TIME TO FIGHT BACK? By Lee Connor

14/03/2017

I’M SURE most of us sighed with relief when the curtain finally came down on this year’s Crufts with no shocking incidents having taken place; no planes flying over the venue, no giant Frenchies handing out leaflets and no stickered cars.

However this show was certainly eye-opening for me because of one particular event. At the end of the first day, Jemima Harrison put out a call for any CRUFFA supporters visiting Crufts to meet with the Times journalist for an interview. Spotting an opportunity to balance the debate, Marc, my partner, immediately offered his services and subsequently met with the young journalist who clearly didn’t have a clue about pedigree dogs, coefficients or health testing. She was ‘educated’ on all these things and was also told about the horrors of the puppy trade and illegal imports. He spoke to her for nearly an hour. Of course none of these things made it into the piece and it was clearly evident which way the article would go when the hack turned off her tape and said, “Off the record can I ask you about sabotage in the show world…you have to admit there is a severe inbreeding problem right…exhibitors don’t like foreign competition do they?” And she also had something of an obsession with ‘getting dirt’ on the Bulldog.

As many of you know, Marc has been going on the CRUFFA site and regularly battling with Ms Harrison and her cohorts. It has been quite illuminating watching him tackle her and quite easily tearing gaping holes in her arguments (and statistics) and predicting the inevitable ‘right I’m off for a walk…’ response when things got a little bit tough.

One particular sticking point for Ms Harrison and something that is a fatal flaw for the CRUFFA campaign is the upcoming BBC event Comic Relief and its very visible t-shirts bearing the image of a panting French Bulldog. They are absolutely everywhere. She was tackled with this and after a ‘walk’ came back and said that the image was okay as “it wasn’t being sold for profit”.

So, it was quite okay to fill the website of a small natural dog food company with vitriolic messages because it dared to carry an image of a French Bulldog because this was a ‘business’ but the BBC got a pass because ‘it was for charity’.

Obviously this answer really isn’t good enough. After all, an image is an image. If you start up a campaign solely about the use of images does it really matter if it’s for charity or not? Either it is ‘offensive’ or it isn’t. Strangely neither TK Maxx (which is advertising and stocking the t-shirts) nor celebrities like Joanna Lumley and Jack Whitehall (who are pictured wearing them) received any nasty comments from the group – not like Dr Christian Jessen who was targeted on Twitter… simply for the ‘crime’ of holding a Pug. So this, the biggest event that is going to project a flat-faced breed to the widest possible audience this year, is completely ignored by CRUFFA. What a bizarre set of events. When this was pointed out to Ms Harrison, who continually dodged the question, (and let us not forget Ms Harrison self-styled herself as ‘the thorn in the KC’s side), she obviously couldn’t stand the feeling of a similar thorn and reacted… by banning Marc from the group!

Isn’t free speech a wonderful thing?

Agree with me or be banned.

Now, of course, Harrison can enjoy the delights of sounding off unchallenged in her own self-created echo chamber with people telling her just how amazing she is.

A number of people in the dog world have said, “just ignore her… she thrives on the oxygen of people talking about her”. I fully understand this sentiment, however, sadly some of the ludicrous statements coming from her and her site simply cannot go unchallenged. Again and again she demonstrated that either she hadn’t read or didn’t fully understand some of the stats she so quickly fired off. Just a cursory glance at some of these studies presented glaring errors that were quickly pointed out… and usually resulted in the glorious sound of silence and a flurry of new posts to push the offending thread down the list.

What is worrying though is that these studies and stats are potentially used to inform the law and policy makers. People simply can no longer sit on their hands and hope that people like her will just go away because, if they go unchallenged, they go on to spawn people like Emma Milne.

‘Emma Milne?’ I hear you ask. ‘Now where I have I heard that name before?’ Well, back in 1996 the BBC brought us a delightful series following the ups and downs of veterinarian students. It gave us many much-loved household names who have all enjoyed significant TV careers, names like Steve Leonard, Joe Inglis and Trude Mostue… and then of course there was Emma Milne, who went on to be an outspoken columnist for Dogs Today. Well, that was until she wrote a disastrous piece about the unsuitability of rehomed Greyhounds as pets. After working on a Dachshund that had been mauled by two Greyhounds she made sweeping statements that the entire breed wasn’t suitable to be pets. It’s worth reminding ourselves of that article just to get a little insight into the mind of the person that wrote it. You see, she has form for voicing the banning of certain breeds and a hatred for the pedigree dog and its owners/breeders.

She claimed: “Greyhounds seem to attack other dogs without realising that they are the same species.”

She then went on to say: “Is it morally acceptable to breed such a dog?”

However, the most devastating part of the article came with these lines: “If racing Greyhounds are bred solely for racing then would it be more sensible to regard them as we would a cow or a sheep? We (the omnivorous of the population) accept that at the end of their working lives such animals are humanely destroyed. If we accept animals have no anticipation of death, or fear of it, then humane euthanasia at any age, and any state of health, can be seen as acceptable.”

So to sum up, on the basis of one terrible incident, Milne suggested that we should no longer rehome Greyhounds. Instead, she would like us to view them simply as ‘livestock’ and at the end of their working lives they should be euthanised. Let’s not forget, these words come from a vet… someone whose main consideration should be the welfare of all animals yet here, on the basis of one incident, she went on to publicly call for an entire breed to be wiped out.

Of course, this inflammatory piece caused justifiable outrage across the country (and world) and faced universal condemnation. I think it was the beginning of people wondering and worrying about exactly where their own vet stood on various subjects and issues. I mean, would you want to take your Greyhound (or a brachy breed) to a vet who shared Milne’s extreme views?

In time, of course, came the predictable climb down, apologies and back tracking and the subject was laid to rest. This was fair enough, for who among us hasn’t made a mistake or on reflection said things that they later regretted? Most of us though learn from these mistakes. Unfortunately Milne doesn’t seem to have learned much from this awful incident (that possibly had such devastating effects on the fortunes of hundreds of Greyhounds needing homes) and nor has she apparently learnt anything of the dangers of making sweeping generalisations or from calls for the ‘banning’ of things… and it certainly hasn’t stopped her from making quite frankly ridiculous statements such as the overwhelming ‘smell of skin disease’ in the Crufts hall where the brachy breeds were. I do ask, if she could ‘smell’ such disease why on earth didn’t she report it to her colleagues who were working at the show? Or are such statements just more attention grabbing histrionics.

This brings us to her latest delightful proclamation: “Every person who breeds a Bulldog, Pug, Peke, Mastiff or Dachshund has caused some degree of suffering by selecting for an unnatural deformity… they should be prosecuted and the breeds banned.”

This statement published in The Sunday Times (March 12, 2017) even provoked comment from the very mild-mannered Ian Seath who has done so much sterling work in Dachshund health. Now, you know you’re being a numpty when you get Ian to make a comment… but he has every reason to be angry… as we all do. Where is the evidence to support her outrageous claim? And how dare anyone label the owners of the above breeds as ‘animal abusers’ when you do absolutely nothing to bring real animal abusers to book. How dare you (once again) call for entire breeds to be banned when you quite patently know nothing about them. This is the same authority which claimed that the Dachshund is ‘unable to play bow’ – a claim many of us can quite quickly explode. In fact, my Dachshund often does this very movement to her two best friends… two rescue Greyhounds who live in the village… so that’s two myths completely debunked. But, of course, they don’t want to listen to reasoned argument and sometimes the mentality of these people is quite staggering and a bit alarming; they don’t want to pass comment on things like puppy farming or the illegal importation of puppies. They brush over subjects like the rise of ‘Exotic Bulldogs’ and one exchange left me open-mouthed. Someone put up a picture of two young puppy-farmed French Bulldogs sitting on a mound of excreta in the most appalling conditions yet the main focus of attention was praise for such breeders producing more moderate dogs. It’s a warped view similar to the relative disappointment shown by Ms Harrison when a recent study found that BOAS wasn’t as common a disorder in Pugs as expected, and was behind ownership ‘disorders’ such as overlong nails and obesity.

Although engaging with these individuals is tortuous… it has to be done. They have to have their ideas and ‘facts’ challenged and a light has to be shone on their hypocrisy at every possible opportunity. Isn’t it strange for instance, that the BBC also jumped in giving prominence to a damning open letter (strongly recommending potential owners to not buy brachy breeds and criticising their prominence in the media) written by BVA president Gudrun Ravetz (March 13, 2017) yet still hasn’t joined the dots about its own hypocrisy with its Comic Relief t-shirts!

I hope this is a wake-up call for owners and breeders of pedigree dogs – it simply isn’t good enough just to ignore these voices. And it is time that stores and organisations that support such ideas, that publicly support the banning of certain breeds, also need to be boycotted by lovers of the breeds in the firing line and demands placed on them to sort out once and for all the shameful state of affairs concerning illegal imports/puppy farms.

I recently got (lightly) rapped on the knuckles by my editor for going over the allotted word count for my upcoming article. Of course he was completely right… but I was so passionate that this looming crisis was of such importance it needed to be tackled head on and it is hard to get this across in just 1,200 words! I, and a number of DOG WORLD columnists and breed note writers, have expressed over and over again of our concerns about the over-breeding of these breeds, many of which have no registration/pedigree are not even of standardised colours and God alone knows what their country of origin would be, but these dogs will be marked down as ‘French Bulldogs/Bulldogs/Pugs’ etc when health problems occur – and such dogs become the statistics that are used against said breeds.

I warned a few years ago that these dogs would be used as a stick against the show world… and yet again I’ve sadly been proven right.

I also work for American publications and see the very loud protestations of a very vocal minority calling for the same things once again with the support of veterinary groups (and importantly the very same people are also conveniently turning a blind eye to exactly the same problems we face here).

In this world, unfortunately, it is those who shout the loudest who get listened to. Just as Mark Cocozza recently wrote, we need to shout more loudly about our dogs, the health testing we undertake and the fact that being a ‘breeder’ isn’t a dirty word. As I spoke about earlier, the press isn’t interested in positive stories… it is purely interested in dishing dirt. That can’t be helped. However, we still need to further foster strong ties with the media, the veterinarian profession and the lawmakers and where misleading falsehoods are published or professionals ‘overstep’ the mark – they have to be challenged and complained about.

I do find it particularly unpalatable that the president of the BVA gives a nod of approval to the ridiculous and insulting claims of the likes of Ms Milne (even to the point of retweeting her) and I was astounded that she could also go on to say something so ignorant like the popularity of these breeds was because of ‘their prominence at high profile events such as Crufts’.

Of course you will see growing problems within these breeds, commercialisation and the involvement of puppy farmers have historically always resulted in poor quality sick animals that will need treatment and those who love these breeds have been predicting exactly this… yet those in power have sat on their hands and ignored these warning voices as I have previously said, one can only wonder why.

And do not feel we are alone here in the pedigree dog world. I have many friends who breed pedigree cats, rabbits and cavies and regularly get online abuse that target their websites, screaming abuse about ‘why do you breed these animals when so many of them are in shelters.’ It goes over the trolls’ heads that these people are responsible, caring people with outstanding knowledge in their respective fields. Indeed many times they have long waiting lists for their stock. The animals produced are wanted and treasured. One only has to look at the animal shelters; you certainly won’t see them filled with Siamese, British Blues, Balinese or Abysinnians… no, these places will be filled with the mixed and thoughtlessly produced results of countless irresponsible owners… and this staggering and shameful number is added to daily. One wonders why the clamorous voices of disgust aren’t directed at these thoughtless individuals… just at the pedigree folk. Sometimes it feels that the world has gone mad!

There is a growing dislike of dogs in this country (and around the world), dog restriction orders and council bans are becoming increasingly common. What we don’t need is people like Ms Milne and the BVA calling for certain breeds to be banned and further playing into the hands of the canine haters. Banning anything is a very slippery slope and one the majority of decent folk simply don’t want to go down. Everyone who owns a pedigree dog needs to stand together whether it is a brachy or not because who knows what will be next in the firing line. Such inflammatory talk simply can’t be ignored and such ridiculous statements and hypocrisy have to be challenged and nipped in the bud… urgently.


 

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