only in america

Around the clock, Channel 354 on Dish TV is devoted to hour long programs for dogs. I stumbled upon this when flicking channels, wondering why plastic balloons were drifting across the screen to no apparent end. It was emptier in content than the billiards my Mother with dementia liked to watch for hours. I read the notes: Dog TV provides “Active Camera Moments, Exciting Animations and Moving Objects to encourage your dogs’ playfulness when home alone.” Further, “It’s relaxing time! Research shows that soothing music and relaxing images help your dog feel calm and relax.”

“Afternoon Stimulation” runs into “Afternoon Relaxation,” followed by “Family Time” (when you are invited to watch with your pet). At this point I’m certain the dog would rather go for a walk. “Evening Relaxation” is followed through till morning by the “Night Time” series, presumably designed for canine insomniacs.

I watched for ten minutes to get the feel of it from the dog’s point of view. It was rather uneventful. Lethargic drifting balloons were followed by balls moving aimlessly around the screen. In one sequence a dog paddled on the shore line of a beach; that made my ears prick up. In another, a sweet child aged about two sat with her arm around a small dog, giving it occasional kisses. She looked up repeatedly as if to say, “Can I go now?” The dog looked vaguely pleased, but might this scenario provoke jealousy among the viewers? I pictured a dog home alone, watching another dog get the attention he craved and howling in frustration. Perhaps viewers longed for a high speed chase after a rabbit, but the scriptwriters were intent on keeping the audience calm.

Struggling to reconcile the resources invested in this enterprise, I conceded that without television time, the funds would not be diverted to feed hungry children. I didn’t watch long enough to see if there were intervals or adverts. I hope not. The thought of being pressurized by one’s dog to buy a particular toy or a certain brand of dog food while out shopping was off-putting. I didn’t spot the sponsor, but neither do the dogs. In mitigation I could see that a lonely dog, lacking stimulation while the folks are at work, thus entertained, might refrain from chewing the carpet or barking to annoy the neighbors.

Without conducting audience research, I wasn’t aware that dogs watch television. I’m prepared to believe that those who do so might find this service therapeutic. TV might well relieve the strain of separation anxiety. A dog might suffer from depression, left too long unattended. I hope dog-lovers who are better informed than I, will contribute to this discussion.

The veterinary researchers listed in the film credits deserve applause for their empathy for dogs, and the film makers for their originality. But if they really care about animals they might suggest that humans turn off the set when they come home and pay their pets attention, instead of joining them on the couch. All these programs can be recorded so the dog need not miss its favorites while out for a trot or chasing a stick in the garden.

I suspect that cats are too dignified and self-contained to watch television. Singing lessons for canaries might feature to good effect in a future series. Would a lonely hamster appreciate a virtual companion on a televised treadmill? Perhaps a TV next to the goldfish bowl would provide virtual companionship for your Beta. A talking TV parrot might engage your bird in conversation. Would cows welcome large screen TVs in a milking parlor? I know they like music. Should racing trainers encourage their horses to watch re-runs of the Kentucky Derby?

When I am a really old lady half way towards ga-ga, I would welcome a film about human babies gurgling, cooing to each other, rolling over, waving tiny hands in the air, snuffling, examining their fingers, nibbling their toes, smiling and kicking their legs in excitement. Come to think of it, I’d watch that now.

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Image: Frido watching educational tv by Markus via his flickr photostream and used under a Creative Commons license.
Eileen Dight

Eileen Dight

Eileen Dight is a retired British specialist on trading in Spain, now resident in Ireland. Spanish- and French- speaking, graduate (at 46) of International Politics and History; former editor, interpreter and fundraiser. Her five sons and twelve grandchildren live in four different Time zones around the world. She has lived in England, Wales, Spain, France and Virginia, North America for 11 years. In 2012 she self-published her memoir Plate Spinner and Only Joking, 200 pages of collected jokes categorized for easy reference, as well as What’s On My Mind, her first 50 essays published in Like The Dew. All available on Amazon.com.