Millions of people tuned in this week to watch the AKC Westminster Dog Show. It is one of the most watched dog shows in the world and what a spectacle it is. Pooches pampered to the extreme and doted over almost as neurotically as the miniature Miss America’s in “Toddlers in Tiaras.”
But does the show as a whole benefit the species or does the AKC actually do dogs harm?
Unfortunately, I think it does.
First and foremost, the “breed standards” themselves have caused a huge amount of damage to dogs. From the frog-legged design the judges for some reason love to see in German Shepherd Dogs to the shameful aberrations in the English Bulldog detailed recently in New York Times Magazine. We have altered some of these animals to the point where they cannot even breed without human assistance. Many of the breeds have histories as true working dogs with jobs to do, but the conformity aspect of the clubs have pushed them into forms and conditions that would make doing those jobs difficult if not impossible.
With dog obesity being such a widespread problem, it is also of note that so many of the dogs, even winners, are overweight. Once study I looked at estimated that most of the working breed dogs were 8 to 15 pounds overweight.
The American Kennel Club is also one of the last organizations left that still allows the mutilation of dogs for beauty sake. The British, French, and Irish equivalents have all outlawed cropping and docking, however the US still allows this horrible practice to continue. Speaking of inhumane practices, debarking is still accepted as well, even in some cases encouraged to keep dogs from making a racket in the ring.
We all enjoy watching these dogs. They are obviously beautiful specimens. So attractive in fact, that often, a best in show winner will inspire people to go out and get a dog of that type. Much like the loveable dogs in movies that suddenly cause a surge in sales, big show winners will also create a buzz around a breed. You will quickly see those dogs appearing first in ads selling them, then in Craig’s List ads ”rehoming” them, finally in shelters which will euthanize them.
So, what to do? We can educate ourselves about these animals that have spent generations beside us. We can learn how to do better by them and hold accountable those who don’t. We can make ourselves understand that no matter how cute a breed may be to us, not all breeds are created to be family pets.
Finally, while it is perfectly okay to celebrate the pure breed or pedigreed dog, I myself love the GSD, we should also embrace the mixed mutt.