06/03/2012 17:30 GMT | Updated 06/05/2012 06:12 BST

Crufts - A Parade of Genetic Freaks

Dogs don't care about winning trophies or titles, and yet they are the ones who pay the price for breeders' selfish and superficial pursuits.

This week sees the woeful return of Crufts, Britain's annual genetic-mutant pageant. The entrants in this sad spectacle would not be out of place in a Victorian freak show - except that they're dogs. The unfortunate canines paraded around the ring have been bred to impress judges at Crufts at the expense of their health.

Dogs don't care about winning trophies or titles, and yet they are the ones who pay the price for breeders' selfish and superficial pursuits. The Kennel Club's unnatural 'breed standards', which judges use to rate dogs at Crufts, encourage breeders to produce dogs with a certain 'look' - regardless of the damage done to the animal's health and temperament.

Hypothyroidism, epilepsy, cataracts, allergies, heart disease and hip dysplasia are just a few of the serious congenital defects that afflict roughly one in four pedigree dogs. A study published in The Veterinary Journal found that each of the 50 most popular breeds is at risk of some genetic defect which can cause suffering.

Until recently, breeders would shamelessly resort to canine incest in order to pass along traits.

Mother dogs were forced to have sex with their sons, fathers to impregnate their daughters and brothers to mate with sisters. Inbreeding is so rampant that all 10,000 pugs living in Britain descend from just 50 dogs. In addition to being inbred, pugs are so deformed from being bred for flat faces that activities like running, fetching a ball and even walking can leave them gasping for air.

Flat-faced English bulldogs, who also have difficulty breathing, have been so physically distorted by breeders that, ironically, they can't even mate or give birth without assistance from humans.

Virtually all Cavalier King Charles spaniels develop life-threatening heart murmurs - a fact I know only too well, having watched my own rescued Cavalier King Charles, Ben, suffer and die from this horrible condition. More than a third also suffer from an agonising condition called syringomyelia, caused by having been bred with skulls that are too small for their brains. Afflicted dogs often scream in agony, scratch themselves raw and become progressively weaker until they can barely walk, and they sometimes become paralysed.

The BBC has stopped broadcasting Crufts, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has stated that dog shows "actively encourage both the intentional breeding of deformed and disabled dogs and the inbreeding of closely related animals".

Yet despite all this, the Kennel Club still hasn't taken meaningful action to remedy many of the serious health issues that plague pedigree dogs. It's time to make Crufts a thing of the past, just like the other shameful freak shows that we once saw as 'entertainment' in this country.

We can take the first step towards this by boycotting breeders and saving a life instead by adopting a healthy, happy dog or two from the local animal shelter.