Friday, 20 February 2009

Going to the dogs is off to Crufts. The greatest dogshow on Earth has become something like an underground movement with its organiser, the Kennel Club, its `Provisional' wing. Suddenly, the event has become attractive to campaigners such as me.
Last year, Crufts was in favour at the BBC with Ben Fogel, Clare Balding and Peter Purves its star presenters. It attracted 14 million viewers. It was over four nights but, to give it context, the FA Cup Final attracts only half that viewing figure. Pedigree Chum was the sponsor and an outfit called PDSA (which I thought had something to do with Children in Need) smiled benignly on it.
Then in August BBC1 ran a documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which claimed that intensive breeding of pedigree dogs has led to health problems in some breeds. It featured boxer dogs with epilepsy, pugs with breathing problems and bulldogs that could not mate or give birth naturally.
Wailing about the wheeziness of Pekinese knocked me off my comfy chair. What gall the BBC has to think that it can be an arbiter of taste of dogs that pre-date by two millennia. What intolerance the BBC displays. What a harping, harpy, national broadcaster we have. The Pekingese breed is more than 2,000 years old and has hardly changed in all that time. It was being revered by the Chinese imperial court while the ancient Britons struggled with shades of woad. The pug first appeared in the 17th century and the boxer in the 19th.
I have never been partial to pekes, ever since I was bitten by the one owned by my horrifying Great Aunt Cicely. It is the only dog that has ever bitten me in anger. I was three years old and pulling the poor animal's peculiar curly tail but the event coloured my view of pekes in particular and lapdogs in general. What's the point of a dog that doesn't do anything? I'm glad to say that the BBC has changed my opinion. That programme turned me from a BBC-supporting lapdog loather to an anti-BBC chihuahua cheerleader. At last, lapdogs are doing something useful: converting people like me to the greatest dog show
on earth.
So what if Pekes wheeze. Labradors are prone to hip dysplasia – should they be destroyed? I wheeze when I go near cats. Should I be put down? (all right – quiet in the cheap seats).
Pedigree Chum ceased as sponsor of Crufts, PDSA went off the event, presumably to save a child somewhere. And for the first time in 40 years, the BBC pulled out. This year's coverage of this massive event looks like it is going to take place on the internet.
Happily the BASC Gamekeepers' Ring, sponsored by that excellent dogfood manufacturer Chudleys, is still going strong. Gamekeeper classes take place on Saturday 7 March. You can watch out preview of Crufts in the week running up to that. Thaen we will get our programme about it out by the evening of Monday 9 March. So don't watch Eastenders - watch!
Even with gundogs (and even without the BBC), Crufts will still be a bit fluffy. But that's part of the joy of it.
If you see one, do get a copy of the Punch Book of Dogs. First published in 1984, it is abut 150 pages of the best dog cartoons there are. The US version of Punch, The New Yorker, produced a similarly excellent book of cat cartoons in 1990 which, I reckon, shows one of the main differences between Britons and Americans. In the Punch book, there's a cartoon of a bitch in a basket with a ribbon round her neck saying languidly to another dog: "I'm enrolled at the Kennel Club – whatever a kennel is…"


PBurns said...

So your point is that it's perfectly fine to have labradors with hip dysplasia? Do you own such dogs yourself? Do you prefer them in the field? I am asking, because no one I know who shoots wants a dog with dyslasia, and that includes me!

And you think the Pekingese is the same dog now as it was 200 years ago, never mind the revisions to the standard, and the short nose that has now disappeared, and the fact that the dog in China looks quite a bite different? You sure you want to stick with that?

For the record, not even the Kennel Club agrees with you on the Peke or on hip dysplasia.

Or perhaps you thing this is all driven by Animal Right lunatics? If so, then let me disavail you of that notion. I own working terriers, and I kill things with my bare hands on a weekly basis and make not apologies about it.

But I will stand next to the radical idea (cough cough) that a good dog (and never mind if it is a working dog!) has to be able to walk, and that it has to be able to breathe.

Is that simple proposition something you disagree with? Because it sounds like it....


Jemima Harrison said...

So you honestly see no difference between YOU wheezing and a dog that has been deliberately selectively to almost guarantee it wheezes? Did you know that 25 per cent of pekes die before they are six years old. Quite an attrition rate.

And since when did venerability make something all right? Hey, let's bring back slavery and dropping people into hot oil.

The wonderful thing - usually - about the working dog fraternity is that they breed dogs for function and know intuitively that THIS is what makes dogs beautiful.

Breeds like pekes and pugs etc have a different role - that of pet. And that's fine - but it is incumbent on us as their makers to ensure they are able to breathe freely and lie out in the sun without cooking.

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