Big Pupi is feeling rather pensive:
I enjoy reading the news online - getting my updates and keeping step with the world's current events. Yesterday morning I found myself in my usual routine, skimming and scanning various sites, until I came upon an article on the BBC about dog shows and dog breeding. Well, seeing that this was news I could sink my teeth into, I read on. And on. And on. Man, this was interesting stuff.
What the news told me (translated through interpretive dance by my humans), was that the BBC refused to air the Crufts dog show, thus suspending their 46-year relationship with the organization. These actions were in response to a documentary which aired on BBC in August which dove into the breeding and health practices of dog show canines, and the refusal of Crufts to ban a presently undisclosed list of 12 breeds which the BBC deemed to have felt the worst effects of show breed standards. This documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, showed the ill-effects of improper breeding practices and how these decisions have detrimental effects on the blood lines. Many dog shows reward breeders for these practices, given that their dogs adhere to the strict guidelines of the breed standards. Unfortunately, these breed standards have moved farther and farther away from the qualities that make an animal healthy and useful, as even the working breed dogs find themselves in a weakened, yet "show quality" state.
In an excerpt from Pedigree Dogs Exposed, we meet a Cavalier King Charles spaniel - a show dog that has seen much success in the ring. This particular dog suffers from syringomyelia, a condition which leaves the skull too small for the dog's brain. Despite this devastating condition, this cavalier has been awarded for its ability to meet the stringent breed standards. But how can that be? The BBC and many concerned humans have raised more and more issues about how these breed standards no longer reflect what is best for the dogs.
The documentary also features a boxer with epilepsy, pugs with breathing problems due to their much-desired scrunched faces, and bulldogs that can no longer breed or give birth on their own. No... these are not dogs found in a kennel, in a shelter or as strays on the road. These are show dogs, all them successful, and many of which have been bred for their show characteristics.
My family is no stranger to dogs with poor health and poor breeding. Stanislaw and I suffer from so many food allergies that my people have lost count of the items banned from our food bowls. I suffer from Sebaceous Hyperplasia, and Stanislaw has endured two surgeries to fix his eyes when the gland on the third eyelid prolapsed, a condition more commonly known as cherry eye. Our departed baby brother Wile E. was plagued by puppy staph, an upper respiratory infection and cherry eye all before he made it 14 weeks. It was during this 15th week that he underwent surgery to repair the cherry eye and his little body just couldn't handle the anesthesia.
Too often dogs are bred to be pretty - to have coats that flow long and luscious and glisten in the sun. To have eyes that are perfectly round or faces that are adorably wrinkled. Legs that are long with delicate gaits or legs that short with a muscular strut. Too often these traits are bred into dogs without consideration for their overall health and performance - a dog should be able to do what they were originally bred to do, but these show qualities have gone by the way of deformities in many breeds. As this video discusses, police will not take a German Shepherd that meets show qualifications because their hind quarters are too weak to work. I, Big Pupi, believe that when there is such a dichotomy between a show dog and a working dog of the same breed, that's a red flag and glowing neon sign telling us that we're losing sight of what really matters.
And what matters is our health. Of course, what has been discussed above does not apply to 100% of the cases 100% of the time. We know that there are dogs that are bred to show AND work, and that these dogs are often found doing what they were made to do in between their show grooming and prances about the ring. We know there are responsible breeders out there that maintain a varied blood line and spend a lifetime to breeding health issues out of their dogs. But we also know that not everyone has their dog's best interest at heart, and it's at dog shows when these types of individuals are rewarded and their animal suddenly becomes the Stud Du Jour.
I applaud the BBC for putting its foot down. As regular non-breeding folk, my people watch dog shows and believe that "this is the way that breed is SUPPOSED to look/act/move." Those dogs are put on a pedestal as the ideal, without ever a thought as to the health issues or shrinking genetic pools that this ideal is creating. Too many "regular non-breeding folk" seek pedigrees that meet these standards and the genetics and breeding practices are pushed even further. It's about time that health was put above appearance, and a good place to start is at a internationally televised dog show.
The noise being made about breed standards has begun to make a difference. The Kennel Club has revised its standards for the Pekingese, which states that a slight muzzle is now to be desired. And just watch... suddenly these quirky little flat-faced dogs will be seen with a bit of a schnozzle, and all because of the influence the Kennel Club standards carry. Many breeders follow these standards like they are the undisputed Law. While the BBC can create awareness, the Kennel Club can create the change.
And so can you. Change begins with knowledge, and a little bit of education can go a long way. Take what you see at dog shows with a grain of salt, and be aware of a breed's strengths and weaknesses. It goes without saying that if you breed your animals do it for health. (This of course requires extensive veterinary checks, like hip x-rays and eye exams.) Be a responsible owner, and most importantly love your dog for everything that (s)he is. After all... your dog loves you for all of your perfections and imperfections.