Dom Joly: Huxley's brave new world of robotic surveillance

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The Independent Online

A dog is for life not just for Christmas – that's how the saying goes, isn't it? We had a very doggy Christmas. The kids pestered us to get them a FurReal Friend. This is a life-sized dog that responds to the kids' commands. He can sit up, beg, lie down, pant and bark. Our two real dogs, Huxley and Oscar, can do exactly the same thing, and more, but were totally ignored on Christmas Day as the kids fawned all over this robotic replacement. Our hounds got their revenge, however. We came down to breakfast on Boxing Day to a strong smell of urine. After a little investigation we discovered that the FurReal dog (whose name is Biscuit) had been used as a dog loo all night.

I can just imagine the scene – Huxley pinning him down while Oscar cocked a leg: "Not so smart now are we, Mr Robot Dog? Why don't you sit up and beg?" Biscuit not only stinks, but now seems to have suffered some sort of malfunction. He just panted non-stop until his batteries ran out. He'll be in the skip within the week.

Our real dogs were celebrating their victory over the intruder by staging regular escapes. Huxley in particular would have been very useful in Colditz as he can get out of almost any situation. We get very worried when he escapes, as he is black as coal and not very street-smart. I always imagine that he's off doing extraordinary things – fishing for trout, running through corn-fields chasing hares, building woodland retreats: whatever cool dogs do when they're alone. Stacey, however, worries that he has another family that he visits and he might like them more than us and eventually never come back.

This Christmas I decided to find out. I contacted a company in the USA who make pet-collar cameras, and bought one. It arrived just before Christmas and I gave it to Stacey in her stocking. Rather worryingly she seemed keen to put it on me the next time I went to London. I quickly attached it to Huxley's collar and released him. I'd set up the camera so that it would take a photo every minute. I was ludicrously excited. I would finally find out where our beloved pooch wandered off to. I waited and waited for him to return. Half an hour later, he did. I unhooked the camera and plugged it into my laptop. It was so exciting waiting for the pictures to download. I flicked through them.

The results were quite extraordinary. There were some abstract images taken at great speed that I could probably flog at Habitat for quite a sum. Then came a clear shot of a road that I recognised. He was above the village near a couple of farms where they breed the 50ft chickens. Then followed some pictures of a gate, then a strange house and then an unidentified small girl who looked quite frightened. Was Huxley a child-chaser?

I moved on nervously – there was a fabulous picture of a vicious-looking dog who was clearly trying to get at Huxley through a cat-flap and then a couple more of running blurrily through fields. Next, Huxley rifled through some bins, had a look at the river Coln and inspected the bum of a dog he met at very close quarters.

I am a little disappointed that he doesn't do anything more constructive. On the other hand, there was no sign of another, more popular family. He's clearly just having a good time and doing what dogs do. I've put the photos on Facebook and they've been a huge hit. There could be a book in this: The Adventures of Huxley Joly. More news next week, when I put the camera on Oscar.

To view the Huxley-cam photos go to