No Pekingese. No Bulldog. No Clumber Spaniel. No Mastiff. No Neapolitan Mastiff. No Basset Hound.

These are the breeds that were absent within their respective group competitions at this year’s Crufts, due to their chosen ambassadors (those judged Best of Breed) subsequently flunking a newly mandated vet check.

According to the Kennel Club website:

The Kennel Club has introduced veterinary checks for the Best of Breed winners at all Kennel Club licensed General and Group Championship Dog Shows from Crufts 2012 onwards, in 15 designated high profile breeds. This measure was introduced to ensure that Best of Breed awards are not given to any dogs that show visible signs of problems due to conditions that affect their health or welfare.

The fifteen high profile breeds are as follows: Basset Hound, Bloodhound, Bulldog, Chow Chow, Clumber Spaniel, Dogue De Bordeaux, German Shepherd Dog, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Pekingese, Shar Pei, St Bernard, French Bulldog, Pug and Chinese Crested.

Thus no Best of Breed award was ultimately awarded to the winners of six individual breed contests. See all results here.

One can read more about these events on a number of sites, including Terrierman’s Daily Dose, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, Border Wars, and Honest Dog.

Personally, I applaud the Kennel Club for taking this step, although they may have done so grudgingly, and although it is perhaps not the best step they could have taken. And I applaud the veterinarians in question for their willingness to suggest that the Kennel Club’s “Best”– if that includes dogs suffering from visible health problems– isn’t good enough.

But I’m a little put off by the Kennel Club’s apparent effort to lay blame for the crippling health problems within certain high-profile breeds squarely at the feet of a handful of judges. And I’m equally put off by the suggestion that the solution to these problems, which clearly stem in large part from a century of judging dogs by appearance alone, is somehow to judge dogs more competently by appearance alone.

From the Crufts website:

Ronnie Irving, Kennel Club Chairman, said: “The majority of people involved in showing dogs, including the 15 high profile breeds, are doing a good job in moving their breed forward and many judges are ensuring that health is paramount when they judge. This work should be applauded and recognised.

“Sadly though, a few judges in some breeds simply can’t or won’t accept the need to eliminate from top awards, dogs which are visibly unhealthy. Neither we who show dogs, nor the Kennel Club which must protect our hobby, can reasonably allow that state of affairs to continue. I hope also that monitoring the results of this exercise may even, in time, enable us to drop from the ‘high profile’ list some of those breeds which prove to have a clean bill of health.

“This move, along with the other health measures that we have put in place will help the Kennel Club to ensure that the show ring is, as Professor Patrick Bateson said it can be: a positive lever for change in the world of dogs.”

Professor Steve Dean, Crufts Committee member and Senior Veterinary Surgeon, and a member of the Kennel Club General Committee, said of the new requirements: “The guidance which we will issue to Show Vets will focus on clinical signs associated with pain or discomfort which will come under the main headings of external eye disease, lameness, skin disorders and breathing difficulty. The show veterinary surgeons will be looking for signs such as ectropion, entropion, corneal damage, dermatitis, breathing difficulty on moderate exercise, and lameness. The fifteenth breed is the Chinese Crested where the principal issue will be the presence of skin damage arising from hair removal and thus signs of clipper rash or chemical insults to the skin will be looked for.

According to Kennel Club secretary Caroline Kisco, the vets will be judging the winners’ health solely by outward appearance. In other words, vets are not to disqualify dogs for any reasons beyond those that would have been apparent to the show judges themselves. Watch the below video to hear Kisco explain in her own words.

Here’s my take on that interview. By scapegoating individual judges, the Kennel Club deftly avoids undermining the idea that purebred dogs may be perfected via beauty contests. After all, a competent show judge should be able to gauge a dog’s health and fitness just as easily as these independent veterinarians, right?

It’s not the system that’s broken, it’s not the bizarre dog show culture, and it’s certainly not the Kennel Club ethos. It’s just a few bad apples– a few blind or deluded individuals that somehow can’t tell a sick dog when they see one.

Other than that, everything’s fine.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2012.

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