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The Purebred Paradox

Is the quest for the “perfect” dog driving a genetic health crisis?

In the days leading up to the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the hotels around Madison Square Garden in New York City fill up with owners, handlers, and hundreds of purebred dogs. They come from around the country, spiffed up and ready to shine: prancing white poodles with their fur teased into towering pompadours, basset hounds with their ears held up in shower caps to keep them from dragging on the ground, bright-eyed Chihuahuas peering eagerly out of fancy carriers.

For these show dogs, who must be registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC), this is the Oscars—“the symbol of the purebred dog, in show rings as well as in millions of television homes across America,” according to its marketers. They vie for a hierarchy of awards: best of breed, best in group (sporting, herding, hound, toy), and, most prestigious of all, best in show.

In an interview filmed during the show this February, Kimberley Meredith-Cavanna explained the criteria that she and other judges consider when determining how closely these premium pooches match the “ideal specimen” prescribed by each breed’s parent club.“We’re looking to see what its head should look like, its eye set, its proportions, its size, how the dog moves, and how it should be built,” she said.

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