PETA protests Westminster dog show (Klan hoods and all)
True to the promise it made last week, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals turned out at Madison Square Garden today to protest the 133rd annual Westminster dog show.
Group members, decked out in Klansman robes and armed with brochures that read "The KKK and the AKC: BFF?", argued that purebred dogs suffer from breeding practices designed to produce show winners rather than healthy animals. A sample statement from the brochure (written in the first person as if by a Klan member):
Like the Klan, dog breeders who subscribe to the AKC standards are all about the sanctity of "pure bloodlines." So what if beagles have epileptic seizures, Dalmatians are deaf, and pugs can barely breathe because of how they are purposely bred to look a certain way? Looks are everything!
In a statement, PETA Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch referred to what she termed the AKC's "fetish for body image," saying that the kennel club's promotion of purebreds "means money for breeders but creates sick dogs and vet bills for their guardians."
In response to such claims, Westminster spokesman and commentator David Frei told the Associated Press, "I can't speak for everyone, but the vast majority of the people exhibiting and handling and showing at Westminster are more interested in the health of dogs than anything else ... We want to produce the next generation of healthy and happy dogs, not just for the show ring but for the couches at home." (Kathy Weichert, the breeder of last year's Westminster winner, Uno, shared Frei's sentiments when she talked to Unleashed last month.)
Further, PETA and other animal activist groups argue that dog breeding compounds the issue of pet overpopulation, with homeless dogs dying in shelters for lack of homes while breeders continue to produce new puppies. The brochure handed out by hooded protesters today elaborated on the connection PETA draws between pet overpopulation and dog breeding:
We tip our hoods to breeders who are responsible (oh, they'll modestly say that it's only "indirectly") for the number of mixed-breed dogs who never make it out of the animal shelter alive. AKC officials don't rub out these "inferiors" directly, but they know that every "purebred" puppy bought from a breeder means "lights out" for another mutt at the animal shelter.
But how successful was today's protest? The AP reports:
"Is this really the KKK?" somebody asked the woman in the white robe and the pointy hat...
Most passers-by seemed more puzzled than offended, though those who didn't stop walked away thinking they really had seen the KKK. The most common reaction was to pull out a cell phone and start snapping photos.
Police monitored the situation from nearby, but the scene was mostly calm. One shouting match broke out during the hour-long protest.
Earlier, a man strode away yelling, "That's disgusting! I'm going to buy more fur!"
The findings reported in a BBC documentary called "Pedigree Dogs Exposed" led the BBC to drop coverage of Crufts, Britain's biggest dog show. The BBC's statement cited issues including "spaniels with brains too big for their skulls and boxer dogs that suffered from epilepsy," and the British Kennel Club last month announced sweeping reforms to the standards of many of the breeds it recognizes in an effort to address health concerns.
PETA had asked the USA Network to follow the BBC's lead and drop its coverage of Westminster, a request the network ignored.
-- Lindsay Barnett
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Photo: Mary Altaffer/Associated Press