It’s turned out to be a bit of a doggy week. Yesterday, an email plopped into my inbox from the animal rights charity Peta. ‘We have fired off a letter to the head of Channel 4 urging him to cut the organisation’s ties with the Crufts dog show,’ it said. Rubbish, I say.
It’s true that certain pedigree dogs have suffered as a result of inbreeding, and that some of the distinctive characteristics and physical traits that some breeds have are not beneficial for their health. But does this mean we should ban the show?
Almost all of the dogs who take part in Crufts are normal family pets. Others do hugely important jobs; there are categories for Dogs for the Disabled, Guide Dogs for the Blind, and police dogs. Day four of the event (Sunday) is devoted to the gun dog category, with many of the dogs being working dogs. In fact, all of the dogs in the BASC Gamekeepers' classes must regularly work the shooting field. Rescue dogs have their own class in the Agility competitions, and anyway, it’s not even all about pedigree; the ‘Scruffts’ title is awarded to ‘The Nation's Favourite Crossbreed’.
Crufts – and the media coverage of the show – also does a very good job of raising the awareness of people to breeds they might never have heard of before. In 2009, for example, the ‘Best in Show’ category was won by a Sealyham terrier; a ‘vulnerable’ native British breed – last year, only 68 Sealyham puppies were registered with the Kennel Club.
The BBC has already turned its back on the show. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us should. Of course the breeding of unhealthy animals shouldn’t be encouraged, and no one knows that better than breeders themselves. But Crufts also does an awful lot of good, and for that they should be praised, not censured.