In the past few years I’ve travelled the world as an ambassador for many charities dealing with cruelty to dogs in particular. I’ve witnessed dogs living in the most appalling conditions in dog meat farms in South Korea, on the streets of Kabul, in the “kill shelters” of Bosnia and Romania, and by the time you read this article I will have returned from Indonesia, where I expect to see dogs and animals of all kinds being brutalised at the extreme market in Tomohon.
Having viewed so much horror, why don’t I welcome the return of the biggest, glitziest dog “celebration” of the year?
Yes, Crufts at the NEC in Birmingham is back on Channel 4, but I would never be seen dead at it. Why?
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For me, the problem with Crufts is that it offers the pursuit of physical perfection in a way that is damaging, and one that I would compare to child beauty pageants and beauty contests. Beauty contests, in my opinion, do a disservice to women, while child beauty pageants are literally a rejection of childhood and a form of parental abuse that does emotional as well as physical damage to the child.
In my view it’s the same with Crufts. The dogs suffer the physical degenerative decay that inbreeding creates in order to achieve the perfect specimen imposed on the poor participants. If Crufts were a trade fair for the best and latest model in the car industry it would fail at every turn. The art of perfection in inanimate production is designed to iron out all the flaws, but in the complex system of the animal, its design combines all the weaknesses of the prototype and keeps building them into the final product.
The weight of scientific evidence – there is a lot of research in the US in journals like American Veterinarian and Scientific American – shows that pure-bred dogs are at significantly higher risk of developing some genetically related diseases than crossbreeds. Although cross-breeds are not immune either, genetic testing can help to get rid of much of the problem across the board.
The first and only dog my wife and I have ever bought, over 30 years ago, was a pure-bred labrador we called Crackers. She was Kennel Club registered and came from a long line of inbred labbies. We discovered very early on that she suffered from chronic hip dysplasia. The Royal Veterinary College advised us to put her down. Needless to say we didn’t. We kept her on a very healthy diet supplemented by a variety of vitamins and a carefully constructed exercise routine. She lived until she was 14, encouraged into her old age by the various rescue dogs we brought into her life.
As my vet friends tell me, dogs should be out running about, getting muddy, playing and interacting. Cats should be climbing trees and watching the birds on the patio. Again, we are so used to seeing these shows and it is so traditional that we don’t even stop to consider whether it is right or not. How long are we going to continue to use our pets as circus animals?
You can keep Crufts as far as I’m concerned. Make an informed choice and rescue an abandoned dog. We currently have five. They won’t win “Best in Show” in Birmingham but they will capture your heart, develop your compassion and profoundly change your life.
Peter Egan is an actor and activist. He is donating the fee for this article to the Sarajevo-based charity Saving Suffering Strays. Crufts coverage is on Thursday 7th and Friday 8th March on Channel 4 and More4