How Westminster Dog Show Could Help Dogs

shelter dog, adopt

June, a PUREBRED Australian Cattle Dog, adopted on her last day at the animal shelter

I love dogs! I have always enjoyed watching the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, but ‘prestige’ at the hands of a judge who favors poodles and terriers is NOT helping the dogs of the world.

Each year the judge is accompanied onto the green in a satin gown, holding the famous Best in Show ribbon awarded to the best looking dog (which frequently isn’t). It is a waste of a captive audience, even if it were my favorite breed (the Australian Cattle Dog, the Mastiff and twenty five others) . This is the crowning dog centric moment of the year to motivate and educate people about dogs across America.

Did you know a third of dogs in America’s shelters are pure bred? Most people don’t know unless they have their ‘paw on the pulse’ so to speak. No acknowledgement in the airing of Westminster Dog Show is made to the many pure bred rescue groups working to adopt dogs across the country. I’m not even talking about America’s beloved ‘mutt’ (I have one). I’m talking about breed specific rescue.

Watching America’s beloved Labrador and Golden Retriever prance happily and perfectly groomed around the ring, you’d never think that dogs like this end up in the shelter. But they do end up in the shelter or in a newspaper classified ‘Looking for a Good Home Ad’ every single day in first world America.

Westminster Kennel Club shames me by ignoring ANY public coverage in supporting the work of the people helping many of America’s pure bred dogs that wind up homeless. A step in the right direction was their reference to mutts as ‘All American Dogs’ and the Agility Event. The later allowed non-pure bred dogs to compete. I support Westminster for these efforts, however I expect much more from this historic celebrated dog show showcasing pure bred dogs.

Westminster completely ignores educating the public about pure-bred rescue dogs.
This blatant conflict of interest in show vs rescue dogs is clearly illustrated in the nearly one million dogs registered by the AKC, which attributes to twenty five million in revenue each year for the American Kennel Club.

Therein lies the massive secret of the dog show: Many AKC registrable puppies are born in puppy mills also known under the euphemism ‘commercial kennel’.
How do you recognize a puppy mill? There are more signs than just a vast number of puppies and tired mother dogs kept constantly pregnant. The AKC condones vast numbers of puppies because as they say on their website “quality is not about quantity”. I am not against all dog breeding, nor am I suggesting a breeding ban,  but this point must be addressed.

Any good breeder knows that if they are making a profit from dog breeding, something is wrong in the care and attention to their animals. Further more, any good breeder will happily take back a puppy or adult dog that an owner is relinquishing because they know they are responsible for breeding the dog and ensuring that animal has a life time home.

I wholeheartedly understand the desire to raise a puppy and also a love for a particular breed of dog. What I am against is the wave of AKC endorsed irresponsible breeding allowed to operate and for another group of people dealing with much heart ache as they work to foster and place unwanted animals.

Perhaps I sound like an “activist” which is considered a bad word sometimes. However, I have worked and volunteered with animal shelters. I have been responsible for bringing a dog into the room in which he will be put to sleep because he can’t find a home. I have been in a room full of dead dogs because there were not homes for them.  Do not condemn your local animal shelter who is often faced with difficult decisions each day because the community relies upon the shelter to be the safe haven of unwanted animals.

We are the one’s responsible for dogs. All of us have a role to play and that is one of respect and responsibility. We are given the huge privilege of sharing our lives with dogs. Dogs in turn fit into our many varied lifestyles adapting to our world, working at our side and often in self-less service to us as assistance dogs, guide dogs, search and rescue dogs, police dogs,  therapy dogs, cancer and seizure detection dogs and beyond. For thousands of years dogs have been a part of our lives. We have bred them into every shape and size imaginable, often at the expense of their health.

The pushed faced breeds, such as pugs and bulldogs have suffered at the expense of an arbitrary ‘breed standard’ calling for a more foreshortened nose that makes it difficult to breathe and leaves them prone to heatstroke in warmer weather.  Bulldogs are frequently born via caesarian because their heads are so large. Many of the ‘tea cup’ dogs such as Yorkshire Terriers are born with collapsed trachea because we have bred them so small. The Chihuahua has been the victim of a breed standard calling for a ’rounded, apple shaped’ head leaving them vulnerable to epilepsy. Many of the larger breeds such as Newfoundlands are prone to hip-dysplasia as well as many cancers.

Outside the first world, no one is breeding the perfect dog. Instead millions of dogs live on the streets of the third world and in big cities where people attempt to exterminate them. This has come to attention during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. An outraged international public in light of the Olympics is actually making an impact for the better in the lives of these Sochi dogs.

There is the incredible photography of Julie McGuire, who photographed the rescue dogs of Penang Animal Welfare Society in Malaysia.

Martin Usborne’s is another photographer using photography to help dogs!  Check out Year to Help project.

This is the kind of thing Westminster Kennel Club needs to do if they want to put ‘prestige’ back in the Dog Show. Be a representative of that which you propose to love; help ALL dogs live well.

Purina in it’s advertising, also could have stepped up the ‘standard’ (pun intended) beyond the winning affenpinscher’s billowing hair in the wind and actually use their air time effectively. Be innovative. Don’t pander to celebrity dogdom and then do nothing. Get on the TODAY show and talk about dogs in need. You can sell yourself without selling out.

I have educated many people one on one about the availability of rescue pure-bred dogs. The fact is that many people still are unaware that breed specific rescue exists. I am not ignoring mutts in this process, but simply drawing awareness toward rescue in a way that Westminster can be a supportive asset.

I don’t know what happened to the Pedigree commercials this year, but that was a use of mass advertising acknowledging dogs in need. Kudo’s to Pedigree for making an effort in the difficult blend of advertising and feel good connection. I sure wish the Sarah Mclachlan ASPCA advertisement had aired during Westminster Dog Show. Maybe that is the pendulum swinging the other way showing desperation as a way to generate support. Well, if that’s what it takes.

I love dogs. Westminster Kennel Club purports being all about dogs. Making awareness and support for rescue dogs an integral aspect of Westminster’s ‘prestigious event’ should be an obvious component.

Lastly, was it just me or did last year’s Affenpinscher winner look like Eugene Levy in “Best in Show”? Activist is not a bad word, it is what makes you a ‘winner’.

Jes McKay Gilmore

speciesspectrum.com

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