Sunday 26 February 2012

Pedigree Dogs Exposed - Three Years On

In the old days, productions used to send out tx cards, as they are known (tx stands for transmission)  via post. These days, they are emailed, saving money and trees.

Here's the one for tomorrow's broadcast. Please feel free to forward on - or print off and burn, as you see fit. 

The dog on the tx card above is my flatcoat Freddie, in 1988 when he was about a year old.  Fred was the inspiration for Pedigree Dogs Exposed - not because he died horribly young of some awful inherited disease - but because he didn't. Fred was by my side for a pretty amazing 15 years. Here he is just a few months before he died in 2003, in the long grass on Hampstead Heath in London, having just retrieved the tennis ball between his paws.

It was after Freddie died that I found out how incredibly lucky I had been - because over 50 per cent of flatcoats develop cancer by the eight of eight.  

If I had lost this amazing dog a day sooner, I would have felt cheated. If I'd lost him seven years earlier, I would have been devastated.  So I thought I'd start to research why so many flatcoats die prematurely of cancer. That research led me to other breeds and... well, you know the rest.

Flatcoats will always be the breed that is special to me. They represent both the best and worst of pedigree breeding - the worst because of their terrible cancer burden; the best because - at their best -  they are smart and beautiful and brilliant retrievers: the connosseur's gundog.

I still have a flatcoat in my life - Maisie, a rescue. This is my favourite picture of her - out picking-up on a wet day a couple of years ago (she is 10 now).  I know it doesn't look much, but I love it because this is the real, working Maisie - absolutely intent on the job in hand, her face flecked with white from previous retrieves through brambles.

The day this picture was taken, a pheasant fell the other side of a live electric fence. I didn't know it was live when I sent Maisie to pick up the bird. She yelped as she went through it, got the bird then barely hesitated as she approached the wires on the way back. Dead pheasant in her mouth, she came back through the fence, gave a muffled yelp as she was hit again, but didn't drop the bird until she got back to me. 

Now she was bred to do that and it's special. And, in truth, I have a high expectation of Maisie not succumbing to cancer just yet because her breeder, who breeds working flatcoats, does not breed for fashion, but instead to preserve the breed's unique working talents.

This is what made many of our purebred dogs the amazing dogs they are and yet today, too often, you hear breeders denigrate the working dogs for being ugly.

They're wrong. The beauty is in utility, not frippery.

Friday 24 February 2012

We're done...

Today we delivered "Pedigree Dogs Exposed - Three Years On" to the BBC and at 8pm tonight, we heard that the film had passed its "tech-check" - the always-tough scrutiny of technical exactitude that the BBC demands of programme-makers.

Jim, our post-production supervisor, who has nursed the film through its final stages can finally get to sleep after a very full-on last couple of weeks. In truth, we're all exhausted and are looking forward to a quietish weekend before the film airs on Monday (9pm, BBC Four).

The picture above was taken on Wednesday at Halo Post in London when I was recording the commentary to the film. That's Jake in the studio with me - quiet in this shot, although he did start  bored singing a little later.

Yesterday, I took Tickle to the studio - which Halo blogged on its Facebook site, having taken quite the worst picture in the world of our little Irish rescue girl.

In real life, she doesn't have laser eyes.