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The Dark Side of Westminster

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The Dark Side of Westminster

[Ed. Note: Read Dog Show Breeders Brace for UK Investigation.]

From Zoe: It's Our Nature
February 2012

The ‘Perfect’ Dog... Is it time to bring this sham to an end?

As he takes his victory lap around New York today, Champion Palacegarden Malachy will be stopping by for an audience with Donald Trump. Doubtless the Donald will want to verify the winning dog’s birth certificate, and, in return, the Malachy, who needed an inconspicuous brush-up every few seconds last night, can advise Trump on how to keep his own hairstyle in place.

Don’t get me wrong. Malachy the Pekingese is a good dog – like every dog. He didn’t ask to compete for Best in Show. He probably has no clue what Westminster is even about or why he was there. The dogs last night all seemed to be focused not on the competition or the audience, but entirely on the treats that were being held in front of their noses to persuade them to hold their head correctly.

“Super dog, and he had a stupendous night,” the judge said of Malachy. “There’s a lot of dog in a small package.”

More hair than dog, from what I could see.

But seriously, does a dog like Malachy truly represent what we consider to be the ideal in doghood?

Right now, the entire Pekingese breed is in crisis. It is so plagued by health issues and inbreeding that many people say the breed may not even survive. The biggest issue is Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome – the upper airway problem that plagues short-nosed, flat-faced dog breeds.

“Brachycephalic” means having a broad, short head, which, combined with narrow nostrils, a small trachea and an overly long soft palate, obstructs the airway. Symptoms include rapid breathing, noisy breathing, panting, coughing, snoring, and difficulty engaging in physical activity, all of which are made worse by warm weather and allergies.

A friend of mine has had 13 Pekingese – most of them purebreds. "They’re the quintessential designer dog,” she said, meaning that they’re bred specifically for the physical deformities that cause all their health problems. “Two of my Pekes are blind, which is very common. And because of their long, low backs, I’ve often taken them to the chiropractor."

The blindness has two causes: Their eyes protrude because of the unnatural shape of the skull. And the ridge around their nose has hair growing out of it that gets into their eyes. My friend said that in some cases this had required surgery. Other people with Pekes have had preventive surgery done on their dogs’ palates or nostrils.

The announcer at Westminster called Pekes good family dogs, but my friend disagrees. “They’re really one-person dogs,” she said. “They’re charming and goofy around their person – quite clown-like sometimes – but they’re very protective and will bite other people, especially children. I would not recommend having children and Pekes around each other.”

They’re temperamental, too. “I’ve only had one who hasn’t tried to bite me when I’m grooming them.”

Nature tries to breed all of this out of them at the first possible opportunity. “I’ve noticed that as soon as a purebred Peke is bred with another dog, the faces of the pups begin to come back out, and their legs get longer,” she said.

But the dog show business is big show business, and discussion of these issues is strongly discouraged within the industry. Champion Malachy has a valuable future ahead of him as a stud, which will make his owners quite wealthy people.

In the U.K. by contrast, and all across Europe, the breeding business is coming under increasing fire from veterinarians and humane organizations. A groundbreaking documentary by the BBC, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, was the result of a two-year investigation. Talking about the Crufts show (the British equivalent of Westminster) Mark Evans, the RSPCA’s chief vet, said:

When I watch Crufts, what I see is a parade of mutants. It’s some freakish, garish beauty pageant that has nothing, frankly, to do with health and welfare. We’ve become completely and utterly desensitized to the fact that breeding these deformed, disabled, disease-prone animals is either shocking or abnormal.

And speaking about King Charles spaniels, who are also bred with skulls that are too small for their brains, veterinary neurologist Clare Rusbridge said:

The cavalier’s brain is like a size ten foot that has been shoved into a size six shoe; it doesn’t fit. It is described in humans as one of the most painful conditions you can have, a piston-type headache. Even a light touch – a collar, for example – can induce discomfort.

If you took a stick and beat a dog to create that pain, you’d be prosecuted. But there’s nothing to stop you breeding a dog with it.


Danny the Peke, who won at Crufts in 2003, had to sit on an ice pack.

The Pekingese’s squashed face causes breathing difficulties that have led several airlines to refuse to fly them. And these problems are so serious that the 2003 winner of Crufts, a Pekingese named Danny, had to sit on an ice pack while being photographed afterward to stop him overheating.

Is this truly our idea of the perfect dog – the best in show? Is this how we want to judge and recognize the best characteristics for our best friends?

Isn’t it time for people who love pets and care about animals to rise up and bring this sham to an end?

The only thing that’s pure in the “purebred” industry is the lifetime of pure suffering that’s being inflicted on dogs by this morally bankrupt industry.