Crufts starts today – the World’s Largest Dog Show – an annual dog-fest that used to be seen as a “best of British” institution, but which has become controversial in recent years. This year, three different viewpoints have been loudly expressed.

First, the Kennel Club , which is “dedicated to protecting and promoting the health and welfare of all dogs”, predictably stressing the many initiatives taken to promote good health in pedigree dogs. And there’s no doubt that innovations like the Mate Select programme, the Online Kennel Club Academy  to provide education for breeders and judges, the recently released 2014 Breed Health Survey, a range of new DNA tests and other initiatives represent useful steps forwards towards improving pedigree dog health.

Second, equally predictably, Jemima Harrison, producer of the BBC documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” has used Crufts to promote her latest campaign against unhealthy conformation in brachycephalic dogs. CRUFFA – the Campaign for the Responsible Use of Flat Faced Animals – is primarily aimed at persuading the marketing, advertising and manufacturing industries to review how they use images of flat faced dogs, but the campaign is also asking judges at Crufts to reward open, wide nostrils rather than pinched, flattened airways. The photographs shared through the campaign clearly demonstrate the issue.

Image courtesy of Cambridge BOAS Research Group
Image courtesy of Cambridge BOAS Research Group

Thirdly, the RSPCA (whose chief executive famously called Crufts “a parade of mutants”) has reiterated its concerns: “We remain concerned that many dogs are still suffering because they’re bred and judged primarily for how they look rather than with health, welfare and temperament in mind”. The charity has set up its own alternative dog show, scouring the country to find the happiest and healthiest dogs of all types and backgrounds for its annual Ruffs competition.

Zara - Happiest Hound
Zara – Happiest Hound

Winners include rescue dog Zara who won the Happiest Hound category, Sab, a scarred Patterdale terrier, permanently marked after being used in badger baiting, who won the Perfectly Imperfect category…

Sab - Perfectly Imperfect
Sab – Perfectly Imperfect

…and Staffordshire Bull Terrier Buddy won the Transformation category with his transition from unwanted sickly dog to beloved healthy pet, dramatically demonstrated in his “before” and “after” photos.

Buddy - Before
Buddy – Before
Buddy - After
Buddy – After

Whether you love or hate Crufts, there’s no doubt that the event focuses attention on dogs, from the best (the agility and obedience sections offering remarkable demonstrations of canine ability) to the worst (some of the more extreme pedigree dogs in the show-ring still have health issues that cannot be ignored).

Channel Four is showing highlights of Crufts every evening for the next few days: if you have an interest in dogs, make sure you tune in to find out more.