CRUFFA and change
We’ve been talking about some of the genetic issues purebred dogs face, particularly flat-faced dogs like bulldogs and pugs. What does the future hold? Someone who’s neck deep in these issues is Jemima Harrison. She’s a journalist and a campaigner who founded an organisation called CRUFFA - the campaign for responsible use of flat-faced animals. She told Phil Sansom about her mission...
Jemima - Although the Kennel Club is doing a whole heap more than it used to, the shape of these dogs is still codified in the Kennel Club Breed Standard - which demands flat faces, round, big eyes... it self-perpetuates really, because the Breed Standard demands that the dogs look like this, despite very small tweaks in those Breed Standards. So now rather than saying ‘very short’ it might say ‘fairly short’. But all these phrases are pretty meaningless when you're dealing with a culture of breeders that have always done it a particular way. Anything that has been crossed to another breed to bring in health or more moderate features is seen as a mongrel. That perception needs to be addressed.
Phil - What is it that makes you personally so passionate about this?
Jemima - Well I've always been completely dog-mad. But in 2001 my dog died, my dog Freddie. And Freddie was a flat coated retriever, a breed that is really compromised genetically because it's a small breed and has been extremely inbred. There isn't any individual that is less inbred than a full sibling - sorry, half sibling I should say, to any other flat coat. And it was after he died that I discovered that the breed was completely beset by cancer, and a particular type of soft tissue sarcoma. 50% of flat coats will be dead by the age of eight/nine from some form of cancer. And it was inevitably... I mean, it didn't really take anybody with any nous to be able to suss out that it was because of inbreeding, and because of a feature called ‘popular sires’ where if a male dog wins big in the show ring, everybody wants to have its babies. So of course that causes havoc genetically, because you are reducing the gene pool with every generation. It just horrified me that people were just accepting it. I had a breeder turn round to me and say, “oh you have to love them a lot because you don't have them for long.” And I felt like strangling her, because I just felt, it doesn't have to be like that! We're really smart. I mean, what breeders do is incredible, it’s just that if they were able to turn around how they saw things, that would be something incredible. And so I'm hoping that in my lifetime I will see some real change that would make me incredibly happy. I mean, I am... someone once said to me a, flatmate years ago in London, I said to a flat girl, “well of course I've always been half dog.” And they said to me, “hmm, I don't think there's that much human in you.”
Phil - What's your ideal world then, out of all of this?
Jemima - Oh, goodness. A world where we appreciate that a dog is a dog and not a baby. That it deserves functional eyes, a respiratory system that works, a body that can mate and give birth naturally... I want dogs to be dogs.
Phil - If you had a pug or an English bulldog or a French bulldog breeder in front of you - or an owner - what would you tell them?
Jemima - We've got to do better by these dogs. The dogs love us absolutely, unequivocally, unjudgmentally, and we are doing them such a disservice in return. So I would beg anybody who's got a brachycephalic dog now to love them to bits, but never get another one.