Dogs 'poisoned' and mishandling petitions - Crufts in crisis?

Still from Best in Show Image copyright change.org
Image caption Rebecca Cross was seen apparently picking up her dog by the throat and tail

A championship dog dies of suspected poisoning after appearing at the world's top dog show. Now a second dog is reported dead and Crufts is facing an onslaught of criticism. Is the event in crisis or does the pet-loving public really understand the world of canine competition?

Jagger the three-year-old Irish Setter came second in his class but died shortly after returning home to Belgium, where post-mortem results suggest meat in his stomach had been laced with slug killer.

Now organisers have confirmed they are examining reports a second competitor, a shih tzu, died following the event, with its owner claiming suspected poisoning.

The Kennel Club says it is also looking into newspaper reports several other dogs, including a West Highland white terrier and an Afghan hound, fell ill after the show.

However, allegations of foul play are not the only controversial events to rock Crufts 2015.

The moment a dog owner appeared to remove the event's ultimate winner from the podium by the throat and tail - moments after it was crowned Best in Show - sparked outrage among dog lovers.

Five-year-old Knopa beat six other dogs in the final stage of the prestigious class to take home the top prize.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Knopa beat six other dogs in the final of the 'Best in Show' category

But her handler Rebecca Cross quickly came under fire when footage showed her seemingly lifting the Scottish Terrier by the tail. More than 86,000 people have signed one online petition calling for her to be stripped of the award. Another petition has more than 41,000 signatures.

The Kennel Club said it was considering how to take "appropriate action".

"Those showing at Crufts receive clear written guidance on handling their dog, in order to ensure the dog's welfare, and this guidance makes it clear that dogs should not be handled in this way," said club secretary, Caroline Kisko.

"This was further highlighted to the handler by show officials. The handler has since apologised for this and the upset caused and we've been assured that the dog, who must be our main priority, is happy and well.

"In this specific case an investigation is under way and a decision will be made by committee about the actions that have been taken.

"We do not believe it would be fair to strip the dog of its Best in Show title because the dog was awarded this prize based on its own merits in the show ring."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Terriers like Knopa were bred to work down rabbit holes, one breeder said

While many dog lovers have used the alleged poisonings to highlight what they see as wider problems with the annual showcase of the world's top dogs, British animal charity the RSPCA has been a vocal opponent in recent years.

It believes judging dogs on their looks can cause suffering and not in their "best interests". And it believes the recent controversies back up its position.

"This is an opportunity to highlight to the public that it's not [just] these little incidents," campaign manager Violet Owens told the BBC.

"It [values] looks over the welfare and health of dogs which can lead to their early death, and that's not acceptable if we're really a nation of dog lovers."

But controversial incidents will continue, she believes, unless organisers stop "rewarding" owners who break event guidelines.

'The biggest in the world'

Image copyright Getty Images
  • Crufts is run by The Kennel Club, which describes the annual event, as "the world's largest dog show"
  • Almost 21,500 dogs competed at Birmingham's Genting Arena in 2015, among them 2,987 dogs from overseas
  • The winner of Best in Show - the top prize - gets £100. The Kennel Club said the prestige was more important than the prize money
  • Established in 1981, the event's last controversy came in 2008 when the BBC Panorama programme highlighted concerns about breeding practices
  • The RSPCA withdraw its support for the event the same year amid concerns about the health of pedigree animals

"I think the issue is that it's not acceptable to pick up a dog in that way then turn round and reward that person with the top prize at Crufts," she added.

"It might be the way to pick up a dog if you're worried about messing up their haircut and not their wellbeing."

"To go on to reward [her] undermines what they're saying. Certainly anyone in the vet and animal handling profession will say it's not the correct way to pick up a dog."

But while hundreds of dog lovers have taken to social networks to express shock at the footage, award-winning breeder, author and Crufts judge Patsy Hollings believes their anger might be misplaced.

"We must remember that terriers were bred to work down rabbit holes and so their tails are very strong," she said.

"We have heard of cases where terriers have gone down rabbit holes and people have had to use the tail to pull them out.

"[Ms Cross] is a a very caring owner, that dog has been looked after fantastically and she wouldn't do anything to the detriment of the dog."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Jagger the Irish Setter died after allegedly eating poisoned meat at the dog show

Ms Owens said it wasn't the only example seen over the weekend of poor handling.

Reports have emerged on social media that a dog was beaten by its trainer outside the event and a number of online petitions have sprung up in light of images being shared on Twitter.

"We believe Crufts has been in crisis for many years and this year it's been plagued with controversy," she said.

"Everyone has seen the headlines about the suspected poisoning of more than one dog and we have had a lot of reports of the dog beaten in the car park.

"It's time for Channel Four to look at whether it's right and responsible for it to be airing the show in 2016."

The BBC has approached Channel 4 for comment.

A spokesperson for Crufts said it was aware of the incident outside the event.

"We understand that a photograph purporting to show the man in question mistreating the dog, is circulating online and the RSPCA is calling for people with any information to contact them directly," they said.

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