A Valediction for John Noakes

It is with mixed feelings that I heard of the death of television presenter John Noakes. His final years had been blighted by Alzheimer’s disease and he narrowly escaped death when he wandered from home in the summer of 2015. The pain of realising that this complex, intelligent man, so full of life on screen, had been transformed by the ravages of the illness was visceral for those of us who only knew his work persona as well as those who were his friends and family.

In so many ways this marks the passing of an era; not just because those of us who grew up watching him on Blue Peter are now well into middle age, but because the creative environment that enabled him to shine on television is long gone. His colleagues on Blue Peter providing inspiration and leadership for a generation as well as enabling those of us who did not have pets at home to experience what it was like to own tortoises, cats and, of course dogs, even if it was vicariously.

Although his first official companion canine was Patch, son of the unforgettable Petra, it is Shep with which he will forever be associated. Although officially “property” of the BBC, one suspects that Shep may have been the dog of a lifetime for John Noakes; Shep was gifted to him when he left the programme in 1978. Contractual restrictions to which John Noakes did not agree meant that they did not live together for Shep’s remaining nine years, although Shep appeared in
Go With Noakes which overlaped his time at Blue Peter and ended in 1980.

What is striking looking at still images and videos of John Noakes with Shep is the bond between the two. Even when a still puppy, they had clearly established a strong rapport.

Television is a very different place today. Blue Peter is screened on a specialist channel as the medium has fragmented and, tragically, Television Centre and the Blue Peter garden were sold to property developers in 2013. Although the outer fabric of the building is Grade II listed, it will never be more than an empty shell, a sad monument to the greed that has trampled over the creativity and idealism that allowed the likes of John Noakes to flourish.

KC Plays Tail End Charlie

The KC has just published a report entitled What the Kennel Club does for Dog Health

Many dog owners may feel that the title is a bit rich given that canine health would probably not be in such dire straits were it not for the KC’s implementation of closed stud books and perpetuation of breeding for looks.

The Kennel Club has been playing tail end Charlie in the court of public opinion since at least 2008. Its brand is being seen as being increasingly toxic and any efforts that it makes to improve the situation are likely to be doomed to irrelevance in the face of the scale of the problem that is, after all, largely of their own making.

Is it too little too late?

Read more…

Man Bites Dog

Last year, an American bulldog dog killed a three year old. Although fatalities from dog attacks are still extremely rare, incidents such as this still crop up a few times a year and of course attract far more attention than the 1,700 people killed in traffic accidents or the 78,000 deaths directly attributable to smoking that occurred over the same period.

The owner of the American bulldog has just been given a 12 month custodial sentence, suspended for two years. She was also disqualified from owning a dog for 10 years and ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work.

The dog of course was euthanised.

So how will this punishment help? It certainly won’t bring the dog back. It won’t prevent other people and other dogs from ending up in the same position, not to mention the 7,000 or so people who will still be bitten by dogs and require hospital treatment in any given year.

In theory, this woman and others like her could just go out and get another dog in 2027 and nothing will have been done to educate her in responsible dog ownership. Her community service is likely to entail removing graffiti, clearing litter or decorating public buildings. How much more beneficial if she spent those 100 hours – equal only to two weeks work – learning about dogs.

The causes of such attacks are usually depressingly similar. Bad breeding, lack of socialisation, bad handling, lack of stimulation and exercise, lack of training, poor diet.

The owners often live in similar depravation. It is hardly surprising that most of the people who get bitten and even killed by dogs are relatively poor; the impoverishment being as much social as financial. Just as the status dogs of the relatively wealthy often comprise gun dogs that suggest the landed estate, the dogs of the poor are usually musclebound hulks providing the illusion of power that is lacking for people with minimal education, poor job prospects and limited opportunities. There’s also the chance that they will protect you from the loan shark or the drug dealer or the gang member.

Wealthy people just give their dogs away when they can no longer cope with their lack of training and socialisation or dump them on the dog minder for most of their lives. The poor compound their errors until, every so often, the dog, through no fault of its own, kills someone.

I Hope That Bad Owners Don’t Come In Threes

My poor dog hasn’t had too good a time of it in the last few days. First we encountered a dog running loose in the park, owner nowhere in sight. It wasn’t until after he had happily played with my dog that I realised that his eyes were oozing with a green discharge.

Yep, conjunctivitis. I eventually caught up with the owner who casually remarked that he had been “Meaning to do something about it”. Somehow refrained from adding “What? Infect as many other dogs as you can before you consider that your dog might not be very comfortable and his eyesight might even be compromised if you leave it any longer?”

So much for the Animal Welfare Act.

Half way through a week of chloramphenicol tid, he was attacked by a seriously aggressive boxer that actually pursued him when he had moved away. OK, that was annoying. What made me really mad was that the owner admitted that she knows that her dog is aggressive and had done nothing about it. Needless to say, the dog is uncastrated. She did proceed to hit it and shout at it. Miraculously, the dog didn’t turn on her – this time. She was a polite woman who was in total denial about her dog and, even though she knew that she had little control, still let it run loose in the park, unmuzzled.

Warning other owners on the way out of the park, I discovered that they all knew exactly which dog I meant as every one of them had either had a problem or witnessed the dog attacking other dogs. So had the park warden.

No serious damage done this time, but it remains to be seen if the dog wardens from the two boroughs that run the park will follow it up.