Bo Bengtson At Large

‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’

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The news coming out of England recently should make anyone who is involved in dog shows shudder. A TV program titled “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” was aired on BBC in the U.K. on Aug.19 and has created such bad publicity for purebred dogs that the BBC is considering terminating its exclusive contract to show Crufts on TV in light of claims that there are “serious concerns about the ethics of dog shows and their emphasis on breeding purity.”

The press has had a field day with headlines like “Dog breeders slammed over genetics” and talk of “disease-ridden pedigree breeds.” Viewers were subjected to watching a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel suffering from syringomyelia (cysts which can cause paralysis), a Boxer with epilepsy, Pugs with spinal problems and Bulldogs which were unable to mate or give birth unassisted, etc. A geneticist condemned show breeders outright; the documentary even compared Kennel Club practices to Nazism, a particularly distasteful charge which nobody was given an opportunity to respond to on air. As a KC spokesman pointed out later, this was doubly offensive “not just to us but to all the people who suffered at Hitler’s hand.”

In other words, the viewing public was left with the impression that Britain’s purebred dogs are riddled with disease and that show breeders and the Kennel Club are to blame.

The reality, according to the club, is different. There are approximately 7 million dogs in England, 75 percent of which are purebred, and 90 percent of these are healthy and “will not suffer from health problems that have a detrimental impact on their quality of life.” That figure is improving, thanks to advances in science and the investment of time, care and money from the KC and responsible breeders. The KC funds research, develops health tests and encourages responsible breeding practices via the Accredited Breeder Scheme. The club actively discourages the exaggeration of features in any breed, even to the extent that breed standards are amended when necessary to ensure the breeding of healthy puppies, and dog show judges are expected to adhere to those standards, so dogs with obvious problems that could affect their quality of life do not win.

Meanwhile, the KC says, “[we] fully acknowledge that there are still some health problems that belong largely to a time when less was understood about animal health, and we continue to work to eliminate them.”

How much damage has been done to the sport in the U.K. remains to be seen — typically, the corrections never get as much play as the accusations, but the Animal Health Trust, Pet Care Trust, British Veterinary Association and several other deeply respected organizations have come to the Kennel Club’s defense.

The question now is: if something similar happens in the U.S. — how bad would that be for all of us, and for AKC in particular? If we were in the spotlight, would we be able to claim a completely pure conscience? And has AKC done as much to promote health in purebred dogs as its English counterpart has undeniably done?

It could get really ugly. What we need, I think, is a way of proving that our champions are not just prettier but also healthier than other dogs. How we do that I’ll leave you to think about, but let me suggest that perhaps the time has come for a simple health and mentality test to be a compulsory part of any AKC champion’s baggage. I know, I know... it would be a drag, demand effort and money — but can you imagine the impact it would have if we could prove that our champions are healthy? Or are our show winners just too stupid and degenerate to do anything except “bait for hours,” as someone put it? Of course not, but try to convince a skeptical media person of that.

If we don’t do anything we will have to accept the consequences. They could be disastrous for the entire sport.

With anti-dog barbarians at the gate and other serious concerns facing our sport, what do dog people talk most about? The proposal that AKC should re-align the Groups, of course!

I can’t see how this would be of crucial importance. There is just no natural, logical way of dividing all the shapes that purebred dogs come in, and even the most distinct Groups include a few breeds that are marginal, so you can argue forever where they rightfully “belong.”

What’s suggested is, in short, 10 AKC Groups instead of the current seven: a new Group for Nordic Spitz breeds, the Sporting Group divided into two (Spaniels and Retrievers versus Pointer and Setters), and Hounds split into a Scent- and a Sighthound Group. The Utility Group would be re-named the Companion Group, and a few breeds would be moved to a different Group.

I get the point: as more breeds are recognized the Groups become unwieldy. Still, even with the new additions we won’t have much more than 160 AKC breeds, and some of those don’t have a single entry at many shows. The British cope just fine with over 200 breeds and seven Groups. Yes, FCI has 10 Groups, but they also have about 350 breeds — and let’s face it, an organization which hosts Group competition for just one single breed (Dachshunds) is hardly a good role model.

Sure, a change means we could all win more Groups, and a lot of us would suddenly become Group judges. But do we really want less competition for the top awards? One of the proposed Groups would often have only seven or eight breeds competing!

Somehow this doesn’t seem like what we should devote so much energy to right now. I wish we could focus more on the truly important matters that will affect our sport instead.

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