Crufts 2012: A Disaster

Lhasa Apso takes Best in Show; disqualifications create controversy

Where does one begin to write about the most controversial Crufts dog show of all time, one which is bound to have long-term implications for the whole future of dog showing in the UK and perhaps beyond?

The Kennel Club’s began issuing veterinary checks on the 15 so-called “high-profile” breeds, those with conformation features which, if exaggerated, could affect the dog’s welfare. At all-breed and Group championship dog shows, the Best of Breed winners in these breeds are to be examined by a veterinarian. If the vet is satisfied it’s sound and healthy, the show dog proceeds to the Group judging.

If the dog does not pass the veterinary check, it cannot compete in the Group and does not receive the Best of Breed card, though somewhat strangely it can keep the Challenge Certificate, which declares it to be “of such outstanding merit as to be worthy of the title of champion.” In addition, dogs of these breeds will have to pass a veterinary check before they can claim their champion title.

The original idea was that this check would be done by the official show veterinarian, as is to be the case at other shows. However, the Kennel Club announced that for Crufts, the first show where the new rules applied, “independent” vets would be sought, in conjunction with the British Veterinary Association. Instead of the BVA simply appointing one or two of its senior figures to do the job, it was decided that volunteer vets would be sought! Ideally these would have no connection with the dog show world.

In the event, very few veterinarians applied. We don’t know exactly how many, but we believe it was three to five. From these, two were chosen. In fact, neither is completely divorced from the show world, as one of them acts as vet for a Group championship show and another is president of a breed society and has done a little exhibiting in the past.

Before the show I was filled with foreboding. Was this a disaster waiting to happen? Indeed it was, and the events at the show will affect the dog show world forever.


Failing the Health Check

The first day of Crufts 2012 saw Toys and Utility breeds judged. First of the high-profile breeds to finish was the Pekingese, judged by breed doyen Bert Easdon (Yakee). He gave Best of Breed to a young bitch from the Palacegarden kennel, breeders of Westminster Best in Show Malachy. After the judging, owner and breeder Jean Smith was asked to take the bitch along for the veterinary examination. She failed.

Next came Bulldogs, with another senior specialist, Pat Perkins, judging. Her BOB was last year’s top winner who has 22 CCs and passed a voluntary breed health test last year. She, too, failed the veterinary check.

Four other high-profile breeds, the Chinese Crested, ChowPug and French Bulldog, did get through, however, and appeared in the Group judging, unlike the Peke and the Bulldog.

On the second day was Gundogs. They included only one breed on the high-profile breed list, Clumber Spaniels, judged by Britain’s senior and arguably most respected judge, Ferelith Somerfield, who has been a keen supporter of the Kennel Club’s heath initiatives and gave each dog an extremely thorough examination. Somerfield’s BOB was a spectacularly good-looking bitch from Croatia, a huge winner at breed and Group level all over Europe and an American Kennel Club champion, too. Among those who have put her up are this year’s Crufts Gundog Group and BIS judges. She, too, failed her veterinary check.

On the third day of Crufts 2012 were the Working and Pastoral Groups, and the second veterinarian took over the examinations. The Mastiff breed, judged by specialist Sarah Windham, produced the same BOB as two years earlier, a champion bitch. She failed the test. The Neapolitan Mastiff, judged by all-rounder Jeff Horswell, was a Belgian-bred bitch with titles in Europe (the breed does not have CCs in the UK). She failed. The German Shepherd Dog and Saint Bernard passed.

Finally, it was Hound and Terrier day. The Terrier Group does not have any breeds on the high-profile breed list, but there are two Hounds, Bassets and BloodhoundsBassets were judged by Britain’s only judge approved to award Challence Certificates in all breeds, the exceptionally experienced Zena Thorn Andrews. Her Best of Breed, a well-known champion male, failed the examination. The Bloodhound got through, making it a total of nine passes and six failures from the 15 breeds.


What Went Wrong?

What was wrong with these six show dogs? The Kennel Club merely sent out press releases telling the world that these dogs had failed, without giving any reason. My understanding, though, is that in each case it was principally something to do with the dog’s eye health which was the deciding factor, a minor blemish in the case of the Pekingese and Bulldog, issues about the eye shape in the other cases.

In at least two of the cases the vet used a light to examine the eye health in detail. Everyone had understood that the examinations were only to take into account issues which the breed judge could reasonably have been expected to have found. I’m judging Pekes later this year, so clearly I will have to buy or borrow an ophthalmoscope to help me make my decision for Best of Breed.

Seriously, the question arises of how, if you judge to the Kennel Club standard, and put up dogs which are bred to and comply with that standard, can your main winner then be rejected?

On the first two days the health checks were mentioned in the Group commentaries, and it was announced that a missing breed’s Best of Breed winner had not been “confirmed.” Obviously the Clumber Spaniel people were determined not to let this pass, for there were jeers from the gallery at this point, and on the next two days it was pretended that the three remaining victim breeds simply didn’t exist!

Needless to say there has been an uproar. Many were determined that something needed to be done, and on a meeting after Crufts, 320 people from many dog breeds, including of course those which had been “rejected” at Crufts, met to see a way forward. At the end of the meeting, a statement was issued, calling on the Kennel Club to suspend testing, to agree that the system was flawed and not to reintroduce the veterinary checks until they are transparent, there is clarity and fairness and they are nondiscriminatory — in other words, that every dog breed is treated equally.

In addition, a group was formed called the Canine Alliance, with a steering committee of 14 well-known dog people, which was to raise the issue with the Kennel Club, both directly and via a proposal at the forthcoming annual meeting which looks like being an even more interesting one than last year’s when coat testing was the main area of debate.

Should the decision of one veterinarian be enough to overrule a judge selected by the Kennel Club to judge at its own show, even judges of the caliber of Ferelith Somerfield and Zena Thorn Andrews? Does this not make nonsense of the selection and approval process for judges? Should there not be an appeals procedure? Is a small eye injury, which may have happened years ago, sufficient grounds to ban a champion dog from competing in the Group? Should the efforts of breeders in breeds like Bassets, Clumber Spaniels and Bulldogs to produce healthier all-round specimens be so cruelly ignored?

I can truthfully say that every single person to whom I spoke during the show, and who was unconnected with the KC officialdom, felt that the way the matter had been handled was a mistake. And these are not people who are against the move to breed and show healthier dogs, but people seriously concerned, and in some cases, frightened for the future of serious dog breeding and exhibiting.


An Otherwise Fabulous Show

What makes these events all the more sad is that in almost every way Crufts 2012 was a fabulous dog show. The presentation and organization are virtually flawless. There were plenty of visitors spending lots of money. There were fabulous show dogs from all over the world, an enjoyable main ring program, and a glorious, glamorous Best in Show winner.

Eukanuba’s support in the role of principal sponsor is confirmed for three years. Discover Dogs, where visitors can see examples of almost every breed on all four days, was its normal marvellous self. The UK Kennel Club was pushing various initiatives, including the concept of estimated breeding values, to help breeders make the safest choices when breeding for healthier dogs.

Overseas entries were up yet again. I would guess there were more spectators from abroad, too, including many from the United States. This was especially notable round the Pembroke Welsh Corgi ring, where a number of his compatriots were supporting breed judge Tim Mathiesen of the famous Nebriowa kennel in California.

Unlike some years, groups opposed to dog shows were hardly in evidence. No chances were being taken at the main ring, spectators’ bags were checked, and on the final night I spotted “real” policemen round the main ring, as well as security staff, and all passed off well.

As ever, there were hundreds of concessions and demonstrations of all the usual dog-related activities. There was a ring for juniors and for obedience, including the prestigious annual championships and the World Cup, in which I gather one of the American representatives, Petra Ford and the Labrador Retriever NOC OTC County Tyler Show Me The Money, put up a superb performance, especially considering that some of the exercises are different from those in the US. There were agility contests, flyball and heelwork to music.

The international junior handling final was judged by regular visitor from Norway, Espen Engh, and Portugal’s Raquel Colaço triumphed. Meanwhile, Stuart Plane judged the final of the breeders’ competition with 43 teams (either three or four dogs bred by the same kennel), resulting in a win for Averil Cawthera-Purdy’s Lireva Pomeranians.


Utility and Toy Groups

Down to the serious stuff. Thursday started with the Utility Group for judge Geoff Corish, who has handled a Lhasa and a West Highland to BIS at Crufts in the past, and will be judging BIS next year. He had given the Lhasa Apso Ch. Zentarr Elizabeth BOB at Crufts last year, as well as BIS at a Group championship show, and, bang on form, Margaret Anderson’s homebred bitch was not to be beaten.

I had often wondered why she never won an all-breed BIS, in spite of taking several Groups, two Reserve BIS awards and representing the UK with panache at the Eukanuba World Challenge in Florida last December, where she ended up third with many admirers.

Strictly speaking the Lhasa is now a veteran, as is the Keeshond in second place, UK/Am. Ch. Kemonts Skyline’s Game Boy, who arrived from the US last year. Kristen and Susan Cullen are co-owners along with Joan Miles from England. Only slightly younger is the Akita in third place, Ch. Redwitch Leather And Lace. The younger element was represented by the fourth place, Toy Poodle Ch. Vanitonia You’ll See, one of the sensations of 2011.

Annette Oliver, best known for Italian Greyhounds, judged the Toy Group. She went for youth in the shape of the Pomeranian Belliver Unexpected Dream, just out of Junior and a born crowd-pleaser. He was bred in Ireland, but lives in Sweden. His exceptionally clever handler was Mikael Nilsson, who 10 years ago stunned us with the first “pet passport” Crufts Best in Show winner, King the Standard Poodle. Dream is co-owned by his partner Fredrik Nilsson and Kristina Bertilsson.

Not yet 2 years old is the Group 2nd, Pug Ch. Pugalicious Provocateur, and third was last year’s Group winner and No. 1 all breeds, Bichon Frisé Ch. Pamplona Bring Me Sunshine. Owner Michael Coad is of course partner of the Utility Group judge Geoff Corish, but it is perfectly acceptable under British rules for one household member to judge and another to show (different breeds, of course!) at the same show.

Fourth was the Papillon UK/Am. Ch. Lafford Fly Me Too Farleysbane, British-bred but living in the US. He had been Best of Breed at Westminster a few weeks back, as also was the Dutch-bred Affenpinscher Am. Ch. Banana Joe v. Tani Kazari, shortlisted here and Group 2nd at the Garden.


Gundog, Working and Pastoral Groups

Friday was just for Gundogs. John Thirlwell, handler of the BIS Vizsla two years ago and owner of a Crufts Group-winning Welsh Springer, was in charge. All four winners were foreign-bred, though resident in the UK. Perhaps British Gundog breeders need to up their game!

Washington state sent over the winner, our top Gundog of 2011, Irish Water Spaniel Sh. Ch. & Am. Ch. Whistle Stop’s Elements Of Magic CD RN, for Judith Carruthers and co-breeder Colleen McDaniel. He’s the first IWS to win more than one BIS in the UK and now the first to top a Crufts Group, though Judith was second last year with a homebred bitch. What a record this breed has, considering the numbers bred.

In second place was the Labrador Sh. Ch. Am. & Can. Ch. Salty Dog of Tampa Bay, owned by Linda Hess from Florida, a Group and consistent breed winner during his British stay with handler Anthony Allen, following an exciting American career.

Sweden had sent over number three, English Springer Sh. Ch. & Nord. Ch. Barecho Hold Your Horses at Peasblossom, and New Zealand fourth in the Pointer Sh. Ch. & NZ Ch. Robwyn Dream Are Free at Ridanflight, whose breeder’s trip across the world proved worthwhile, as he was the handler.

The flourishing dog scene in Eastern Europe took many British observers by surprise, and Saturday rubbed in the point. Working Group judge Jeff Luscott, known for Great Danes, Belgian Shepherds and now Lhasas, put up a Newfoundland bred and owned in Slovakia, multi-titled Ch. King of Helluland Duke Of Heaven, for Sona and Vlado Krockovci. Mixing local lines with American Pouch Cove has been a recipe for success, which this black boy’s pedigree proves.

A young graduate from the junior handling world took second, Helen Taylor showing the Siberian Ch. Siberiasyke Brite Borealis of Pelerise. Two more youthful veterans completed the lineup, third the dual Crufts Group-winning Boxer CC record holder UK/Ir. Ch. Winuwuk Lust At First Sight, and fourth the US-bred Tibetan Mastiff Sierras’ Yogananda, now retiring after a phenomenal career for a “rare breed,” one not entitled to British Challenge Certificates (CCs).

Albert Wight, one of our leading all-rounders, judged the Pastoral Group. This was Hungary’s turn in the limelight, Zsolt Hano handling Joszef Koroknai’s Old English Sheepdog Multi Ch. Bottom Shaker My Secret. His titles include one in UK from a stay here a while back, and BIS wins in Europe. The next three placed are all famous UK BIS winners, Bearded Collie Ch. Sengalas Indiana Jones, last year’s Group winner in the German Shepherd bred in Germany, Ch. Elmo vom Hühnegrab, and the Border Collie from “down under,” Sh. Ch. & Aus. Ch. Danari De Beers.


Terriers and Hounds

On the final night Terriers were assessed by last year’s BIS judge, Italian Paolo Dondina, himself co-owner of a Crufts BIS winning Wire Fox Terrier in the ’70s. He went for the 14-month Norwich Ragus Merry Gentleman, co-owned by one of our greatest dog breeders, Lesley Crawley, with young Matthew Oddie. He had taken his first CC under Peter Green; at the three shows so far this year he has won two Groups and a Group 2nd.

No dog, I think, has won Crufts and Westminster Groups in the same year, but coming pretty close was the Kerry Blue UK/Am. Ch. Perrisblu Kennislain’s Chelsey. Britain’s No. 2 all breeds in 2010, she’s now in the States, handled by Bill McFadden, who also took Group 2nd here with a Dandie some years back. Chelsey is co-owned by Phil Davies with the Yingling family.

Third was Top Terrier 2011, the American-bred Irish UK/Am. Ch. Fleet St Fenway Fan, who also has BIS wins on both sides of the Atlantic, and fourth was the Dandie Cloverwood Royal George, with a Peruvian handler.

Hounds had Keith Thornton, of Afghan and Whippet fame, in charge, and he chose the Borzoi Ch. Rothesby Sholwood Snow Hawk, owned by Sue Carter, for his first Group success. He was co-bred by Sue with the late Richard Duckworth, who won a Crufts Group a while ago. Much of these kennels’ success is due to an influx of Stillwater blood from the US.

Last year the PBGV Ch. Soletrader Peek A Boo began her rise to fame with her Crufts Reserve BIS win. Since then she has been top Hound, and must have been one of the favorites this year. Such are the fortunes of Crufts, though, and she ended up Group 2nd, followed by the new champion Saluki Jorjenjo Mirzam of Fernlark. Handler/co-owner Luke Johnston is just 13, but what a brilliantly sensitive job he does. Has any younger handler won a Crufts Group place? Fourth was the Mini Smooth Dachshund Ch. Carpaccio Captain Scarlet, another who has done well very young.


Best in Show

Few have contributed as much to the world of dogs in so many different ways as Frank Kane, as breeder-exhibitor, Kennel Club committee man with special responsibility for Standards, judge, author and educator, so it was a pleasure to see him given the chance to judge BIS.

He appeared to have not the remotest hesitation in opting for the dignified and totally Tibetan Lhasa. To say she brought back memories of the immortal Ch. Saxonsprings Fresno can give no higher praise. Indeed both Fresno and the only previous Crufts BIS-winning Lhasa, Ch. Saxonsprings Hackensack, appear in her pedigree.

Margaret Anderson is one of those clever breeders who quietly get on with the job of producing top class dogs. She fell for the Lhasa Apso breed when she saw Fresno in the early ’80s and has since bred a number of champions, including Elizabeth’s dam and grandsire. She immediately announced Elizabeth’s retirement from the ring and hopes to breed her later this year.

Reserve BIS seemed to give Frank slightly more pause for thought, but it was the free-moving Slovakian Newfoundland who joined Elizabeth on the podiums.

So a great Crufts in every way but one; what a tragedy that this one difficulty should cast such a shadow over everything else and have such horrible implications for everyone in every dog breed, not just the “fraught 15,” which for now on will have to endure the vet’s inspection of the Best of Breed at every major dog show.

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