperfect', 'Best rescued ex-breeding dog' and 'Happiest Hound'.
To be clear, I'm certainly not saying that those who do attend Crufts are 'dog haters', in fact many will have no idea that pedigree dogs are suffering as a consequence of how they've been bred and more have been misled to believe that these problems are simply part of what makes the breed and that there's nothing that can be done about it. Luckily, it doesn't have to be this way...
The good news is, if the Kennel Club agree to an independent review of the breed standards to ensure health and welfare is prioritised over the way a dog looks then the welfare of pedigree dogs could be dramatically improved.
The bad news is, despite calls from the British Veterinary Association, Dogs Trust, Dog Advisory Council and even a report from an select committee of MPs, The Kennel Club refuse to agree to an independent review of breed standards.
But why? There is no denying that a great deal of dogs suffer due to the way they've been bred, so as an organisation which claims to be 'making a difference for dogs', surely this should be its top priority?
To put this issue in some kind of perspective, in 2011/2012, of the top 20 most popular dog breeds, 34,598 of the puppies born and registered were on the Kennel Club's own 'high profile' list (the breeds identified by the Kennel Club as at greatest risk of suffering from disorders associated with how they're bred to look). So over 30,000 puppies could experience pain and suffering due the way they've been bred to look. Now, when you consider that that is just 2 years worth of new puppies born and that many more will not have been registered or in the top 20. The scale of suffering of individual dogs (particularly as those with exaggerated features seem to be exploding in popularity in recent years) is enormous. Urgent action must be taken to prevent the suffering of so many and this change must come from the top.
As usual there will be the dismissive cries of 'RSPCA hate pedigree dogs' by a minority of people. Not only is this a lazy accusation, but it has no basis in reality (personally, I've got a soft spot for Greyhounds) and it's exactly this kind of fingers in the ears 'la la la la I can't hear you' attitude which only allows the continued breeding of dogs bred with looks placed above welfare.
Of course it's true to say that no person or animal will ever be immune from sickness and disease. But isn't it right to do everything possible to give dogs the best chance of leading a happy, healthy life and not to be plagued by pain and discomfort? Being a 'dog lover' should mean that a dogs health and welfare comes above individuals desire to have a dog who looks a certain way. If not, then dogs are relegated to the status of mere 'products' designed to the particular requirements of 'customers' and dogs deserve better.
If you agree that the health, welfare and happiness of dogs should always come before their looks, then stand up for pedigrees and join the 20,000 people who have already signed our petition!