No dog lover on either side of the pond can fail to have realized that the world famous Crufts dog show took place over the 4th-8th March, at the NEC Arena in Birmingham, England. I am a huge dog lover, both living with them as well as spending most of my working life writing about them, and yet despite this, I had never attended the show until this year.
As I wanted to go for my own personal interest and also because some of my clients asked me to cover the event on their behalf, I decided that was all going to change this year, and so I applied for a press pass for the show, which was granted, and I was away!
Crufts is widely renowned as “the world’s largest dog show,” and they really aren’t kidding! Over 27,000 dogs attended the show over the course of the four days, along with around 160,000 people, and so as you might imagine, the halls were all packed to the rafters. All of those 27,000 dogs were invited guests of the show, either taking part in competitions or displays or as part of the fringe events in the halls; you cannot just take your own dog along to Crufts for a day out!
Now that I have been back home for a couple of days and my aching feet have finally begun to recover, here is my rundown of the best (and the worst) of Crufts 2015.
To say that Crufts is packed to the rafters with dogs would be something of an understatement!
As well as the dogs competing in breed classes on each day of the show, many other competitions including agility, flyball, heelwork and many more were held, as were plenty of canine displays and showcases in between classes. All of the competing dogs were housed in open fronted rows within the halls, making it easy for the general public to wander along and take a look at the competitors, and chat to their owners in between classes.
As well as the dogs competing in the show, part of one of the large halls was allocated to a “meet the breeds” section. Virtually every breed worldwide was showcased in individual stalls with information available about the breed, as well as a few canine ambassadors from each breed there to meet the public too! This was one of the most popular sections of the show.
Literally hundreds of heats and classes take place over the four days of the Crufts show, and prizes are given for breed classes, canine sports and many other events too. If you’re interested in reading more about all of the winners, full results can be found on the Crufts official website, here.
The Best in Show winner, which is the highest accolade in the show, went to a Scottish terrier named Knopa, who actually flew over from the USA to compete this year, after a near miss with her flights that nearly meant she didn’t make it! Knopa is the first Scottish terrier to take the Best in Show title at Crufts since 1929.
The Reserve Best in Show prize went to Dublin, a flat coated retriever from Sweden, who was a real crowd-pleaser, obviously having a whale of a time and loving all of the attention!
Showcases and Displays
As well as the various competitions held at Crufts, the programs are interspersed with displays and showcases, many of which gave some of the UK’s main canine rescue organizations a valuable opportunity to show off some of their dogs that require rehoming, and talk a little more about their work.
There were also displays by working gun dogs and police dogs, allowing the general public to gain an insight into the important work that dogs such as these carry out, all of which were highly entertaining to watch. A trainee German shepherd police puppy of just 12 weeks old, with his overlarge feet and gorgeous floppy ears really stole the show during the West Midlands Police showcase!
Shopping at Crufts
Shopping at Crufts really is something else, and it would be all too easy to lose a whole day simply doing the rounds of the hundreds of commercial stalls laid out throughout the site. Virtually every canine accessory from food to bedding to supplements were on sale at the show, as well as many stalls offering visitors the chance to chat to experts such as canine veterinary surgeons and behaviorists.
While Crufts is by far the world’s most popular dog show and is televised all over the world as well as welcoming international competitors (such as Best in Show winner Knopa) the show is not without its detractors, and this year in particular, a whole whirlwind of negative publicity and intrigue has accompanied the Crufts event.
First of all, still in the headlines is the sudden death of Jagger, an Irish setter that competed at the show on Thursday and died suddenly on the Friday once the dog had returned home to Belgium. Reports indicate that Jagger was deliberately poisoned, and the owners are confident that this occurred at the show. Additional reports are also coming in that several other dogs may have become ill after competing at the show, although The UK Kennel Club, hosts of the show, state that they have not received any additional reports so far.
The way that Knopa, the Best in Show winner was handled in the ring has also generated a lot of controversy; Knopa was lifted by her tail and chin by her handler Rebecca Cross, something that is common and accepted showing practice for small dogs in the USA, but a technique that is banned in the show ring in the UK. Ms. Cross was repeatedly told by Kennel Club officials that this handling technique breached their rules, and yet she continued to lift the dog in this way while in the ring.
This generated a significant amount of negative publicity over Knopa being awarded Best in Show despite her handling, and calls for the dog to be stripped of her title. While The Kennel Club has ruled out removing her title, an online petition requesting this has already surpassed over 100,000 signatures.
Knopa’s Best in Show presentation was also interrupted by a man holding a PETA banner reading “Mutts Against Crufts” running onto the arena floor in front of the world’s media, before being swiftly removed from the arena by venue security.
RSPCA Boycott of Crufts
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (The UK equivalent of the ASPCA) was notably absent from the Crufts dog show, despite the presence of every other large canine advocacy organization in the UK.
The RSPCA’s position on Crufts is that the show promotes unhealthy breed standards, and that pageant-style shows such as Crufts cause unnecessary suffering to dogs, as well as promoting ownership of pedigree dogs above homeless dogs in shelters.
However, the RSPCA did not rest on their laurels while Crufts was taking place, taking to social media such as Twitter and piggy-backing the various trending Crufts hashtags to promote their own viewpoint and encourage people to support shelter pets and not buy pedigrees.
Breed Standards at Crufts
All of the breed classes at Crufts work on the principle of awarding the highest accolades to the dogs that adhere most closely to their respective breed standards, and ultimately, Crufts is designed to showcase the very best examples of each breed in the competition.
However, those very breed standards themselves are the cause of some debate, and the standard for some breeds has been highlighted as being potentially harmful to the dogs, or affecting their quality of life. This in turn has long called into question the effects of canine overtyping, selective breeding, and breeding dogs to conform to a certain appearance rather than for optimum health.
Issues such as these first came to the public’s attention in 2008, when the BBC aired a TV exposé called “Pedigree Dogs Exposed,” which blew the lid off some of The Kennel Club’s detrimental breed standards and the awarding of prizes to dogs whose breed standards had a direct negative affect on their health.
Since that time, The Kennel Club has worked hard to monitor and change potentially harmful breed standards, but many dog lovers feel that their policy changes have not had any significant positive effect on pedigree dogs in general, and that the Crufts judges still reward dangerous overtyping and exaggerated breed standards.
Up until 2008, the Crufts event was televised by the BBC, but as a result of Pedigree Dogs Exposed, the channel pulled out of covering the event in future. Many high-profile sponsors of the show also pulled out, including Pedigree Pet Foods. Today, Crufts is televised by Channel Four, a smaller national UK TV channel, and sponsored by Eukanuba Pet Foods. However, the loss of support from the BBC and other high-profile sponsors is something that is still widely felt, although rarely spoken of, throughout the show.
Where Do 27,000 Dogs Go Potty?
Finally, this question was something that didn’t occur to me until I attended the show, but when I got there it became kind of a pressing question! The NEC arena is in an industrial district, and so popping out to a nearby dog park when the urge arises wasn’t possible!
Crufts dealt with this issue by having large marquees outside of the main arenas that were set up as dedicated doggy toilets, with sawdust and woodchip on the floor to provide an inviting surface to do the necessary! The owners were of course still expected to clean up after their dogs at all times.