Bad weather with lots of snow announced this year’s edition of Crufts, the biggest dog festival on earth. Dog lovers from all over the UK and from all over Europe faced lots of difficulties to get to the show on time. Planes and trains were delayed, and traffic was stuck in many places, but this could not stop the dog lovers who entered their Crufts Qualified Champions hoping to win one of the prestigious titles.
This year, 19,026 dogs were entered for the show, and about 5,000 others participated in one of the numerous other competitions; a big part of them crossbreeds. This year is the 150th anniversary of the British Kennel Club, and a huge cake was offered to the VIPs and press people for this occasion.
The British Kennel Club was founded in 1873 by Mr. Sewallys Evelyn Chirley, along with 12 other founding members, and the very same year their first show was held in the Crystal Palace in London. But it was only in 1880 that the registration of dogs became a necessity to find a way in the chaos.
It has always been weird to me that Mr. Charles Cruft “owned” his prestigious show until he died in 1942, and until his wife “sold” his show to the British Kennel Club. From then on, the Kennel Club show and Mr. Cruft’s show has continued under the name of “Crufts.”
The British Kennel Club is probably the oldest Kennel Club in the world and has evolved into the largest organization in the UK devoted to dog health, welfare, and training. In the last decade, the KC has focused on crossbreeds too and has allowed them to participate in the different KC-recognized canine sports. Agility, Flyball, and Heelwork to Music, especially, have lots of crossbreeds in their competition, and it can only be called positive that the KC is involved in “all dogs” and not only the purebreds. But, of course, the emphasis is still on the recognized breeds. And while the FCI has recognized almost 400 different breeds, the KC recognizes only 222.
This year, the Bavarian Mountain Hound will have its own class for the first time. It is a breed that even in Europe is not very common at shows, but is has a legendary nose for tracking wounded game, even after many days.
The regular number of visitors to Crufts is around 130,000. I wonder if they are “real visitors” or if this also includes the exhibitors and participants in other competitions. Anyway, it is very impressive. A daily ticket for the three first days is 23£ for adults and 17£ for children of 9 and over, including the evening program in the Arena. But on Sunday, a ticket for the Arena needs to be ordered separately. This, plus eating, plus hotel, makes Crufts a very expensive happening, and although tickets for children are much cheaper, it still ends with several hundred pounds apart from travel expenses.
For a family, it is a very expensive trip depending on how many members and how long the stay. Notwithstanding this, it is always moving to see people being extremely excited when they visit Crufts for the very first time. On the plane to Birmingham, I was sitting next to a girl who would visit Crufts for the first time ever. She was very excited, and when I accidentally met her again on the third day she seemed to love it even more, and hurried on as if she feared missing something.
The National Exhibition Centre, better known as the NEC, is huge. Crufts uses only five halls (plus the Arena) of the 20 halls available, but the show still covers 25 acres to host more than 450 trade stands, going from food stands to anything you can buy for a dog. Any self-respecting company will present its novelties here in première, which makes Crufts also the biggest market for dog items in the world. What drew my attention this time, in particular, were the gravestones for pets.
Traveling to Crufts is something that needs to be thought about and planned for long in advance. It is very difficult to find cheap accommodations around the NEC during Crufts. Prices rise around that time and even booking long in advance will hardly help. Only if you take the risk to wait long enough and look for something a week or so before the show might you be lucky to find a room for a cheap price. But you might well end up very disappointed. More and more people book something in Birmingham or Coventry and take the train to the NEC every day or rent a car. Others only come in the morning on the day of their breed and return home again in the evening.
The NEC is only at walking distance from Birmingham Airport and the train stops even closer to the entrance. And around the NEC there are huge parking areas. All this, plus its location near the intersection of major highways, makes it very convenient for the thousands of people who attend this yearly highlight on the dog show calendar. An impressive number of over 5,000 people volunteer to make this happen. If you weren’t able to attend Crufts, Channel 4 and More 4 covered the show with 16-1/2 hours on television, besides on YouTube, and Crufts is now also on TikTok.
Since it first became possible for foreign exhibitors to participate if their dog or dogs qualified for Crufts, the show has become probably the most international of all dog shows in the world. Indeed, to be able to enter your dog at Crufts, you need to qualify at one of the “qualifying shows” in your country. Since Brexit, it became again more complicated to bring your dog over for the show as you also need to have a travel passport. But this could not stop 3,457 dogs from overseas.
France was the frontrunner with 398 entries this year. While Italy was leading last year, it came in second with 387 entries. Ireland followed with 333 dogs, Germany with 332 dogs, and The Netherlands with 307. There were 49 entries from the United States and three from Australia, besides more remote countries like Brazil, Peru, and Argentina. From Asia, Japan sent nine dogs to compete and Thailand sent four.
Ukraine did send 10 dogs and one family even traveled 3,000 km. each way from as far as Odessa; not an easy trip especially due to the bad weather, which was very courageous. Dogs from Russia were not allowed. Coming from abroad, however, seemed not a decision made in vain, as three out of the seven Best of Group dogs were dogs from the continent, including the BIS and RBIS!
The performances and Group finals in the Arena every evening were very well attended, but there are always things going on during the day too; Agility, Flyball, Heelwork to Music, etc., but also demonstrations of all kinds like demonstrations of Police Work, Medical Detection Dogs, and one of the highlights on Friday morning, the International Junior Handling competition with the Finals during the evening program. Daily catalogs are still available and are essential if you follow certain breeds, but for the regular visitor, there is nothing better than the Official Show Guide.
This is well illustrated with useful and informative articles on keeping, caring for, and sporting with dogs. It explains how the show system works, gives background information and interviews, has a plan of the area and an “easy to find your shop” overview with all details of every trade stand. In the back is the Daily Planner with ring timetables and a Breeds Overview with details. It is also a kind of encyclopedia of dogs, showing a small illustration of every breed, with grooming tips, size, lifespan, and a reference to the booth in the “Discover Dogs Village” where you can meet almost every breed recognized by the Kennel Club.
I still think that the Show Guide is the best idea the Kennel Club has ever had. It is useful for children who have to give a presentation in school and it is just something to keep if you are thinking of keeping a dog.
Besides the well-known items in the main ring, like the winner of the Heelwork to Music with a stunning performance this year, and the Finals, there are certain items that are usually very much supported. There is Scruffts, for example, a show for crossbreeds and mongrels. People adore it!
Another one is Friends for Life, now called “Hero Dog.” Five dogs and their owners are laureates to win the 5,000£ first prize for any Charity Trust of their choice. The others win 1,000£ each. I was personally very impressed by a teenage boy and his dog who wanted to raise 30,000£ for a Roman Charity organization, close to the Ukrainian border, by sleeping outside in a tent for more than 650 nights—together with his dog!
Remember last year when Crufts was confronted by the invasion of Russia into Ukraine? The Kennel Club Charitable Trust immediately took action and raised over 255,000£ to help dogs and owners caught up in the conflict.
Crufts also celebrated this year the Northern Ireland Search and Rescue team for their splendid work in the recent Turkish/Syrian earthquake aftermath. And after an impressive display given by the Midlands Police team, a dog and his handler were publicly decorated for a remarkable intervention during the past year.
New this year, there was a special 150th Anniversary Stakes Competition on Thursday where 10 BIS dogs of the General Championship Dog Shows from 2022 competed. This is comparable to the Champion of Champions show held from time to time under the FCI flag on the continent; nice intermezzos of the Finals, but we all came in the first place to see who would win the Groups and who would finish Best in Show.
On Thursday, we had the Gundogs, the only Group that day and holding the two most popular breeds in the UK; the Labrador with 537 entries and the Golden Retriever with 491. The winner of this Group was the Lagotto Romagnolo, also known as the truffle dog. “Orca” is her name and she is four years old. Her owners, Sabina Zdunić Šinković and Ante Lucin from Croatia, and her handler, Javier Gonzalez Mendikote, drove 25 hours to get there.
The Working and Pastoral Groups were judged on Friday. “Archie,” a Dobermann from Chichester, West Sussex, won the Working Group. This was a lovely dog with a perfect gait, but unfortunately, an untypical tail, totally curled up over the back and not a saber tail. Archie, or better, Ch. Manzart Wise Guy, aged three, is bred by Mandy Everley and co-owned with Nick Hughes. The top entry for this Group was for the Newfoundlands with 174 specimens.
The Pastoral Group was won by the Old English Sheepdog, “Blondie,” who was handled, bred, and co-owned by Matteo Autolitano from Italy. The Old English Sheepdog is classed as “at watch” on The Kennel Club Vulnerable Native Breed list, having between 300 and 450 registrations a year.
Saturday welcomed the Terrier Group and Hound Group. Ch Blanca Vd Schoenen Bergen, a Wire Fox Terrier from Germany, and her handler Juraj Sokolic, from Croatia, won the Terrier Group. Aged three, she is owned and bred by Friedrich-Wilhelm Schöneberg. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is the most popular breed of the Group and counted no fewer than 349 entries.
In the Hound Group, the record was for the Whippet with 400 entries. The winner here was the five-year-old Irish Wolfhound, “Paris,” coming from Warrington, Cheshire, and handled and bred by singer-songwriter Chris Amoo. The Irish Wolfhound, the biggest of all breeds, is also a Vulnerable Native Breed, with fewer than 300 annual puppy registrations.
That left only two more Groups on Sunday, plus the BIS Finals. The Utility Group was won by Ch. Huffish Rewrite The Stars with Atastar, a Standard Poodle from Bristol, and his owner is Philip Langdon. “Jake” is four years old. Top breed in this Group was the Dalmatian with 237 entries. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel takes this honor in the Toy Group with 260 dogs in total, and it was one of this breed that won the Group. “Dublin,” or officially “Ch. Ellemich American Express,” aged 18 months, is co-owned by Michelle Chapman and Tanya Ireland, who handled him in the ring.
Top judge, Stuart Mallard, had a very tough task choosing the BIS, but when he reached out his hand for the Reserve BIS it was towards the Old English Sheepdog, “Blondie.” The climax was finally broken when he invited our Lagotto Romagnolo to step forward and crowned her as Best in Show!
I still remember the very first Best in Show winner from overseas. It was 2002 when the Standard Poodle from Sweden “Topscore Contradiction” won the title. This year, BIS and RBIS went to dogs from the continent along with another foreign Group winner, the Fox Terrier. There is logic in this, as only qualified dogs from abroad are allowed to participate, while there are numerous more criteria for native dogs. Last year was the first post-Corona edition, with “only” 1,843 dogs from the continent and a total entry of 16,294. This means that we are, more or less, back to normal or at least to the last pre-Corona show in 2020 with 19,909 entries and 3,171 entries from overseas.
Crufts is, and will globally remain, the top highlight of the year. And with some luck, I will be there again to see all my friends from all over the globe who I happen to see only once a year… and that is at Crufts. So be aware if you come to Crufts. Before you know it, you will become addicted to it!
Photos by Karl Donvil