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BBC-v-Crufts: fighting to save pedigree dogs

Friday 19 September 2008

It is bad manners to say “I told you so” but our countryside correspondent John Sheard first raised the dangers of in-breeding of Britain’s much-loved pedigree dogs on Daelnet more than five years ago. Now, the BBC and the Kennel Club are at war because the truth is out at last

THE first dog I bought as an adult, as opposed to the dogs I was brought up with as a child, was a golden cocker spaniel which I acquired from a breeder of working gun dogs in a remote corner of Nottinghamshire. This, I was to find out a year or so later, was a stroke of extreme good fortune.

At the time, I was lucky to have free rough shooting over some 500 acres in Lincolnshire and my spaniel took to the gun as a natural although he was never given any official training for the task: breeding will out and he could sniff out and put up a partridge within fifty yards of my back gate.

British Bulldog
Not up to the job?

Then one of the national Sunday newspapers came out with a worrying story that several children in various parts of the country had been savaged by golden cockers, some of them so badly injured that they would be disfigured for life. The breed had acquired, said leading vets, a hereditary “rage complex.”

Concerned, I made some enquiries and found out that the dogs concerned had come from a strain of show dogs which, thankfully, had never been bred at any time with my gun-dog strain. One line had been created solely as pets, the others to work, and it was a lesson I took to heart.

After a mad Irish setter from a gun dog kennel – acquired in Ireland in exchange for a bottle of whisky! – we last had an English pointer named Smithy, bought for me by my wife as a surprise present when I had published a book with Mr Cyril, (now Sir Cyril) Smith, the outspoken Liberal MP.

Now Smithy, although a lovely pet, was a wimp. He wouldn’t go out in the rain – he hated getting his paws wet – and was frightened of cats. And if you took him into a public place like the village shop or pub on a lead, he would go into a nervous breakdown of uncontrollable shaking – so bad that a neighbour threatened to report us to the RSPCA for beating him.

This was when we realised we had a show dog, not a working dog, in the family. And when his pedigree certificate arrived belatedly from the Kennel Club, we found to our horror that four of his great, great-grandfathers were the same sire. And this, we now know, is not unusual because the Kennel Club will register father-daughter or mother-son couplings, which I find not just sordid but virtually criminal.

And this is when I write, “I told you so.” With Smithy in mind, and further enquiries made, I wrote a strong criticism of Kennel Club ethics and the freaks at their annual Crufts dog show on these pages more than five years ago. Sadly, for many innocent dogs have been born deformed since, it has taken that long for this ill-treatment of Man’s Best Friend to sink in with the mass of the British public.

That was because, last month, BBC TV made a harrowing, hour-long documentary exposing the horrors of in-breeding. The RSPCA’s top vet described Crufts as “a parade of mutants” and another veterinary expert said that many of our popular pedigree breeds would die out because they will soon become infertile.

I shall be very happy if the BBC never films Crufts

Since then, the row has become a bitter slanging match. The Kennel Club, which first described the BBC film as “prejudiced” threatened this week to ban their cameras from future shows, although the Beeb has paid them millions of pounds over the past 40-odd years to show it.

Much more importantly, the RSPCA this week withdrew its support from Crufts, a move followed by another animal charity, the Dogs’ Trust. The latest horror story about in-breeding to be revealed as the row intensified was that the British bulldog – very symbol of British doggedness – can now no longer breed without help: the male’s legs are now so short that it needs a lift from human hands do its duty with the female!

The Kennel Club is spitting feathers about all this yet it is some 50 years since golden cocker spaniels were diagnosed with “rage syndrome” and judged unsuitable to be brought up with young children. Since then, in- breeding has become even more intensive.

I shall be very happy if the BBC never films Crufts again. I would be even happier if that “parade of mutants” were banned forever. But in the meantime, my advice to would-be dog owners: buy your pet from a working strain not a line of pampered shows dogs which might be physically or mentally damaged. If not, a mongrel can still be man’s best friend!

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