Best in show?

February 14th, 2011

New York’s Madison Square Garden hosts the 135th Annual Westminster Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show today and tomorrow. The most prestigious canine competition in the world, it will receive live, prime time coverage in the U.S. and here in Canada.

Raising and exhibiting purebred dogs is an immensely popular pastime — and an extremely lucrative industry. But is it in the best interest of the animals? As we noted in an earlier post, the 2008 BBC documentary PEDIGREE DOGS EXPOSED (airing tonight on The Pet Network at 9 pm ET / 10 pm PT) blames competitive dog showing for an epidemic of disability, deformity and disease among many canine breeds.

According to filmmaker Jemima Harrison, who now blogs regularly on the topic, the inbreeding that is done to preserve and enhance the physical traits required by the Kennel Club’s exacting breed standards also perpetuates a wide variety of genetic diseases. By choosing to play God with these breeds, placing cosmetic features above quality of life, we have subjected many animals to unncessary suffering.

While PEDIGREE DOGS EXPOSED places its focus on purebreds in the UK (whose health problems cost their owners an estimated 10 million pounds in vet fees every week), animal welfare advocates in North America have raised similar concerns.

Catch tonight’s broadcast, and decide for yourself. PEDIGREE DOGS EXPOSED repeats on Thursday Feb. 17 at 9 pm ET / 10 pm PT.

"The greatest animal welfare scandal of our time"

February 8th, 2011

Canada’s The Pet Network presents the controversial BBC documentary PEDIGREE DOGS EXPOSED on Monday Feb. 14 and Thursday Feb. 17 at 9 pm ET / 10 pm PT.
It is, in the words of filmmaker Jemima Harrison, “the greatest animal welfare scandal of our time.”

Two years in the making, the controversial 2008 BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed reveals that purebred dogs in the UK suffer from alarmingly high levels of disability, deformity and disease – and human beings are to blame.

Three-quarters of Britain’s seven million canines are pedigree dogs, and they cost their owners an estimated 10 million pounds in vet fees every week.According to Harrison, who wrote and directed the hour-long film, the root of the problem is competitive dog showing. Decades of inbreeding, done in the interest of fostering the physical traits required by the UK Kennel Club’s rigorous breed standards, have perpetuated a host of serious genetic diseases.

As many as one-third of all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, for example, are affected by an agonizing neurological condition called Syringomyelia. And some breeds of Boxer suffer from epilepsy at 20 times the rate found in humans.

As the film reveals, practices such as breeding closely related dogs (including mother and son or brother and sister) and culling healthy puppies for purely cosmetic reasons remain troublingly commonplace.

Animal welfare activists say the show world’s obsession with appearance over quality of life has caused immense suffering and may threaten the very existence of some breeds. Yet according to Harrison, the Kennel Club has done far too little to address the problem — a charge its leading members strongly reject.

RSPCA veterinarian Mark Evans calls the situation “disgraceful.” He describes Crufts, the most prestigious of Britain’s canine championships, as “a parade of mutants – a garish, freakish beauty pageant.”

Since the film’s original broadcast, Jemima Harrison has become an outspoken activist on the issue. She blogs about the health problems of purebred dogs here.

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