(By Lucy Siegle) Posing with a puppy is in many ways the celebrity equivalent of a politician kissing baby.
Cue Victoria Beckham holding a Retriever puppy aloft in a photo shoot, apparently to signify her soft and cuddly side.
As I’d just read a Dogs Trust report on battery-farmed canines, all I wondered about was the puppy’s provenance.
An estimated 900,000 of us bought our dogs via the internet, a pet retailer or a newspaper advert, often collecting it on “neutral ground” rather than making a visit to see where it was raised, which could mean it originated from a puppy farm.
In order to be licensed by their local authority, commercial breeders must comply with legislation: bitches must not be mated until they are one year old and should give birth to no more than one litter a year; puppies cannot be sold at under eight weeks.
In practice this is difficult to monitor.
It’s an unthinking approach that leads to farmed bitches often being kept in cages, exhausted from being bred every season and suffering from a plethora of health problems. “How much is that doggy in the window?” is no longer an adequate dog-purchasing strategy.
And this nation of dog lovers bypasses the thousands of existing dogs waiting to be rehomed because we love pedigree puppies and their characteristics of determined inbreeding, be they excessive folds of skin or snubbed noses.
In an effort to meet the bonkers “extreme confirmation” demanded by some pedigree proponents, some breeders even mate mother and son. The result is an ever-declining gene pool, “comparable to that of rare endangered animal species”, according to Dr Hellmuth Wachtel, an expert in canine genetics.
Other studies show an increase in debilitating inherited illnesses in many pedigree dogs, especially Golden Retrievers (take note, VB).
Following the 2008 documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which did just what it said on the tin, the Kennel Club – which showcases pedigree dogs in its prestigious annual dog show, Crufts – found itself in the dog house.
The documentary led to the BBC dropping the dog show from the schedules after 40 years of coverage and the RSPCA withdrawing from the event. This prompted the Kennel Club to introduce some new measures, including an instruction that licensed dog shows must choose only the healthiest dogs as champions, and new standards outlawing features “that might prevent a dog breathing, walking and seeing freely”.
It also part-funded the Bateson inquiry, which reported in January and called for sweeping changes, including the mandatory microchipping of all puppies and the prohibition of breeders mating dogs more closely related than first cousins. All healthy ideas.
But don’t take this – nor the fact that next month’s Crufts is back on TV, with a different broadcaster – as a green light to go get a pedigree pup. Until the industry acts decisively, the dog days are far from over.