Channel 4’s latest canine offering came in the form of Dogs on the Dole, shown last night (23rd July). Seemingly the doggy answer to Benefits Street, the show featured a host of pets who lead a life not too unlike that of their owners, many of whom in receipt of benefits. From a Staffordshire Bull Terrier fed on chocolate and toffee sponge cake, to a Chihuahua transported around in the basket of its owner’s mobility scooter, it became clear relatively early on that this wasn’t going to be a heart-warming documentary about the balanced lives of our nation’s pets.
The work of DogsTrust was the main focus throughout, with the programme demonstrating their welfare schemes such as neutering events and vaccination packages for those who “can’t afford the vets but love their animals”. Sadly many of those unable to afford costly veterinary care were also those looking to make money from their dogs by breeding, much to the dismay of DogsTrust, who noted that cutting down on litters would help to solve the over-flowing crisis plaguing rescue centres throughout the country. Boomer the English Bulldog’s owners were one such couple who wanted to have a litter in order to make some cash, despite being told that their dog had too much skin around his right eye, a genetic defect which would almost certainly be passed on to any puppies the dog sired. Thankfully it seemed that Boomer was not producing enough sperm and so he wouldn’t be used for breeding in the near future.
Boomer’s owners also took their dog to have the operation he needed for his eye defect, which, like when Bowie the chocolate-eating Staffie’s owner had her dog neutered, was a rare moment of solace amongst the otherwise depressing tide of dogs being treated like a money-making tool or being provided with poor care. Bowie’s owner said that she was proud that she had rescued a Staffie, and claims that she gives him a good life. Whilst she clearly does care for Bowie, feeding him a dark chocolate yoghurt on camera after being advised by vets that chocolate is highly poisonous was not an act of love. What Bowie really needs is a diet of dog food, and it is a shame that, despite “the need for a suitable diet” being one of the five welfare needs outlined in the Animal Welfare Act 2007, the staff at DogsTrust could only provide advice, something which one member of staff admitted usually goes straight over the heads of those using their treatment schemes.
Although the trend for ‘dinky dogs’ was highlighted, with one Chihuahua breeder attempting to sell her puppies via Facebook, it was clear from the programme that it is still the Staffordshire Bull Terrier which fills the most kennel spaces within rescue centres. Mark, the owner of the Chihuahua in the mobility scooter, said that he bred Staffies eight years ago but had to give it up because he wasn’t able to get a high price for his puppies – there were simply too many of them around. DogsTrust predicted that rescue centres in the future will be full of both Staffies and the so-called dinky dogs.
Far from ‘warming’, as a Telegraph review described the show, I found the programme quite unsettling. Is it acceptable to treat our dogs as little more than a money-making exercise? Is it entertaining to see a Staffie being fed a dangerously unsuitable diet of human food? What we can learn from the programme is not that dogs are great companions for those on benefits, but that these owners desperately need an education in dog ownership. Yet what hope is there for someone who still intends to breed from a dog with poor genetic makeup? Or those who dump their pet at the nearest rescue centre because they simply “fancied a change”? We can only hope that, at least on some occasions, DogsTrust’s advice will be followed.
‘Dogs on the Dole’ is currently available to watch online on 4 On Demand.
Click here for details about DogsTrust’s neutering scheme.
Screenshots copyright Channel 4