A look at the world of 'Dogs' and the place of humans in it

December 05, 1993|By Ron Miller | Ron Miller,Knight-Ridder News Service

Cervantes told us, "Every dog has its day," but on cable's Arts & Entertainment (A&E) network, they're getting the better part of a whole week.

The occasion is A&E's six-hour miniseries called "Dogs," a most enjoyable and comprehensive look at our canine cousins and how we relate to them. It starts tonight at 8 with two back-to-back hours, then continues through Thursday with one additional hour a night.

With host Jack Perkins -- and his dog, Browser -- "Dogs" is bound to astound you at least once an hour. For me, the astonishment started in the first hour when I learned that private ownership of dogs is banned in Beijing, at least for the Chinese. Outlawed during a campaign to clean up the city, dogs now are housed in zoos or official kennels that will "rent" them to you for 10-minute walks.

Actually, I kept that astonished look for some time as more and more intriguing facts piled up. For instance, did you know that dogs routinely are shot to death at age 5 in Greenland to make room for the huge numbers of younger dogs ready to go into service as sled animals?

In Greenland, dogs are a vital resource humans couldn't exist without, but they're more or less toys in some other parts of the world.

Mr. Perkins introduces us to an urban American couple, for example, who own a tiny hairless breed and let it sleep under the covers with them every night. Though the husband admits he hasn't been "near" his wife in about five years for fear of crushing Fido, he seems reasonably cheerful about it. The dog seems to like that part of the relationship, but looks less joyful about having to wear a fur coat and mittens whenever he goes out to the fire hydrant.

One of the experts in tonight's segment suggests the dog is a truly "man-made" animal, descended from the wolf but interbred into hundreds of specialized breeds with skills, designs or traits that humans engineered for their own use.

A modern problem, we learn, is that some dogs develop behavioral problems because they can't herd sheep or retrieve game in the living room. That may be why some dogs try to herd your children, we're told, or bring paper clips to you when there's nothing better to retrieve.

Tonight's second hour deals with celebrity dogs, from Lassie of the movies to Queen Elizabeth's corgis to the kings and queens of the Westminster Dog Show.

Subsequent episodes cover lots of territory: the peculiar extra "senses" of dogs and how they're used; the spiritual and symbolic value of dogs; their use to enhance our social aspirations and, finally, a close look at the risks and potential outcome of 20,000 years of experimental breeding by their human masters.

An aspect of "Dogs" I found especially interesting was the discussion of our role in the world of dogs. Wolves began the relationship by drawing closer to the strange beings around the campfire, the program tells us, but man cemented it by taking over the role of pack leader.

Though we may assume that's the way both species want it, "Dogs" gives us room for thought in that department. One can't be sure dogs always get what they want, especially in hostile environments like dog-free Beijing.

Perhaps there's more than one way to look at the relationship. Mr. Perkins gives that notion some credence in the opening minutes of tonight's first hour when he introduces Browser as "my dog," then reconsiders and reintroduces himself as "Browser's person."

'DOGS'

Where: Cable's Arts & Entertainment network

When: Parts 1 and 2 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. today, repeated midnight to 2 a.m. Parts 3 to 6 from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, repeated from midnight to 1 a.m.

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