What occurred at Crufts last month was without any question the most important, and potentially most disastrous, event to occur at a dog show that anyone can think of.
Go to Simon Parsons’ report from the UK in this issue for more information. In brief, what happened was that The Kennel Club had decided the BOB winners in 15 “high-profile” breeds would be required to pass a health test, administered by an independent veterinarian, prior to being allowed to compete in the Group. The result was that six Breed winners were stripped of their awards for “health reasons,” their breeds left without a representative during the televised Group judging at what is, according to many, the world’s most important dog show. (Only our own Westminster carries equal prestige.)
The implications for purebred dogs in general and Crufts in particular are enormous. British exhibitors, breeders and judges have expressed a level of outrage that was best summed up by the suggestion that The KC must harbor a death wish: “Why else would they humiliate their own winners and supporters in such an embarrassingly public manner?” Several of those involved have vowed never to show at Crufts, or even at any KC show, ever again.
Over 300 exhibitors, breeders and judges met a few days after the Crufts débacle to form an informal Canine Alliance, which is, among much else, petitioning the KC to reinstate the disqualified awards. Nobody is against health testing per se — just the manner in which it was carried out.
Many questions remain unanswered. Exactly what was wrong with the disqualified dogs? (Reportedly several of them had passed previous health tests with flying colors; the vets have so far refused to comment.) Should one veterinarian’s opinion overrule that of an experienced dog show judge? What will happen at future shows, where similar tests will be required?
It’s no exaggeration to say that the British dog show world is in an uproar.
So how does this affect us in the US? Many followed the developments at Crufts with mounting concern for the future of our sport. AKC President Dennis Sprung has promised that nothing like this will ever be allowed to take place here. That’s good to know, and it is difficult to imagine any US dog club trying to impose a similar, embarrassing post-show test.
The larger question, however, is how we can prove to the general, pet-loving public that our purebred dogs are not just handsome but happy and healthy as well. There are already doubters everywhere, people who believe show dogs are brainless, unhealthy cripples, genetic disasters waiting to explode. The publicity surrounding the Crufts events will reinforce that belief, and we’ll have to work hard to improve our public image. You may say you don’t care what the rest of the world thinks. Well, you should. It’s the “general public” who buys our puppies, for one thing, and it’s ultimately from their ranks that we recruit new fanciers. Crawling back into a cocoon where nobody questions what we do just isn’t an option anymore.
For dog shows and purebred dogs to have a future we need to be absolutely certain that the dogs we’re promoting are as healthy, functional and wonderful as they ought to be. Is that the case? Most of the time, certainly — but always? Frankly, I doubt it.
Long ago I suggested that the title of “Champion” should be bestowed only on dogs that had been reliably tested (not in public!) and found to be physically healthy and mentally sound as well as beautiful. Such an official seal of approval would be fantastic PR for purebred dogs and impress the general public no end. As long as our dogs are in fact healthy, what do we have to lose? And if they are not, are they really worthy of a Champion title?
There’s a lot of work ahead for all of us to make sure we’re not just involved in “champion dogs” — that we are, as AKC says, “the dogs’ champions.”