Fools, hoaxes and tall tales...

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26 March 2019
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April is the month for practical jokers, and dogs are among the best of them, explains Karen Bush.

The April Fools’ Day tradition goes back to the 16th century, but as time has passed, the expected hoaxes and pranks have become ever more elaborate and convincing.

Dogs have featured in many, including a proposal to set up nationwide animal gyms, the employment of a sniffer dog to help select fine whiskies, and spoof accessories, such as doggy umbrellas and a highchair especially designed to enable the family dog to join in family meals at the table!

But not all tall tales are confined solely to April 1 — there have been just as many spoofs catching folk out on the other 364 days of the year, too!

Spinning a yarn

In 2015 a couple of animal charities joined in the April foolery, with the Blue Cross announcing that it was collecting fur from the 8,000 pets cared for at its rehoming centres. The fuzz would then be spun into yarn to sell for knitting.

Dogs Trust, on the other hand, was recruiting new staff, advertising vacancies for fake felines. Would-be applicants were advised that, in addition to being able to pull off a cat-inspired costume, they would need to possess the balance of a tightrope walker. Successful candidates would be assisting in assessing the cat-friendliness of dogs awaiting rehoming at its centres.

Pet politics

When a press release, issued by a Labour MP in 1998, announced the formation of an All Parliamentary Group with a particular interest in sheepdog trials (with a trial to be held in the House of Commons at the launch), a few eyebrows were raised, but no one took it too seriously. However, feathers were seriously ruffled in America when a few years later the news was released that federal-funded pet health-care was being mooted by the Bush administration.

Standing out

In 1965, a Copenhagen newspaper reported that a new law had been proposed requiring all black dogs to be painted white, in the interests of improving road safety by increasing their visibility at night. It was roundly condemned by opposition parties — not on humanitarian grounds, but as “another step towards socialism and conformism.” The suspicion was also expressed that pressure from the painters’ union lay behind the proposal.

Techno dogs

What do you buy the dog who has everything? On April 1, 2011, Toshiba suggested a PetBook K9 (cased in chewable rawhide, naturally) with DoggyCam and Bark-to-Text software. Not to be outdone, in 2013 Sony announced a line of new products including K9 4K TV, with a paw-friendly remote control, including a Skype button so pets could contact absent owners at any time. In 2015, Barclaycard proclaimed that, best of all, your dog would soon be able to pay for these, and any other items which took his fancy, by using a special PawWag contactless payment chip inserted into his collar. And to facilitate spending sprees, there was Google’s Translate for Animals…

Titanic tale

Of all the tales about the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, one of the most enduring is that of Rigel, a large Newfoundland dog, allegedly owned by the First Master William Murdoch. He was said to have barked to warn the crew of the Carpathia of the presence of lifeboats when the survivors were too weak to call out a warning, and to have then guided them through the dark to safety. After being taken on board the Carpathia, having spent three hours in icy waters, he then stood vigil on deck looking for his missing master. Sadly, this account was actually the fictitious invention of seaman Jonas Briggs, who apparently furnished several tall tales for the press.

Ducking and driving

Sometimes the truth outstrips the fantastic fictions dreamed up by hoaxers. The dog shown supposedly driving a car on 1970s TV programme ‘That’s Life’ seems pretty tame in comparison with the rescue dogs genuinely taught to drive in 2012 by a New Zealand charity. When a tabloid newspaper printed an April fool story about a scuba diving dog in 2003, it may have seem far-fetched, while in 2013, bemused owners learned they could now sign up their dogs (or cats) for a course run by the Pet Association of Diving Instructors. Yet back in 1993, an authentic scuba-diving dog really did exist, in the shape of Labrador-cross Shadow, who wore a specially designed helmet and shared his owner’s air supply.

Art fraud

When the winner of an annual art competition in Mississippi showed up to collect his $50 prize, there were gasps of both surprise and indignation: artist Alexis Boyar, who had submitted ‘Anitra’s Dance: a small fibre wall-hanging in off-white, with a range of interesting textures’ turned out to be a six-year-old Afghan hound. Alexis’ triumph inspired a dogs-only art competition the following April, although he didn’t submit a work himself. As owner Julie McDonald commented: “Now that he’s won a blue ribbon against humans, he can’t be bothered competing against dogs.”

Big, bigger, biggest!

Hokum postcards showing gigantic animals have been doing the rounds for decades. But once technology got in on the act there was no stopping such leg-pulls. In 2007, pictures of Hercules, a Mastiff the size of a horse, started popping up everywhere on the internet, while another popular image a few years later showed a police officer mounted on a gigantic dog, alongside another officer riding a more conventional horse.

In poorer taste have been the hoaxes posted on social media alleging that irradiated material from the terrible Fukushima disaster has been responsible for the existence of a number of giant mutant dogs. Despite the pictures clearly being faked, several billionaires supposedly offered a million dollars for the capture and safe delivery of one in particular, a giant Tibetan Mastiff in Russia.

The human-dog hybrid!

Cat-dog hybrids are always popular hoaxes, although the claim in 2009 that geneticists from Cornell University, UC Davis and New Zealand’s Massey University of Veterinary Medicine had finally created a genuine ‘catdog’ sounded more credible than most. Christened ‘Kotpies’, it was supposedly the offspring of a Siamese cat and a Pug dog, and able to both bark and purr. Apparently equally as convincing, since it continues to crop up at regular intervals, is the rumour of a human-dog hybrid, accompanied by a photo that really does look to be the genuine article. When it first appeared, the tale — that Israeli scientists had succeeded in crossing a Labrador with a human — sparked off heated debate about the ethics and consequences of genetic manipulation. It transpired that the picture of the alleged hybrid was in fact a sculpture by artist Patricia Piccinini.