PDE - The Myths Busted

"Pedigree Dogs Exposed was just one person's biased view"

Pedigree Dogs Exposed made three central charges:

- that inbreeding has destroyed vital genetic diversity and resulted in a serious disease burden in pedigree dogs
- that selection for "beauty" has led to conformational extremes that adversely impact health and welfare
- that Kennel Clubs/breeders have not done enough to tackle the problems despite overwhelming evidence that breeding practices have been damaging to dogs.

Three independent reports that followed Pedigree Dogs Exposed endorsed the film's findings.
Two high-profile reports on dog breeding preceded Pedigree Dogs Exposed.
    "There were no showbred dogs in Pedigree Dogs Exposed"
    The film featured a variety of dogs - most bred by show or Club breeders. The only entirely 'pet-bred' dog in PDE was Zak the boxer - who was used generically to illustrate epilepsy.

    "They filmed their friends' dogs"
    No dogs owned by friends of the film-makers' were featured in Pedigree Dogs Exposed.

    "The film-makers asked the owners of Zak the boxer to withhold medication in order to get him to fit for the cameras and/or shone bright lights on the dog to trigger a seizure."
    The film-makers did not think it was appropriate to be present to film Zak when he was seizing, so loaned a small camera to Zak's owners so they could film him themselves. At no point was he taken off his medication.

    "Jemima Harrison hates dogs/pedigree dogs"
    Jemima loves all dogs and her famly has always had pedigree dogs. Her grandparents had Borzoi and English Setters; her parents had English Setters, Great Danes, Labradors and Jack Russels. Today, Jemima runs a small independent dog rescue rehoming retrievers, setters, spaniels, labradors and mixes. She shares her home with several dogs - including a working-bred Flatcoated Retriever, Maisie, and several rescue crossbreeds.

    "Jemima Harrison is an animal rights activist/member of PETA"
    Jemima is not and never has been an animal rights activist or a member of PETA.  She disapproves of PETA and has said so publicly. ("Peta is a bunch of crackpots").

    "Pedigree Dogs Exposed contained images of the holocaust/concentration camps and called dog breeders Nazis". 
    Pedigree Dogs Exposed did not include images of the holocaust or concentration camps and did not call dog breeders "Nazis".  It did, however, document the relationship between dog-breeding practices and discredited eugenics theory as practised by Hitler. This point was made in the film by Professor Steve Jones and Professor James Serpell, both well-qualified to do so.

    The link has been well-documented by historians and academics - including by the Kennel Club's own genetics advisor, Jeff Sampson, and Ray Coppinger.

    “The Victorians were clearly fascinated by the ideas of breed purity and genetic improvement. Indeed, there was widespread concern about the concept of degeneration, the progressive ill health in succeeding generations of a family, and the need to actively reverse this trend. This in turn probably lay behind early ideas of eugenics and interests in physiognomy that also advanced in parallel with ideas of purity in dogs and other species.”
    The Dog And It’s Genome, Chapter 2; The Kennel Club and the early history of dog shows and breed clubs; J. Sampson, M Binns; P27

    "The time has come where we've just got to give up this kind of "master race" mentality that we have about dogs. Our system of breeding dogs, of isolating small populations called breeds and then practicing eugenics, generation after generation after generation, all of those dogs are inbred beyond belief. It's not good genetics and it's not good dog breeding."

    Ray Coppinger (author of Dogs - A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behaviour and Evolution) in Dogs and More Dogs (Nova, 2004)

    "International broadcasters removed the eugenics sequence from PDE because they found it so disasteful."
    The UK version of PDE, that aired in August 2008, was 59 minutes long and contained a sequence on the link between dog breeding and eugenics.  This sequence (along with other material) was cut before it was delivered to international broadcasters in order to shorten the film to 50 minutes  (the maximum length possible for overseas broadcasters which require shorter films for their "commercial" hours ie. ones which contain commerical breaks).

    "Pedigree Dogs Exposed fueled the puppy farm/designer dog trade"
    KC registrations dipped after Pedigree Dogs Exposed - possibly because of the film but perhaps just because of the recession. KC registrations have since largely recovered and are today considerably more robust compared to AKC registrations in the US. The trend for "designer dogs" existed before PDE and thrives in many countries, including the USA, where PDE has not had the same impact as in the UK.

    "Ofcom received 22,000 complaints about the programme."
    The broadcasting watchdog Ofcom investigated five complaints about the programme.

    "Ofcom ruled that the film was inaccurate and unfair towards the Kennel Club"
    Ofcom found "no overall unfairness" to the Kennel Club but did rule:

    • that we had not fairly represented the views of the KC's genetics advisor, Jeff Sampson

    • that a better "right of reply" should have been given to the Club regarding two allegations made in the film. The first concerned the link between eugenics and dog-breeding; the second concerned Crufts winner "Danny the Peke",  whose Crufts title was allowed to stand after evidence that the dog had had a soft-palate resection prior to its win in order to alleviate a serious respiratory problem.

    "The BBC Trust found that the programme was unfair to Rhodesian Ridgeback breeders"
    The BBC Trust partly upheld a complaint by Rhodesian Ridgeback breeders about the re-edited version of Pedigree Dogs Exposed shown internationally.

    The Trust found:

    • that the film had been imprecise in referring to dermoid sinus in the breed as "a mild form of spina bifida" (The Trust ruled that describing dermoid sinus as a condition similar to a mild form of spina bifida" would be more accurate). 

    • that the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club/breeders should have been given a right of reply to RSPCA Vet Mark Evans' charge that, in breeding for the ridge, they were breeding for a deformity. (The Trust ruled, however, that Mark Evans was entitled to/qualified to express this view.)

    The Trust did not uphold a complaint regarding the use/interpretation of peer-reviewed science on the inheritance of the ridge/dermoid sinus in Rhodesian Ridgebacks

    The single other complaint about Pedigree Dogs Exposed considered by the BBC Trust - brought by a cavalier breeder - was not upheld.

    "Jemima went to a seminar on purebred dogs in Washington to stir up trouble... From what I have heard it went went down like a lead balloon! People were asking her what her credentials were and she left very upset"

    Response from conference co-organiser Professor James Serpell:

    I came across a recent exchange on your facebook page and feel compelled to correct some serious distortions of fact regarding Jemima Harrison's invitation to lecture at the Purebred Paradox conference that I co-organized with the Humane Society of the United States in Washington DC. It is insinuated that she went there, "to stir up trouble," that we "wouldn't let her show her programme," that her seminar, "went down like a lead balloon," and that she left, "very upset." None of this is true.

    I invited Ms. Harrison to speak at the seminar about the social and political impact of Pedigree Dogs Exposed in the UK. Her presentation was balanced, factual, and extremely well received. I am also happy to report that she left the seminar in good spirits, as did everyone else who attended. We (the organizers) decided not to screen PDE during the conference to avoid inflaming members of the dog breeding and showing community. Ms. Harrison was entirely comfortable with this decision.

    Whatever one's opinion of the programme and Ms. Harrison, it simply scurrilous and cowardly to use the internet to promulgate mendacious gossip of this calibre.


    James A. Serpell, PhD
    Marie A. Moore Professor of Humane Ethics & Animal Welfare,
    Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine,
    University of Pennsylvania,
    3900 Delancey Street,
    Philadelphia, PA 19104-6010, USA.

    Three independent reports of the content/tone of the Washington conference, two written by attending dog breeders, the other a vet, can be found here (from the Canine Chronicle, July 2011),  here and here.

    "Misleading Jemima Harrison article costs Sunday Times in substantial damages payout!"

    I came across this forum by simply searching for untruths / unfounded sensationalist accusations that Jemima Harrison has made to date in her obvious quest for self promotion  - and apparently at any price and stretch of the truth! I was not at all surprised when it took me less that 30 seconds to find this on Google!!

    Well folks, you will be delighted to read that the Sunday Times have just had to pay substantial defamation damages to one of the latest victims of this irresponsible false journalism after they stupidly and spectacularly repeated Jemima Harrison's claims that accused pedigree show dog exhibitors of 'cruelly plucking' out dogs vibrissae [whiskers].

    The article stemmed from another untrue, biased and badly written propaganda piece by J.H. 'Dogs Today' [July 2011] and clearly intended solely to mislead and incite the average and lesser informed impressionable general dog loving public into believing that all pedigree dog exhibitors are cruel to their dog, stopping at no depths of cruelty in the vain pursuit of winning a 'beauty contest' with their long suffering dog!!


    In just one secondhand repeating of J.H.'s false claims, the Sunday Times not only gave high profile credibility to this figment of J.H.'s wild and fertile imagination and procured quotes from leading 'authorities' [again!] - but also falsely attributed this unheard of practise to one of show dogs' well loved characters - not to mention international grooming judges - the professional and highly respected dog breeder and exhibitor Anita Bax. 

    In fact- the real scandalous story that the mainstream media are missing is how this renegade mercenary 'hack' has been allowed to get away with peddling her outrageously disproportionate clap trap and unfounded allegations purely for personal gain for so long! She is a fame hungry, not very good journalist with no expertise or qualification in dog welfare. She got lucky with one outrageously prejudiced 'expose' that the BBC foolishly broadcast under their 'responsible' panorama programme, unsurprisingly recently disgraced for another erroneous broadcasts.

    We need to stand together and fight back. We need to demand that the mainstream press and BBC stop being so naieve, lazy and easily led and start publishing more responsible, well balanced, properly researched, unbiased and honest accounts of the very passionate & fluffy world of dogs.

    Let's also make sure we make our feelings clear that we expect to see that a change of leadership at the Kennel Club will put an end to the 'tail wagging the dog' and knee jerk roll-over reactions when it comes to dealing with trash journalism. If you are sick of all these lies and bad publicity, then please do your bit and forward this post wherever you can. Facebook, dog blogs, BBC blogs, press blogs. etc Easy.

    Go forth. Spread the word and be merry, for the average show dog enthusiast is fighting back at last to clear its name at long last!

    Please pass this message on to your colleagues to keep everyone informed.

    And the truth?

    Jemima Harrison's article discussing whether we should or should not be cutting whiskers off dogs appeared in the July issue of Dogs Today and it is online on this blog here.

    It includes mention of plucking (as has been documented by previous articles on the subject) but there is no mention of any particular dog groomer and we believe most people would agree that it's a sensible enough article discussing the pros and cons and including a variety of views that represent different opinion.

    The Sunday Times picked up from this article and did their own, mistakenly claming that a dog groomer called Anita Bax removed whiskers by plucking them.  The Sunday Times subsequently issued a correction and an apology to Ms Bax, as reported here:

    The inaccuracy was the Sunday Times', not Jemima's. 

    "Jemima makes money out of her blog... and the more hits she gets on the blog, the more money she makes. That's why she's always so controversial."

    Jemima is paid nothing for writing the Pedigree Dogs Exposed blog. There is no financial backer and she accepts no advertising or paid-for links on the blog, despite numerous requests from commercial dog interests.