The Problem With The Westminster Dog Show

Westminster Kennel Club

For dog lovers, a dog show seems like the perfect event -- on the surface.

There are dogs everywhere, dozens of different breeds, colors, sizes and shapes. There are dogs that are straight-up bizarre, and there are dogs that are so cute, they look like they belong on a puppy calendar.

It's kind of a perfect haven, right?

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show took place this week on February 16 and 17, marking its 139th year in operation.

The Westminster Dog Show is a long-honored tradition, beginning in the 1870s with 1,200 dogs.

This year's coveted "Best in Show" award went to a beagle named Miss P, much to the surprise and delight of the Internet.

While the Westminster Dog Show -- dog shows in general -- draw many supporters and fans, it also draws a lot of criticism, especially from animal rights activists.

Most notoriously, the animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has made a lot of noise about the Westminster Dog Show.

PETA is somewhat famous for disrupting the canine event, and its harsh tactics can sometimes raise eyebrows. However, it raises some important points about the realities of dog breeding and the inside world of dog shows.

PETA's website depicts dogs being tied tightly to grooming stations and handled roughly by their groomers. The site also shows dogs being forced to wear eyeliner and other products that are visibly uncomfortable.

The response from dog show enthusiasts and handlers is often simply, "We love dogs."

To that, it's hard not to ask a few questions: If you love dogs, why not just have a pet dog?

Why not let your pet dog run in the yard and play with his favorite squeaky toy? Why put the dogs through all of the unpleasantries that go into preparing for a dog show?

Dog shows have been in the hot seat before, and the American Kennel Club has faced lawsuits for the horrible conditions in which it keeps its dogs.

Furthermore, professional dog breeding itself is a very controversial issue, as it hosts numerous dangerous effects. Of course, dog breeding and dog shows go hand in hand; it's hard to have one without the other.

I had the opportunity to attend a dog show in the Boston area a few weeks ago, hosted by the American Kennel Club.

While there, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the dogs. The majority of them were kept in cramped cages until their handlers were ready for them. Many were whining and barking for attention.

When the dogs were being groomed, they looked uncomfortable. Like PETA's site mentioned, the dogs were all standing on small tables, unable to sit or lie down due to their confinements. Dogs were pampered with hot curling irons and hair straighteners.

The dogs who were about to enter the arena were under strict orders from their handlers. It was clear they knew they needed to obey.

They had to run when told to run and sit when told to sit. It reminded me of the way little kids are often scolded for not being "proper" enough.

It all just seemed unfair and somewhat strange; what was the point?

When we take a step back from the visual overload that occurs when walking into a dog show arena, it's undeniable the event is not for dogs, but for humans.

The dogs "win" of course, but it is the owner who takes pride in winning a blue ribbon.

Despite the fact that dogs are intelligent creatures, they obviously cannot process the act of winning first place, so we shouldn't pretend this event is for them.

If the supporters and operators of dog shows love dogs as they say they do, perhaps, some deep thought should go into the reasons for continuing the practice of dog shows.

For whom are these shows truly organized? If the answer isn't dogs, perhaps we shouldn't have dog shows at all.