After 24 years, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show has changed sponsors from Pedigree to Purina because the club doesn’t like Pedigree’s very effective “Adopt a Shelter Dog” ad series. The ads, widely regarded as the most effective adoption promotions ever, have helped Pedigree raise millions of dollars that have gone to the cause of pet adoptions. The ads were a redeeming feature of the Westminster TV presentation.
Westminster feels that the commercials are too serious for their broadcast. David Frei, head of communications for the club and on-air voice of the show, told the New York Times, “Show me an ad with a dog with a smile. Don’t try to shame me. We told them that and they ignored us.” Frei added, “Our show is a celebration of dogs. We’re not promoting purebreds at the expense of non-purebreds. We celebrate all dogs. When we’re seeing puppies behind bars, it takes away from that. Not just because it’s sad, but it’s not our message.”
However, the Pedigree ads have been celebrated because they don’t portray shelter dogs as victims, but as unique individuals. The ads’ tagline says it all: “Don’t pity a shelter dog. Adopt one.” Dogs are shown in a kennel environment but not behind bars.
Unlike some well-known fundraising promotions that do show quivering and abused animals to milk people’s guilt, the Pedigree spots are a class act. The dogs are serious and their level gaze doesn’t impose guilt but rather asks the simple, straightforward question, “Will you help?” The voice-over by David Duchovny is equally measured: “Shelter dogs aren’t broken. They’ve simply experienced more life. If they were human, we would call them wise. They would be the ones with tales to tell and stories to write.”
The dog show circuit, as wonderfully and pretty accurately lampooned in the film mockumentary “Best in Show,” is a world of pampered excess, political maneuvering, and money. I can attest to that fact because back in the mid-1970s, I spent a few months showing a dog on the greater New York circuit for a friend who had purchased a purebred and was obliged by the purchase contract to “finish” the dog, meaning establish him as a champion so that the breeder could notch up another championship on her kennel’s resume. The dog, my friend, and I soon tired of the nonsense, rewrote the agreement, and stopped showing.
Westminster Kennel Club is sanctioned by the American Kennel Club. Their decision to distance from the reality of shelter animals is right in line with the AKC’s staunch support of puppy mills. They can be counted on to oppose any progressive legislation anywhere that seeks to curb the abuses of puppy mills because the AKC makes its money by registering purebred dogs regardless of their health, the conditions under which they were bred, or any consideration whatsoever for the well-being of the dogs. The AKC makes big bucks from puppy mills and the pet trade. They couldn’t care less that millions of dogs, many from AKC-registered breeders, are dying in our nation’s shelters.
The Pedigree ads were the one redeeming feature to a show that otherwise mainly drives the pet trade. Too bad.
Co-Founder, Best Friends Animal Society