Friday, 21 December 2012

Fictional Dog Focus: Santa's Little Helper

Ex-racing greyhound Santa's Little Helper lives with The Simpsons and is especially close to Bart. He was adopted by the family when Homer, realising that he had no money to buy Christmas presents for his family, tried to win some by betting at the dog track. Homer saw the name of the dog as a good omen, and so lost his stake when Santa's Little Helper lost the race. Seeing the dog cruelly abandoned for his lack of success on the track, Homer and Bart then took him home, where the rest of the family assumed he was their Christmas present.

Santa's Little Helper is a cut above the average cartoon dog. Despite being involved in many far-fetched storylines, for a cartoon dog he's pretty realistic. In a medium where dogs quite routinely wear clothes, walk on two legs and speak in human voices, this fictional canine actually behaves like a dog. He's playful, inquisitive and has bags of character, and when he gets bored he can be destructive. And he is sometimes bored and neglected, when the Simpsons get preoccupied with other matters.

Like many dogs in the real world, Santa's Little Helper is generally treated well by his family, but there are times when the Simpsons neglect his needs or misunderstand his behaviour. He plays a minor role in most episodes that reflects how easy it is to take our own dogs for granted - a fact which is thrown into stark relief in the episode where Santa's Little Helper needs life-saving surgery and his attempts to alert the family to his illness are ignored until he collapses in front of them.

And although he is a dog that became a Christmas present, Santa's Little Helper conveys important messages about responsible dog-ownership. In the very first episode of The Simpsons, when the family acquires him, he highlights the plight of abandoned racing greyhounds. He shows us the gaps in understanding between dogs and their humans - gaps that can often be addressed with a little effort on our side. In the episode where Bart takes him to a dog-training school after his behaviour gets out of hand, we see an example of harsh training methods rejected by Bart, who refuses to use a choke-chain on his dog. And in the same episode, it's by playing with his dog that Bart finally manages to reach an understanding with him, creating a stronger bond that leads to better behaviour.

At a time when rescue charities are bursting at the seams with unwanted dogs and the media often promotes irresponsible attitudes to pets, Santa's Little Helper often provides a refreshingly common-sense portrayal of a dog's life. And whatever happens to him (including one occasion when Bart temporarily discards him for a better trained dog), the mutual devotion between him and his family emphasises that a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A happy anniversary

A year ago today I made an important new friend: Stanley the Whippet. Stanley was 18 months old at the time and his owner had contacted Scruples Whippet Rescue for help as he was being bullied at home by her four-year-old Whippet. I offered to foster him until a suitable home could be found.

Many people tend to assume that a rescue dog has been badly treated, but having first met Stanley at home with his owner, I know he was loved and well cared for - to the extent that when things went wrong and he was obviously unhappy, his owner did the right thing and made the difficult decision to rehome him responsibly.

Stanley is very much a 'people' dog and, although he's pretty well balanced, he can get anxious if he's left alone too long. His owner worked part-time but her hours of work had changed, and Stanley hadn't taken to the new routine too well. His anxiety was preventing him from settling down at night when, instead of sleeping, he spent some time barking, chewing the furniture and peeing on the floor. On top of that, the other dog was stealing his food, so mealtimes were also fraught with anxiety.  All of these were recent changes in his behaviour and, whether the bullying was responsible or whether some of it was caused by Stanley's own anxious behaviour, he was caught up in a vicious cycle.

So I did have some concerns about introducing Stanley to the two Whippets and a Labradoodle I already lived with. They're generally quite a caring, sharing bunch, but what if they started ganging up on the anxious newcomer? I'd spoken to the people at Scruples and, reassured that if that was the case he'd be placed somewhere else, I went to collect him.

Stanley is a powerful dog with a lot of energy, and as soon as I met him he jumped up to try and lick my face. He was understandably anxious, especially when we put him in the car to take him away from his home, but he's also a very trusting soul. His name wasn't Stanley but I called him that straight away and he's always answered to it.

In order to get rid of some of Stanley's stress and ease relations between him and my other dogs, I started him off with a walk on the park as soon as we got home. I'd been told that he pulled really badly but I put him on a harness and he was fine. In fact he really enjoyed his walk and, although he was clearly a bit anxious for the first few days, there was no peeing in the house or any of the other problems he'd had at home. Meal times were a bit of an issue for a few days as Stanley seemed to expect his food to be stolen, which meant he left it as soon as anyone looked at it and Billy, my youngest Whippet, was ready to jump in and take it. But things soon settled down and Stanley bonded well with Billy. In fact, he bonded well with all of the dogs and they all eat happily in the same room before Stan and Bill swap over to clean each other's bowls.

Stanley's fostering soon came to an end as he just fitted in so well here that we had to adopt him permanently. Over the past year he's learnt a few things he didn't know before - most importantly the value of a nice quilt to curl up in. He's still careless about where he puts his feet, which can earn him a grumble from any sleeping dog he decides to walk over. And he still doesn't consider any of the dog beds to be his own; he'd rather curl up with Billy or Charlie, but they're good friends so they don't mind. In character and build he's a lot like Charlie, my 14-year-old Whippet, and the two of them play wrestling games that take into account Charlie's age and wobbly legs. Billy is closest to Stanley in age and they enjoy chasing up and down the garden or playing on the park, as well as accompanying me on an early-morning run. And with Fargo the Labradoodle, who likes to play chase games without chasing (he knows he'll never catch a Whippet), Stanley enjoys a game of wits by trying to steal toys.

All in all, Stanley is a real charmer with a very sweet disposition. He's one of the most facially expressive dogs I know and he talks a lot with his eyes and ears. He can get over-excited and barge the other dogs out of the way when he wants attention. But he's also eager to please, so if you tell him to wait he'll do his best to remember his manners. And despite his anxious disposition he's very trusting, so as long as he can check with me that everything's alright he'll take anything in his stride.

I'm so glad I met Stanley a year ago and now I can't imagine being without him. He seems to complement each of the other dogs perfectly, as well as adding his own unique personality to the house. He's always good for a cuddle or a game and although I didn't know him as a puppy, I can still see the puppy in him. It's as if he's always lived with us which is good, because this is his forever home after all.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Fictional dog of the week #20: Lennox the Pit Bull Type

Lennox is a real dog, but Lennox the Pit Bull Type is a work of fiction that threatens to end his life.

Lennox is in fact an American Bulldog/Labrador crossbreed, but because he looks quite bully he’s about to be put to death as a ‘Pit Bull Type’ dog.

Even if you’re not familiar with the Save Lennox campaign, you’ll probably have heard or seen something about it. It’s been rumbling on for over two years, since Lennox was taken from his family home by Belfast City Council dog wardens even though he hadn’t done anything wrong and nobody had complained about him. And on 12 June this year, the Northern Ireland Chief Justice ruled that Lennox should be destroyed.

The story began on 19 May 2010. According to the Save Lennox campaign website:
“Three Belfast City Council Dog Wardens came with the PSNI to his home unannounced. The Dog Wardens then told the Police to leave as there was no need for them at the location.  The Belfast City Council Dog Wardens then had tea with his owners, smoked cigarettes, chatted, played with the other family dogs after which the Dog Wardens then measured Lennox’s muzzle and rear legs with a dress maker’s tape measure and decided on those measurements without seeking any professional advice that he was possible ‘Pit Bull Type Breed’ and so he was led from his home to be put to death by the Council.”

Lennox's family tell how Belfast City Council issued them with a warrant of seizure which was incorrectly addressed and was for another location. The council also used the American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA) Incorporated standards without authorisation to identify Lennox as a possible Pit Bull type – resulting in ‘cease and desist’ orders from the ADBA which have also been ignored.

For more than two years, Lennox has languished in council kennels where he’s become overweight and photos of him have raised serious, widespread concern about his welfare. Despite being assessed and found not to be a risk by a number of behaviourists, Lennox has continued to be treated as a ‘dangerous’ dog. His owners – who also foster dogs for various dog shelters in Northern Ireland – have been refused any contact with him and haven’t even been told where he is being kept.

The campaign to Save Lennox has attracted support from MPs, the media, vets, animal behaviourists and welfare organisations, and for a while it looked possible that he would be allowed to go home.

Now, as Lennox sits under a death sentence, it’s more important than ever to support the campaign to save him. His owners are in talks with their legal team, and it’s important to keep the pressure up in the hope that this ghastly decision can be overturned.

The Save Lennox campaign continues. Please visit the website which lists a number of ways you can help, and if you haven’t yet signed the petition, please take a few moments to do it now. You can also add your voice to the Save Lennox Facebook page and to the growing number of supporters on Twitter using the #SaveLennox hashtag. Your contribution could help make the difference.  

It looks a grim picture at the moment, but as the stories tell us it's often darkest before the dawn. If we keep up the pressure, perhaps we can put an end to the fictional Lennox and ensure a happy ending for the real one, a crossbreed who has been treated atrociously and deserves to go home to his loving family.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Fictional dog of the week #19: Roobarb

Oh Roobarb, how I love your wobbly green doggyness! Roobarb and Custard are currently helping the PDSA to raise £1 million, so it seems fitting to make this wobbly green cartoon dog this week’s fictional dog of the week.

Together with his friend Custard the pink cat, Roobarb entertained a generation of children with his animated antics during the 1970s – and the pair returned a few years ago to entertain today’s youngsters.

It’s a traditional odd-ball, dog-and-cat partnership which sees the enthusiastic Roobarb making grand plans that fall apart while the lazy Custard, who lives nextdoor and has somewhat criminal tendencies, lies on the fence and makes mischief. Richard Briers - who should probably be the voice of all dogs - narrated the series and voiced all the characters, and the drawings were all done with magic markers, giving a curious, wobbly effect that I think is particularly suited to that type of dog who can’t keep still.

Although the original 1973-4 series was originally titled Roobarb, the partnership was so strong that it was universally known as Roobarb and Custard. The pair never really went out of fashion, and 30 years after the first episode, a second series was made: Roobarb and Custard Too. The rest, as they say, is history.

And Roobarb is a history-making dog. Devised by Grange Calveley who worked for an advertising agency at the time, he is based on the real-life Calveley dog, a Welsh Border Collie who was also called Roobarb and who really did climb trees. Inspired by his canine friend, Calveley pestered the BBC until they agreed to commission a series of 30, five-minute episodes – the first animated TV series ever to be made in the UK!

Roobarb is so popular today that he and Custard have a brilliant website of their own, where you can find out all about them and link to some of the later episodes.

Here’s a link to an early episode of Roobarb, and here’s an episode of Roobarb and Custard Too.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Fictional dog of the week #18: Harvey

Amid an ever-increasing number of TV channels, most of which are awash with irritating, repetitive and patronising adverts for insurance, the ‘Harvey’ adverts – made by Thinkbox to promote the ‘power of TV advertising’ – are a welcome flash of warmth and brilliance.

The original Harvey ad aired in 2010, and was set in a dogs’ home where a couple wandered around while innumerable dogs barked and whined for their attention. When they get to the kennel of Harvey, a small terrier type, the dog clicks on a remote control and shows a TV ad,illustrating all the wonderful things he can do – from ironing and cooking to driving the kids to and from school. In this first ad, Harvey is like a modern-day version of Nana, the children’s nurse from Peter Pan, and it’s no wonder that his video ends with the strap line, ‘Every home needs a Harvey’.

Harvey is played by real-life rescue dog and supreme canine actor Sykes, who was found as a stray in 2004 and now lives with stunt dog specialist Gill Raddings. Sykes has played many TV roles, but it’s Harvey who’s really captured people’s imagination, and who even has his own Facebook page with almost 3,000 followers.

Apart from the sheer brilliance of Harvey’s performance, I particularly liked the first ad because although it had massive appeal, it wasn’t trying to sell me anything. I’m not about to by TV advertising, and the stronger message for me was that there are a great many wonderful canine characters languishing in dogs’ homes waiting for their new owners. The advert got over 1 million hits on YouTube by the end of 2010, and I think it’s done some good in raising awareness about animal rehoming charities. Indeed, Harvey was such a successful character that Sykes was awarded Celebrity Canine of the Year in the 2011 Dogs Trust Honours awards.

That first advert was a tough act to follow, but this year, Harvey continues his adventures in a second advert that's just as good. Harvey is safely in his new home where his owner is trying surreptitiously to throw away his stinky old toy rabbit – a task of some difficulty, as many a dog-owner will know.

Once more, Harvey plays a TV advert, this time celebrating his friendship with Rabbit, accompanied by a brilliant song about friendship by the inimitable Adam Buxton. Again, as well as serving its purpose of promoting TV advertising to a business audience, this ad carries a strong positive message that doesn’t ask most us to buy anything. In fact, Harvey’s rather sweet message about being ‘friends for life’ both underlines the relationship between this fictional rescue dog and his humans, and convinces his owner not to throw away his old toy – and therefore, I assume, not to buy him a new one. They really know what they’re doing , these Thinkbox people.

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Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Stanley: It’s official!

We here at HoundHead Towers are absurdly proud today.

Just a few minutes ago, the postman delivered a Stanley Whippet’s official certificate of adoption from Scruples Whippet Rescue!

It was a proud moment for Stanley, who’s been treating the place like his own pretty much since he arrived here as a foster dog at the end of last November.

As I write this, he’s celebrating by joining his whippety friends Charlie and Billy in a spot of sunbathing (Fargo likes to lie in the shade as he’s a woolly fella). They’ve just managed to move from under the skylight indoors to the flagstones just outside before stretching out again. Stanley is hoping that, since he posed nicely for a picture with his certificate, he’ll also get a nice treat in a few minutes.

He tells me that later, when it cools down a bit, he and Billy will probably chase each other around like lunatics for a while before settling down on the settee.

I’m so glad Stanley found us – I was only going to look after him until he found a permanent home, but he’s such a character and brilliant fun to have around. I couldn’t imagine being without him now.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Finance with Fido

It’s not often that I get excited about a bank. Generally, they’re difficult things to get excited about, unless you mean an angry or frustrated type of excitement. But just look at Metro Bank!

A couple of years ago, I was delighted to hear that a dog-friendly bank was opening up in the UK. Since July 2010, Metro Bank has opened 12 stores around greater London and beyond – the latest is in Chiswick – and I really hope it will expand further. As I don’t live in London, I’m not even a customer of Metro Bank – but if a branch opened near me I'd be there like a shot.

Metro Bank says, quite simply, that dogs rule. It is the official banking partner of the Kennel Club, and it won the High Street category in the Kennel Club’s ‘Open for Dogs’ awards in 2011. Its refreshingly pro-dogs attitude goes way beyond letting people bring their dogs into the bank.

Giving the crunch a new meaning
Not only does Metro Bank welcome your dogs into its branches; it will also give them treats! And to make sure they’re the right treats for the discerning doggy palette, the bank is giving Fido a choice of three treats to sample before voting for the best biscuit, either in-store or online. You have until 31 May to vote, and you could win a basket of goodies for your faithful friend.

Putting its money where its mouth is
Since 23 April this year, Metro Bank has been putting its money where its mouth is by encouraging its customers to rehome dogs and cats from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. As long as you have at least £100 in your Metro Bank account and a receipt for the adoption fee dated on or after 23 April, the bank will refund you up to £65 for cats and £105 for dogs.
How good is that? It’s the sort of stuff that can make a real, immediate difference to the lives of dogs and cats at a time when more are being abandoned than ever. Of course it’s all good publicity for the bank – and rightly so. I’m so chuffed to bits to see this kind of commitment, and I think of many other businesses that could do with learning a trick or two from Metro Bank.

Fictional dog of the week #17: Hong Kong Phooey

Number-one super-guy Hong Kong Phooey is a classic combination of martial arts based super-heroism and bumbling inefficiency – all wrapped up in one of the coolest dogs you ever did see.

Hong Kong Phooey takes anthropomorphism to its limits by placing a talking dog who wears clothes and goes to work among an otherwise human population. Nobody bats an eyelid at this, they just accept him as part of the community.

Like any self-respecting super-hero (Superman and Clark Kent; Spiderman and Peter Parker), Hong Kong Phooey’s alter ego is meek and somewhat inept, with an alliterative name. Penry Pooch, the mild-mannered janitor, works at the police station where he botches general repairs with slapstick effect and is on hand to hear about any crimes that need solving. When crime-fighting calls, he dives into a filing cabinet to transform himself into a superhero who is… well, still inept but not so meek. As Hong Kong Phooey puts it: “It’s amazing how a meek little janitor can turn into the greatest crime-fighter of all time.”

Trusty sidekick Spot, the stripy cat, accompanies Phooey in his Phooeymobile, and takes care of the the actual outwitting of criminals while Hong Kong Phooey does spectacular fighting moves gleaned from his Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu. In fact, though he doesn’t know it, our hero would never even emerge from his transformative filing cabinet without Spot’s help. No wonder he’s constantly surprised at his apparent crime-fighting skill.

As with many a legend, men want to be Hong Kong Phooey and women want to be with him. Coming hot on the heels of martial arts film star BruceLee’s blistering success (and not long after Lee’s premature death in 1973), Hong Kong Phooey combines a laid-back, fashionably funky demeanour with the romance and power of Lee’s lean, mean, super-fast killing machine. Ladies– like Rosemary the switchboard operator – spend their days dreaming about him and their evenings attending Hong Kong Phooey Fan Club meetings.

Hong Kong Phooey also has a voice to die for, and that’s because he was voiced by Benjamin Sherman ‘Scat Man’ Crothers, who also sang the show’s iconic theme tune. S(cat Man had a long career as an singer, actor and voice-over artist. He deserves listening to, so here he is singing September Song for you to enjoy.)

There are many brilliant animated cartoon dogs in the world, and a heck of a lot of them – like Hong Kong Phooey – come from Hanna-Barbera. Hong Kong Phooey remains super-cool to this day, with a lasting appeal that puts him among the company’s greatest creations. I was surprised to find out that the series only ran for 16 episodes between 1974 and 1975, although each episode contained two adventures so there’s plenty of Phooey to go round.

What breed of dog is Hong Kong Phooey?
Quite simply, Hong Kong Phooey doesn’t need to be tied down to a breed of dog. He operates on human terms and appears to be unique in the world he inhabits. He does look a little bit spaniel-like, but I’d say he’s pure anthropomorphic mutt.

Watch this Hong Kong Phooey episode to see just how cool our hero is.

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Thursday, 17 May 2012

Stanley comes a cropper

Yesterday was not the most fun Wednesday we’ve ever had here at HoundHead Towers. I was looking after a friend’s Wire Haired Fox Terrier, an energetic one-year-old who loves to spend her day playing with my lot. For some reason, she especially likes Stanley and never tires of chasing him around, trying to nip his tail.

Anyway, it was all going pretty well yesterday morning – Foxy had been dropped off by her owner and we’d got past the initial frenzied greetings that tend to happen when these five get together at my house.

We went out into the garden together, so I could make sure nobody got up to any mischief. As usual, Billy and Stanley tore off down to the end of the garden, and Foxy went with them. There was some excited barking but all seemed well, until I called Stan to me and saw that he had a big gaping hole in his side! I’m pretty sure, though I can’t prove it, that Foxy had nipped at Stanley while he was running – the wound was at exactly the right height for her, and she is a bit of a run-and-nipper.

This had happened in the blink of an eye. There was no yelping and Stanley didn’t seem at all bothered by the wound. In fact, he didn’t even seem to notice it until some half hour later. It wasn’t bleeding profusely but, since it was an open wound, I needed to get him to the vets.

As I don’t drive, the first thing I had to do was track down a dog-friendly taxi firm. The receptionist at the vets helped me with that and, after a careful drive thanks to a very considerate taxi driver, we got to the surgery. Stanley was very brave and let the vet shave the area around his wound as long as he could stand on his hind legs and hide his face while I cuddled him. He got some compliments from the vet about his good looks, glossy coat and fantastic ears too.

Since the wound doesn’t bother Stan but being left at the vet’s for an afternoon anaesthetic would, we decided against stitches. He’ll have a scar, but I don’t think it will be that bad once it’s healed and, as a Whippet with a very thin coat, he’s already collected a few scars from minor bumps and scrapes – they show up all the more because they contrast with his black fur. So we headed home with some antibiotics and that should be that. Stanley was perfectly happy to walk the couple of miles back and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that, despite what his previous owner thought, he walked very well on a collar (we couldn’t use his harness as it would have rubbed on the cut). So there you go – a pleasant sort of anticlimax in the end, and so far, so good on the healing front.

It’s an odd thing with Whippets. People say they’re prone to cuts because they have very thin skin, but I actually think it’s because their coats are too thin to protect them. A Shar Pei on the park took a snap at Fargo a few weeks ago, and all it got was a few strands of his woolly fur, but Whippets don’t even have an undercoat, just the one thin layer for any teeth, thorns or other sharp objects to get through. To make matters worse, these dogs love to charge through undergrowth, chase each other and, certainly in Stanley’s case, barge each other out of the way. For all their trembling at the vet’s, they’re absolutely fearless when they want to be.

Today, apart from the hole in his side, all is back to normal and Stan already wants to go chasing about as usual. I do admire his carefree attitude, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on him in the future, especially when he’s playing with fellow youngsters.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Fictional dog of the week #16: The Bumpy Dog

I've owned a couple of bumpy dogs in my time – you know, the sort that seems to find it impossible to sit still. They’re incredibly friendly dogs and they wag their tails all the time, knocking things over while remaining blissfully unaware of the chaos they leave behind them. Fargo the Labradoodle was made for this category, as was Murphy the Wolfhound crossbreed before him.

Enid Blyton knew exactly the sort of dog we’re talking about, and she made him the star of Noddy Book 14, Noddy and the Bumpy Dog.

Where does the Bumpy-Dog come from? It’s a bit confusing really. He’s definitely from Toy Dog Town, but dogs don't seem particularly welcome there. In fact, it turns out that the dog is homeless.

Noddy meets the Bumpy Dog after an encounter with an angry sailor and his bicycle leaves the dog with an injured paw. The sailor accuses Bumpy of having run out in front of his bike and clearly sees him as a nuisance. We never find out the truth of who’s to blame for the accident, but Noddy’s kindness wins him the dog’s friendship.

Boundless enthusiasm
Enthusiasm is the word that pretty much sums up a bumpy dog. Their friendship often includes non-stop tail-wagging that leaves a trail of breakages in its wake, and hearty greetings that result in a spot of sitting on the floor with a face-full of slobber. They’re a good advertisement for consistent training, these dogs, but the Bumpy Dog doesn’t seem to have had any. His wagging tail hits Noddy and Tessie Bear in the face, he licks everyone’s faces, and he has a habit of sitting in Noddy’s chair, whether it’s in his car or his house.  As Noddy says, “He’s a very very nice dog, but awfully bouncy and jumpy.”

But bumpy dogs know how to charm, too. When Noddy tells Bumpy to go home, a familiar picture is painted:
“Bumpy whined sadly. He waited till Noddy was sitting in his arm-chair and then he ran to him and put his head on his knee and looked up at him so lovingly that Noddy couldn’t help loving him back, even though he was such a bumpy dog.”
Bumpy behaviour
Attitudes to dogs have changed since the book was written in 1957. But while Noddy and the Bumpy Dog contains some outdated ideas about dog behaviour, it does eventually espouse a more modern approach.

Unfortunately, the Bumpy Dog gets a smack for his attempt to sleep on Noddy’s bed – an action that makes Noddy feel sorry, but which seems to have been acceptable when the book was written. Apparently it was also alright to turn the dog out overnight, but in doing so, Noddy leaves his door unlocked so a goblin can get in and steal his money. Even as a child I saw a kind of justice in that.

And at least, when Mr Tubby Bear demands to be allowed to give the dog a “whipping” for digging up his seeds, Noddy won’t let him, nor will he let Mr Plod lock him up. In fact, he shows some proper understanding in his defence of the dog: “He didn’t mean to be naughty.”

Rather than train such a loveable but naughty dog, Noddy decides to get rid of him by buying him a bone and taking him to the Dark Wood where, having buried the bone, Bumpy will stay and guard it. As it turns out, this is where the Bumpy Dog saves the day, finding Noddy’s stolen money, arresting the goblin that took it and even carrying him to the police station.

After the Bumpy Dog's heroism, thoughts turn to finding him a home. Although Noddy would like to keep him, it wouldn’t be practical: “I’d like him to live with me – but he’s so very bumpy. I mean – I’d be sitting on the floor most of the time if I had him.”

In the end, it’s Tessie Bear who takes the dog, at the same time ushering in a more modern approach to dog training by promising to teach him manners so that he’ll soon be “gentle and sweet”. It’s a happy ending for a homeless dog, with proper thought given to which home will suit him best.

What breed is Bumpy?
Bumpy is something of an everydog, a type rather than a specific breed. However, from the original illustrations I’ve always thought of him as a mohair Poodle made by Steiff, Merrythought or someone like that. He’s very similar to a grey Poodle toy I used to have, which was a lot like the jointed dog in this group, apart from its colour:

More recently, the Bumpy Dog has had a makeover. He’s now a yellow dog who looks more like a Labrador than anything else. I prefer the older Bumpy, but given his everydog status and the popularity of Labradors today, his new look is understandable.

There have been various illustrations over the years that take in variations between these two, and that means Bumpy can be anybody's dog. The main thing is that he's such a loveable chap and in the end, he gets the understanding and care that he needs.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Credit-crunch canine crisis

It was with a heavy heart that I read that more than 35 per cent of the dogs abandoned in 2011 are still looking for their new homes.

The news comes courtesy of a study of 300 rescue centres, carried out by rehoming website on behalf of Churchill Pet Insurance. It found that financial concerns and relationship break-ups are the main reasons for unprecedented numbers of dogs coming into rescue, bringing animal rescue organisations to breaking point.

Sadly, the news is no real surprise. Dogs Trust pointed out last year that the number of unwanted dogs in the UK had reached an 11-year high, citing the number of unwanted bull breeds and a worrying trend in people ‘disposing’ of unwanted dogs alongside the economic pressures as reasons for the rise. But it’s a truly depressing reminder of how the recession is negatively impacting the UK’s families and their canine companions.

There was a glimmer of hope on the horizon for dogs that have been in rescues for a while though. In the past, dogs that have been in rescue centres for more than six months have been overlooked due to potential owners’ concerns about how well they’d fit into their homes. But now attitudes seem to be changing, with 56 per cent of 1,277 dog owners surveyed saying that they wouldn’t consider a dog who’s been in a rescue centre for six months or more to be a problem dog.

I’m trying to be optimistic about the situation. I know there are many reasons why responsible dog-owners might give up their dog for adoption, and I hope the fact that more dogs are going into rescue centres also means that fewer dogs are being rehomed privately through websites like Gumtree. And as Pete Bishenden, spokesperson for Churchill Pet Insurance, observed: “It’s worrying that so many pets are being housed in rescue centres because owners are struggling to cope. However, it seems that more prospective dog owners are willing, and would even prefer, to take in a rescue dog. Over 90 per cent of dog lovers know about the problems dogs in rescue centres face and are aware of how many dogs are currently waiting for new homes. As a result, more would-be dog owners than in previous years are investigating adopting a dog.”

So it's not all bad news, and awareness is building due to the hard work of rescue organisations and drives like the Pedigree Adoption Drive. But at the moment, as breeds come in and out of fashion and irresponsible breeders c- including puppy farms - continue to provide popular puppies, there are simply too many dogs and too few owners who are willing or able to look after them. And the worst thing is, there is no quick and simple answer to the problem. As co-founder Ryan O’Meara commented: “Whilst donations and funding for the welfare sector are as important as ever, the only real, long-term solution to the problems are for more dog lovers to consider adopting a dog rather than buying from breeders.”

There will always be people who, even with the best of intentions, realise too late that they really aren’t able to look after a dog. And there will always be people who would prefer a puppy from a breeder to a rescue dog with a largely unknown history; or people who have a particular breed in mind and want to make sure it comes from a responsible breeder. As the owner of both rescue dogs and dogs that I bought from breeders, I can see both sides of the story, but I will say this: if you’re considering getting a dog, or you know anyone who is, please make a rescue organisation your first port of call.

If you favour a certain breed, there are many breed rescues with dogs – and sometimes puppies – looking for homes. As a Whippet-lover, I was delighted to foster the wonderful, sweet-natured Stanley Whippet for Scruples Whippet Rescue at the end of last year. You couldn’t fail to love him, so of course I ended up adopting him. In the past, I’ve bought puppies because I wanted to spend as many years with them as possible, from puppyhood to old age. But at 18 months old, Stanley is still likely to be around for a good long while, and while like any dog, he’s a commitment to be taken seriously, he hasn’t been half as much hard work as a puppy.

And if you don’t mind what type or age of dog you get so long as it’s lovely, any rescue organisation should work hard to make sure you and your new companion are well suited. As the owner of 13-year-old Charlie Whippet, who I bought as a puppy, I’m also aware of the plight of older dogs in rescue, what wonderful companions they make and how much they deserve a cosy home. Older dogs aren’t over the hill, they’re just more mature and experienced – take a look at the Oldies Club and see for yourself.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Dog-leg diary: Long walks, short meds

As you’ll see from Fargo’s recent blog post, we all went on holiday at the end of March. We enjoyed some beautiful weather and days out. It was the first holiday we’d had since Fargo’s knee operation last summer, so it was a bit of an achievement in itself.

Over the past few years, our holidays have changed a little. Back in the day, we could all be quite carefree about how long we spent walking, whether we got lost or added a bit extra to our walk. Now, we have to be a bit more careful. Charlie’s doing really well but there’s no escaping the fact that, at 13 years old and having had spinal surgery, his days of carefree roaming for hours over hill and dale are over. And Fargo will always have some arthritis in his knee.

This doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy some good walks. I discussed it with their physiotherapist before we went away and he reassured me that his expectations were realistic. People who take their dogs on holiday will stay out a bit longer on a nice day, and the dogs will tend to get more exercise than usual. They’ll probably come back tired and a little stiff, but as long as they’re checked up and rested properly on their return they’ll be OK.

So that's what happened with Charlie and Fargo, and their stiffness wasn’t made any better by the fact that it turned cold and rainy on our return home. Charlie needed to take it easy for a good week or so, but despite a little bit of stiffness Fargo bore up pretty well and he soon limbered up in the pool.

Fargo has been coming off his Metacam gradually over the past few weeks. He’s now on a small dose every other day. As long as he’s OK on that we’ll be taking him off it entirely soon, but for now, especially with the damp and cold weather, we're keeping him on the low dose. Even when Fargo's off the medication, he’ll still go for regular check-ups and hydrotherapy, which he loves. But having got so far with reducing his medication feels like approaching the end of a long journey. I’m really proud of Fargo. He’s a very bouncy dog, but he’s managed to stay patient and not to do anything stupid, so I hope both his knees will be OK now.

Of course, it’s always nice to have some extra help, so we were delighted the other week to receive a six-week supply of Joint Care+ treats from Pedigree, complete with a ball launcher and a rucksack with Fargo’s name on it! Fargo loves chasing a ball around and he really enjoys a day out, so what could be better than his own adventure kit? Not much, I can tell you.

Joint Care+ contains green-lipped mussel extract to help keep joints supple. I’ve heard good reports about it and as Fargo is coming off his medication, now is a good time to see if it will work for him. At the very least, he’ll get a lovely fishy treat every day and I can’t see him grumbling about that.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Fictional dog of the week #15: Nana

Nana, the big dog who cares for Wendy, John and Michael Darling in JM Barrie's Peter Pan, has been variously represented as a Newfoundland, a St Bernard and – since the story began its life as a play in 1904 before being published as a novel in 1911 – whatever shaggy dog costume the wardrobe department can come up with. The Barries had owned a St Bernard called Porthos and then a Newfoundland called Luath, but both the play script and the novel make it clear that she is a Newfoundland.

So far so good – you might expect a large, gentle dog to be portrayed caring for children within a family. But at the beginning of the novel we find out that Nana doesn’t belong to the Darlings – she’s employed by them:

“Of course, they had a nurse. As they were poor, owing to the amount of milk the children drank, this nurse was a prim Newfoundland dog, called Nana, who had belonged to no one in particular until the Darlings engaged her. She had always thought children important, however, and the Darlings had become acquainted with her in Kensington Gardens, where she spent most of her spare time peeping into perambulators, and was much hated by careless nursemaids, whom she followed to their homes and complained of to their mistresses. She proved to be quite a treasure of a nurse.”

Nana baths the children, nurses them when they’re ill and walks them to school, always carrying an umbrella in her mouth in case of rain. She’s opinionated too. For example: “She believed to her last day in old-fashioned remedies like rhubarb leaf, and made sounds of contempt over all this new-fangled talk about germs, and so on.”

Social status
But this isn’t a world where dogs are regularly employed as nurses. The other nurses who wait for their charges at the school are humans who sit and wait on benches while Nana lies on the floor. We’re told that this is the only difference between them – but there’s also tension between them. While the other nurses try to ignore Nana “as of an inferior social status to themselves,” Nana herself “despise[s] their light talk.”

Nana doesn’t draw the line at other nurses either – she resents visits to the nursery from Mrs Darling’s friends, and if they do come she rushes around to make sure the children are well presented.

The result is that “no nursery could possibly have been conducted more correctly,” and Mr Darling knows this. But he, too, feels a little uncomfortable with his canine employee. Not only does he “wonder uneasily” whether the neighbours talk about him – he’s also al little threatened by Nana, and troubled by an occasional feeling that she doesn’t admire him.

Between adults and chidren
By having the Darlings employ a canine nurse, Barrie immediately draws a stark contrast between the worlds of children and adults.

While the children can accept and benefit from the ministrations of a large dog without question, the adult world is tightly bound by ideas about behaviour, class, practicality and responsibility. Mr Darling is uncomfortable at employing a dog and at his children’s belief in fictional stories, while Mrs Darling locks away her “romantic mind” in “tiny boxes, one within the other” and neither her husband nor her children can access the innermost one. Both Mr and Mrs Darling have their moments of gaiety, but these are constrained by the rules of adulthood.

On one hand, Mr Darling’s world of social constraints and correct behaviour threatens to do away with impose adulthood too quickly on his children. On the other, Peter Pan tries to stunt the children’s development while turning Wendy into some freakish child-mother, unable to cope with the responsibilities of caring for the Lost Boys. None of these characters are bad people, but they are unbalanced, either too strictly grown-up or too resolutely childish - and the Darling children are caught in the middle.

Nobody, apart from Nana, wants to let the children grow up at their own pace. With her kennel in the nursery, Nana occupies a space between the two worlds. She is devoted to her charges – and therefore to the world of the nursery – and as she nudges the children into line on their way to school, she is also gently nudging them towards an adulthood that will come in its own good time, and that can still include a sense of wonder.

Nana’s function as a bridge between childhood and adulthood is made especially clear when she tries to catch Peter Pan as he flies out of the nursery window, tearing off his shadow in the process. And probably, it’s only Nana who would be able to dissuade the children from flying off with Peter, if Mr Darling hadn’t chained her up outside in a bid to show who’s boss.

Mr Darling’s response to the children’s disappearance continues Nana's blurring of  boundaries. Taking the entire blame upon himself, he crawls into Nana’s kennel and refuses to come out until his children return, even travelling to work in it. He no longer worries about his neighbours’ opinions of him. In fact, he is completely humbled and defers entirely to Nana on all matters. He can’t quite shake off the adult world – in fact, he becomes something of a celebrity who is invited to attend many society parties in his kennel. But this celebrity status illustrates how superficial many adult values are, highlighting instead the importance of an open mind for adults and children alike.

Crucial canine
Nana plays an important role in the story of Peter Pan; a role that she couldn't play if she wasn't a dog. Of course, anthropomorphism plays a part in Nana's characterisation - for example in her assumption of social values and her expression of opinions on nursery medicine. But at the same time, Nana stays resolutely canine. Barrie's wish to emphasise Nana's canine nature can be seen in the original stage directions for the play of Peter Pan, which say that she “will probably be played by a boy, if one clever enough can be found, and must never be on two legs except on those rare occasions when an ordinary nurse would be on four.”

These behavioural traits distance Nana from the idea that she might simply be a human in dogs’ clothing – a distance that makes it strangely apt that Nana has most often been played on stage by a man in a dog suit. In fact, it’s impossible to pin Nana down into one world or another – she simultaneously occupies the world of humans, of dogs, of adults and of the nursery, and in doing so, she shakes the foundations of every assumption we make about any of those worlds.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

What I did on my holidays by Fargo Labradoodle

Hello there! Fargo here. You may know that a few weeks ago, we all went on our holidays to North Wales.

What with my knee operation last summer, it had been a year since our last holiday and we’d taken Stanley Whippet on board since then. Charlie’s getting on in years and my leg can get stiff, so while we were looking forward to some good walks in the countryside, we also hoped for some sunny weather to flake out in.

We stayed in a cosy little cottage at a place called BachWen Farm overlooking Caernarfon Bay. We had our own secure garden with a gate out into the paddock, and from there we could go straight down to the sea! We could see the sea and the mountains from our garden and we all enjoyed running around the paddock, especially Billy and Stanley. Nobody could keep up with those two, but they run round in big circles so I just waited to catch them every time they came round again!

It was the last week in March and the weather was really summery so we were able to go out loads and sunbathe in the garden when we got back.

We went to Criccieth Castle where I had a look out of the arrow loops…

…and to a place called Newborough on the Isle of Anglesey where there were woods and a beach in the same place – perfect! It was thirsty work though, so here’s a picture of me on the beach, having a drink from my brilliant Tazlab travelling bowl in the company of Charlie and Stanley.

One day, we all went on an old steam train on the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways. We caught the train from a place called Porthmadog, which I thought was fitting although I understand it’s not pronounced with a ‘dog’ in it.

The people who worked on the train were really nice – when they saw there were four of us dogs, they put us in a carriage at the end of the train so we wouldn’t get trodden on.

It’s rare that we all stay still in one place long enough to have a photo taken together, so crowding ourselves into the aisle of a train carriage has its benefits. We had our 15 minutes of fame after HoundHead sent our photo to the Dogs on Trains website!

We got off the train at a very pretty place called Beddgelert, where a legendary dog who suffered a miscarriage of justice was buried hundreds of years ago.

We all felt very proud, and Billy showed his sense of solidarity by having a long wee on the sign that points to Gelert’s grave. I think he meant it as a compliment.

A little bit further past the grave, in the remains of a stone building, we saw Gelert himself! Well, it was a statue of him really but it took us all by surprise and we did some barking. We all made friends though, even if Gelert didn’t have much to say for himself.

On the way back we travelled in the open-air carriage of the train. I wasn’t sure about this at first, but once I realised nothing bad was going to happen I quite enjoyed it. The Whippets took it all in their stride and there was also a black Labrador in the train who sat on the slatted benches. She kept trying to jump out of the windows though, whenever she saw one of her favourite walking spots. Her owner said we were all really well behaved.

We had such a lovely time in Wales that we really didn’t want to leave – I’m always reluctant to get in the car on the last day of my holidays. But the weather helped us feel OK about it because the first signs of rain came on the morning we had to leave. We can’t wait for our next holiday, so now we’re busy looking for another seaside cottage that will welcome all four of us dogs!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Fictional dog of the week #14: Pilot

Brontë-world – a place of windswept moorland, raging passions, men with big heads (in Charlotte's case at least)… and dogs.

Dogs don’t play a huge role in the novels of the Brontë sisters, but they can’t quite be ignored either. For instance, Mr Rochester’s dog Pilot is barely seen in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and yet his very presence tells the readers a fair amount about the novel’s two main characters.

While his breed is never actually specified in the novel, it’s clear that Pilot is a Landseer Newfoundland – so-called because this breed was a favourite subject of 18th-century painter Edwin Landseer. On her first encounter with him and Rochester, Jane describes Pilot as ‘a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees… a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head.’

Pilot immediately makes one thing abundantly clear about Rochester: while he may be no oil painting, he has an inner beauty that a dog, unencumbered by aesthetic judgement, understands. Pilot’s trust in Rochester, his protectiveness of him and obedience to any command he gives, suggest the respect due to a leader who is courageous, gentle and kind. In fact, the gentle side of Rochester’s nature is hinted at the very next time Jane sees the two together when, resting up after his fall from his horse, he watches Pilot ‘basking in the light and heat of a superb fire’ with Rochester’s young ward, Adèle, kneeling next to him.

As well as providing a simple symbol of Rochester’s better qualities, Pilot also embodies Jane’s own priorities. A plain orphan girl, well-educated but with no expectations beyond the role of governess, Jane doesn’t worry herself with the world of superficial beauty and instead looks to find beauty within. As the embodiment of both Jane’s and Rochester’s strengths, Pilot also subtly reinforces the sense that the two are soul mates.
Pilot also helps to bring the novel to life in the mind’s eye. Rochester and Pilot complement each other physically, as both have an athletic build, a large, shaggy head and a dogged personality. By pairing Rochester with such a picturesque and often-painted dog, Charlotte Brontë succeeds in producing a striking visual image of him using words alone.

When Jane returns to find Rochester, blinded and crippled, ‘his old dog, Pilot’ is still with him but both seem out of kilter; weakened by age and loss. In this scene, it is Pilot – ‘removed out of the way, and coiled up as if afraid of being inadvertently trodden upon’ – who foreshadows Rochester’s own recovery. Pilot is rejuvenated at the sight of Jane, pricking up his ears, yelping and jumping up in excitement. Rochester’s recognition of Jane and his own rejuvenation – the partial restoration of his sight and the birth of their child – is a more gradual process, but as prefigured by Pilot, it comes sure enough as the soul mates are reunited and balance restored.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Triumph and tragedy for garden birds

So far, this week has brought good news and bad news on the bird front.

We have several birds nesting in or around our garden, including robins in the robin nesting box for the first time. And while it seems as if it’s been raining non-stop for weeks, there have been a surprising number of clear mornings when all of birdkind seems to go bobbing about the garden looking for food and nesting materials.

On those mornings, Fargo has been doing his bit for their burgeoning families, as I give him a good going over with the undercoat rake and spread the proceeds around the garden. I’ve watched blue tits, coal tits, robins, wrens and goldfinches all collecting it up within the space of an hour or so, and it’s really nice to think that Fargo’s hair is helping to keep the various baby birds safe and warm. They’re too quick for me to get a good photo, so here’s an artistic impression of sorts.

Unfortunately, it turns out that not all my dogs are completely bird-friendly. As I finished congratulating myself on the Whippets’ cat-like ability to deal with big spiders, flies and any other crawlers/flyers that bother me, the feline qualities of these dogs came back to haunt me.

It hadn’t rained for the whole day, and I was watching Billy and Stanley pottering around the garden when Billy suddenly dived into the hedge and came out with something in his mouth. Even as I ran down the garden to see what it was, he dropped it and Stanley picked it up. Stan left it when I told him to, but by the time I was close enough to see that it was a fledgling dunnock, the poor thing was already breathing its last.

It’s really sad. Only the previous day, I’d been watching that dunnock (or one very like it) sitting on the lawn by the hedge under the watchful eye of its parents. Now, I keep seeing the adult dunnocks and I feel really guilty.

Of course, Billy was only doing what comes naturally and he didn’t even want to kill the bird. He’s often caught frogs, which he picks up and drops to see if they’ll move. They play dead and as long as I keep him away from them long enough, they’ll recover and hop away unscathed. Despite his interest in wildlife and a tendency to treat small animals as playthings, Billy has a very gentle mouth, but baby birds just aren’t that resilient and I’m going to keep a watchful eye on Billy and Stan to make sure they don’t do away with any more feathered friends.

Looking on the bright side, they keep the garden pretty clear of cats, so despite yesterday’s tragic event, at least one major threat to birdkind is minimised.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Fictional dog of the week #13: Wordsworth

It’s a traditional image, the child who’s supposed to be asleep with the lights out reading surreptitiously by the light of a torch. Take that a step further and you may just arrive at Cosgrove-Hall’s tripped-out 1970s kids’ cartoon series Jamie and the Magic Torch.

Every episode would begin with Jamie’s mum tucking him up in bed and wishing him goodnight – but as soon as the lights were out he’d be wide awake, and his dog Wordsworth would scurry out from under the bed carrying a torch that opened up a helter-skelter portal to another world called Cuckoo Land.

Wordsworth is an Old English Sheepdog – a breed that was immensely popular in the 1970s after the Dulux TV commercials shot it to stardom with such force that many people still know these dogs as ‘Dulux dogs’.

Wordsworth speaks with a kind of ‘country bumpkin’ accent, possibly because of the breed’s pastoral associations but in this crazy world, who knows? He wears a red bobble had over a fringe that completely covers his eyes, and he has a mischievous sense of humour. Like many a canine sidekick in children’s animation, he can be a bit cowardly and he’s not quite as smart as Jamie. But he is the faithful companion that any child needs when embarking on nocturnal adventures in an alternative universe, and he always makes sure Jamie is safely back in his own bed before morning.

Originally broadcast by ITV in 1976-1979, Jamie and the Magic Torch enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the 1980s. It was written and narrated by Brian Trueman, who was later responsible for such gems as DangerMouse and Count Duckula.

But for me, nothing holds a candle to Jamie and the Magic Torch, which struck the perfect balance between waking and dreaming, sanity and madness, with animation reminiscent of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, a surreal cast of characters and an insanely catchy intro song – and of course, that essential companion for tripped-out nocturnal journeys, a lovely big dog.

Watch an episode to see what happens when Jamie and Wordsworth encounter The Ghost of Spiny Mountain.