When actors become animal experts (apparently) and everyone applauds…

A week or so ago, a chap called Peter Egan, did an interview with the Radio Times.  This chap is an actor and self-proclaimed animal rights activist.  In this interview, the actor (and animal rights activist) questioned whether Crufts and show dogs in general is nothing more than a dangerous beauty pageant.

So the Crufts-bashing has started once again.  Delightful. Last year, we took a look at PETA storming the Crufts arena.  This year lets take a look at the statement made that Crufts “perpetuates pure breeding which leads to harmful genetic conditions, with the dogs health secondary to its appearance”.

Let’s break it down into its two main statements:

  • Dog shows = appearance > health
  • Pure breeding = poor quality genetics

There is a difference between a dog show such as Crufts and a competitive grooming show where quite literally appearance is everything.  We’re not going to talk about grooming shows here, because that’s something else entirely.

As with all animals, whether canine or human, fish or fowl, the greatest physical sign of poor health is appearance.  An unwell dog will usually physically appear unwell.  What the actor chap meant, I assume, is the underlying structural and genetic conditions you can’t see with the naked eye.  Nobody will take a lame dog into the show ring.

Health is a huge part of a show dog’s life.  Let’s take Welsh Terriers as an example.  You will not believe how much time has been spent in the breed desperately trying to ELIMINATE (yes, that’s right – get rid of) genetic diseases inherent in the breed.  I’m talking about PLL – primary lens luxation – an eye condition which is painful and hereditary.  There is a test for it, and you can be clear, a carrier or affected.  If you’re clear or a carrier, you won’t get the disease.  If you’re affected, you will.  If you breed two carriers, you’re going to be affected.  If you breed a carrier with a clear, none will be affected but some will be carriers.  I don’t need to tell you what will happen if you breed an affected dog with a clear or a carrier… it’s obvious.

Now, if you don’t test for PLL, you don’t know whether your dog is clear, a carrier or affected. All respectable and responsible breeders in our breed have tested for PLL.  If you’re an exhibitor at a show like Crufts, you’re probably a breeder or intending to breed and you know about PLL, you’re going to make some serious enquiries before mating or breeding.  We spend a lot of time looking at this.

When we’ve tested for PLL we then look at the percentage of inbreeding.  With rare and vulnerable breeds, inbreeding is going to happen.  The best we can do is minimise it and balance that with the need to eliminate PLL amongst other genetic problems.  It’s called the COI% and is FREELY AVAILABLE on the MyKC website.  You can literally create a login and calculate the likely inbreeding percentage of any two registered dogs.  Each breed has a target percentage to work below.   With Welsh Terriers, you’re going to be lucky to get anything below 5% and PLL clear.

We are not inbreeding brothers with aunts with sisters with sons.  There’s a likely chance a great great great great great great grandsire might be related.

Physical structure is important, and I will admit that there are “trends” people follow.  The shocking German Shepherd with the banana back should never have been put through to Best of Breed.  But that is not the fault of Crufts.  It is the fault of the Breed Club and the judges.

Each breed of dog has a published ‘standard’ which is about physical structure, temperament and so on.  This standard is maintained by the breed clubs, KC and judges.  It is up to this triumvirate to ensure that the standard set is promoting the health and good structure of a breed, NOT a show committee or a TV presenter.  If there is something that looks ‘off’ with a dog, or physical structure is being ignored, report it to the Club committee which upholds the standard.  Question it.  Don’t take it out on the dog show – they’re merely facilitating judging.  Judges are appointed and approved by Breed clubs, councils and finally the KC.  It is they who select their chosen best of breed and therefore judges who should ‘know better’.  In response to all of this, the Kennel Club did start a Judges Competency Framework, which includes many hours of training, seminars and mentoring to ensure that banana-gate doesn’t happen again.  The KC is learning from its errors and we should applaud all it does to promote correct training of judges.

Where the wheels fall off is when “hobby breeders (and worse)” who think dog shows are pathetic and a waste of time start breeding. 

They don’t check for genetics.  They often don’t check COI%.  They breed because there is a demand and a market for puppies.  These dogs have NOT been “gone over” by a well-respected judge with many years of in depth breed knowledge to say that yes, these dogs are good quality terriers.  All they have is a vet health check, if they’re lucky.  Now that is important, but it is only one factor to consider.

So you buy a cross-breed instead, because you can’t face having an inbred sickly pedigree dog.  Ok, that’s your choice.  Congratulations on your new puppy.

Tell me about the traditional temperament of your cocker-wotsit-multi-poo-bull around children? You can’t.  You won’t know whether it’s more cocker or poo.  Yes, of course how it was raised as a pup will affect that answer, BUT is it genetically predisposed to herd? To protect?  No idea.

What are the health signs I should be looking out for as it gets older? Is it more likely I should look at potential heart conditions, so ensure a less active lifestyle in its senior years? You won’t know. It’s a lottery.

So, I ask you, when you tune in to Crufts, take a long hard look at the dogs.  More time, knowledge, health tests and money has been invested into that dog than your designer mutt, bred because it’s the “new thing”.  That dog’s lineage can be traced all the way back.  That pure-bred “circus animal” has the appropriate temperament, structure and quality to represent ALL of its kind.

The actor (and animal rights activist) owns a pure-bred black labrador, by the way.  Literally years of breeding, testing and conformation (and yes, potentially a bit of inbreeding) has gone into the creation of that pup.  Probably at some point, an ancestor has been a show dog, culminating in the birth of… oh, wait…. the actor(and animal rights activist)’s black lab pet.  Say what, now?   

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What has Social Media ever done for us (dogs)?

We’re going to have to suspend the imagination for just a moment.

Clearly @chukkabennett isn’t actually the dog himself typing away.  Though I’ve suspected for a long time that he can read, he clearly doesn’t actually type his own tweets.  And anyway, if he could, they’d be in Welsh.

This dog has over 3,000 followers on Twitter. That’s more than an organisation I recently worked for.  It’s 2,900 more than I have on my human twitter profile. One of his other doggy friends on Twitter nearly has 10,000 followers.  Is the world insane? What is going on!?

We’re human, we’re dog-lovers and giving “voice” to the animals we so dearly love isn’t anything new.  Consider Scooby Doo, Muttley, Sweep… We have always anthropomorphised our canine companions, but perhaps before, it was on a more private scale.  Social media has just gone and made the whole thing way more public.  And I for one, think it’s a good thing.

We bring joy to others.  So many comments on Chuck’s posts have been about how his photos and videos (sometimes bordering on the indecent) have brought a smile to the face of a stranger hundreds of miles away.  If that one photograph I posted has brought a chuckle for someone who really needed a laugh at that moment, then my job is done.

We educate.  Chuck is a pet.  Chuck is also a show dog.  An industry which, in some very loud corners, is absolutely despised as the pit of all wrongdoing and abuse.  If being a show dog means Chuck is abused, then all hope is lost for the dogs who really need your help.  Sharing his daily stories is my little way of giving a bit of insight into the life of a show dog.  Along the way, I’ve offered tips on grooming, feeding, training and all sorts.  For free, by the way.  Sharing is caring.  As a community, we share information on missing dogs, news updates on diseases and tragic events.  And together we raise money for all sorts of causes which might otherwise not have got quite as much screen time!

We nurture relationships.  In a world where making new friends, and I mean REAL friends, is probably getting harder and harder, Chuck and his twitter profile has afforded me the opportunity to meet real, human friends.  People who by virtue of also having profiles for their dogs, have a shared interest in all of the above.  We laugh, we cry and we meet up from time to time, with and without our dogs.  If I hadn’t created @chukkabennett, I would never have met these wonderful individuals.

We’re participating in fancy dress on the internet, basically.   A love letter to our dearest companions, and it is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I bloody well hope Chuck is flattered! It’s a cathartic way to express our thoughts which perhaps as our human selves we wouldn’t otherwise do.  We can let ourselves go just a little bit.  And that’s liberating.

Crufts is nearly here.  Crufts is an important date in my diary for obvious and not so obvious reasons.  Yes, it’s all about Chuck and his show career, but secretly I’m actually more excited that it’s the anniversary of our twitter meet-up.  Having chatted to each other and met individually here and there for a year, at Crufts 2018, nearly all of us came together for the first time.  Our little group of terrierists has grown since then, but that core group – without Twitter I wouldn’t have you.  I am certain there are other stories out there just like mine.  Liberated by their twitter dog profile.

Some people might find all of this ridiculous and pathetic.  Well, do you know what? @chukkabennett is a dog.  He doesn’t care!