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The Curse of Crufts: 100 years of in-breeding

Friday 07 March 2003

Britain's dogs have been betrayed and belittled by a century of in-breeding encouraged by Crufts supporters, says former dog-owner John Sheard

CRUFTS dog-show is celebrating its centenary this weekend and it almost impossible to over-state how much damage this event had done to man's best friend.

From healthy, happy and satisfied working animals, many of our once wonderful breeds have been turned into sick, spindly, neurotics with no purpose they can recognise and harbouring a whole raft of heredity diseases caused by generations of in-breeding.

I write this as a life-long dog lover and owner, who was born into a dog owning family and who, until these past few years, had never lived without a dog. Until along came Smithy...

British Bulldog
The British symbol: can't breath and going blind

I bought the first dog of my own when I was 20, a golden cocker with a difference. Although the breed was very popular at the time it's popularity was fading fast because vets were warning that many animals had what they called a "rage syndrome."

In other words, years of in-breeding for the domestic pet market had left it mentally unstable so that, without obvious cause, it would on occasion turn on its owners and savage them. Or even worse, their children.

But I bought my cocker from a famous strain of trained gun dogs, i.e. workers which instinctively knew they had a role in life. Although he never had a day's professional training, he was an instinctive putter-up and retriever of birds, an absolute joy to take rough shooting.

After him came an Irish Irish red setter, Seamus, who I acquired from another strain of working gun dogs in Northern Ireland. He was tall, strong, bull-chested, would run all day, jump walls five feet high, and loved to swim: he would even crash through thin ice on a nearby reservoir to take a winter dip.

Look as most pigeon-chested red setters now. They have been in-bred with legs so long they can barely stand, never mind leap drystone walls, their noses are as pointed as Roland Rat's, and that deep chestnut coat is a dull khaki.

When Seamus had gone, the pain was so deep that I vowed I would never have another dog again. Then I published quite a successful book and, as a surprise celebration present, my wife secretly negotiated the purchase of Smithy, a thoroughbred English pointer.

He was a handsome dog but, new to us, he did not come from a working strain. He, and his forebears, had been bred purely as pets - and soon the symptoms began to show.

He would not take any training at all. Simple instructions like "sit" or "heal" sent him into what appeared to be some nervous breakdown. He would simply stand and shiver to the point of palpitation, emitting the most pitiful whines.

He did this virtually all the time when taken out on a lead so that I quickly got the reputation in the village as a dog beater. Some people, I understand, were on the point of calling the RSPCA.

Then his pedigree, which had been mysteriously unavailable when we bought him, turned up in the post. And I discovered to my horror that three of his four great-grandmothers were, in fact, the same bitch!

So poor Smithy lived a life virtually as an invalid - and there are thousands more highly bed pedigree dogs doing the same.

Breeders who cross-bred bulldogs, the very symbol of Britishness, to get that pushed in jaw have produced a dog that can barely breath through its blocked nasal passages and can go blind because of infections that thrive in the folds of its cheeks.

Who would know that the bad-tempered, cosseted and totally useless miniature poodle was bred down from a working water retriever, which would leap from boats to drag back felled geese through the mud, water and reeds of salt-water marshes?

And all because the Crufts set decided, one hundred years ago, to turn working animals into toys or fashion statements. Instead of celebrating this weekend, they should be in deep mourning for the creatures they have crucified.

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