Something that has got a lot of you talking (if my inbox is anything to go by) was Jemima Harrison’s recent threat to sabotage Crufts in all manner of inventive ways, from people dressed as French Bulldogs handing out leaflets, a projection of 40ft French Bulldog nostrils onto the NEC and even a plane flying over the building trailing her CRUFFA (Campaign for the Responsible Use of Flat Faced Animals) message.

Many were quite understandably worried about these shenanigans (especially the threat to disrupt the BIS with “an extra special surprise”) but worry not as Ms Harrison recently announced on her Facebook group that these announcements (in the manner of the infamous Bobby Ewin shower scene which was meant to delete a whole previous series from everyone’s mind) were…well, not quite a dream exactly…but simply all an elaborate “late night joke”.
I for one was bitterly disappointed on learning this; I was looking forward to seeing the plane and the human-sized Frenchies – they would have certainly livened up the long dull walk to the venue but, apparently, it’s not to be. However such threats probably weren’t quite so amusing to the dedicated security team at the NEC who, in these times of increased security/terrorist threats, have more than enough on their plates without the ramblings of some keyboard prankster.

One would hope, the time had now come to tackle these issues like an adult instead of a virtue signalling university student with too much time on their hands. Why not enter into a grown-up debate on one of the Crufts programmes or, maybe, CRUFFA is all one big joke too? After all, it’s a campaign for the responsible use of flat-faced animals (including cats) – something Ms Harrison is obviously passionate about however, I don’t remember hearing The Supreme Cat Show (the Crufts of the cat world) targeted with such a ‘joke’. And it seems the extent of that passion may depend on exactly who and what an image is selling; if the image is sold for charity by the BBC, maybe it’s ok. The upcoming Comic Relief is selling t-shirts featuring a panting Frenchie. Ms Harrison emailed them saying, “It’s fantastic that Rankin has donated the image of Albert (the French Bulldog) and it would be very mealy-mouthed of me to ask you to pull it given it’s such a great cause. But I would like to point out the problems with the dog/image and encourage you to bear the issue in mind for future fund raising efforts/branding.” She finishes by saying, “I hope, of course, that Comic Relief makes a small fortune from the Rankin t-shirt…”

What a wonderfully mild, rational and sensitive email…is this really the same Ms Harrison we’ve grown to love?

However isn’t it also ever so slightly hypocritical? I mean, let’s forget, if we can, the involvement of the BBC who dropped Crufts coverage over a conflict of ethics; these t-shirts won’t be dumped after the event and, if there is a genuine wish that the charity makes a ‘small fortune’, wouldn’t that involve that image selling in its hundreds? I think, given her standing, it was wrong to give the charity a ‘pass’. If that image is irresponsible then surely a stronger response (similar to the ones we in the Pedigree world have become accustomed to) would have been more appropriate? Yes, this whole subject is certainly a minefield isn’t it but, of course, some targets are a lot softer than others. Ironically there will be few groups of people who would wish Ms Harrison more luck with her crusade to make their breeds ‘toxic’ for advertisers than the show Frenchie and Pug people!

Now it may come as a shock to many that I actually agree with some of what Ms Harrison speaks about, especially when it comes to brachycephalic breeds. I’m a huge fan of Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pugs, etc and I own Bostons (and currently have a young homebred bitch winning in the ring) however, I don’t want to live with a dog that wheezes and sounds like a 60 year-old man who smokes 40 cigarettes a day at the slightest exertion. When searching for a stud for our Boston bitch I became fanatical about nostrils – far more important to me than rosettes and CCs. The 600 mile round trip was well worth it when our bitch with a longer muzzle and wider nostrils was born.

Change can happen and it can happen speedily but, as I’ve previously written, these dogs, with their longer muzzles and naturally wide-open nostrils (and there are a growing number of them in our rings), need to be rewarded by our judges. Our brachy breeds are indeed special; they exhibit a different kind of closeness, interaction and human/dog bond that I haven’t experienced with the many other breeds I have kept – which explains why they are so immensely popular. However different they are, they are still very much dogs and I firmly believe that all dogs should be able to clean themselves, they should be able to move and run freely and most importantly breathe freely and give birth naturally. These are all things I completely agree with Ms Harrison on, I do, however, vehemently disagree with the way certain folk go about things, trying to shame, bully and intimidate people will not push the argument forward even with a belated retraction that it was ‘all a joke’.

As a responsible occasional breeder who does all the rights things – paying for health testing, registration and microchipping – I’m sick to death of having the finger of blame pointed at me by professionals who refuse to condemn the puppy smugglers and farmers who are causing so much misery all across the country and have been allowed to do so, despite countless warnings, for years. How many times do we read about members of these puppy smuggling gangs who go to court and are let off with ‘conditional sentences’. What kind of message does this send out and why don’t the rescue charities campaign about these derisory sentences? For far too long far too many people have sat on their hands and allowed this problem to grow. One can only guess at the reason.

Dr Alan Rossiter (from the representative body for veterinary surgeons in Ireland) recently wrote; ‘we obviously have to help the ones that come in and cannot breathe – if they need surgery, then we have to do it but we should tell breeders in no uncertain terms (and here is the nub of the problem, as a lot of these problem dogs will have no papers or identifiable breeder) that these dogs must not be bred from and that they must not tolerate a situation whereby all their ‘produce’ cannot breathe.’

How exactly this could be achieved with non-registered stock is anyone’s guess.

‘We also have to make the Kennel Clubs change their breed standards and finally we have to tell the public that they should only buy Pugs from breeders that have signed up to the new standards.’

He goes on to write, ‘The breeders and Kennel Clubs will not like this, but frankly we don’t care. If they don’t come along of their own volition then they are just wrong and will be made to come along.’

Finally he adds, ‘The last goal set for us was to ban tail docking and we won. We will win this now.’

Once again, notice that it is all the show world’s fault and not one word of condemnation is given to the puppy farmers and smugglers. Thankfully not all experts are blinded by pedigree prejudice. Who can forget Samantha Poling’s BBC Panorama investigation into the illegal puppy trade – truly heartbreaking stuff. This wasn’t placard-waving nonsense; this was real journalism. This brave lady put herself out there, gaining access to kennels where Pugs, Puggles and Frenchies were housed and bred in battery hen conditions, where even there water was provided by rabbit like water bottles. The place was fully licensed, which means it was inspected and declared ‘fit for purpose’. The farm was surprisingly enough in Ireland, Dr Rossiter.

As I said at the time, where was the media outrage and orchestrated campaigns and has this vile trade now been stopped? Of course not. New laws have recently been announced that will supposedly crack down on ‘backstreet breeders’ but of course we can all see how these regulations will be circumnavigated by the greedy and cunning. Hopefully Ms Harrison read Alison Mount’s Pug breed notes (Feb 3rd) when she succinctly pointed out that the ‘breeders’ that cause so much damage won’t be at Crufts. She wrote, ‘perhaps CRUFFA would like to pick up on the fact that 25 days into January, PDWRA has had 19 dogs in, some with papers with totally unknown dogs throughout the pedigree, and not all British bred – most of these need surgery.’

Challenging Ms Harrison’s assertion that ‘pet bred dogs are blessed with better breathing apparatus,’ she claims she focuses on the show world because ‘we set the template.’ I assume by that she means our standards but show me where white/platinum/blue/tri-colour and champagne are recognised colours. Do you seriously believe these people are breeding with an eye to the standard? And I wonder what the results of the HC HSF4/patella/heart/spine x-ray/hip tests are for the unregistered stock – all tests that are heavily promoted by the breed clubs. The ‘template’ also states the need for ‘wide open nostrils’ – and always has. The fact that dogs with stenosis have been put up is to the shame of some judges and equally shouldn’t be tolerated.

Although some obviously don’t believe in careful record-keeping, pedigrees or the overarching structure of a Kennel Club their ‘laissez-faire’ attitude to dog breeding quite clearly doesn’t work; traceability is the key to solving our dog breeding problems. As Crufts approaches we should all be coming together to promote the careful responsible breeder, sending out a unified message to the potential puppy buyer – not arguing among ourselves or pulling silly stunts.

Brachycephalic breeds are not a new invention (check out the bronze plaque of the Dogue de Burgos circa 1625) and, despite the wishes of some, they are here to stay. Is there room for improvement for the health and welfare of our brachy breeds? Most definitely, but this will only happen if both sides of the argument put egos aside and work together and go after and condemn those whose prime consideration in the breeding of them isn’t for the betterment of the breed but simply the betterment of their bank balance. For far too long the KC (and Crufts) have been a soft target suffering all kinds of slights without any response. Not this time; in the face of this ‘joke’ the KC took swift and decisive action and put the safety of its exhibitors, their dogs and property first. Well done!


Published in Dog World on 15th February 2017