Thursday, March 24, 2016

Senior dogs need positive representation in the media

Phil, photographed by My Dog's Territory photographer Pierre Mardaga.

Derek Zoolander famously asked: Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?

Well, how would we know? The representation of Homo sapiens in the media suggests that "being really, really, ridiculously good looking" is indeed the answer to life, the universe and everything. Magazines and television are populated by really, really ridiculously good looking people – enhanced by means of plastic surgery, Photoshop or the unnatural selection of outlier physiques that no amount of gymming, crash-dieting or coffee enemas will allow most mere mortals to achieve.

But what about dogs? Recently Phil and I were asked to attend a photoshoot so that an organisation I have done pro bono work for could publish a photo of me with “my dog” (and in case you’re wondering, pro bono doesn’t mean we get bones for our trouble – neither of us would eat them, for slightly different reasons - it means the work is done for nix). I took Phil to the groomer that morning to ensure he looked his best, and off we went. It was a lovely session with a lovely photographer and a great team of people who all thought Phil was gorgeous.

A week later, I received an email stating while the snaps were “great”, the editor had requested a “more cute and fluffy dog”.

Hang on a sec. What??? Our global body dysmorphia isn’t just isolated to humans, but now we’re applying it to animals too? I was horrified. I don’t have another dog. I was asked to bring in my dog. Phil is my dog. He is the only dog in my (personal) life and despite the set-backs he has had he is a very loyal companion.

Yep, he is senior. Yep, he has a kind of funny shaped nose. That’s because he doesn’t have teeth because he’s a micro-dog who suffered from stunningly awkward dentition resulting in spectacularperiodontal disease, necessitating their eventual removal. And occasionally he can shoot an incredibly large booger out of his schnozza due to his lymphocytic-plasmacytic rhinitis (which is managed very well). 

But he wasn’t baring his lack of teeth at the camera. Monster-boogers were not forthcoming. And he was as fluffy as he could possibly be.

I could not help feeling that this editor, this Anna Wintour of the dog world, expected dogs to conform to some conventional expectation of canine beauty. The more I thought about it, the more concerned I became. I do have an objection to representing every single canine as a cute, fluffy, picture-perfect puppy.

For one thing, it promotes demand for more of the same, when senior dogs are often overlooked at shelters. For another, it’s age-ist. What’s wrong with representing a healthy senior dog in the media? Yes he’s been around the block a few times, but cute and fluffy puppies don’t stay cute and fluffy forever. They go around the block too – if they’re lucky enough to be well looked after.

It seems grossly unhealthy and unfair to censor senior dogs from the media, in favour of some editorial ideal of the perfect puppy.

Many so-called cute and fluffy dogs are sourced from puppy farms which represent a major animal welfare issue.

Happily, I know there is much more to life than being really, really ridiculously good looking. It’s called compassion. And senior animals are worthy of it.