Comic Relief has apologised over the use of a brachycephalic (flat-faced) breed of dog in its campaign merchandise this year, following complaints by the British Veterinary Association that demand for these breeds – which struggle with serious health problems – is fuelled by their high profile and celebrity endorsements.
Last month Comic Relief launched its annual t-shirt fund-raising campaign with retailer TK Maxx. One of the t-shirts caused concern amongst vets as it featured a French bulldog, Albert.
Acknowledging the charity’s good work, BVA President Gudrun Ravetz wrote to both Comic Relief and TK Maxx to raise the health issues faced by brachycephalic breeds. These breeds have seen a boom in popularity, with the Kennel Club reporting that the French bulldog could soon be the most prevalent breed in the UK.
In the letter, the BVA President explained: “Whilst many people perceive the squashed wrinkly faces of these breeds as appealing, in reality dogs with short muzzles can struggle to breathe. Albert is a particularly poor example of this as his nose is so short he may have difficulty breathing even when walking or eating.”
The BVA asked that the t-shirts and other merchandise containing Albert’s image be removed from this year’s campaign, and recommended the charity seeks veterinary advice on any future campaigns they may plan to run using animal imagery to ensure it promotes good health and welfare.
In a response, Michele Settle, Director of UK Campaigns and Brands at Comic Relief, said:
“We take animal welfare very seriously and when using animals in our campaigns we make all efforts to ensure that the animals are treated well. We are not aware of the specific issues you raise regarding brachycephalic breeds.”
Comic Relief said it would be “incredibly difficult” to withdraw the t-shirts from sale at this late stage in its campaign. However, it said it would like to consult with BVA during the development process of further projects should they use animal imagery.
The BVA says: “Comic Relief’s response is encouraging and suggests they take animal welfare seriously. Comic Relief t-shirts help raise so much money for good causes at home and overseas, but we wanted to highlight the poor animal health and welfare being perpetuated by the use of Albert on their merchandise.
“Whilst we were very pleased to get a positive response, it highlights how many companies do not understand the significant health and welfare problems brachycephalic breeds can suffer, emphasising how important it is that vets continue to speak out on this issue.”
TK Maxx has not yet responded.