A Message From the New Year’s Day AKC Dog Show

More than five thousand dogs from 21 countries are appearing in the American Kennel Club New Year’s Day 2020 dog show. Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet touts it as the largest in the country. But it’s just another trivial show on Animal Planet. Unrelated to the big environmental or economic issues of our time. Not worth a moment of our attention.

Or maybe it is. Maybe this spectacle sends us an important message about how we behave with every element of the natural world.

“We dog fanciers know that there is nothing quite as wonderful and fulfilling as our Sport,” AKC judge Ronald Menaker said last year, excitedly talking up the potential of streaming video to widen the audience. “The I am a Breeder series shines a loving light on our fanciers and our sport.”

The “sport” that defines the AKC is selective breeding, and the best people-pleasers win. Judging is the ritual that validates selection, ranking, and rejection.

The British Barnum

The BBC’s History Extra magazine traces dog show history to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. In 1859, promoters added a dog show to the summer cattle show. Two kinds of hunting dogs—setters and pointers—were judged, and the winning owners received guns.

In 1862, a dog show took place at London’s Royal Agricultural Hall. The following year, a week-long show drew a crowd of 100,000, including the Prince of Wales.

Charles Cruft was a manager at the Spratt’s Patent feed factory, who sold dog biscuits to the fox hunting set. Cruft saw the dog fanciers, sensed a business opportunity, and was soon designing rail cars to transport show dogs to Europe. Cruft acquired a nickname: the British Barnum.

By the time of the first Cruft’s Dog Show in 1891, the BBC reports, “there were show classes for all tastes and pockets.” Pekinese lapdogs were imported, and new dog types were manufactured—such as the Doberman Pinscher breed, introduced in 1890.

A point system arose, so judges could follow standard criteria: a desirable height, a certain head shape, the stance of the front and hind legs. The BBC says the spectacles brought pet ownership into fashion across all social classes, even while their insistence on pedigrees mirrored Victorian social hierarchies.

The Westminster Kennel Club held the first dog show in the United States in 1877, six years after the first Ringling Bros. circus.

Best Friends?

We revel in artifice, and sabotage what we can’t sell. To society’s way of thinking, the further we breed dogs away from their ancestral reality—from wolves—the better we’ve made them. We insist, to this day, on having dogs “for all tastes and pockets”—and now, we must add, for therapy and emotional support.

We may genuinely love an individual dog, but the making of pets is just as manipulative as farm animal husbandry, and it goes against everything nature stands for. By making pets, we detach ourselves from nature, we control it, and we endlessly commodify it.

Nature-loving hikers send their dogs to run free through the trees, as habitats vanish under our insistence that the Earth is a great dog park. And on it goes. The AKC’s event page is an advertising platform for puppy sellers and all manner of packaged and generally Earth-unfriendly stuff for sale.

This marketplace is psychologically fraught. If we find nothing urgently wrong with turning a nation of once-free beings into our retrievers, guards, and cuddly toys, we can’t explain why the business of dog shows doesn’t belong in a conscientious society. But we should explain. Because of the indignity imposed on each animal subjected to these shows. And because of what it says about who we are, and how we keep treating the rest of this planet’s life.

More articles by:

Lee Hall holds an LL.M. in environmental law with a focus on climate change, and has taught law as an adjunct at Rutgers–Newark and at Widener–Delaware Law. Lee is an author, public speaker, and creator of the Studio for the Art of Animal Liberation on Patreon.

Weekend Edition
April 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Omar Shaban
Gaza’s New Conflict: COVID-19
Rob Urie
Work, Crisis and Pandemic
John Whitlow
Slumlord Capitalism v. Global Pandemic
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Strange Things Happening Every Day
Jonathan Cook
The Bigger Picture is Hiding Behind a Virus
Paul Street
Silver Linings Amidst the Capitalist Coronavirus Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Control of Nature
Louis Proyect
COVID-19 and the “Just-in-Time” Supply Chain: Why Hospitals Ran Out of Ventilators and Grocery Stores Ran Out of Toilet Paper
Kathleen Wallace
The Highly Contagious Idea
Kenneth Good
The Apartheid Wars: Non-Accountability and Freedom for Perpetrators.
Andrew Levine
Democracy in America: Sorry, But You Can’t Get There from Here.
Ramzy Baroud
Tunisia Leads the Way: New Report Exposes Israel’s False Democracy
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the State-of-Emergency Pandemic
Matthew Stevenson
Will Trump Cancel the Election? Will the Democrats Dump Joe?
Ron Jacobs
Seattle—Anti-Capitalist Hotbed
Michael T. Klare
Avenger Planet: Is the COVID-19 Pandemic Mother Nature’s Response to Human Transgression?
Jack Rasmus
COVID-19 and the Forgotten Working Class
Werner Lange
The Madness of More Nukes and Less Rights in Pandemic Times
J.P. Linstroth
Why a Race is Not a Virus and a Virus is Not a Race
John Feffer
We Need a Coronavirus Truce
Thomas S. Harrington
“New Corona Cases”: the Ultimate Floating Signifier
John Grant
Is the Pandemic Patriarchal?
Victor Grossman
Corona and What Then?
Katie Fite
Permanent Pandemic on Public Lands: Welfare Sheep Ranchers and Their Enablers Hold the West’s Bighorns Hostage
Patrick Bond
Covid-19 Attacks the Down-and-Out in Ultra-Unequal South Africa
Eve Ottenberg
Capitalism vs. Humanity
Nicky Reid
Fear and Loathing in Coronaville Volume 2: Panic On the Streets of Tehran
Jonas Ecke
Would Dying for the Economy Help Anybody?
Jeff Mackler
Capitalism is the Virus!
Andrew Moss
Incarceration, Detention, and Covid-19
Farzana Versey
Prayers, Piffle and Privation in the Time of Pandemic
Will Solomon
In the New Dystopia
Dean Baker
The Relative Generosity of the Economic Rescue Package: Boeing vs. Public Broadcasting
Dr. Leo Lopez, III
We Need a Lot More Transparency From the CDC
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Reflections on a Glass of Homemade Cider
Rashid Nuri
Homegrown Crisis Response: Who Grows Your Food?
Mark Luskus
Worst Case Scenario: Healthcare Workers Need Masks, ASAP
Volker Franke
The Virus That May Bring us Together
Mitchell Zimmerman
A Q & A on the GOP’s Call for Elder Sacrifice
Olfat al-Kurd
COVID-19 Could Be Catastrophic for Us: Notes From Gaza
Eileen Appelbaum - Roesmary Batt
Hospital Bailouts Begin…for Those Owned by Private Equity Firms
Nabri Ginwa
Jill Richardson
Efficiency vs. Resilience
Lee Ballinger
Eddie Van Halen and the Future of Humanity
David Yearsley
Beset by Bach