The Westminster Dog Show is Hurting Dogs

It’s dog show time again. The Westminster Kennel Club is having its annual competition at Madison Square Garden February 11-12, which is being televised and streamed online to perhaps millions of viewers. 2013′s show is the first since the Pedigree sponsorship controversy last year. You may recall that Westminster dropped Pedigree in advance of last year’s show due to a lack of shared vision on the cause of animal adoption.

Pedigree’s support of animal shelters, and their advertisements on the same theme, didn’t fit in with the prestige and elegance the show likes to project, nor its unwavering belief that for-profit breeders are the only legitimate place to get a dog. It’s true, social responsibility and prestige don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Certainly the culture of purebreds and a concern for the welfare of dogs are at a significant mismatch.

We’ve written about the issue of animal homelessness often enough at Care2, and I put together a thorough primer (focused on dogs) last year. The problem can be easily solved by an educated and socially-conscious consumer. If we all recognized that there are perfectly wonderful dogs looking for homes, whom hard-working shelter staff have done fantastic jobs socializing and providing medical care, we’d be happy to help support their efforts, both financially and by giving these animals the forever home they deserve. Of course, reaching that critical mass of public understanding and support for a sea-change in the way dogs are bred is the challenge.

It’s easy to decry backyard breeders. My family includes two Humane Society adoptees, one of whom is pure mutt, and another with enough beagle in him to maybe pass for purebred (though he certainly doesn’t have the papers to enter a show). He and his sisters were surrendered by the breeders, not, I think, voluntarily. One of his sisters had already lost part of her ear to frostbite. Our own Maxwell has spent years learning that he needn’t cower and shake every time he meets a new person.

If I ever met the people who brought him into the world and did whatever it is they did to him and his litter-mates, I’m not sure what I would do.

We tend to be a little more hesitant, however, when it comes to taking aim at the upscale breeders Westminster and other kennel clubs represent. I can appreciate the political value in finding a shared cause between adopters and those who support breeders. I understand the desire to avoid losing potential allies by painting the enemy with too broad a brush. So we qualify our targets with the prefix “backyard.” We discuss how to find a “reputable” breeder, thinking that a certain segment of the population just won’t consider getting from a shelter, so we’ll try to point them to those individuals in the for-profit dog industry who we believe do the least damage.

It’s kind of like paying lip-service to a billion-dollar oil company because they’ve shaken out some pocket change for a small nature reserve or other publicity stunt. At some point, the pretense collapses under the weight of its own hypocrisy.

Dog breeders, all of them, are bad for the welfare of dogs. Leaving aside the many health issues that come from the intense in-breeding required for maintaining type standards, not to mention recognized pedigrees, protecting dogs will ultimately require getting the message across that dogs are not toys or designer products. This means tearing down Westminster’s portrayal of dogs as status symbols.

Their website explicitly says that their dogs are “the best of the best . . . [all of which came from] dedicated specialty breeders.” There’s a not-so-subtle implication that adopting from the Humane Society or other shelters is like buying a used car, or a cheap knock-off to a designer purse.

Snobbish? Absolutely. But also ignorant, at best, and downright monstrous at worst. They encourage the same pet store and backyard breeder sales they claim to be against, because ultimately the only message they get across is one of incredibly shallow fashion-consciousness.

This isn’t a show for people who care about dogs. This isn’t an organization for people who care about dogs. Supporting dog breeders and trying to portray yourself as an animal-lover is like saying you’re an environmentalist and driving a Hummer. It’s no surprise that Westminster didn’t like Pedigree throwing it in their face.

One day perhaps we can put an end to the large-scale suffering our poor, too-trusting companions have faced on our behalf. But if that’s going to happen, this ignorant culture of purebreds, elegance and exclusivity needs to be one of the first things to go.

Related stories:

5 Reasons Not to Buy a Puppy for Christmas

Westminster Dog Show Rebuffs Shelter Dogs

Think Global, Work Local: Pet Ownership as Social Justice

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Carole R.
Carole R2 years ago

Dog shows are much like beauty pageants. Why must we parade dogs or people around and decide which one is best?

Mary Rush
Mary Rush2 years ago

I had a Rescue Dog that was neglected and abused after registering for the Westminster that didnt work out. He was malnourished in a crate stuck in the basement with many other dogs. Gave me a whole new look on Westminster and it saddens me.

Maggie Welch
Maggie D2 years ago

I forgot to mention that Miss P is a beagle. After not winning Best in Show for something like 50 or more years, a beagle named Uno won in 2008 and now another beagle in 2015. My husband and I couldn't believe it. We yelled and scared our two beagles who came to us through Colorado Beagle Rescue.

Maggie Welch
Maggie D2 years ago

The thing that mad me mad about this year's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was the winner Miss P. She is only three years old and is retiring, presumably to begin breeding. When does she get to be just a dog. She's still very young and should be playing and romping around with other dogs. How is this different from a puppy mill?

Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill4 years ago

I have been to lots of dog shows, and no dogs were ever hurt. In fact, the opposite. These dogs are completely pampered.

Diane L.
Diane L4 years ago

(cont)....This year, apparently the B.I.S. judge thought the Affinpincher best exemplified the best representative of that breed vs. the other dogs as being representative of their breed. That doesn't mean the judge liked the Affinpincher, personally more than let's say the Dalmation or the St. Bernard. There are what, 7 groups.........within the WORKING group is the Doberman, the Newfoundland, etc. The Dobie may have won that group, and if so, then the Affinpincher would have competed against the Dobie, not the Newfie. I didn't watch, so don't know what dog won each group, actually. I have watched shows on Animal Planet. I always root for the Golden Retreiver as it's my favorite breed, but unless the Golden wins the Sporting Group, it will not go on to B.I.S.............a Chocolate Lab might, or a Chesapeake Bay Retreiver. In the Herding Group, I love Rough Collies, but a Welsh Corgi could be the representative, could be a Border Collie, so there again, the Affinpincher might not compete against certain other dogs, even IF they competed at shows previously. Different day, different dogs, different judges.

As someone who showed my horses, one of my now "gone" mares won many a show championship, but her first show? She pee'd on the judge and he placed her 3rd out of 10. She won her next show and every show after that until retired. Another filly placed 2nd in her first show, dead last the next one (and showed against the same other fillies)

Diane L.
Diane L4 years ago

Robyn, if you want specifics, then please "Google" AKC criteria for yourself, but briefly, Westminster happens once a year. The dogs that show are eligible by acquiring "points" at other shows. The judges at Westminster can be very different people than whoever judged the same dogs previously. Also, a dog doesn't necessarily ever have had to show against all other breeds before, or at least, I don't believe they do. For example, let's say you have a 2-yr-old Poodle (Standard). You take him to one Poodle "Specialty" show and he wins his class (based on age and show record..........beginners, novice, winners, etc.) and then he gets "10" points or whatever, based on how many dogs he competed AGAINST. You then take him to another show that is for his "group" (Poodles show in Non-Sporting, I believe?). He wins his class there, then goes on to win BEST IN SHOW. Okay, he's now eligible for Westminster. You take him there and he's now competing against German Shepherds, Golden Retreivers, Chihuahua's, St. Bernards, ALL the other breeds. First, he has to win his class (again, based on age) and then his BREED (and if he is a SHE, that would be "opposite sex"), then best of WINNERS, best in GROUP and the winner of all groups goes on to BEST IN SHOW. This year, an Affinpincher won. Last year, it was a different breed. This year, apparently the B.I.S. judge thought the Affinpincher best exemplified the best representative of that breed vs. the other dogs as being representati

Robyn O.
Robyn O.4 years ago

I don't understand how a "judge" at a dog "show" can determine which dog demonstrates the most comformance with the "breed standard", if they all just have won in the many, many past shows based on this very same criterion. I've been told there's a lot of politics and money (you mean, bribes ???) behind the "judges'" choice of champions. I notice my favorite breeds hardly ever end up in the final judging of the dog groups. How can they be not as "perfect" as the other group champions? And BTW, when did it happen to the German Shepherd that the "breed standard" changed the back legs to a crouched position rather than the older, more common, straight back legs? I wince every time I see these dogs, they look crippled to me. Note also that in Europe there are laws against cropping tails and ears for many breeds, while we in the US still deform dogs in that way.

Clara H.
Clara Halfin4 years ago

Joel Boyce is right on target...

And he could have added...ANYONE...who knows (and this includes all of us over the age of about 16) that 2 "MILLION"...or more...innocent dogs are put to gruesome deaths in the US every year and thrown away like garbage...because there are not enough humans willing or able to provide care...and could...knowing this...add 1 canine...before every "Animal Control" death house in this country is the least...honestly admit...that they are the type of person who can place their selfish wants...above...the horrible reality of MILLIONS of wonderfully smart and loving homeless desperate need...all unique individuals who don't deserve to be executed.