dog show - or DFS Crufts, as it now likes to be called - has been
kicked, sad-eyed and yelping, to More 4. Either it has fallen out with
the BBC because it made a mess on the living-room carpet or the
branding barks a little too loudly for a public-service broadcaster.
The slogan "think sofas, think DFS" around the arena at Birmingham's
NEC certainly had me thinking sofas, and not before time, what with the
DFS winter sale ending in just three days. Fortunately, in a bizarre
twist of fate, the spring sale started two days ago.
or not, More 4 has wisely maintained a link with Crufts' BBC days by
retaining the puppy-dog enthusiasm, bright eyes and glossy coat of the
indefatigable presenter Clare Balding, who I believe may have travelled all the way to the assignment with her head sticking out of the car window.
bounded into the NEC at the end of a strange week for dogs. It began
with news footage of toddlers' scarred legs and man's best friend being
rapped on the snout, told to sit and have microchips fitted, like a tin
of Tesco beans. It ended with some positive PR for the species at their
annual shindig, where they were cooed over, petted, praised wildly and
generally given a level of care and attention rarely lavished on a
human outside of a barmitzvah in Los Angeles.
Not that Clare, who
can be quite a tenacious newshound, was unaware of the controversy
surrounding dog breeding. She was eager to stress this was now a
politically correct Crufts where the emphasis would be on "happy,
healthy" dogs rather than the pompadoured freaks of nature that have
sometimes won in the past.
She raised the issue of micro-chipping
with her guest, the vet Marc Abrahams, who was very much in favour, and
said the dogs mostly did not mind it either. This recalled for me one
of my favourite jokes, probably unsuitable for quoting family website
like this, the punchline of which runs: "Well, give him a dog biscuit
and he might let you."
For those of us who remain neutral about
dogs - dognostics, if you will - Crufts is as strange and foreign a
ritual as the Khangai Mountains Yak Festival (an annual event in
Mongolia which I expect to see on Transworld Sport soon), and is
difficult to view without an ironically raised eyebrow. As Christopher
Guest underlined in Best in Show, his very funny spoof documentary -
dogumentary, if you will - for us it is more about the humans than the
When it comes to that richly comic sequence where the
dogs run round the parade ring to be judged, with their owners holding
the lead, trying to keep up, often wearing clothing entirely unsuitable
for a vigorous jog, and the commentator Frank Kane says, "Beautiful
substance, strong shoulders, lovely outline, slight slope from the
withers," there is very little chance I will be looking at the dog.
is it, you wonder, about these doggy types that they will buy their pet
the latest protective clothing, whatever the cost, to keep it from
catching a chill, and make sure it eats only the finest nutrients, yet
not invest in a sports bra for themselves (and the women are just as
bad)? As Jerry Seinfeld says, if a visitor from outer space were to
observe a dog walking round a park with its human attendant following
behind, scooping, it would report back that this planet is under canine
The dogs do sport too, taking part in a game called
flyball, a relay race contested by teams with names like Wilmslow
Wagtails and Warrington Woofers, and proving themselves rather easier
to drill than the 20 young unemployed men whom Scott Quinnell and Will
Greenwood are trying to mould into a rugby union team in the Sky Sports
reality show School of Hard Knocks.
As a confidence-building
exercise, the team members were taken to mock job interviews this week.
If you have ever lain awake at night wondering what happened to the
Apprentice winner Lee McQueen, who did the so-called "reverse
pterodactyl" impression (no, me neither), here he was - he is a
"development director" now - quizzing the lads. One was asked about his
poor timekeeping and said he was only ever late when he had a valid
excuse, "like when the police break down your door and are all over the
place looking for drugs".
Lee and his colleagues reckoned the
mention of police raids and drugs at the first interview stage might
have been something of an own goal, the kind of strategic error your
well-bred pomeranian sheepdog would never make.