Is Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show dissing shelter dogs?

The 2012 Westminster Kennel Club show is, er, dogged by controversy after dumping its long-time sponsor Pedigree over dog food ads that promote the adoption of sad-eyed shelter dogs. 

Mike Segar/Reuters
Bulldogs stand in the ring during competition at the 136th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York's Madison Square Garden, on Monday.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is on TV Monday night, and the humans and canines in our household remain eager to see which breeds win. The hound group leads off the evening, followed by the toy group, the non-sporting group, and the herding group. Best of Show won’t be crowned until Tuesday night.

Yes, we know we could watch streaming video coverage of breed competitions during the day. But we’re supposed to be working then – not wondering how to pronounce “Xoloitzcuintli”. (That’s a new breed recognized by the American Kennel Club and debuting at Westminster this year.)

But there’s a shadow over the nation’s preeminent canine competition in 2012, if you haven’t heard. Well, “shadow” may be going too far, but there’s certainly a controversy. The WKC has dumped long-time show sponsor Pedigree dog food. Club members didn’t like Pedigree’s ads, which promoted pet adoption by showing sad-eyed shelter dogs waiting for what rescue groups refer to as their “forever homes.”

Long-time show spokesman David Frei told the Associated Press that the Pedigree ads took the wrong approach.

“Show me an ad with a dog with a smile. Don’t try to shame me,” said Frei. “We told [Pedigree] that and they ignored us.”

According to the AP, Frei added that, “Our show is a celebration of dogs. We’re not promoting purebreds at the expense of non-purebreds. We celebrate all dogs. When we’re seeing puppies behind bars, it takes away from that. Not just because it’s sad, but it’s not our message.”

OK, I don’t think one has to be a PR genius to inform Mr. Frei that he’s stepped in something. “Shame?” “Puppies behind bars . . . not our message?” That’s going to come across badly, particularly from a club that doesn’t want just anyone as a member – as we’ve written before.

Yes, those ads were heart-wrenching. But how many families across America got their family pet by going to a shelter, as opposed to buying a pure-breed that’s show-ready? The WKC would have been better off just saying it was a business decision, and leave it at that. Now they’ve gotten cross-wise with a substantial presence in the dog world, the rescue and shelter community.

Twitter is aflame with negative comments on this, to the extent that the WKC is the canine one percent, and maybe there should be an Occupy Show Ring movement. If you don’t believe us, search “Pedigree” on Twitter and stand back.

Can’t we all get along? Yes, there’s been some tough media coverage lately of the problems that humans breed into their canine friends in search of a particular appearance. We’re thinking here of the New York Times Magazine piece from last November, “Can the Bulldog Be Saved?

But underneath, dogs are mostly the same. That’s what the most recent research indicates, anyway. Given the vast diversity in size, shape, and coat among dogs, scientists thought their genetics would show similar diversity. But the latest research into their genetic makeup shows they aren’t that different, according a recent National Geographic cover story. If dogs were cars, they’d be different bits of sheet metal tacked over remarkably similar chassis.

“The difference between the dachshund’s diminutive body and the Rottweiler’s massive one hangs on the sequence of a single gene,” writes Evan Ratliff in NatGeo.

Maybe we should remember that while watching the Russian Wolfhound, say, in its flowing trot around the WKC show ring. Underneath, he’s just a pound puppy with long hair.

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