Comic Relief t-shirts: flat-faced dogs, no laughing matter

24 March 2017

Comic Relief has apologised over the use of a brachycephalic breed in its campaign merchandise this year, following a letter sent by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) on 20 February highlighting that demand for these breeds, which struggle with serious and often life-limiting health problems, is being fuelled by their visibility in the media and through celebrity endorsement.

Last month Comic Relief launched their annual t-shirt fundraising campaign with high street retailer TK Maxx, however one of the t-shirts caused concern amongst the veterinary profession as it featured 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, including French bulldogs, and explain the message members of the public receive when they see these images used by well-known national brands and celebrity models.

Flat-faced breeds have seen a boom in popularity recently, with the Kennel Club recently 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 doing day-to-day activities such as walking or eating."

The letter 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.

Last week Comic Relief responded, acknowledging BVA's concerns. In their response letter, Michele Settle, Director of UK Campaigns and Brands at Comic Relief, emphasised:
“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 admitted the t-shirts would be incredibly difficult to withdraw from sale at this late stage in their campaign (culminating on 24 March), from a logistics point of view. However, Comic Relief said they would like to consult with BVA during the development process of further projects should they use animal imagery.

BVA President Gudrun Ravetz said:
“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, however 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."

At this time TK Maxx had not responded.

BVA Media Office