Wednesday 25 April 2018

TV guide: Grudge match

Cat lover Liz Bonnin and dog lover Chris Packham.
Cat lover Liz Bonnin and dog lover Chris Packham.

Emily Hourican

Cat person or dog person? Think carefully how you answer, because what you say now won't just reveal your domestic pet preference, it will give an insight into your personality, expectations, interests and even relationships.

In fact, describing your pet affiliations is now as much dating-site-shorthand as GSOH or NSA (No Strings Attached, in case you aren't so well up). Cat people, the story goes, are independent-minded, a bit stand-offish, hard to please. Dog people, on the other hand? Loyal, devoted, sociable. And never the twain shall meet.

These might be ridiculous clichés but they are defended by die-hards of both camps, who seem to feel there can be no positive without a negative, no up without down, no praise for one breed without merrily dissing the other.

Along with the question of who's more attractive, the slinky, stand-offish feline folk or the enthusiastic, affectionate dog lovers, is the even more fundamental matter of which makes a better pet, dog or cat? Cats may have won the online war (at least half the internet's capacity seems to be taken up with pictures of cats that look like Hitler, or like Stalin, or just very cute), and the greetings card war - cards with dogs simply don't shift.

This, apparently, is because dog people are breed-specific - ie, they like red setters, or boarder collies, or pugs - whereas cat people like all cats; isn't it remarkable what a focussed piece of research will unearth?). But as for which makes the best domestic companion - the jury is officially still out.

Which is where BBC2's latest two-part series comes in. The abruptly-titled Cats v Dogs: Which Is Best? is an attempt to discover the answer to that burning question, using "scientific" methods, according to the website.

The two-parter is fronted by a pair of natural antagonists, dog lover Chris Packham and cat lover Liz Bonnin. Liz, who grew up in Ireland and whose cat credentials are of course excellent - along with a degree in Biochemistry and a Masters in Wild Animal Biology, she has carried out research on Bengal tigers in Nepal while with the Zoological Society of London, and presented the BBC Two series Operation Snow Tiger as well as Horizon Cat Watch.

Cats v Dogs will use "the latest scientific research" along with a specially commissioned national 'pet census' to discover exactly how the public feel about their pets.

Liz and Chris will set out on a journey around Britain, gathering supporting evidence to argue their case and to try and convince each other. We can imagine how that will go.

The series will also cover a series of cat and dog experiments, demonstrating research into animal behaviour and physiology, along with historical sequences exploring how their relationships with humans have evolved, as well as the inevitable meetings with extraordinary cats and dogs who display special talents - we're hoping to see some of the dogs who made it onto Britain's Got Talent again, especially the 'talking' one - and sequences which compare domestic dog and cat behaviour with their cousins in the wild.

Finally, the series ends with the results of the nationwide census to confirm which animal Britain has voted top dog or top cat.

But of course there is only ever one proof for every pudding, and the real test is likely to come when Chris and Liz do a pet swap for a week, with Liz taking care of Chris's dog while he looks after her cat.

And of course beyond all the science and research, this, like The Supervet on Channel4, is just an excuse to give the public what it wants - more cute shots of cats and dogs. Really, everyone's a winner here.

Cats v Dogs: Which is best? starts on BBC2 on February 4 at 8pm

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