Instead of basking in a swirl of worldwide accolade, The Kennel Club is enduring a bruising three-legged PR tornado.
The tragic death from poisoning of ‘Jagger’ the Irish Setter from Belgium has shocked and saddened any of us who own a pet. The news has also devastated the showing world. The Belgian police are apparently investigating the incident with full cooperation from The Kennel Club as further reports are awaited. Rumours continue to circulate about another six dogs, one of which has also died, although The Kennel Club has issued a statement to say that currently there is no evidence of any poisoning taking place at Crufts.
In an unusual twist of events a petition has been launched to strip the Best in Show of her newly acclaimed title, after handler Rebecca Cross was filmed lifting Knopa, the Scottish Terrier, off the judging table by her throat and tail. Whilst this treatment appears to be common practice in Ms Cross’s native US, The Kennel Club has issued a statement saying that ‘it was made clear to the handler at the show that it is not acceptable to pick up a dog in this way, and despite repeated requests not to do so, she went ahead’.
The final incident involves the emergence of photos of an alleged cruelty episode outside the NEC in Birmingham, again prompting the Kennel Club to say they are investigating.
So here we are. What should have been an international celebration of man’s best friend – has become an exposé on attitudes to animal welfare.
The Kennel Club has always had a turbulent history. What long-toothed organisation hasn’t? In some areas it is doing very well. Crufts is still regarded as the Wimbledon of its discipline for obedience, agility, flyball and heelwork to music competitors. In latter years The Kennel Club has been reaching out to the dog rescue world too. For example National Animal Welfare Trust is a proud participant of the Crufts Rescue Agility Display team. We see it as an excellent opportunity to promote rescue dogs in a positive light on a major platform.
However this past weekend has shown how modern life is changing again. Two very 21st century phenomena played their part in this unfolding drama. First is the involvement of overseas competitors. Crufts used to be a very British affair, but ever since 2000 – when pet passports were introduced – overseas entrants have been on the rise. Crufts 2015 received record numbers of international competitors, at almost 3,000 compared to almost 18,500 from the UK. Five out of the seven group winners this year were international ones.
The second is the impact of social media. Reputations can be damaged in the blink of an eye. Who would have thought that within a day of being crowned Best in Show, the winner would become the subject of a 100,000 signature petition and counting?
The Kennel Club will survive this storm, but it must learn from it. Crufts should be a worldwide platform for celebrating the dog in all shapes and sizes. However more stringent guidelines on the ethics and welfare of the handling of all dogs need to be issued and every competitor must abide by them, no matter what their local custom and practice is. A dog is a sentient being and deserves to be handled with care and respect.