At Crufts last week, as a five-year-old Scottish Terrier called Knopa (who competes under the name ‘McVan’s to Russia with Love’) was being awarded Best in Show, a protester stormed the floor holding a sign that read ‘Mutts against Crufts’, before being dragged off by security staff. PETA explained that the protest was against the practice of pedigree breeding, which leads to chronic health problems in purebred dogs as well as the neglect of mixed-breed dogs. (The BBC dropped its coverage of Crufts in 2008 after the Kennel Club refused to exclude from the competition some breeds particularly at risk because of generations of inbreeding.)

After returning from the competition, an Irish Setter called Jagger (show name ‘Thendara Satisfaction’) dropped dead, apparently poisoned. The Kennel Club is waiting for the full toxicology report before confirming any misdeeds at Crufts, but Jagger’s owners think he was poisoned at the competition. There are also unconfirmed reports that several other dogs fell seriously ill during or after Crufts. Jagger’s owners meanwhile don’t believe the poisoning could have been perpetrated by a fellow competitor, insisting instead that it was the work of a ‘random psychopathic dog hater’. ‘We can’t and won’t think this was an act of another exhibitor,’ they wrote on Facebook. ‘If we thought this we couldn’t go on.’

But reports of poisoning and other forms of sabotage are common at dog shows. In 1978, a Chow Chow known as Ukwong Adventurer, who had been Best in Show in five competitions in the run-up to Crufts, was found dead in his box at a show in the Midlands; two other Chows Chows were reportedly poisoned along with him. The owner of a champion Anatolian Shepherd claimed that her dog was fatally poisoned at Crufts in 1992. A year later, a champion Italian Maremma was poisoned (non-fatally) with beef cubes, and a Puli was attacked with acid, again in the Midlands. In 1996 a Chihuahua breeder was banned from Kennel Club events after drugging a rival dog with Valium at a show in Lancashire (she claimed it was a herbal remedy for travel sickness). In 2001 a champion Crufts trainer was fined for kicking a rival Collie in the jaw. In 2003 a false rumour was spread that Best in Show winner Danny, a Pekinese, had had plastic surgery (cosmetic surgical intervention is prohibited at Crufts, though some say it’s a widespread practice that judges choose to overlook).

Recent changes in quarantine law mean that the number of foreign entrants to Crufts has tripled since 2009, with some competitors complaining that its character as a ‘British show for British dogs’ has been undermined. Jagger, the poisoned Irish setter, was from Belgium.

The most recent scandal affects Knopa himself. More than 100,000 canine enthusiasts have signed a petition demanding that his handler, Rebecca Cross, be stripped of the title for mishandling Knopa during the judging, picking the dog up only by his tail and neck, a manoeuvre prohibited at UK shows (but permitted in the US, where Cross is from). The petitioners say that Cross is in violation of Kennel Club Rule A42, which prohibits competitors from ‘behaving discreditably and prejudicially to the interests of the canine world’. The Kennel Club has responded that it would not ‘be fair to strip the dog of its Best in Show title because the dog was awarded this prize based on its own merits’. They say they have ‘been assured that the dog, who must be our main priority, is happy and well’. Knopa is due to retire later this year.