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Something so unprecedented and astonishing that it would have been unimaginable just five years ago happened this week at the world’s biggest dog show, the four-day English extravaganza known as Crufts.
Veterinarians sent the Best of Breed–winning Bulldog and Pekingese packing on the first day of competition, denying the dogs the chance to win the prestigious competition. Speculation was that they did so after finding that the dogs' features were incompatible with life as normal, healthy dogs. You can see a video of the eliminated Bulldog, Ch Mellowmood One In A Million, below.
The Pekingese is from the same breeders as the dog who won Best In Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show last month. The Westminster win sparked widespread controversy; it didn’t take a veterinarian to see that the snub-nosed dog struggled to breathe as he walked the green carpet during judging.
I have little doubt that had officials at Westminster asked for an independent veterinary review of that dog, American veterinarians would have done the same as our British colleagues did at Crufts. Veterinarians are tired of seeing dogs like this, tired of treating preventable health problems in purebred dogs.
Count me as one of those veterinarians. In my three decades in practice, I’ve had to deal with the intentional defects found in so many purebred dogs. In Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs and other short-nosed breeds — we veterinarians call them brachycephalic — we find ourselves often recommending surgery to the dog’s nose and soft palate so the animal can breathe.
That’s right: There are breeds so deformed that they sometimes need surgery to breathe. Breeding for appearance within closed gene pools has also produced dogs with high rates of malformed hips that need surgical replacement, and dogs with such high rates of cancer (40 percent of dogs in some breeds are dead by age eight) that it would be considered a terrifying epidemic in the human population. Instead, it’s just business as usual in the dog show world.
Or it was until today.
Change is coming to this country too, and what happened at Crufts will only bring that change more quickly.
Deliberately creating preventable health problems just plain goes against everything we stand for in veterinary medicine. It wouldn’t be acceptable in human medicine. Can you imagine permitting, even encouraging, serious health issues in our children? Would we allow beauty-pageant directors to oversee such a system — but not ask doctors and the world’s best medical schools to be involved?
Of course we wouldn't.
Not all breeds have problems as severe as the Bulldog. And I know many reputable breeders who work within the system to produce well-socialized dogs who are as healthy as they can be. I have had many of them as clients and friends, and I have known many healthy, long-lived purebred dogs, more than a few of whom have been part of my own family. Right now I have “grandpugs” who belong to my daughter, Vetstreet dog trainer Mikkel Becker. But they would be no less adorable and lovable with muzzles just a little bit longer for better health.
I also know many breeders, pet owners and veterinarians who are fighting for changes even now. The show system that encourages and rewards extremes in appearance has been heading down the road to a dead end for many decades. It's not there yet, but clearly things are changing.
At last some common sense is creeping in and the expert opinions of my veterinary colleagues are being heard. I hope that the trend continues, for the good of the dogs we so love, dogs who are counting on us to end this insanity.
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