I wonder if James Herriot would have prescribed DogTV?
Dogtv.com claims its service ($4.99 a month) provides pooches, especially those with separation anxiety, with “relaxing, stimulating and behavior-improving content.”
“We have created programs,” claims Ron Levi, founder and chief content officer, “where every frame, second and sound have been tailored to fit the way dogs see and hear the world.”
James Herriot was the nom de plume of real-life Yorkshire veterinarian James Alfred Wight, whose little anecdotes about the animals he treated became a beloved BBC television series called “All Creatures Great and Small.”
Herriot practiced at a time of significant change. The economy was transitioning from an agricultural to an industrial age — greatly hastened by a worldwide depression.
Science was making inroads into farming productivity as well as in veterinary medicine. And folks were on the move — rapidly relocating from family farms to urban centers — and as they secured employment there, they not only found life more convenient with electricity and horseless carriages, but also more satisfying with added discretionary income and leisure time.
Veterinarians such as Herriot, instead of urging their jalopies across muddy roads to assist ewes, mares and sows into bringing new life into the world, found themselves confined to surgeries, inoculating puppies or dispensing pills, prolonging the lives of elderly cats.
Even the way people fed their animals was altered. In 1860, Jack Spratt (no relation to the fat-adverse nursery rhyme fellow) came up with a bone-shaped biscuit of wheat, vegetables, beetroot and beef blood that flew off grocery shelves — first in England; then in America. Inexpensive horse meat (readily available after World War I) paved the way for canned dog food.
Right from the beginning, however, pet food manufacturers, who currently turn out 12 million pounds of food an hour, managed to convince consumers that feeding table scraps was tantamount to animal abuse. They should leave, these businessmen maintained, a pet’s nutrition to the experts.
The persistent persuasive power of their message can be demonstrated not only by the grocery store shelf space devoted to canned and kibbled dog food — more than breakfast cereals or baby food — but also by the average pet food bill still hovering around $183 a month, despite a recent recession when so few diners ate out that major restaurant chains were shuttered.
Think about this. During the past two decades, the dollars devoted to pets has more than tripled. We will spend $55.53 billion this year — with a staggering 25 percent going to pay the vet bill. Yet, today’s vets aren’t getting rich — not any more than Herriot did. High-tech equals high costs.
Everybody in Herriot’s Yorkshire community used to laugh at Mrs. Pumphrey, who seemed to have more money than brains. In fact, she treated her Pekingese like an oriental potentate. A favorite episode features her Tricki-Woo close to death, obese from such rich and exotic cuisine as lobster and pheasant.
Herriot immediately realizes the dog needs to go on a medically supervised fast, so he brings Pumphrey’s pampered pooch home for a couple of weeks. And after romping daily with the pack at Skeldale House, Tricki-Woo returns, svelte and energetic.
While Mrs. Pumphrey views the transformation as a miracle of modern science, Herriot eventually straightens her out in much the same way Cesar Millan does the masters and mistresses of out-of-control curs appearing on his “Dog Whisperer” television show.
Millan, who claims he doesn’t train dogs as much as owners, sums up what’s wrong with American mutts: “Many dogs grow up without rules or boundaries. They need exercise, discipline and affection — in that order.”
Too many puppy parents, like Pumphrey, are all about “loving,” but refuse to admit that “love” includes long walks, healthy diets and just saying “no” to annoying antics as well.
According to Millan, “A dog’s mother begins training puppies from birth. She makes them wait for food; she controls when they play and how far they travel. Adult dogs need these same rules, boundaries and limitations from you, their pack leader.”
Television isn’t going to teach your dog not to gnaw on the coffee table. Television isn’t going to stop him from eating out of the garbage can. Television isn’t going to silence his howling.
When Gilad Neumann, the CEO of DogTV, was asked if he owned a dog, he said, without hedging, “no” — his job has him traveling 50 percent of the time. Apparently, DogTV has its limits.
Lastly, do dogs really watch TV? While YouTube might boast more than 5,000 videos of dogs glued to the boob tube — the accompanying photo shows my Yorkie cheering on contestants from Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl” — and a AKC/Iams survey reports that more than half showed “some interest” in the big screen.
Here’s another question I’d put to Herriot: “Do we really need but another family member competing for the remote control?”