This year over £73,000,000 was raised for Comic Relief, which came to a close on Friday (24 March). The campaign has been a huge success once more, but it faced some criticism for the use of a brachycephalic breed on some of its merchandise.
Comic Relief organisers have now apologised for their use of 'Albert', a French Bulldog, after a letter from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) highlighted 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. Flat-faced breeds have seen a boom in popularity in recent years and the Kennel Club announced last month that French Bulldogs could soon overtake Labradors as the most popular breed in the UK.
In the BVA's letter, sent on 20 February, BVA President Gudrun Ravetz said, "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 for the merchandise featuring Albert be removed, and recommended the charity seeks veterinary advice on future campaigns featuring animal imagery.
Last week, Michele Settle, Director of UK Campaigns and Brands at Comic Relief, acknowledged the BVA's concerns and 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."
As the campaign culminated last week, Comic Relief could not withdraw the t-shirts but said they would consult with the 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."