Last week, I’m sure a number of readers watched the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on television. I’ve attended this event several times–I shot most of the pictures in today’s blog at Westminster–and it’s even more exciting and impressive in person.
In an email communication that mentioned the show, though, one passionate pet advocate expressed the hope that folks NOT watch the show. A finger was pointed at shows for promoting the sale of pets for profit, labeling the practice to be cruelty to animals that created the need for rescue organizations and shelters to deal with the cast offs.
Wow. I have to applaud the passion, and I actually agree with some of the comments. I also would like to see an end to the need for rescue and shelters, but I don’t believe banning dog shows (or cat shows) would stop indiscriminate breeding. Just take a look in the paper at the “free puppies” section—those are not dog show animals being bred for profit. Punishing the folks who research pedigrees, perform expensive genetic and other health tests before doggy match-making, fund ultrasounds, support research to improve health of all dogs (or cats) doesn’t account for numbers found in rescue, foster and shelter organizations. I know many breeders who include in their contract that should your circumstances change THEY will take back the dog or cat.
The only folks who actually make money breeding dogs and cats would never get one of their dogs into Westminster or a comparable show. If you heard my colleague David Frei comment during the broadcast, you learned that a majority of the exhibitors at these high-venue events are ALSO into rescue work, support shelters, do therapy dog work, visit prisons, are hunting dogs or SAR emergency teams, and help fund health studies that benefit all dogs and cats including shelter animals.
What’s the deal with showing dogs, anyway? The earliest record of a dog show dates to June 1859 in England and featured hunting dogs, while today the show world has expanded to include a much greater variety of breeds, types, and fun canine sports.
Conformation dog shows are the beauty contest of the dog world, like the Westminster show. But conformation goes beyond simple looks. Show judges must know what constitutes the breed “ideal” and measure each competing canine against that mind’s eye image to select the winner that comes closest. Besides looks, the dog’s health, ability to move, and even personality must be up to snuff.
Interestingly, after the 2012 Westminster winning Pekingese Malachy was crowned, quite a bit of outcry resulted not only from folks like rescue and shelter organizations, but also from those in the “show” world. You see, dog shows have a public relations problem—as evidenced by the comments that prompted this column. The breeding of some dogs to extravagant extremes that meets a “show” standard but may impact the health and well- being of the dog has been in question for years, from veterinarians and forward-thinking dog lovers. While the Peke breed was developed to be a lap dog/pet in ancient China, and the winner certainly fit today’s standard, the little guy epitomized all the complaints about purebred dog breeding favoring form over function. The coat alone would be crippling and lethal in a Texas summer!
Thank you to everyone who does their part for companion pets everywhere. It shouldn’t be an “us against them” mentality. I just wish that all the “good guys” from every arena—show, shelter, rescue, feral TNR, foster and more—worked together for the mutual benefit and against the common enemy—abuse, neglect, and more.
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