Rise in foreign dogs from as far away as Asia spark concern at Britain's Crufts show

BIRMINGHAM, England (AFP) - Growing competition from foreign-owned dogs has sparked concern that not everyone may be playing fair at Crufts, a British institution since Victorian times now billed as the world's biggest canine show.

This year's competition, which runs until Sunday in the central English city of Birmingham, involves almost 22,000 dogs, 2,987 of them from abroad - three times more than six years ago.

The lifting of the six-month quarantine in 2001 imposed on dogs and cats coming into Britain opened the doors to more foreign contenders and the numbers continue to grow, with France leading the pack this year with 377 dogs.

But just as human immigration is a concern for voters ahead of May's general election, the mix of foreign dogs - from countries as far afield as South Korea, Malaysia, Argentina and Bermuda - has not been universally welcomed at Crufts.

A Komondor dog is pictured on the second day of the Crufts dog show  in Birmingham.

Disgruntled breeders have complained that judges are encouraged to hand awards to foreign entrants to keep up the lucrative international interest in the competition.

"A lot of people are unhappy about the way in which foreign dogs are judged," one breeder told the Daily Telegraph last week.

The show's organisers, the Kennel Club, are "interested in making money, not in pedigree dogs," the critic who wished to remain anonymous said.

In 2014, two of the seven main prizes went to foreign dogs - James, a greyhound from Ireland, and Colin, a two-year-old Pomeranian from Poland.

Others complain about cultural differences, in particular with the United States, where professional styling of dogs is much more commonplace than in Britain.

There are fears the stiff competition may prompt people to go further, with The Times newspaper reporting tricks such as drugging a dog's food or putting chewing gum in its coat.

The worst, it said, is when an owner places a bitch in heat into the competition without masking its scent - sending male rivals into a frenzy.

The prize money is paltry - £100 (S$208) for best in show - but the owners of winning dogs can expect to make a lot of money from breeding.

Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club, said that underhand tactics would be dealt with by disciplinary action, including a potential ban on competing in future.

"So-called 'dirty tricks' which involve sabotaging other competitors are certainly not in the spirit of competition, and something that will not be tolerated, particularly if a dog's welfare is put at risk," she said.

She denied any favouritism towards foreign dogs and defended the competition's global nature.

"Crufts is known to be the biggest and best dog show in the world, which is what draws people from dozens of countries to enter each year, and we hope that this continues for many years to come," she said.