So, last night was the final day of Crufts, and I was surprised to discover that people still watch this shit.
The sight of manicured poodles being trotted up and down by a group of vicariously aspirational oddballs is one of those regrettable tastes of former decades, like orange and brown upholstery, prawn cocktails and IRA pub bombings. You’d like to think that these things are all long past. But apparently, Crufts is still shown and enjoyed on prime time television. Perhaps, like the prawn cocktails and decor, it’s experiencing a retro comeback. Or, perhaps, the incomprehensible alien hive mind that is middle England still genuinely enjoys it.
But hey, aren’t I being a cultural snob? Isn’t it all just a bit of fun? Well, no, it isn’t. For a start, there’s the dog who dropped dead, allegedly poisoned, shortly after the competition. Even if it was natural causes, the fact that the owner jumped immediately to the hysterical conclusion of poisoning by a competitor, gives a sense of the type of bitter, deranged competitiveness that Crufts inspires. And if it was poisoning, the conclusion is the same, just more tragic.
Leaving aside individual acts of madness, what is the legacy of Crufts? The Kennel Club has established a standard of merit for dogs based on conformance to arbitrary definitions of body shape and coat colour, rather than general health and fitness. The result is dogs contorted to the point of hip dysplasia, and bred to narrow, superficial appearance requirements, while suffering from high rates of serious, debilitating and often fatal health conditions like cancer and eye disease. These problems are exacerbated by the inbreeding that the Kennel Club has encouraged by promoting its pedigree standards. Crufts is the tool that incentivises and glamorises the Kennel Club’s cruel and damaging practices.
Like Jimmy Saville, everybody knows this, but no-one wants to do anything to stop it. The BBC laid it all bare in its 2008 documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed – which unfortunately isn’t available on BBC Iplayer, but you can find it on Youtube.
A shorter, funnier, but just as devastating assessment of the Kennel Club and Crufts is provided by John Finnemore, in series 2 of his Souvenir Programme. Again, you can probably find it on Youtube, but if not, here’s a transcript:
Boss: So, Mr Cruft, I gather you have some innovation you wish to put before me.
Cruft: Yes, sir. In a nutshell, I believe I have hit upon a formula for an entirely new type of dog show.
Boss: Indeed. And how did you first become interested in dog shows, Mr Cruft?
Cruft: I think it was when I realised I had a name that a dog could easily say.
Boss: I see. Well, nevertheless, I fear I cannot believe that there is any profitable type of dog show left to be invented.
Cruft: And yet, I believe I have one.
Boss: Oh, come, come, sir. There exist now contests the purpose of which is to determine which dog is the fastest, which dog is the superior fighter, even which dog is the most effective at bending sheep to his will. What aspect of the canine can possibly remain unjudged?
Cruft: My idea is this: a competition to determine… which dog… looks most like… a dog.
Boss: Which dog looks most like a dog?
Boss: But, do not all dogs look like dogs?
Cruft: Perhaps. But some dogs look more like dogs than other dogs do.
Boss: No they don’t.
Cruft: They will if we say they do. I propose that we, as the organisers of the contest, draw a picture of a dog. And the winner will be the dog that looks most like the picture that we drew.
Boss: But dogs differ widely from each other in appearance. Surely, er, different breeds and so on…?
Cruft: So much the better. We can have sub-competitions. The Cocker Spaniel that looks most like a Cocker Spaniel. The Sealyham most like a Sealyham. And then, the winners of these contests will be pitted up against one another, and we will finally be able to determine whether the Labrador that looks most like a Labrador looks more like a Labrador than the Pug that looks most like a Pug looks like a Pug.
Boss: And tell me, will the dogs at any point be called upon to do anything?
Cruft: On no account. No, the temperament, abilities or character of the dog will be entirely irrelevant. Our sole interest will be in selecting the dog most like the picture of the dog drawn by us.
Boss: But what can a dog, or an owner, possibly do to make a dog look more like the picture?
Cruft: Nothing! But they can breed future dogs in such a way as to attempt to get closer to it.
Boss: Ahh. I believe I understand at last. By this method, you hope to encourage wise breeding of the animals, to ensure healthier, fitter specimens in the future.
Cruft: Not really, no. No, I expect it will encourage intense inbreeding from a catastrophically small stock, thus making dogs less healthy, less fit and more mad.
Boss: Then for god’s sake, man, why do it?
Cruft: I think it will help sell dog food.
Boss: Oh. Well, we do sell dog food.