I am an unapologetic dog lover. In fact, I love all animals; dogs are just at the top of a long list that probably also includes goats in the top five. My deep love of dogs was reawakened when my partner and I adopted our dog, Luna, from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Old Windsor about a year ago. Battersea’s main rescue centre is in London – south of the Thames in – you probably guessed it – Battersea. After Luna entered our lives, I quickly became obsessed with training techniques, dog behaviour, and dog breeds. Luna is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier – a much maligned breed. Staffies have received a lot of bad press in the UK in the last several years because they’ve become popular with young thugs who use them as ‘status dogs’ – or toothy, intimidating fashion accessories. So any of you who may have some romantic idea that the British care for their dogs better than Americans do, or have this cheerful days-gone-by Barbara Woodehouse ‘W a l k i e e e e s!’ vision of how Britons treat their dogs, is, sadly, mistaken.
Staffies and Staffie crosses are also used in the UK for illegal dog fighting, much like Pit Bull Terriers in the US. Pit Bulls; Dogo Argentinos; Japanese Tosas; and Fila Brasilieros are illegal in the UK. The Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) 1991 is breed specific legislation and has specifically banned these four breeds. Many reports claim that the DDA has not been at all effective in controlling dangerous dogs, and that there has actually been an increase in the number of illegal breeds, and dangerous dog activity since the DDA was passed. Most rescue centres are opposed to the measure and many would like to see the DDA repealed in favour of a more effective law that Punishes the Deed Not The Breed – in other words, a law that gets the dogs out of the hands of criminals and punishes the humans, not the innocent, abused animals, who were conditioned to be aggressive by their wannabe gangsta owners. I agree wholeheartedly.
The UK’s rescue centres and pounds are stuffed full of Staffies and Staffie crosses; Staffies as well as Pit Bulls and other illegal breeds are being put down in unprecedented numbers because the rescue and pound infrastructure can no longer handle the vast number of dogs in need. The DDA does not work. One of the reasons I rescued a Staffie was that they seemed to be the breed that was most in need at this time; additionally, the breed fit with our family lifestyle enough that it would be appropriate to adopt one. Greyhounds are much in need as well; fortunately Greyhounds don’t receive the bad press Staffies do. Unfortunately, not all Greyhound racers treat their dogs in a humane fashion; there are plenty of ‘retired’ Greyhounds available in rescues as well.
Breed specific legislation is not limited to the UK. My own gorgeous hund is banned from entering Germany. Looks like she won’t be coming with us to Oktoberfest. Maybe beer should be banned too, since some people can’t control their drinking, und – Gott im Himmel! – that could lead to erratic and dangerous behaviour! Such reactionary laws help no one – animal or human. Especially those whose animals and children are attacked by small terriers and Border Collies. No one has ever suggested banning those breeds. And no one ever will – and they shouldn’t, really. There has been lots of talk lately, about reforming Britain’s DDA. It is possible that in the near future, the DDA will repeal the breed specific part of the act. The DDA may also enact compulsory microchipping for all dogs. I would welcome both actions, should all this talk come to any fruition.
As a dog lover, I’m also interested in dog shows and dog show results. In the UK, the ‘big show’ is Crufts. I’m not fanatical about dog shows, and I am aware of, but ambivalent to, animal rights advocates’ perceptions, as well as the humane and ethical questions surrounding pedigree breeding and shows such as Crufts. But I do like to see things for myself, and have always wanted to attend Crufts at least once, so my partner and I went to this self-billed, largest dog show in the world, founded by Charles Cruft in 1891, last Saturday. I don’t know why there is no apostrophe in ‘Crufts.’ Perhaps the Kennel Club thought they’d save ink or electrons by omitting it.
Crufts, held at the Birmingham (the original one, in England’s Midlands) National Exhibition Centre (NEC), concluded its four-day dog show on Sunday, culminating with its famous Best in Show award. A Retriever (Flat Coated) won Best in Show on Sunday, 13 March 2011, proving that he really was the dog’s bollocks. I will provide you with a show results link, since, as of this writing, The Kennel Club has not responded to my email asking them for permission to use their images, and protects its copyright on said images and text in an exceptionally fervent manner. As such, I believe the use of their images would not fall under the US ‘fair use’ or UK ‘fair dealing’ copyright guidelines. I do not write a blog with the express intent of being sued for copyright infringement, so please click here to see photos of the Best in Show and group winners: Crufts 2011 Photos.
Update [24 March 2011]: Crufts and World Wide Images, the Crufts images copyright owner, replied to my communications reasonably quickly (I was the inefficient one… I’ve had access to the images for several days now) and granted me permission to use Crufts 2011 photos in my blog. This does NOT mean that the images are free for others to use. Please ask World Wide Images if you want to use any of their photos; they seem like very reasonable people, and just may reply in the affirmative to your request. Please do click on the above link if you would like to see a lot of photos, as I only have room for a few here.
In the interest of some balance in reporting, I did witness quite a bit of adoration at Crufts. Most of the competitors I saw seemed to love their dogs to bits whether they won in the ring or not. Crufts organisers are now stressing canine health much more than they did in the past. Arguably, their attitude has changed due to all the negative press they have received in the last few years. Moreover, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and Dogs Trust, the largest dogs charity in the UK, have both ceased to associate with and attend Crufts because of the negative breeding practices and animal welfare issues already touched upon here.
In its own defence, The Kennel Club stresses that it adheres to strict breeding guidelines that emphasize the health of the dogs. The organisation advises on how to avoid buying from puppy farms/mills and runs its own accredited breeders programme to ensure the health and humane treatment of puppies and their parents. Some say that these developments come too late. Perhaps. But better late than never, as my father used to say. I would argue that the public’s perception of what constitutes positive animal welfare has changed dramatically in the last 20 years even. I hope that those who criticise The Kennel Club are also eschewing eggs laid by battery hens, as well as veal and lamb, and even farmed fish. PETA members are probably among the above. I hope I don’t attract too much criticism from them.
Crufts was large. Massive, in fact. Surprisingly, thousands of dogs and thousands of people all in one place from 8:30AM – 8:30PM did not smell all that bad. I guess all of us had bathed for the occasion. My other half later remarked on something that I didn’t notice while we were there – and upon reflection, I think he was correct. The human attendees were overwhelmingly white. There were so few people of colour there that the only minorities I can remember seeing were some Asian guys watching one of the jumbotrons of the Hound judging, outside the main arena, which was still packed when we left on Saturday evening. If you identify with a non-caucasian group and you attended Crufts, I’m sorry to have missed seeing you there, and apologise for any misrepresentation you may perceive on my part. Please feel free to comment.
This observation on the part of my husband made me reflect on the demographic interested in dog ownership, dog shows and the Kennel Club. I suppose that there are some cultural, and even religious reasons (perhaps, like the ancient Egyptians you worship cats, or perhaps, like many modern Egyptians, your religion perceives dogs as ritually unclean) for avoiding dog ownership or developing any kind of canine admiration. But I wonder if some of it has financial roots as well. Dogs are expensive to keep. Pedigree dogs even more so. And the Kennel Club is a bit of a posh organisation. One must be elected to membership. To retain even more exclusivity, membership is limited to 1,550 people. Perhaps I have encountered an unanticipated piece of the British class system and social strata in action? I was ignorant about much of this subculture before I attended Crufts, and I probably still am. What do I know? I’m just American riff-raff.
I think it’s interesting to compare the Dog Groups into which the Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club (AKC) organise the breeds. If you’ve read this far into my narrative, chances are that you will be too, so I will elucidate. The Kennel Club splits dog breeds into seven Groups: Gun Dogs; Hounds; Pastoral; Terrier; Toy; Utility; and Working Dogs. The AKC uses eight Groups: Herding; Hound; Non-Sporting; Sporting; Terrier; Toy; Working Dogs; and something called ‘Miscellaneous.’ Miscellaneous seems to me to be an insult both to the dog and the humans, who in days gone by, bred the dog for a specific purpose. Surely, if one looks into a breed’s history, one can ascertain how the animal was employed and place it into a corresponding Group? You can probably guess here that I prefer the Kennel Club system. It seems to me there is less room for ambiguity, if you care about that sort of thing. I am pedantic, so I do.
For those wondering (I did) who runs the US’s famous Westminster Dog Show – the answer is: the Westminster Kennel Club, which predates the American Kennel Club. The Westminster Kennel Club now falls under the umbrella of the AKC, however. There is no Best in Group award for the Miscellaneous Group and it looks to me, when I compare the AKC and Westminster Kennel Club websites, that there aren’t even Breed awards for the dogs classed as Miscellaneous. Even more insulting. The poor Miscellanies. They don’t know that they’re Miscellanies, and I’m sure every one of them deserves an award just for being a spectacular dog.
Finally, it’s my humble opinion that every one of the dog owners who attends one of these shows goes home to the best dog in the world. I know I did.