The Problem with Westminster Kennel Club's View of Pet Adoption
In some ways, the story made a decision much easier for me. No longer would I be tempted to duck out of a family birthday celebration early to catch Westminster Kennel Club's (WKC) 136th Annual Dog Show. Now I would gladly miss it.
Why? The WKC's decision to part ways with longtime sponsor Pedigree. The reason? Because the ad campaign famously highlights and encourages the adoption of shelter dogs in its often sad-eyed—but beautiful—commercials.
"We want people to think of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show as a celebration of the dogs in our lives," David Frei, the club's director of communications and the host of the show, told The New York Times. Frei felt the Pedigree ads shamed people (a technique I have also criticized) instead of celebrated dogs.
The Pedigree folks see it in a different light, of course. Melissa Martellotti, a brand communications manager for Mars Petcare US, the makers of Pedigree, told The New York Times, "They've shared with us, when we parted ways, that they felt that our advertising was focused too much on the cause of adoption and that wasn't really a shared vision."
That the WKC didn't share a vision with rescue organizations is something I have long realized. Where humane societies urge the adoption of homeless dogs of all ages and stripes, sizes and mixes, the WKC encourages the purchase of purebreds from reputable breeders or adoption of purebreds from reputable rescues. Where humane societies rightly celebrate the wonder of all dogs—purebred or pure mix—the WKC dog show celebrates the best of the best: particular, specific, Kennel Club-ordained breeds.
Having the pro-adoption Pedigree ads appear during the show helped me make peace with these discrepancies of "vision." It made me believe that dog lovers of all ages and stripes, sizes and mixes could maybe come together in a shared love of both the dog show world and the rescue world.
While my dog-loving heart will always belong first to those involved in animal welfare and rescue, I always had an affection for the dog show circuit—even as I've always found plenty to criticize about dog shows like Westminster Kennel Club's. I hold them somewhat complicit in the over-breeding of dogs and even the abuses at puppy mills, and I certainly scoff at some of their ridiculous frivolity (for more on this, see Christopher Guest's hilarious Best in Show).
But still, there's something I love about these dog shows, something the "celebration of the dogs" that WKC's David Frei spoke of. There's something quite wonderful about a competition that doesn't focus on appearance for appearance's sake and that doesn't really even make participants compete against one another. Instead, in a dog show, the dogs (and bitches, since, of course, dogs are technically only the boy ones) compete against their "breed standard." The breed standard holds the ideal specifications for coat, teeth, gait, size, temperament, and so on that presumably ensure that breed can best do what it was meant to do. The dog-show world groups and judges according to gifts and purpose and doesn't put one set of gifts or purpose or even gender in competition with the other ones. Each dog is judged against its ideal.