Dangerous Dogs ITV – Open letter from the Director.
The first episode of a 2 part series I made aired last Thursday on ITV. “Dangerous Dogs” was commissioned to investigate the rise in the number of dog attacks on people and aimed to go beyond the typical “devil dog” headlines and find out what it is that makes a dog dangerous. Over 2 million people watched, the subject trended on twitter and a parliamentary working group want to show the series to ministers. Hopefully, together with the people who gave up their time for nothing and let us film them, we have added something to a debate. But I’ve been shocked and saddened by the levels of abuse aimed directly at the main character in the series.
Kelly, a dog warden for Birmingham City Council who features in both programmes, has received death threats, been called a Nazi, had a petition started to get her sacked and generally been dragged over the coals on twitter and facebook.
The anger boils down to one scene in the film where Kelly is shown rescuing an Akita that had been abandoned in a house for a week. The large male dog was incredibly aggressive. Kelly used what’s known as a grabber to secure the dog and took it out of the house, it looks nasty but every dogs home and dog warden uses them, the dog isn’t hurt and the person on the other end does not get bitten. It was Kelly’s persistence and her belief that the dog was just scared and could easily be rehabilitated as a family pet that meant the dog got a 2nd chance. In a different town with a different warden, or if the police had been called, the dog would in all likelihood have been shot on sight. The complaints against Kelly say she should have spent hours gaining the trust of the dog. If only Kelly and her colleagues had time. Birmingham City Council deal with over 4,000 dog related incidents a year and collect 1,500 strays. Rather than complain about one warden complain about the way thousands of dogs are treated; better yet do something about it like Kelly does.
Kelly has 2 large rescue dogs of her own. She does a difficult, poorly paid job where a typical day involves being sworn at, threatened and attacked, normally by people, and getting covered in dog shit. To add to the stress she happily agreed to be followed around by me for 3 months and have everything filmed not because she wanted to be on TV but because she wanted to show people the extent of the problem. After a long day she spends her evenings trying to re-home as many of the dogs she has picked up as possible through her network of contacts across the whole of the UK.
The turn of events following the first programme is worrying. When I ask someone if I can follow them for a documentary I explain there will be scrutiny, that I will film pretty much everything they do and they have no editorial control. There’s a leap of faith on their part and huge amount of trust put in me. But I am bound by Ofcom regulations, what I show has to be a fair representation of what happened, I have to offer rights of reply and I can be sued for libel and slander. Meanwhile the madness of a vocal minority on twitter goes unchecked. Save a dog get called a Nazi, when did that become ok? Instead of attacking the people who agree to appear in documentaries that aim to reveal something about the society we live in we should thank them. Fortunately while facebook and twitter users vented their collective spleen Kelly was back on the phone late in to the night saving dogs from being euthanized by finding them new homes. Meanwhile the Akita, now called Zion, has been adopted by a pub landlord.
Dangerous Dogs – Part 2 is on ITV1 at 9pm Thursday 27th March