Monday, March 31, 2014

Royal dog Lupo steals scene in new family portrait

This weekened we attended a surprise 80th birthday party. As you can see, Sofi loved the speeches.
This year we attended a surprise 80th birthday party. (Someone thoughtfully asked, "is a surprise 80th really such a good idea?" - but I can now reply that it was a terrific success, no ambulances were required). 

If you've not been living under a rock this weekend you must have seen the latest official portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with eight-month-old human offspring George, and their cocker spaniel Lupo. I'm not going to lie - I find this family fascinating for so many reasons, least of all every milestone seems to be heralded by a major television event that seems like as good an excuse as any to have a gathering and drink tea from fancy cups.

If you've not seen the photo or want to view it again, click here. It was taken by portrait photographer Jason Bell, whom I was fascinated to learn decided to be a photographer when he was studying politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University (I decided to be a vet when I was studying philosophy - at least in part because the uni careers advisor suggested that I was now qualified to be a bank teller. I wonder if someone told Jason Bell the same thing? Nevermind - he now lives between New York and London).

Framed by a nice window in a rather ordinary brick wall, critics have gushed about the family's "effortless informality". 

But as a companion animal vet, what I love about this photo is the decision to feature Lupo, the family dog, front and centre. In fact, since baby George is looking at him and smiling, Lupo is really the focal point. 

The dog is part of the family. Indeed, Lupo's charmed life has been documented by the English media. He is often seen sniffing about at Royal gatherings, he has been witnessed "hoovering up" sausages at charity events (we can infer that he presumably does not suffer from raging pancreatitis, otherwise I suspect a Royal bodyguard would be required to dive on the sausages) and was even spotted under the table in a fancy resteraunt, where normally only assistance dogs are allowed, during a recent Christmas Party. 

I love the fact that the Royals appear to be role-modelling the benefits of public access for dogs, although there might be a less heroic reason for Lupo's common appearances: William recently complained that he chews the furniture when left alone for five minutes. Leaving him home at the palace could be a tad costly.

Getting back to the photo, it has raised some controversy within my circle of vet friends. Should the Duke and Duchess role model such casual nonchalance about Lupo's face being so close to the baby?

George looks happy, his parents look comfortable, but if you look closely, Lupo has a touch of the crazy eyes. Behaviourist and author of Tell Your Dog You're Pregnant, Lewis Kirkham, noted that Lupo appears to be potentially avoiding George's direct (and possibly very confronting) stare. Others have suggested that Lupo's closed mouth and averted gaze point to a dog that could snap at any moment.

I think its a very tough call. I suspect that Lupo is looking at someone to the left of the photographer who is waving a sausage or toy madly, possibly calling Lupo's name in a high-pitched semi-hysterical voice whilst dancing on the spot to get him to look. (If you've ever tried to take a photo of a dog where you wanted him or her to look at the camera, you will understand how necessary this absurd behaviour can be).

The truth is that the Duke and Duchness were there, we weren't. I think it's fantastic that they, like so many other families, include non-humans in their family photos. I would like to think that William, holding Lupo and looking relaxed, is monitoring the tension in Lupo's body, picking up behavioural cues, and that Kate is ready to grab George's hands if they start to wander in the direction of Lupo's face.

UPDATE: Check out this fantastic post from Julie Hecht and Mia Cobb's Do You Believe in Dog? blog about babies and dogs here.
Phil came along to the surprise 80th and sat on the guest of honour. But in order to get him to look at the camera (and not at the cake on the table) I had to wave a piece of cheese maniacally beside the camera. Okay so he doesn't quite have crazy eyes (he just woke up) but you get my point.