From my Dog World column ‘Crossing the headlines’ on 17 August 2016 promoting the Pedigree Paws Unite event.

‘It’s Good News Week, someone’s dropped a bomb somewhere contaminating atmosphere and blackening the sky’ – these are the opening lines from the biggest hit of British band Hedgehoppers Anonymous back in 1965.

The song takes a satirical swipe at the media’s all-consuming obsession with bad news and the lyrics couldn’t be more apt today. Every morning it seems we awake to hear yet more stories of gloom and doom in our press, more examples of man’s inhumanity to man and a heavy feeling of despair and unease.

And our world of dogs certainly hasn’t escaped this general feeling of malaise either. Again and again we seem to dust ourselves down and get up from one drama or ‘scandal’ only to be hit and knocked down by the one following close behind it. And, as we’ve all witnessed, these stories are usually whipped up out of all proportion by a press (or keyboard warriors) that have no real interest in reporting the actual facts but delight at each and every opportunity to put the boot into the KC and pedigree dogs and their breeders. I discovered this when I challenged a particular story about the surge of Pugs needing rehoming and the vast number of them that reportedly needed urgent surgery. The Telegraph reported earlier this year that Pugs taken in by a long-established dog home had tripled in five years – an attention-grabbing statistic. I researched this and the truth behind the ‘facts’ was that the actual numbers of Pugs in rescue at this rescue had only increased from 13 to 36 annually. This is no real surprise given the very fast and quite staggering increase in the numbers of this lovely breed, many of which have sadly been produced by puppy farms or imported from Ireland/Eastern Europe to meet a growing demand.

In addition to this, the Telegraph reported that 20 of them had to have operations to assist their breathing. Again, reading beyond the headlines (and buried on the home’s own website) was that 20 dogs of various breeds had the operations last year. When also taking into account that more than two thirds of the ‘Pugs’ (according to their 2014 annual report) were actually Pug-crosses, I was interested in exactly how many of the ‘Pugs’ that required ‘urgent surgery’ were in fact pure bred pedigree Pugs. I challenged the charity on this, asking what breeds made up the 20 dogs having operations but strangely given the confident proclamation of the article, they didn’t have “a specific breakdown of the breeds needing this operation”.

Not quite the picture painted by the Telegraph, is it? When I pointed out the discrepancy (and many others on the same email) to the source of the story they responded with, “Well, we can’t take responsibility for the accurate reporting of their stories” and also informed me that the content of the emails between us was “in no way a quote to be used”.

Oh, so it’s quite okay to quote erroneous facts and figures in print but when one becomes a nuisance and does a little bit of investigating, uncovering the real story behind the screaming attention grabbing headlines, then veiled threats are issued to stop the publication of the truth.

Changing perceptions

It would be quite easy, in the face of such a strong media opposition and the dubious tactics employed by them, to become completely disillusioned at ever getting our opinions and points across. Thankfully there are some out there who aren’t prepared to throw in the towel just yet!

Gavin Robertson’s announcement of another charity walk certainly raised a smile. From September 12-18 every breed of dog in the UK will be represented on this mammoth hike that will take in all parts of the UK. Dog owners, breeders, judges and exhibitors will take part in the ground-breaking Pedigree Paws Unite (PPU) event – a series of sponsored walks totalling 160 miles.

The walk aims to raise the awareness of and promote every recognised pedigree dog breed in the UK, while raising £70,000 for seven separate charities.

This is just the kind of thing that local newspapers, TV and radio stations love to follow and report on and if these media outlets are brought on board the walks could be highly beneficial not only for the charities but also for the promotion of pedigree dogs. The general public have now been led to believe that the only healthy dog is a crossbred dog. They no longer value a pedigree and now view all breeders as the devil incarnate. This warped way of thinking, with no accountability or traceability, has created a vacuum that has been cruelly exploited by the puppy farmers and smugglers and has caused huge suffering. The general public’s confused way of thinking has to be addressed and challenged. Responsible pedigree breeders are not the enemy here.

As Gavin said, “The objective of the walk, apart from raising money, is promoting pedigree dogs, proving that not only are they healthy but also demonstrating there is a breed out there for everyone without the need for people to buy a fashionable crossbreed with no background of health checks, and a recognised temperament and other general characteristics associated with all recognised breeds.”

And for those who for some reason or other can’t go on the PPU walks (and I will definitely be joining the Kennet and Avon Canal walk with my two Boston girls, if the vacillating pound rules out our planned trip to Vancouver in September!) there are still a number of things you can do to promote your own breed. An increasingly popular method (utilising social media) is to start a ‘meet up’ group. This, like most things, seems to have started in the US and has now swept the globe and is becoming increasing popular over here. Groups organise breed specific get-togethers and walks. We attended a ‘Boston Terrier Meet Up’ and it was very enjoyable.

Social events

The majority of the people attending have no knowledge or interest in the show world; they are simply passionate about their particular breed however these surprisingly large groups of enthusiastic people may be open to approaches by kennel clubs. The dogs who attend these meets are on the whole wonderfully socialised and friendly and really seem to enjoy their outings. Lola especially seemed thrilled to be surrounded by her own kind! I know that, especially around the big cities, there are large ‘Meet Up’ groups for popular breeds such as Pugs, French Bulldogs and Dachshunds. In the US however there are even ‘Meet Ups’ for numerically smaller breeds such as Griffons, Affenpinschers, Italian Greyhounds and Mastiffs. A large group of a single breed of dog playing together is always guaranteed to draw an interested crowd.

I recently wrote a well-received blog post that featured the ideas and musings of the late great Douglas B Oliff (Wyanston) – a man who (although I never got to meet him in person) has shaped my way of thinking and is someone I have admired for many years. Here was someone who much like Gavin and the organisers of the PPU wasn’t afraid to advocate change when others were comfortably settled with the status quo. He was a man with the ability to ‘think out of the box.’

If our wonderful hobby is to continue to attract newcomers, which is vital to its continuation, and if our treasured breeds are going to thrive and move forward, ‘thinking out of the box’ is a way of thinking that many more of us are going to have to adopt.

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