Sunday, 12 April 2015

Another dog show poisoning

(Read the whole article here)

Shortly before Pedigree Dogs Exposed aired, I showed the film to Beverley Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today.  I asked her: "Do you think this will bring down the Kennel Club?"

Beverley has been in dogs for a long time. Her family bred Bearded Collies and at one point Beverley herself showed and even judged. She also once worked for the Kennel Club. In other words, she knew this faction of the crazy canine world as well as anyone - and certainly better than I did at the time.

Beverley thought about it. And then said: "No," she said. "I don't think so."

And she was right. It didn't.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed holed the good ship Kennel Club, but did not sink it. The old girl listed and swayed but stayed afloat.

What followed were some ad hoc repairs, a paint-job, a glossy new brochure, slicker PR, a few extra quid thrown towards good causes, and it set sail again.

Now, even I can congratulate the Kennel Club for some reforms. At the recent Dog Health Workshop in Dortmund, KC Chairman Steve Dean said to me: "Some of the other Kennel Clubs here make us look quite good, don't they?" and I agreed. They do.

But for all the talk of health at the Dortmund workshop, it was all within-the-box stuff - how to slow the rate of inbreeding; not reverse it by opening up the stud books for those breeds that need it.

Remove the veneer and the Kennel Club is still same old vessel with the same old hands on the tiller; men in fusty tweed and women in a nice practical wool-mix with delusions of being blue-chip but who in reality have always travelled steerage. (The Kennel Club never was on a par with the Jockey Club - perhaps because, in the sport of Kings, trotting round a ring is the precursor to the main event, not the sole purpose of it.)

And today, the critics are not just from without but increasingly, and divisively, from within.  Even the previously loyal dog show press now dares ask questions that would have been unthinkable a few years back - last month causing KC Chairman Steve Dean to jump ship from Dog World to write his column for the more obsequious Our Dogs.

I've continued to chip away too - often, these days, accused of curmudgeonly obsessiveness. In fact, I would love nothing more than to walk away.  It pays me nothing and costs me dearly in time. But - for better or worse - there's no one else out there doing what I do.

And I do it because I can't shake the panic that the dogs aren't safe.

So the KC has continued to sail a stormy sea.  Pedigree Dogs Exposed and the fall-out over inbreeding and phenotypic excess may no longer be headline news other than here and on social media, but it has left the Kennel Club very vulnerable. It was only a matter of time before it was rocked by another tsunami.

And so it came to pass at this year's Crufts with the allegation that Jagger the Irish Setter was poisoned on the show's benches by a jealous rival.  Weeks on from Crufts, I am still getting calls from the Press wanting juicy quotes on the wicked lengths dog-show people go to win. This week it was a writer for Vanity Fair utterly convinced that there has been a Kennel Club cover-up (not helped of course by the dog's owners refusing to accept that their dog probably picked up some baited meat meant for foxes or rats near his home in Belgium).

I pointed out the problems with the conspiracy theory - as I have to the dozens of media calls I've had on this.  Jagger died more than 24 hours after he'd left Cruft's and the laced meat in his stomach was undigested, suggesting the dog ingested it long after he left the show. The toxicology report, too, found a fast-acting poison - too fast for Jagger to have been perfectly OK up to shortly before he collapsed. I also pointed out that no one would be faster to cry foul than me. The Vanity Fair journalist was clearly unimpressed. "Is there anyone else you would suggest I talk to then?"

There was a lot of other bad press surrounding this year's Crufts, too. Thousands signed a petition to have the Scottish Terrier stripped of his Best in Show handling because of the perceived (if not actual) cruelty inherent in the way the dog's handler lifted him by his tail and jaw. There were claims of other poisonings, too. Then there was the social media shit-storm prompted by pictures of an obedience competitor apparently beating up a Border Collie in the car park.

No matter that all the claims turned out to be dubious, baseless or unprovable. No matter that the Kennel Club did a pretty good PR job in an impossible situation.

And now, today's Mail on Sunday prints a piece by columnist Liz Jones which is as damaging as anything we've seen printed in the mainstream media before; far more poisonous in terms of its spread than the vermin-bait that killed Jagger.

Note too the shift from what we've seen before. Gone is the mildly-humorous Best-in-Show-type piss-take about frou-frou Poodles, handlers in garish suits or long-haired blonde woman who look like their Salukis.  Dog-showing isn't funny any more. It's something bad.

And, again, no matter that the Secretary of the show Jones attended disputes the writer's version of events (see here) or that the author has zoned in on non-issues and extrapolated stupidly regarding the preferableness of rescue dogs

Because here's the rub. Every new scandal - real or imagined - inflicts further, deep-down reputational damage to the Kennel Club and dog-showing.

How do I feel about this? In truth, I'd rather the KC/show world was beaten up for the real issues. I have a strong sense of fairness and some of the recent press has been unfair.

But if the upshot is that dog-showing continues to lose favour, call me happy. I hate the damage that the show-ring has done to dogs and the mainly superficial reform we've seen so far is never going to repair it. If dog shows cannot be re-invented in such a way as to truly reward health and function, then they should be condemned to history; as inappropriate, fundamentally distasteful and pointless as human beauty pageants.

I think, deep-down, the Kennel Club knows this, but it is in a tough place: on the one hand trying to appease claims from the dog fancy in the US that it has pandered to animal rights activists; on the other being drawn towards a more modern agenda by the Scandinavian KCs, campaigners, science and good common sense.

My recent blog about the KC becoming more inclusive of crossbreeds/mutts was an April Fool but I have little doubt that it's true. A more all-embracing Kennel Club is an obvious step. It needs a turn of the generations though. There are still too many backward-thinkers in a position of power at the KC hindering true reform.

Can you imagine a future where there is no discrimination between purebred and crossbreed? Where the KC records pedigree info for all dogs, building into an amazing international resource like Where the stud books are open and the emphasis is on conservation? Where dog shows, should they exist, are places to show off fitness and function as well as good looks?

I can.



Leave a comment here or join in the discussion on the Pedigree Dogs Exposed Facebook Group


  1. Can you imagine? What power is there in saying "Look at my dogs. They are from the amazing breed I-just-made-them-last-year"? "Look at my dogs; the Emperor of China had them too." just sounds that much cooler.

    1. Ah, so we breed and show dogs to project power and indulge our ego? Is that what you are saying?

      These people must be terribly insecure to have to resort to this!

      What about a blog post about how the assistance dogs and working dogs are selected for breeding? Guide Dogs UK?

    2. Yes, you do. Does the dog actually want to be trotted about for silver cups and ribbons? Absolutely not. So if the dogs don't enjoy, who does? The people. And that is why it is so dangerously detrimental to the health of these animals. Frankly, I would argue they ARE terribly insecure, because something is obviously missing inside of them if they're chasing fame through the political world of dog showing, where none of those dogs are even remotely functional in the things they were bred to do in the first place. Are you so blinded by your own ignorance that you cannot see the truth?

      And now, you're comparing apples to oranges because your projected pride has been ruined. Congrats on that.

    3. Anon 08:31

      I think you missed the irony in both posts there....

      Looking at how Guide dogs are bred compared to show dogs is a great example - breeding functional, temperamentally sound and healthy dogs as opposed to focusing on a dog's looks.....And they also cross breed!

      Ooh! Fancy that! And nobody has yet gone to hell.....

  2. Margaret Carter12 April 2015 at 18:03

    The Kennel Club is on a long slippery slope and they do not have the wit to see they will need to make some changes or they will be overwhelmed.

    I started a petition in November asking for mandatory heart and MRI scanning for Cavaliers. We now have over 10,000 signatures. Just one breed, a small health compromised companion dog with pet owners who have signed and left some heart breaking comments because they are watching their little pets suffer and die, often at a very early age.

    The petition has only received one response from the Kennel Club, in essence they say they will not change anything.
    They refused to allow the petition to be presented to them at Crufts, saying it wasn't appropriate at their Celebration of Dogs

    What happens, I wonder, when someone starts a health petition which encompasses all breeds and gives a voice to all the unseen, unheard, ignored and rather despised pet owners who are actually the biggest group of pedigree dog owners in the UK?

  3. Wonderful post Jemima. Inspiring and surely, it is not a utopia we dream of, but a sensible vision based on science, ethics and welfare.

    Education is the key. And retirement of the older generation who sadly feel threatened and afraid of the change and that they are uneducated. They don't understand the application of the molecular biology and importance of population genetics. Otherwise, they would reform surely?

  4. I think the KC is still the problem and not the solution. They need to address the two fundamental flaws in the system: 1) There are far too many breeds so the gene pool is chopped up beyond repair, and 2) dog shows don't require any real level of fitness. Compare dog showing to horse showing. There are far fewer breeds of horse than of dog, and although there are breed classes, there are also many classes for horse types (hack, hunter, child's pony etc.), and the majority of people who buy a leisure horse will not even consider what breed it might be - just what type it is. Ridden classes make up the majority, and these require the horse to have a reasonable level of fitness as it will be required to trot or canter around the arena several times, unlike a dog show where the dog generally just trots, and then often just once around the small arena. There are far fewer genetic issues in the horse world - the only weird conformations tend to be Arab horses - and Arab horse owners are accepted as a law unto themselves within the horse world. The bottom line is that the horse is bred to do a job, and the show classes reflect this to some extent (although even they are criticised sometimes for not requiring a high enough level of fitness).
    Transfer this model to the dog world and you need to amalgamate large numbers of breeds. The rise of the labradoodle has shown that there is an appetite for cross breeds - just as there is an appetite in the horse world for a part thoroughbred, for example. Keep a number of types - retriever, terrier, sheep dog, etc. - and allow breeders to register both pure and cross bred dogs within those categories. Change dog shows so the dog has to complete an agility test, or a retrieving test etc. and hold most classes for dog type rather than dog breed.
    I cannot see the KC doing any of this. It needs a new organisation to come along and register dogs by type, recording not just parentage but health. Showing classes need to reward good health and penalise loose skin, poor eyes, misaligned teeth, poor breathing etc. The die-hards would still want to show with the KC, but anyone interested in their dog's health may be tempted away.


    1. Oooops ridden showing horse classes in the UK at least are something else entirely. Very fat horses very unsuitable to be ridden in the field are the norm. They aren't function or performance tested but judged almost solely on appearances, right down to the dress of the rider. They trot canter and extend thats it, maybe popping over a few pony club size fences. Yes I suppose still a lot more than at a dog show. But don't expect these horses to really perform they are all just about being seen. It's a show not performance testing.

    2. Complete exaggeration - "very fat horses" would not be seen in showing classes and certainly wouldn't win if they were, any more than very thin horses. They may not be as lean as racehorses or eventers, but they are doing a different job. In ridden classes jumping is only required for working hunter classes and they jump fences appropriate for the size of the horse. Generally around 3 foot 6 inches - which is a decent sized fence to jump unless you happen to be a professional showjumper. Other classes are just ridden, but galloping (not just cantering) is required in most if space permits. I defy you to get an unfit horse to gallop for even a few strides. If the horse isn't fit enough to keep on cantering when required it will be marked down. As for dress, the judge may mark you down if not dressed appropriately - but jeans and a tee-shirt wouldn't exactly endear you to a dog show judge, would they? Dressing nicely is a courtesy to the judge. Horse shows are not perfect by any means, but an animal with sore eyes, difficulty breathing, poor teeth or loose skin would never be placed - unlike dog shows.


    3. Well not entirely a complete exaggeration if you look at the heavy weight hunters for example...? Yes a hunter needs to go all day not extend briefly into a gallop to rapturous applause. Excess condition smoothes the outline hides faulty conformation....after turn out before the season begins these horses look very different, slap on the old lard, plait the mane and they win rossets. Yes Im intentionally exaggerating now but more or less its the way.

      The showing world is full of the same dogma and nonsense the KC is. Just remember the debacle surrounding the ruling that crash helmets had to be worn instead of top hats! Very funny it was too.

      Anyway breeding showing horses is not so pertinent as most aren't bred for the purpose in the main. These horse come out of breedings for other purposes even the race horse industry in the light weight hunters for example. Almost a mistake if you like rather than intentionally bred, unlike pedigree show dogs.

      I know where you are going with this I think and I do agree, but showing is perhaps not the best model. I think look at how warmbloods are bred, appraised and selected on the continent and of course in the WBS UK. Much better example.

      This is not without controversy either some stud books will do the keuring in hand before the horses are backed which is not a sufficient test of anything but is designed to sell horses early instead. And yes even here young horses are being made to "mature" and doping is not unheard of to get that stallion crest going, profit takes precedent. An accepted into the stud book youngster sells for more than one not included into the the stud books and sooner than a backed three year old would be.

      I think the Dutch stud book for one example does get it right. They have a pre selection in hand then a proper selection and appraisal under saddle later as three year olds which involves the horses actually being performance tested before they can gain entry into the stud books. The first seasons foals are also appraised etc.

      Unlike dog breeding none of these warmblood stud books are closed horses from one country may be included in stud books of other countries, provincial stud books into each other what ever the case may be etc

      This is very different to some other breeds like the Arab for example and look where showing has got it. Its a mess of a breed.

    4. Chris I dont think jeans and a Tshirt are what makes a dog but as far as I know even in the world of dog shows this is OK there is no strict uniform in fact you could enter in a studded leather jock-strap and harness and show your dog and your dog might even still win if it didn't turn out too much of distraction for the female judges.

      One area at least where sense prevails.

  5. Jemima wrote:
    "Can you imagine a future where there is no discrimination between purebred and crossbreed? Where the KC records pedigree info for all dogs, building into an amazing international resource like Where the stud books are open and the emphasis is on conservation? Where dog shows, should they exist, are places to show off fitness and function as well as good looks?

    I can.


    Well said. I, too, hope there comes a day - soon - when people keep and breed dogs for the fun and thrill of having fit, healthy, intelligent, friendly pets and workers. Right now, that is not the case. People who profess to love dogs are either ruining their own through inbreeding or mutilation, or else poisoning those of others. That is not conduct befitting animal lovers. Breed dogs because you love dogs, not because you hate other dogs.

  6. I like your imagination Jemima!