Friday, 24 February 2012

Fictional dog of the week #8: The Littlest Hobo

You'd think that any stray dog would be looking for a permanent, loving home – not so the Littlest Hobo, whose preference for an itinerant lifestyle gives him the geographic reach to help out all and sundry.

The Littlest Hobo (or ‘Hobo’, although he didn't really have a name in the series) is a hugely intelligent, emotionally aware German Shepherd Dog. He was originally played by a very talented canine actor called London.

Wherever Hobo goes, he befriends those in need and helps them through their troubles. They might give him a name, which he’ll respond to while he’s around. But then, just as the people he’s helped begin to think they’ve found a friend for life, he’s off again looking for his next adventure.

Originally the subject of a film in 1958, The Littlest Hobo was made into a Canadian TV series that ran between 1963 and 1965. A new version was then made, which ran between 1979 and 1985 – that’s the version most people remember.

Hobo’s refusal to be anyone’s pet is perhaps what made the TV series such a huge success. Watching it as a child, I found it easy to put myself in the place of the people who needed Hobo’s help, so I also always wanted him to settle down as their family pet. For someone like me, who was always desperate for a dog of their own, Hobo held out a tantalising possibility that such a dog might simply come along one day. But then, at the end of every episode, he also withheld that possibility, reasserting the fact that, to paraphrase the Rolling Stones, you can’t always get what you want but you might get what you need.

Have a look at the show’s opening credits, complete with its unforgettable theme tune, to see Hobo in action and relive those happy childhood memories.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Fictional dog of the week #7: Rin Tin Tin

In terms of fictional dogs, Rin Tin Tin is a bit of a cross-over. He was a real dog who starred in many films, often playing a wolf or a wolf hybrid although he was actually a German Shepherd Dog. It may seem hard to believe now, but he's credited with saving the Warner Brothers film studio from bankruptcy.

The original Rin Tin Tin (also known as Rinty) was rescued, along with his sister Nanette, by American serviceman Lee Duncan who found the pups in a bombed-out dog kennel in Lorraine, France on 15 September 1918. The puppies were born on 10 September 1918, and were only days old when Duncan found them. He named his pups after Rintintin and Nénette, the 1-inch-tall woollen puppets that were given to the American soldiers as good luck charms by the French. He trained them to perform like the German war dogs he’d seen, and even visited a prison camp to learn more about the dogs from the German kennel master who had been in charge of the bombed kennel.

Duncan took his pups on a 15-day sea journey back with him to the US after the war ended. Unfortunately, Nanette became ill with canine distemper during the journey. Duncan put her under the care of a renowned German Shepherd breeder when he arrived in New York, but she died soon afterwards. So Duncan headed to California with Rin Tin Tin. In 1922, a friend of Duncan’s filmed Rinty leaping 11 feet at a dog show, and Duncan decided that the dog had the potential to be a movie star.

Over the next few months, Duncan was turned down by nearly every studio in Hollywood, but eventually he came across a film crew trying unsuccessfully to shoot a scene with a wolf. After much persistence, they tried the scene with Rinty and shot it in one take.

Public reaction to Rinty was phenomenal and he is credited with saving the film company, Warner Brothers, from bankruptcy. He went on to make 26 films for the studio, often playing a wolf or a wolf hybrid. You can see him in action in the 1927 silent film, The Hills of Kentucky.

Rin Tin Tin died on 10 august 1932 and his body was later moved to the Cimetiere des Chiens in Paris, since France was the land of his birth. Legend has it that he died in the arms of film star Jean Harlow on Duncan’s front lawn.

His career didn’t end there though. Duncan continued to breed and train dogs from the Rin Tin Tin line. Subsequent generations starred in movies until 1947 and in a children’s TV series, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, which ran from 1954 to 1959.

Rin Tin Tin has truly become the stuff of legend, a hero of fictional stories as well as a dog in the real world. Among his more recent fictional appearances he made a brief appearance in The Simpsons, and the first part of his life is brilliantly fictionalised in Glen David Gold’s wonderful novel, Sunnyside.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Dog-leg diary: warming up

Look at the photo on the left: it was taken on a warm day in January this year. Now scroll to the picture below. That was taken eight years ago when Charlie Whippet was five years old and Fargo was 11 months. Notice the similarity? It makes me so happy. After the trials of the past few years, it's a joy to see them playing like this again.

A couple of weeks ago, Fargo went to the vets for his six-month check-up. The sudden cold snap a few weeks ago had made his leg feel a little stiff, but the physio felt that this was more to do with the suddenness of the temperature drop and that he’d have coped better with a more gradual chilling out. Then the temperature plummeted for a second time, complete with snow, but this time I really felt that Fargo coped well with the colder weather. I do take things a bit easier on him when the temperature drops, but he seems to have got through the latest mini-ice-age OK.

I was overjoyed to hear that the vet agrees with me. Six months after his knee operation, Fargo’s leg muscles are looking good and he’s walking well. Unless anything goes wrong, I now only need to phone the vet every six weeks or so with updates on Fargo’s progress. And there is still a little progress to be made because, at last, we’re starting to reduce Fargo’s medication!

Fargo will always have some arthritis in his knee now and he might have to go back on the Metacam next winter, but we shall see. And in the meantime, I hope a slow, steady reduction in medication will coincide with a gradual rise in temperatures.

Charlie will be staying on his medication though. The cold weather isn’t friendly to his 13-year-old bones and it’s been making him a little bit stiff and sore. The Metacam helps him, as does the judicious applicaton of a heat pack if he's a bit sore.

Having said that, Charlie’s clearly been feeling very well in himself and he’s more playful than he has been for a couple of years - in fact, since his spinal surgery in June 2010. He might not be as steady on his pins as he used to be, but he's definitely happy and confident, and as long as he's warm there’s no stopping him.

The two pictures in this post make me so happy because, due to their various health issues, I haven't seen these two play like that in ages! Of course they do a lot less running now, but they still know how to enjoy themselves.

It's a good start to the year, and now we’re all looking forward to some warmer weather,so the dogs can enjoy the holiday we have planned for the spring.

Insurance made this possible
It's taken a lot of hard work to get Charlie and Fargo on their feet again, and it wouldn't have been possible if they weren't covered by good, cover-for-life insurance policies. Their treatments have cost thousands of pounds, and ongoing physiotherapy is making all the difference. While we're doing everything to prevent it, there's still a risk that Fargo's other cruciate ligament will rupture and he'll need more expensive surgery. I don't know what I'd do if my pet insurance was taken away from me now, but I know some people are already living with that nightmare and there could be more to come.

So I hope you'll support the Hound Out Halifax and Lloyds campaign on Facebook to try to pressure these banks into doing right by the pet owners they've left in the lurch.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Fictional dog of the week #6: Jerry Lee (K-9 the film)

In the miss-matched, odd-couple world of the buddy cop movie you need a clash of characters, a reluctance to work together, a certain animosity between partners that is gradually transformed into huge respect, deep friendship and even love. And what better way to achieve this than by pairing your detective with a dog?

That’s what the makers of 1989 cop comedy K-9 did when they cast James Belushi opposite a German Shepherd Dog.

Belushi plays San Diego narcotics detective Mike Dooley, whose pursuit of drug baron Ken Lyman has led to attempts on his life. Dooley is given a police dog named Jerry Lee, which is trained as a drug-sniffer, to help protect him. Dooley has never worked with a dog before, and the beautiful Jerry Lee is both intelligent and independent. So of course, he and Dooley start out hating each other, with Jerry Lee proving a destructive, interfering pain in Dooley’s backside.

It’s a fairly standard formula for a cop comedy, and the film was released to mixed reviews. But for me, the strength of the two leading actors – Belushi and the dog – makes K-9 a very special film. Belushi’s comic timing is perfect, and Jerry Lee has an expressive star quality that matches his co-star’s abilities. There’s a real chemistry between the pair that’s expressed in words by Dooley, and in expressions by Jerry Lee.

While the film credited Jerry Lee as playing ‘himself’, it seems that this wasn’t the real name of the canine actor. The web offers conflicting accounts of who he really was, with one source saying he was flown in from Germany. However, most accounts agree that Jerry Lee was played by a real police dog named Koton, who sadly was later shot dead during a real-life drug bust.

I can’t tell you much more because I don’t want to spoil the film for you. But watch this clip from K-9 to see some of the tussling between the two characters.

Next time: another famous German Shepherd Dog.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Horrified at Halifax, Livid with Lloyds

There's no denying that it's a fairly furious HoundHead writing this post - and it's all the fault of callous bankers.

I've always insured my dogs, and I've told anyone who'll listen how important it is to have a good cover-for-life policy that will help meet the costs of treating any long-term conditions. Over the past two years my dogs have needed more than £7,000 worth of veterinary treatment –Charlie was paralysed before he had major spinal surgery in 2010, while Fargo needed a cruciate ligament operation last July, not to mention Billy’s bite wound and both Charlie and Fargo's ongoing physiotherapy.

In every case, I was incredibly glad that the dogs were insured. I’d do anything for my dogs, but the truth is that I just might not be able to find that sort of money myself. Having cover-for-life insurance took a huge amount of stress out of these anxious times.

It’s not easy to swap and change when it comes to pet insurance. Any condition that’s already been diagnosed at the start of your policy won’t be covered by a new insurer. So you need to do your research and get it right first time.

That’s what many responsible pet owners did, choosing Lloyds or Halifax as their insurance provider. A sturdy choice, you might think, as both are established, big-name banks. So you wouldn’t expect them to simply pull out of the market and withdraw the cover-for-life pet insurance policies from under their customers’ feet, would you?

Well, that’s exactly what they’ve done, leaving people who did the right thing – who took the care to insure their pets against long-term conditions with a 'reputable' insurance provider – high and dry. Anyone who’s made a claim on their policy won’t be able to cover the same condition with another insurer. The only choice they have is to find the money for their pets’ treatment, or not to treat the pet.

Of course, it’s the banks’ prerogative to pull out of certain markets if they’re not profitable – but Lloyds and Halifax know they’re leaving their pet insurance customers with no other options, and they should honour the cover-for-life agreements they already have in place with customers.

Quite simply, Lloyds and Halifax are showing an outrageously callous attitude which, to my mind, constitutes an abominable breach of trust. And it’s not only trust in Lloyds and Halifax that will suffer. If such large, apparently dependable financial companies can leave customers high and dry like this, what’s to stop anyone else doing it? Who’s going to have this vital safety net pulled from under their paws next?

The good news is that pet owners are not going to take this lying down. Dogs Today editor Beverley Cuddy has already started marshalling the forces and encouraging people to write to the banks to voice their concern. Animal welfare charities and public figures are lending their voices to the cause, and pet owners are closing down their Lloyds and Halifax bank accounts. I hope it’s not long before these banks start to feel it in their balance sheets.

Please join the campaign and get your voice heard. Beverley’s written a very informative Coldwetnose blog on the campaign, and set up a Hound Out Halifax and Lloyds Facebook page. Your support could make all the difference.

*Picture courtesy of Coldwetnose.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Fictional dog of the week #5: K-9 from Dr Who

As a child in the late 1970s, already with a long-standing obsession with dogs, my interest in the canine world spread far and wide. The makers of Dr Who seemed to understand this, and tailored the programme according to my tastes by introducing a robotic dog called K-9.

K-9 first appeared in 1977. It was the year of punk (which went right over my sheltered, nine-year-old head although many punk bands would later find their way into my list of favourites), the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (at a street party a giant, bedraggled Womble tried to convince me that he wasn’t a man in a suit), and the first Star Wars film (which blew my tiny mind). The time was ripe to mix it up a bit in the world of Dr Who, eccentrically portrayed at the time by the excellent Tom Baker.

K-9 had something for everyone. For robot lovers, he was a robot and for dog-lovers, he was a dog – a talking dog at that, what more could you want? For long-suffering parents like my dad, who didn’t really want a dog in the house but had been cajoled into allowing one, K-9 represented the clean, clever and useful ideal that a real dog just didn’t seem able to live up to.

You can see K-9 in action on YouTube, including a brilliant clip of him playing chess with the Doctor, which shows how dog-like he could be despite his massive computer brain (sorry about the ad at the start).

Another of K-9’s strengths was that he could be upgraded with new capabilities. So he went through several incarnations. The first model accompanied the Doctor from 1977 to 1978 before deciding to stay behind on the Doctor’s home planet, along with the Doctor’s travelling companion. But even as children across the land began choking back their sobs at this sad goodbye, hope was reborn when the Doctor unpacked a box labelled ‘K-9 Mk II’ at the end of the episode.

The second K-9 was souped-up with an ability to predict danger, a handy warning mechanism for time lords in perilous situations. However, after being severely damaged in 1981, K-9 was only able to function in a parallel universe, so he was left behind along with another of the Doctor’s assistants.

That seemed to be the end of K-9’s Dr Who career, although both the first and second versions were later to appear in spin-off series. In fact, a third K-9 model appeared in his own series before showing his face in Dr Who at all. As my interest in Dr Who didn’t match my interest in dogs, I’d drifted off from the series by this time, so it’s no surprise to me that I have no memory of K-9 Mark III, apart from a hazy recollection of his self-sacrifice at the end of the revived Dr Who some six or seven years ago. I didn’t realise that he was then rebuilt by the Doctor and, yet again, given to his assistant, at the end of the episode.

From his appearances in spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, the fourth K-9 has gained the ability to hover and teleport, but he’s sadly missed from the actual Dr Who series. Apparently the original K-9 regenerates to gain laser weapons and the ability to fly in the latest spin-off series, K-9. I haven’t seen that though, as my reminiscent heart still belongs to the original model.

Another K-9 appeared in one of my favourite films of the 1980s. Read about him here next week.