Friday 21 June 2013

Wolves and dogs and dogs and wolves

When we were making Pedigree Dogs Exposed, we filmed at the UK Wolf Conservancy Trust near Newbury. We were privileged to be able to film in one pack's enclosure  - under close supervision and with strict instructions on how to act in the wolves' company.

It was a beautiful, frosty early morning -  before the centre opened to the public. Having a young wolf lick your face is an electrifying experience. Every fibre of your body bows in acknowledgment that this is not a dog. Definitely not a dog.

Filming in Feb 2008 - close encounter with wolves
But of course wolves and dogs share a common ancestor and are so close genetically that they can mate and produce fertile offspring.  Every revelation about wolves is of interest to canine genetics buffs because it helps inform our knowledge of/relationship with dogs. And wolves have been in the news this week.

Nature reports a spat between the different teams trying to nail the timing, place and manner of the split that led to the grey wolf on one branch of the evolutionary tree and the dog on the other.
"In recent months, three international teams have published papers comparing the genomes of dogs and wolves. On some matters — such as the types of genetic changes that make the two differ — the researchers are more or less in agreement. Yet the teams have all arrived at wildly different conclusions about the timing, location and basis for the reinvention of ferocious wolves as placid pooches. “It’s a sexy field,” says Greger Larson, an archaeogeneticist at the University of Durham, UK. He has won a £950,000 (US$1.5-million) grant to study dog domestication starting in October. “You’ve got a lot of big personalities, a lot of money, and people who want to get their Nature paper first.” 
The upshot? Hopefully the competition will provide some answers. At the moment, depending on whom you believe, the domestication of the dog happened anywhere between 10,000 and 32,000 years ago.

Also this week, Christopher Landauer who runs the Border Wars blog has written about the Isle Royale wolves - once held up as an example of how inbred populations could thrive; now facing extinction.  Today, this once-proud population sits, cub-less, waiting to die - unless the decision is taken to intervene. It's nature (the wolves have become geographically isolated due in part to an ice-bridge failing to form) but still achingly sad.

A stillborn litter of Isle-Royale wolves
"Inbreeding apologists in the dog world love invoking the notion that wolves inbreed all the time and are just fine and not harmed.  As is clear from the scientific evidence, this once common refrain is nothing more than an unsupported meme that is not backed up by empirical or observational evidence. 
"Scientists are fighting against this misconception because it has major implications on the structure and success of wildlife conservancy programs.  Dog breeders should take note as these same principles are vital for the maintenance and rejuvenation of our breeds as well."

Well written, well researched and well-referenced. Read it here.

Sunday 16 June 2013

Jilly's Jolly Fraud - an update

Click to enlarge

The above image has not been posted on the official Jilly's Jolly Jaunt Facebook page. And we now know that Jilly did not walk "more than 140 miles".  Up to half of the walk was actually done by another Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen called Daisy.

The image is up on Best in Show Daily in the US, though - a scrolling banner at the top of the page here.  My first draft of this post suggested that the Event's organisers sent the image over to BISD before the hullabaloo started here - after all, it looks like official artwork. But it turns out that I was wrong.

According to the comment below, BISD claim to have created the image independently of the Event's organisers. They say they weren't aware that Jilly hadn't walked the full 140 miles - but that it doesn't matter because everyone had a jolly time and lots of money was raised for charity.

I've taken a bit of stick in the past 24 hours for daring to highlight the fact that Crufts Champion Jilly (Soletrade Peek A Boo) did not walk the whole route of her epic walk.

Several people have pointed me to a filmed DogWorld interview from April in which Jilly's owner talks  about alternating dogs.  It is up on YouTube and you can watch it here  (and the relevant bit is between 4 and 5 minutes in). Until it was mentioned in the comment section on my last post (the first I'd heard of it), it had attracted only a handful of views.

But I stand by the story.

All the written publicity/press releases/statements/tweets suggested that it was Jilly herself doing the walking and the walk was sold on this.

The official press release, put out by the Kennel Club in conjunction with Jilly's Jolly Jaunt, was entitled "...Crufts champion walks 130 miles for charity".

In this release, which post-dates the DogWorld video by some weeks, owner Gavin Robertson specifically says: "...Outside of the show ring Jilly is such an active dog, so I know that she'll have no problems walking 130 miles."

And here's DogWorld's front page take on the walk, from April 26th - which uses Gavin's quote from the press release and also very specifically says that pointer Flo will be "completing the entire 130 miles". As we now know, she didn't. In fact, I understand that Flo and Jilly walked about half the trip each in the end. This is still a substantial feat, of course; just not the one advertised.

The official Twitter feed for the event also refers to: "Approx. 130 miles to be walked by crufts Best in Show winner to raise funds for GOSH, Doglost and the KC Charitable Trust".

And here's a more recent DogWorld interview, posted just a week ago, which focuses entirely on just Jilly.

Meanwhile the wording on the official website is entirely unambiguous. It even says:

"...Jilly will be wearing a GPS collar from http:/ You'll be able to see where she is and how well she's doing if you use JJJ as the username and password."

In reality, they were taking it off Jilly and putting it on another dog and pretending it was Jilly.

Finally, here's a radio interview done by Gavin on the first day of the walk (download link). The presenter introduces the piece by saying that Jilly is walking 130 miles along the canal to raise money for charity. Gavin does nothing in the interview to disabuse him - or the listeners - of this. He also mentions that Jilly is pulling his arms out during the interview. This is no great surprise - he was photographed with the other dog just a few miles earlier, so Jilly had not been walking for long at that point.

I am sure that at least some people who joined them for the walk knew it wasn't Jilly all-the-way, but everyone else thought it was Jilly doing the whole thing and the walk was sold on it. It is impossible (because I've tried) to find anything anywhere published or printed or written about it on the internet prior to the event starting that says otherwise - apart from that one rather obscure video interview.

The stupid thing is if they'd been more upfront about it, no one would have minded at all. It is a lot of miles. And I genuinely thought it was a great idea. I was delighted to see a functional and characterful dog win Crufts this year. And from everything that everyone says, Gavin is a genuinely nice guy. I recognise, too, that everyone had a good time and lots of money was raised for good causes.

For all the above reasons, I did think twice about blogging the story. But, at the end of the day, the walk was billed as proof that a a pedigree dog was  capable of walking 130 miles and it was wrong to suggest that Jilly was doing the whole walk when she wasn't.  

Can you imagine, too, the derision if it had been me doing the walk to show that crossbreeds could do such a walk and I'd slipped in a Jake lookalike? (That said... if anyone's got one...)

 In truth, I suspect that JJJ will get more donations as a result of my blog - sympathy money from those who will hate me for highlighting it and of course donations from those supporting me on my walk which I will do for the same charities.  Just a few more pledges to go and I will be committed to it...

In the meantime, you can donate to Jilly's Jolly Jaunt here.

Edit 14:58 17 June 2013: the banner image has now been removed from Best in Show Daily.
Edit 20:02 19 June 2013: add of DogWorld article dated April 26th and information received that Jilly and Flo walked about 70 miles each - half the walk.

Friday 14 June 2013

Jilly's Jolly Fraud

Jilly... and not Jilly... Click to enlarge

Four days ago, the 2013 Crufts Winner Jilly (Ch Soletrader Peek A Boo) set off from the NEC at Birmingham on a 130 mile walk to the Kennel Club in London. This afternoon, owner Gavin and the three-year-old Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen arrived at their destination to much applause.

"Jilly's Jolly Jaunt" is being hailed as a triumph for pedigree dogs... proof positive that they are more than just a pretty face. The event is also raising money for charity with £27,000 raised so far.

But I can reveal that they have cheated.

Owner Gavin Robertson has walked the whole walk and has the blisters to prove it. All credit to him for that.

But Crufts' winner Jilly has not.

For much of the walk, they've used a ringer, while precious Jilly has been quietly transported in a van.

The event has trumpeted the fact that a showdog is capable of walking the distance.

Jilly's owner Gavin Robertson told the Kennel Club recently: "I am so proud of Jilly for winning Crufts and wanted to use the profile that her win gave us to do something for deserving causes. Outside of the show ring Jilly is such an active dog, so I know she'll have no problem walking 130 miles."

The Kennel Club too has sung the event's praises: "We are so proud of Gavin and Jilly for undertaking this challenge and for raising money for good causes, including the Kennel Club Charitable Trust.The dogs that compete at Crufts have to be in great shape so she will be well-prepared for this challenge." 

The fraud was spotted by a photographer on the Stoke Hammond leg of the walk.

"Everyone was waiting for Gavin and the team to arrive at the Three Locks Pub at Stoke Hammond," he says. "They were all waiting outside the pub. But I had parked in the canal car park on the other side of the road and as I walked out of it I saw a blue van parked up the road. The door was open and outside on the blind side of the van there was a dog on a lead that I thought looked like Jilly.

"To be honest, I didn't think much of it. It was only later when I looked at the pictures that I and others had taken along the route that I realised they were using a ringer. The dog Gavin Robertson is walking in many of the photographs is clearly not Jilly.

"I think it's a real shame. No one would really have minded if they'd been more upfront about it - the walk is in aid of three worthy charities and over 30 miles a day is a lot for any dog. But this is cheating."

The two top left pictures on this montage are of the real three-year-old Jilly, showing her markings on both sides. The other pictures have been taken at various times during the walk and are on the event's Facebook page. They are clearly not Jilly, but nothing has been said to make that obvious.   The "double" is the same colour, but the markings are different. None of the pictures of the event show more than one Petit in the picture and the whole impression given is that Jilly herself has done the walk.

The event's Twitter feed too, explicitly mentions several times that it is the Crufts winner doing the 130-mile walk.

Astonishingly, no one seems to have noticed - or are keeping quiet about the ringer. Several people must be in on it. But then the show-world is and always has been more about appearance than reality.

"We are so proud of you Gavin - and all the others who walked with you, raising the profile of pedigree dogs in such a positive way," wrote dog-breeder Sheila Atter on the event's Facebook page, which is being followed all over the world. The comment echoes the views of many in the show world.

Jilly's walking companion, a top show Pointer called Flo (Sh Ch Ch Wilchrimane Ice Maiden), has also not walked the whole route. And yet photographs of the event featuring a completely different Pointer have captioned the dog as Flo.

The event has been sponsored or supported by Royal Canin, Agria, Holiday Inn and Tesco's, among others, and many dog-lovers have donated. It is in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children,  DogLost and the KC Charitable Trust. The money has been given in good faith and surely everyone must have thought that Jilly herself was doing the 130 mile walk given the official announcements.

When the walk was announced three months ago, I thought it was a great idea; an excellent bit of positive PR for pedigree dogs (see my previous post about the walk here). It was certainly a stark contrast to the 2012 winner, a Lhasa Apso called Elizabeth who never got to go for a walk for fear of ruining her show-winning coat.

Amelia and Gavin with the real Flo and the real Jilly outside the Kennel Club this afternoon

The walk has, of course, all been in a good cause in terms of the benefiting charities. But the revelation that Jilly's Jolly Jaunt is not what it seems will further tarnish the reputation of show dogs.

And if anyone believes it is reasonable because it would be unfair to expect any dog to walk 130 miles in four days, here's my offer:

If 50 or more people email me to agree to sponsor me to the tune of at least £10 each,  I will do exactly the same walk with my 10-yr-old GSD x Jake later this summer - all the way, definitely him, and I will also donate the money raised to Great Ormond St, Dog Lost and the KC Charitable Trust.

Jemima and Jake's Jolly Jaunt. 

Please add your pledge below - and make sure to email me privately so I can contact you:

The real Jake
Also the real Jake
Yep, this is him, too.