Don't worry, I think the dog's going to make it...

TV Review

There are, it seems, quite a lot of people out there who like nothing better than to settle down on a Thursday night and watch tumours being removed from a bulldog. To my mind a bulldog, with its emphysemic wheeze and car-crash features, is not an appealing thing in the best of health. But when it has dangling from its nipple a growth the size and texture of a wizened grape, I can feel my gag reflex beginning to limber up for the big push. This is prejudicial, of course; Animal Hospital Week (BBC1), a ratings hit, also includes fluffy kittens, naughty puppies and a big, touseled, friendly dog called Rolf, who introduces these varied tales of animal misfortune.

Like any good dog he can be both frisky and doleful, depending on the mood of the moment. "The cat's out of intensive care now," he says, in tones of cautious reassurance which, I'm afraid to say, are entirely wasted on me.

It's not that I want cats to be in pain, or would prefer a world in which builders whack injured animals over the head with a spade rather than take them to an animal hospital. It's just that the notion of feline intensive care makes me a little itchy about our priorities. Last week, for instance, you were able to see a red setter (or something red setterish in appearance) being given a Magnetic Resonance Imaging brain scan and you could reflect ruefully on the fact that some hospitals don't have one of these expensive machines to use on humans.

That may be immaterial, I know. After all, the money for these lavish facilities is all supplied voluntarily and it represents a widespread devotion to beastly welfare. In any case, the flow of human tenderness is as perverse as a limestone stream. You might expect it to follow the familial water-courses, the genealogical delta of children and grandchildren, but it doesn't necessarily. Sometimes it disappears underground, welling up somewhere entirely unexpected, in a terrapin or an aged Alsatian.

In Modern Times (BBC2, Wednesday night), which examined the subject of pet bereavement, you could see this explicitly. In some cases the animals were substitutes, for departed children or dead spouses, but in other cases they were simply preferable to the real thing. One woman confessed that, for her, the labradors came before her grandchildren. Perhaps this isn't love for animals, you think, but a dislike of humans, a suspicion that was borne out by some of the headstones in a nearby pet cemetery. "Timmy - the woolly wonder. The mostest'is'. The pussiest, pussy, pussy, pussy-cat" is only evidence of terminal cuteness but "She never told a lie", part of the inscription on one headstone, is a bleaker kind of sentiment altogether. Of course she didn't tell a lie - but then you might just as well praise a snake for not picking its nose. There's nothing wrong with people's love for their pets (or ridiculous about their grief when they die) but they shouldn't just provide an easy alternative for the far more difficult business of loving human beings.

Animal Detectives (ITV), a seven-part series about the work of the Environmental Investigation Agency, is a great deal less cuddly than Animal Hospital Week. This isn't concerned with the luxurious business of nursing animals back to health but a harsher imperative - trying to get people to stop killing them. This week the investigators' camcorders pursued the illegal trade in turtle shells, a substance that the turtle is far more intimately attached to than unthinking tourists. The operations you see here are purely for profit, and hardly graced with the gentle touch that pervades the BBC series. But some of the arguments are similar. As you watch a turtle being cut from its shell alive, it was all too easy to forget that Maldive fishermen, and their children, might be endangered species too.

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