Crufts: Barking up the tree of controversy
By Diane Cooke
Crufts 2018 got underway yesterday and will, no doubt, bring forth a new controversy about the way competition dogs are treated.
Last year, the issue of cross breeding pedigrees and the health defects they can suffer was given an airing.
The world's largest dog show has previously been rocked by scandal - from allegations of poisoning, which proved to be unfounded, to 'dangerous dogs'.
In 1974, Crufts even featured in a murder trial. An Old Bailey jury heard how a man started an affair with a woman he met at Crufts, then was stabbed to death by his wife with the knife he used to cut up their dog’s food.
It was Charles Cruft who founded Crufts at the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington. He had built his reputation as an innovator in the area of public relations, sponsorship and advertising. He was born in 1852 and died in 1938.
The son of a goldsmith, he was born in Hunter Street, Brunswick Square in Bloomsbury. He was very bright and was educated at Ardingly College in Sussex and later, as an evening student at Birkbeck College.
Aged 14, he took a job as a post office boy with Spratts Patent Ltd. James Spratt, a Canadian electrical engineer and entrepreneur, had interests in everything from lightning conductors to dog food and it was dog food that made his fortune in the form of the Spratt’s Meal Fibrine Dog Cake. James Spratt later liked to tell the story of interviewing his new post boy who, precociously told him: “You know, I think this kind of business ought to do very well. I honestly do.”
He wasn’t wrong. Within months, Spratt allowed Cruft to pursue his newly self-appointed role as travelling salesman and, as a result, the dog biscuit business boomed.
Twelve years later, aged 26, Charles Cruft was in charge of the office and sales department at Spratt’s, whilst James Spratt concentrated on manufacturing. His methods, as later demonstrated in his dog shows, were to attract attention and to excite the imagination of the public as the most effective means of making a product desirable.
It was at this time that Charles Cruft got involved with the fancy dog show scene. In 1878, despite a staggering workload, he became Secretary of the Toy Spaniel Club. Rapidly, then Secretary of the Pug Dog Club and became involved with shows for Setters, Borzois and St Bernard’s.
By 1886, Charles Cruft had had enough of managing other people’s shows and decided that the time was right to launch his own. With his talent, reputation, network of influence and financial resources, he was eminently equipped to do so. At the suggestion of the Duchess of Newcastle, a formidable presence on the male-dominated dog scene of the day, he decided that London should have a terrier show.
The six Terrier shows run by Charles Cruft at the very central Royal Aquarium in Westminster between 1886 and 1890, were the roots of the Crufts show we have today.