If ever there was an event in which winning really meant losing, it would have to be Crufts. You don't have to look further than Tori, the deformed German shepherd crowned Best In Breed on Saturday (12 March), to see it (picture below). Poor Tori was bred with an abnormally sloped back that impedes the movement of her hind legs – resulting in what looks like a very painful and permanent limp.
Presenter Clare Balding commented that Tori appeared "distinctly unsettled", and that was putting it mildly. It beggars belief that a dog who is barely able to drag herself around the judge's circuit could win any award – but then again, it's Crufts, where rewarding humans for inflicting painful and life-threatening deformities on dogs is part and parcel of the game.
This is far from an isolated incident. Many contenders at the freakish dog beauty pageant this year – like every year – showed visible signs of discomfort, and why wouldn't they? The Kennel Club's breed "standards", which judges use to rate dogs at Crufts, encourage breeders to produce a certain look – regardless of the damage done to animals' health.
To meet the Kennel Club's arbitrary standards, breeders contort dogs into shapes and sizes nature never intended, at serious detriment to their quality of life.
Consider the winner of the "toy" group, a Pekingese named Eric (picture below). Underneath all that hair, it was hard to miss his droopy tongue and heavy panting – an indication he was struggling to breathe merely from taking a few steps in front of the judges.
A result of humans' pursuit of ridiculous physical traits, tiny Eric's flat face leaves him and other brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs like him struggling to breathe through their shortened airways. It's now common for vets to perform surgery. Really, what have we done?
And as if bringing a dog into the world who can't do the things dogs are supposed to do – such as go for a walk or chase a ball without gasping for air – weren't hideous enough, Eric's owner stated on Saturday that Eric isn't allowed to interact with other dogs for fear that it may ruin his pristine coat, even though dogs are naturally pack animals.
Breeders also force closely related dogs to mate in the hope of passing down certain physical features that are favoured by show judges. This practice is so common that all 10,000 pugs living in Britain are descended from just 50 dogs. The lack of genetic diversity caused by inbreeding greatly increases the likelihood that recessive genes, which cause debilitating afflictions, will be passed along to puppies.
As a result, roughly one in four pedigree dogs suffers from serious congenital defects, such as hypothyroidism, epilepsy, cataracts, allergies, heart disease or hip dysplasia – a disease that can lead to crippling lameness and painful arthritis.
Each of the 50 most common dog breeds is at risk for some genetic defect that can cause suffering, according to a study published in The Veterinary Journal. Labrador retrievers are predisposed to bone disease, haemophilia and retinal degeneration, and nearly 60 per cent of golden retrievers suffer from hip dysplasia.
Crufts is a celebration of everything that is wrong with dog breeding. The BBC has stopped broadcasting the show and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty To Animals has stated that dog shows "actively encourage both the intentional breeding of deformed and disabled dogs and the inbreeding of closely related animals".
The good news is that the perpetuation of this suffering could end tomorrow − all we'd need to do is stop breeding these dogs. Surely it is time to make Crufts a thing of the past, just like the other shameful freak shows that we once saw as "entertainment" in this country.