Crufts changes rules to help ensure health

In an effort to quell recent criticism over the health of dogs competing in its conformation trials, the United Kingdom’s largest and most famous dog show, Crufts, is changing its rules.

Under the new guidelines, the Kennel Club, which runs Crufts, will give a veterinarian the authority to exclude any dog deemed unfit, reports the TimesOnline.

The changes came after allegations of breeding practices that led to deformed or unhealthy dogs participating in the show. Steve Dean, the show’s chief veterinarian, will have the responsibility of examining dogs whose health or welfare come into question. To help prevent legal challenges from exhibitors whose dogs are called into question or removed from competition, the show regulations state: “The veterinary surgeon’s opinion shall be final and if the allegation is upheld, the dog shall be excluded from all subsequent competition at the show.”

The rules further state the veterinarian must be “of the justifiable opinion that the dog is experiencing pain or other provable discomfort.”

Judges, too, must now select dogs that are “fit for purpose,” reports the TimesOnline, and “special new guidance has been issued about particular breeds where health problems may be visible in the conformation of the dog.”

Much of the controversy appears to stem from a 2008 documentary called “Pedigree Dogs Exposed”, which showed a prize-winning Cavalier King Charles Spaniel suffering from syringomyelia, also called Morvan’s disease, a condition in which a dog’s brain is too big for its skull. Epileptic Boxers and Pugs with breathing problems were also covered in the program. The documentary claims that under current Kennel Club standards, breeders were essentially breeding poor health into their dogs.

The Kennel Club responded that 90 percent of its registered dogs were healthy and that the documentary was biased, reports the Telegraph.

The impact of “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” gained leverage when the Royal Prevention for the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) chief veterinary advisor, Mark Evans, described the “‘show world’ of dogs as ‘a parade of mutants; a freakish beauty pageant.’ The charity also described current breed standards as ‘morally unjustifiable,’” said the Telegraph.

The matter was further complicated when the Kennel Club reportedly brought in Professor Sir Patrick Bateson, the president of the Zoological Society of London, in the hopes of giving the registry a “clean bill of health,” the Telegraph reports.

This appears to have backfired, however, as he stated that the Kennel Club should not judge competitions while also regulating the breeders. Instead, he stated, they should be two separate entities. He also recommended changing the procedures for purchasing puppies.

“I think regulation is the only way to do it,” he told the press. “The public need to insist they know the pedigree of a dog and that it has been properly looked after, and only go to accredited breeders.”

A considerable public outcry began mounting. The BBC pulled its coverage of Crufts for the 2009 show after the Kennel Club refused to remove certain breeds from the competition believed to be most affected by poor breeding practices.

The Kennel Club’s Ronnie Irving said, “We have been forced to reject the insupportable conditions imposed by the BBC, who have told us they will only televise the show in 2009 if certain breeds are excluded from participating.

“We are unable to agree to these demands, as it would compromise both contractual obligations and our general responsibility to dog exhibitors and our audience and we believe it would be inappropriate and counterproductive to exclude any recognized breed from Crufts.

“We are obviously disappointed and confused with this outcome as we hoped the broadcast would have supported our focus on health and welfare issues, given advice about caring for and training dogs and showcased the charitable work that we support.”

More4 will broadcast the 2010 Crufts show and it appears that the Kennel Club now feels the need to change at least some of its policies to quiet a concerned public. In addition to a veterinarian being able to inspect a dog should a health issue arise, there are a number of rules geared toward breeding practices themselves.

For instance, the Kennel Club has banned parent-to-offspring and sibling-to-sibling breedings. Bateson stated he would like to see that extend to grandparents and half-siblings. He also believes that all dogs should be microchipped.

According to the Telegraph, approximately three-quarters of the 7 million dogs in the U.K. are pedigreed animals. Television sports journalist Clare Balding, who has a Tibetan Terrier, will present Crufts highlights. She commented that she will not shy away from the controversies surrounding the Kennel Club. She also stated that she found “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” “disturbing” but added, “Giving the vet this power has been a hugely positive step and owners and trainers or handlers have to accept the decision,” TimesOnline reported.