Crufts, the world’s biggest dog show, held at Birmingham’s NEC Arena, experienced a significant drop in overseas dog entries this year, with organisers blaming the fall on Britain’s recent departure from the EU.
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There are 19,696 dogs taking part this year, down from 20,395 in 2019. Of those 700 absentees, 63% (440) would have been overseas dogs, which make up 3,171 of those competing over the weekend.
As the first agility contests got under way, several rows of seats in the arena stood empty, and stallholders noted the venue’s halls were less busy than usual.
The Kennel Club, which organises Crufts, said notification from Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that travel regulations for pets would remain the same during the Brexit transition period was only received after entries had closed on 20 January. A spokesperson said: “Crufts is a British institution with an international feel and is a great celebration of dogs, regardless of where they live. “As with many areas of British life, the future movement of dogs across the Channel in a post-Brexit world is a concern, and many dog owners – who needed to enter the Crufts by 20 January – could have been put off by the uncertainty around pet travel.”
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This year, 42 overseas countries will take part in the gundog, working and pastoral, terrier and hound, and toy and utility categories, down from a peak of 55 in 2017.Kathleen Roosens, from Belgium, who owns last year’s best in show winner, said she believed Brexit was the only reason fewer Europeans were entering Crufts. “Some people I spoke to feared they needed rabies tests, and others didn’t enter because of not knowing what ‘worse case’ could be,” said Roosens, who won best in breed for Papillons on Thursday with her dog Simon, the brother of last year’s winner, Dylan.
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Until 31 December 2020, when the transition period ends, dogs will still be able to travel to the show without quarantine using a passport introduced under the pet travel scheme in 2002.
After that, new arrangements for pets to travel around the EU will be made by the government.Annick Provost, 57, a bus driver from Belgium, said if regulations were to be toughened, she could be priced out of the competition. On Saturday, she is heading to Crufts for the 30th time to compete in a breeds competition with her Irish wolfhound Erin. “[After December] we hope they will only ask for a blood test in a recognised lab, then the dog will be fine to come over, but we are not sure. It could make it not only difficult but expensive,” Provost said.
Many of those selling dog merchandise said crowds were sparser than usual on Thursday.Kelly Clifford, a sales manager for the sustainable dog food brand Beco Pets , said the event was “very quiet”, while Angela Pinder, who owns the cruelty-free pet grooming product range Paw Naturel, said she had been surprised by the lack of footfall. Elain MacDonald, preening her shih-tzu Willow’s impressively sleek hairdo in between competitions, said she had been coming to Crufts since 1976 but had “never seen it like this”.
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Although more than 160,000 people are expected to attend the event over the weekend, a Kennel Club spokesperson confirmed ticket sales had been down on usual numbers, and that some ticket holders may not have attended on Thursday because of coronavirus fears.Earlier in the week, the major sponsors, Royal Canin and James Wellbeloved, pulled their staff from Crufts in line with a temporary policy that they should only attend large events if it is “business critical”.
Inga Finsell, a spectator from Eastbourne, who has been attending Crufts for more than 40 years, seemed unfazed. “It’s nice because it’s a lot quieter because people haven’t come. It was miserable trying to get around last year,” Finsell said.