Dog show mixes passion and fun for owners, as organisers try to counter animal rights concerns.
FOR some it is a bit of fun, a chance to meet old friends, have gossip and show off their beloved pets. For others, Crufts – the world’s most famous dog show – is an all-consuming passion. Winning matters.
Gary Waters, from Ashford, Kent, probably falls into the first category. “It’s not too serious for us,” he said as he guided Chubby, his impressively shaggy komondor (a mop-haired breed formerly used by nomadic herdsmen to guard livestock in Hungary) to the bench that was to be his home from home for the day.
Chubby was wearing a blue cagoule stitched together by Gary’s wife, Anita. “There are only two dogs in his category so he’s got a good chance of winning anyway. But we enjoy coming here, having a laugh with our mates. Winning isn’t the most important thing for us.”
Over at ring 15, however, Bill Britton was not feeling so jolly. He was pleased with the performance of his two Australian cattle dogs, combative creatures with dingo blood in them, but was unimpressed with the appearance of a professional Italian handler, who had helped a dog rejoicing in the name Banana Bender the Governor, take best dog prize.
“It’s not quite right,” said Britton. “The owner has an unfair advantage because a professional handler knows how to hide the defects of the dog. He can make an average dog look much better. It’s not cheating of course, but to my mind it’s not quite honest. And I don’t like his green shoes either.”
Britton’s concerns notwithstanding, Crufts, which began on March 6 and ran for four days at the NEC in Birmingham, was buzzing.
According to the Kennel Club, which organises the show, more than 21,500 dogs are competing, 5% more than last year. Of those, 2,500 dogs have been brought to the West Midlands from overseas. There are competitors here from more than 45 countries, including Bermuda, Japan, Taiwan, Israel, Guatemala and Azerbaijan.
The show is an extraordinary assault on the senses, not all of them pleasant.
This is not the place to be if you don’t like the sound of barking, yapping or growling. Sadly, not all the dogs make it to the fenced-off sawdust-strewn doggy toilets at the edges of the halls. Walk too close to a Newfoundland and you risk being slobbered all over (the club stand sells slobber towels for £3.50 [RM19] and handmade dog bibs for £10 [RM54]).
The show, which was first staged in 1891, is not without its detractors, with animal rights campaigners claiming that it is a celebration of looks rather than health. The RSPCA is running a campaign named Born to Suffer, calling on the Kennel Club’s breed standards to be reviewed by a panel of independent experts so they prioritise the health, welfare and temperament over their appearance.
It raises concerns about dogs that are bred to have short, flat faces such as pugs or bulldogs or very wrinkled skin such as basset hounds, saying this can cause them pain and suffering.
The US campaign group Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) goes further, branding Crufts a “grotesque charade” and claiming some breeds can barely breathe or mate unaided. After welfare concerns were voiced, the BBC, which began televising Crufts in 1950, dropped out, and Channel 4 and More4 have taken over broadcast rights. It is promising to put health and welfare issues at the centre of its coverage.
The chairman of the Kennel Club, Steve Dean, said an important part of Crufts was the promotion of happy and healthy dogs. The club is launching a scheme this year called Estimated Breeding Values aimed at helping breeders evaluate genetic risk more accurately. During this year’s show the club’s charitable trust is also giving £1.6mil (RM8.75mil) to the Kennel Club Genetics Centre.
The Kennel Club also emphasises that the show is not all about the pedigree competitions. It is running “Scrufts”, celebrating crossbreed dogs with good stories, such as Wylie, a dog rescued by British troops in Afghanistan after he had had his ears cut off, been stabbed and run over.
But the headline-grabbers are those purebreds. Such as Nickolay Kuryliov’s snowy white samoyed dogs (whose coats were going frizzy because of the rain), who had flown in from St Petersburg with him. “It’s my first time here, it’s a wonderful atmosphere,” said Kuryliov.
Emma Herring, who was keeping her mastiffs Hovis and Treacle occupied as they waited for their moment in the spotlight, said it had felt like she had travelled from abroad – though in fact it was only Norfolk. “We had to get up at 3am. We must be mad.”
Arguably, the real heroes of Crufts are the cleaners who patrol the halls hauling wheelie bins filled with detergent and who have the unenviable task of cleaning up after the pooches who did not reach the sawdust. “This is my worst four days of the year,” said one (who asked not to be named). “I much prefer the caravan show, many fewer little accidents.” – Guardian News & Media