Our Dogs Column: November Review

It’s six o’clock in the morning and I’m sitting in New York’s absolutely massive JFK Airport, a little bleary-eyed but honouring my monthly deadline and reflecting on what’s proved to be yet another full-on month of canine craziness.

I was invited back over here to film another couple of episodes of ‘Seeking Secrets with Suzanne’, a kind of senior agony aunt programme which will once again be aired on the American CNN Headline News channel in the New Year, not bad eh?

Recorded in very simple chat-show format, these two shows will both hope to educate viewers on not only ‘How to look after pets in the credit crunch’ but also ’When to call the vet?’ The show’s host, high profile Philadelphian philanthropist Suzanne Roberts, 87 years-old, has a terrific interview technique and is a real dog-lover herself; always hauling around her alligator handbag filled with her very patient miniature poodle Mimi. 

I was lucky enough to stay at the über-dog-friendly Rittenhouse Hotel which overlooks the leafy square sharing the same name, and an excellent place to dog-watch.

Shortly after filming, my overwhelming curiosity of what ‘Thanksgiving’ actually means and how the Americans celebrate it successfully tempted me upto the Big Apple for a few days of investigative journalism before heading back home.

Apart from the annual famous Macy’s Parade, complete with continuous stream of marching bands, cheerleaders, giant balloons and enough shiny glittery star-spangled mace-spinning Yankee Doodleness to have me clutching my British passport with so much pride I nearly squeezed my stamps out the sides; at midday I  sat down and joined the other 20 million viewers to watch – wait for it – the National Dog Show on NBC – rapidly becoming almost as an important American holiday tradition as Pumpkin Pie itself.

These two whole pedigree-filled hours of entertainment are hosted by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia during its annual cluster of dog shows sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, the AKC.

The show attracts over 2,000 of the top show dogs from across the country with over 150 different breeds and varieties competing for best of Breed, First in Group and the coveted title of Best in Show won this year by ‘Holly’ the English Pointer.

But what really made it for me, apart from all the rover-related commercials stuffing all the ad-breaks like a series of plump Thanksgiving turkeys, was the absolute genius commentary. So funny, factual and entertaining, and the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the actual movie-mockumentary ‘Best in Show’.

The National Dog Show is presented by two hilarious old-timers John O’Hurley (former Seinfeld star) and David Frei, the “dean of dog show commentators”, both wrapped in tuxes and supporting their immovable hair-do’s (think Bedlington and Wheaten respectively), it’s really no wonder this show secures a prime-time slot every year on one of the biggest television networks in the country.

On the day before Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving Eve?), I had arranged to go along to the American Kennel Club’s headquarters in Madison Avenue to meet Daphna Straus and Daisy Okas.

I was on a bit of a fact-finding mission to be honest, as being the front-man for our own KC’s Open for Dogs campaign; I’d heard that the US has strict federal laws prohibiting dogs from entering any food-serving establishment at all.

And sadly it’s so true. In an obvious dog-loving metropolis-and-surrounding-nation it made me realize how lucky us Brits are to be able to eat our Sunday Roasts in our local pubs with our whole family present.

Even sadder still, I got the impression that there was more chance of Osama bin Laden appearing as a guest on the David Letterman Show than the law ever changing.

Saying that, there was one noticeable ripple of dog-friendliness emerging from one food-associated business in Manhattan, the Soho Grand Hotel where I stayed.

Owned by a famous dog-loving family I was assured by staff that well-behaved dogs were actually allowed in the bar which served food and that three floors of the hotel in fact had pet-friendly rooms. Nice one guys, respect.

Strangely enough a November that ended with me at the AKC’s HQ actually started with a meeting at our own KC’s HQ in Clarges Street, where I was invited for lunch with Secretary Caroline Sisko, and PR officers Sara Wilde and Heidi Ancell.

Now those of you who’ve seen me around the various dog shows in my blue scrubs won’t be surprised to learn that ‘off-duty’ as it were, I’m never more comfortable than in my favourite pair of old jeans and a t-shirt –  which I discovered was not really the dress-code for a lunch in the  exclusive members restaurant!

So before we even made it through the doors I had to borrow a blazer, sit in the corner (so no-one could see my jeans under the tablecloth) and hope that my lack of tie didn’t offend too many fellow diners.

It did of course with two actual complaints. Don’t they read this column and know who I am? Ha ha! Maybe they do and that’s why they complained?!

Anyway it set up what was a very impressive ‘posh’ lunch where I was asked if I would consider being appointed as the Kennel Club’s veterinary advisor.

The genetics side of things would still be looked after by their expert geneticists and I would offer my veterinary spin on their many companion animal projects helping to promote perhaps lesser KC activities including Open for Dogs, Petlog and National Microchipping Month.

Of course I said yes so now the KC has a funky new vet advisor! Thanks for a great lunch ladies and I’m very much looking forward to playing a greater part in getting your ‘Making a Difference for All Dogs’ message out into the public domain.

It’s hard to pin-point my November highlight as there were two very definite but very opposite emotional ‘moments’ that actually occurred on the same weekend; Discover Dogs at Earl’s Court 2 and the first ever official Animals in War Memorial Service in Hyde Park.

I was so looking forward to this year’s Discover Dogs since I attended for the first time last year and I was not disappointed. For me this is one of the most important showcases in our canine calendars.

A chance for the public to be educated first hand; to touch, feel, stroke, and ask questions about any breed, breed rescue society and rescue shelter, charity or organization that continues to put pets first, and does not see the value in the future of dogs in the UK by simply withdrawing from such a fantastic event.

Hopefully you’ll all know exactly what I mean here and who I’m referring too; and with numbers well-up on 2008 this years Discover Dogs was such a success, that to those who pulled-out for whatever reasons, you missed thousands of chances to chat to the public, one-on-one in a relaxed calm atmosphere about the positive aspects and benefits of pet-ownership and actually doing something constructive about reducing the increasing numbers of pets being abandoned in your own back-yards. I wonder how many of your poor lonely and confused inpatients could’ve found a new home already for this Christmas. Shame on you.

Like it or not credit crunch has dealt this countries pets (and I’m including cats and horses here) the most un-fairest hand. Tragically often the first to be given up or just tied to a lamp-post and abandoned forever, it’s really not their fault, and the only way to tackle this growing problem is to all work together for the good of our country’s pets.

So I’d like to personally thank Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Blue Cross and all the other supporters of this year’s Discover Dogs for helping improve the lives of millions of dogs by significantly increasing their chances of adoption there.

Discover Dogs is also not just a fantastic chance for my geeky breed-recognition side to go into full-on overdrive but also an excellent chance to network and catch-up with some old friends.

For example it was lovely to spot Ann Webb and her lovely little cross-bred Katie competing in the KC’s Companion Dog OAP Class. You may remember I awarded first place to this gorgeous pair, the 12-year-old dog who’d helped her owner beat cancer, at the veteran’s heat of Scruffts at this year’s Wag & Bone Show; and here they were competing not just the Scruffts final but in yet another competition – really great to see you both looking so happy and well.

I was also asked to be the joint Vice Patron of the Bella Moss Foundation (BMF) by founder and dear friend Jill Moss. For those of you who are unaware, BMF was set up when Jill’s pet Samoyed ‘Bella’ died after contracting an MRSA infection.

Since that dark day, Jill has made it her mission in life to improve infectious disease control standards worldwide, and I’ll be involved in a very interesting project next spring too which will interest you all I’m sure.

By the way the other Vice Patron’s position went to some old bloke in a suit called Vince Hagan or something like that…

I also got the chance to be interviewed for an internet TV channel by none other than the great man himself Mr Peter Purves. Peter asked me about microchipping and the importance of getting your pet insured. What a lovely warm guy, and I really hope to work with him again in the future.

Other highlights for me at Earl’s Court 2 included spending time with the charming Debbie Matthews, manning her ever-popular Vets Get Scanning Appeal’s stand and also chatting to the very lovely Wendy Richards about her love of Cairn Terriers.

On the morning of the second day of Discover Dogs (Remembrance Sunday) I took a detour to check out the first ever official Animals in War Memorial Service on Park Lane.

A very emotional gathering of obvious animal lovers that included British actresses Miranda Richardson and Jenny Seagrove with her Springer Spaniel Louie.

We all proudly wore our purple poppies and listened to some beautiful hymns and poems read out by Cynthia O’Neil and Priest James Thompson written especially for the animals.

A separate ‘animal’ two minute silence was observed for the dogs, horses, carrier-pigeons, etc. that died for our country whilst a few wreaths were laid below those immortal engraved words in the cold marble statue: ‘They Had No Choice’.

Being present was truly a remarkable experience – I can really see the popularity of this intimate gathering growing and growing so I would recommend you all to attend in the years to come.

My new web-venture www.ThePet.net now has an Early Day Motion in Parliament! Thank you so much to animal welfare-conscious MP Dr Bob Spink who proposed this motion to the house:

‘That this House congratulates the creators of a new and free internet site ThePet.net; and particularly veterinary surgeon Marc Abraham and online media expert Andrew Seel; notes that the site allows pet owners to find pet-friendly hotels, pubs, pet-shops and other services, to rate and comment on these services so pet owners generally can make informed choices, and to book these services online where possible; believes that this will increase public understanding of pets, promote more and better pet-friendly services and enable people to obtain more enjoyment from their pets and to care for them better, improving animal welfare and showcasing pet-friendly businesses; and calls on the Government to promote more such entirely free and philanthropic websites.’

How amazing is that? With so many ‘social petworking’ sites out there to choose from, they picked ours as the best example!

We’ll also be working with Sony Pictures Animation in the New Year helping to promote their new doggy action adventure comedy ‘Open Season 2’ movie. So if you haven’t signed up to www.ThePet.net or just want to see what all the fuss is about, then why not do it today?

Other exciting events already being looked forward to in 2009 are of course Crufts and the first-ever Ultimate Pet Show (www.ultimatepetshow.co.uk) which also takes place at Birmingham’s NEC on May 2nd-4th.

I’ll be there giving a few talks and tips on ‘Early Detection of Emergencies’ as well as hosting the inaugural ThePet.net Awards, and there’s a chance to vote for your most popular dog breeder in these too!

Before I go I’d like to wish you, your families, dogs and any other pets you may have a very happy and healthy Christmas and New Year. Don’t forget that seasonal plants such as holly, poinsettia, ivy and mistletoe are all extremely toxic to dogs so please think very carefully when you’re busy decking out your halls.

Foodwise of course, there are hazards galore at this time of year. Remember that as well as grapes and raisins, chocolate is extremely poisonous to dogs and cats (rule: the darker the more deadly) and any suspect ingestion should be reported to your vet immediately.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea and increased urination, progressing to seizures and sometimes death.

Turkey bones can cause choking, constipation, as well as potentially damaging internal organs, and please make sure fairy lights and electric wires are ‘chew-proof’ from inquisitive puppies.

Another common danger at this time of year is anti-freeze; extremely palatable, it can cause irreversible kidney failure so be warned and check all outside areas and garages as soon as possible.

I would also like to say a massive thank you to the more-than-lovely Charlotte Moss, member of BA 078’s cabin crew who’s let me sit in business class to plug-in my laptop so I can finish this column – you’re such a star!

See you all in 2009!!

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