210 No Business like Show Business;Crufts

by   David Hancock

 Crufts is with us once again, a time for the annual news media cover up. We'll have the fawning gushing wholly unquestioning television programmes. We'll have lightweight press coverage based on nil research and zero investigation. Every morning of the show, the Bimbo Birdbrain Breakfast Show will feature banal interviews with exhibitors of dogs which display faulty physiques and breeders of dogs which carry faulty genes. At no time will a journalist ask challenging questions: how many show breeders and judges have been prosecuted in the last year for cruelty to their own dogs? how many of the Crufts judges have any training or formal qualifications for the job? What is to stop a blind and deaf dog winning best in show?

 Two weeks ago, a dog show judge was jailed for four months after being found guilty of appalling cruelty to her own dogs. Jennifer Bosson, a well-known judge and winning exhibitor at Kennel Club shows, admitted to Chelmsford magistrates to ten charges of causing unnecessary suffering to her dogs. Last year there was the case of Dr. Helen Heim, a vet and dog breeder, who bred German Shepherd Dogs in great numbers and in great discomfort. Some of her dogs were deformed as a result of incest breeding. She was struck off and banned. One of the country's leading breeders of West Highland White terriers was found guilty of a catalogue of abuse against her dogs, in kennels with no running water or electricity and covered in filth and excrement.

 Whenever man makes use of dogs, it is important to guard against misuse too. The last year has again produced disgraceful incidents in the show fraternity. Yet another breeder was banned by the Kennel Club's disciplinary sub-committee from either registering or competing with any dog for five years. This breeder had falsified his Rottweiler dog's hip score, which was too poor to justify the dog's use for breeding, and then used him as a stud dog, knowingly passing on his dog's poor hips to countless pups. But because the hip scoring of breeding stock is not compulsory, thousands of pups are being registered with the KC from such unworthy parents and then sold to the unsuspecting public as 'KC-registered', which the man in the street mistakenly sees as a kite-mark.

 Half a dozen exhibitors again were disqualified for entering dogs for shows under the wrong name. Until an identification system such as tattooing or microchipping is introduced, only a tiny minority of such offenders will ever be caught; can you tell one Old English Sheepdog from another! Such deception means that the whole system of making dogs up as champions is highly suspect. These examples of cheating or misbehaving in the dog show world are hardly isolated.

 A Reading breeder who had made up a German shepherd dog champion some years before, was banned by the KC for ten years, after being found guilty of selling mongrels as German shepherds. The KC also banned: a Manchester man for breeding pit bull terriers deceitfully, a Colchester man for interfering with a badger sett, a Northumberland couple for causing unnecessary suffering to a bearded collie, a Berkshire woman for supplying false hip-score certificates and a Lincolnshire man for allowing his premises to be used for dog fights. Every year breeders are banned for falsifying registration documents. Behaviour at dog shows continues to disappoint -- and to amaze!

 Recent incidents range across a bizarre spectrum: a bearded collie had his "beard" cut off, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel had his ear feathering cropped, a Maremma was drugged at Crufts, a Rottweiler was poisoned at the Three Counties show, acid was sprayed on the back of a puli at the Midland Counties' show, another puli died after being fed an "ecstasy-type" tablet at another show, a deerhound exhibitor received death threats, a Pomeranian and a Newfoundland died after being poisoned at shows as did an Anatolian shepherd dog after Crufts, two Afghans had water thrown over their immaculate coats at the Driffield show and a couple showing Grand Bleu de Gascogne hounds arrived at their allocated bench to find a death threat to one of their dogs fastened to it. The culprits clearly love winning, not dogs.

 Exhibitors caught misbehaving at shows have been fined by the KC for: aggressive behaviour and foul language, assaulting a fellow competitor, verbally abusing a judge, using obscene language, threatening behaviour and fighting. One judge was called over to the car of a departing exhibitor and then with his head inside the car found the vehicle rapidly accelerating! Four exhibitors of soft-coated wheaten terriers returned to the car park after a Midlands show to find their tyres had been slashed. Discord in breed clubs is rife, more recently in the Bouvier des Flandres Club of Great Britain (with the AGM described as "well-attended but acrimonious" with mention of rudeness, dislike and hostility) and the Bernese mountain dog fanciers, with Dr. Malcolm Willis the distinguished geneticist commenting that:"The atmosphere at many shows leaves much to be desired".

 The lack of co-operation from breed clubs in schemes to combat inherited diseases is simply a disgrace and shames all dog lovers amongst their membership. But then the Rottweiler breeder who falsified his dog's hip score was secretary of his local breed club. It is the breed clubs which nominate judges, who then decide which dogs win and have value. It is a fair summary of this situation to say that dog show judges are nominated by their colleagues, are never trained, tested or examined, with many being incompetent, some biased and a few open to bribery. There is widespread discontent amongst honourable dog show exhibitors over this unacceptable judging scene but the KC ignores the need for change, unlike the other leading national canine clubs overseas.

 A winning dog at Crufts, unfairly or incompetently placed, is widely used for breeding purposes. It then passes on its weak points to the detriment of its breed and could carry more than one inherited disease and go on to sire 500 pups which could pass on that defect. Half the international kennel clubs now no longer rely on the integrity of the breeder and require clearances. How can anyone reading of the misdeeds of show breeders in the above paragraphs expect integrity? The KC was established to ensure the improvement of dogs not to promote the best financial interests of breeders. Sadly pedigree dogs are being bred with defects, registered with defects and their progeny, with defects, then also registered and bred from. And how we are breeding pedigree dogs !

 A study of the Breed Records Supplements issued periodically by the KC reveals the following: some West Highland White bitches having had nine or ten litters at only seven years old; a Pembrokeshire Welsh corgi having five litters before her fourth birthday; a four and a half year old Staffordshire bullterrier bitch having had seven litters and 55 bitches in this breed mated on successive heats; one Dalmatian bitch producing 33 pups before her fifth birthday. One Papillon breeder has 38 breeding bitches. One English springer spaniel dog has sired nearly 200 litters. What if these dogs carry hereditary diseases? Who knows that they do not!

  One breeder, on being informed that his dog had a defect, an inheritable cataract condition, snatched the report form from the desk, punched the eye specialist in the stomach and stormed from the room. So much for breeder co-operation! Breeders would have to co-operate if they couldn't register their stock without clearance certificates. Do you fancy paying £500 for a puppy of a breed you admired at Crufts, only to discover that it was deaf? No less than 37 different KC-recognised breeds are afflicted with hereditary deafness. Yet there is no KC scheme to assess, record and reduce the incidence of the disease.            

 When you look around at Crufts, you will be looking at many dog breeders who have defective stock and knowingly breed from such stock. You will also be visiting a show organised by a body exercising power without responsibility. No, these are not just my strong views. In May 1988, there was a symposium on Heredity and Disease in dogs and cats at Lord's conference centre attended by the leading UK experts in this field. Their conclusions were crystal-clear: "The reduction of genetic defects depends upon motivation and concerted effort by breeders. For reasons of vested interest, ignorance and sheer intransigence some breeders, often allegedly quite prominent ones, will do absolutely nothing"; "If, for example, breeding stock in certain breeds had to be hip-scored before the Kennel Club would register stock, there would be a marked reduction in the incidence of the problem. The British Kennel Club refuses to do this..."; "...the obvious deficiencies of control (i.e. of eye diseases inherited by dogs) may not be properly addressed until knowledge of disease status becomes an essential part of any official registration procedure."

 There is nothing new in such advice. Twenty two years before this symposium, Burns and Fraser were writing in their authoritative "Genetics of the Dog": "...it must be stated that if there is a serious desire to reduce the suffering caused by hereditary defects in dogs then certain measures should be taken. It would not be impossible for the Kennel Clubs to insist on thorough veterinary examination of all breeding stock..." The authors went on to advise the tattooing of tested stock and a note in their registration papers. But there is no serious desire to reduce the suffering.

 Is this surprising when you recall the behaviour of breeders at shows and towards their own dogs listed earlier? Is it any sense at all for the Kennel Club to expect breed clubs to regulate their activities and act for the good of dogs when the members of such clubs quite clearly dislike each other? Far too many show breeders do not like dogs either; they like winning. Crufts is the social occasion of the year for the private club that runs it, a social club funded by money from registrations. Why spoil a good party by being responsible!

 The annual Crufts dog show is a classic case of "all fur coat and no knickers"; far too many of the dogs are carrying genetic or physical defects and being used for breeding future stock by thoroughly despicable breeders. Far too many show breeders are in it to win -- at any cost. Of course there are dogs there that are excellent; of course there are breeders and exhibitors there who are quite admirable people. There are too some worthy breed clubs trying hard to be responsible. But whilst the Kennel Club displays no moral leadership and limps along, hiding behind committees, clinging to the past yet betraying their own founders, who can the good turn to? Charles Cruft was a dog food salesman and ironically that is what this show is fast becoming -- a giant dog food exhibition! Perhaps we should take the dogs away until Crufts is, what it was intended to be: a livestock show displaying the very best canine stock in the world. Go, and study the bulldogs as they strive to overcome what we have made them into -- unsound caricatures of their ancestors.
But if you are showing one, don't leave it unattended!