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Little hope for inmates on doggie death row

YOU can't turn around right now without having your hand licked by Paul O'Grady's For the Love of Dogs. The first of Louis Theroux's LA Stories, City of Dogs, shared all of that programme's sadness but little of its uplift.

The subject may have been dogs, but this was mostly about the people who rescue, ruin and destroy them. It was a far cry from the Hollywood image of rich Beverly Hills airheads carrying pampered pooches around in obscenely expensive handbags.

Louis was on the mean streets of south LA, where foreclosures and evictions mean there are more stray dogs than ever before. The area's six government-funded dog pounds process 35,000 animals a year.

Louis met a woman called Leslie who runs a pound and wears the weary expression of someone who might once have been a dog-lover but has had the compassion squeezed out of her by years of depressing reality.

There isn't enough space in the pounds to accommodate the feral mutts picked up from the streets or dumped at the door by owners who have grown tired of their pet. If a dog isn't adopted within a week, it's dead. Every day, Leslie puts down 10 to 12 dogs, many of which are healthy, sociable animals. It's basically doggie death row. Not so much tough love as tough s**t, dog.

Out on the streets, Louis went on patrol with Cornelius, who calls himself 'Dog Man' and operates a personal rescue service, rounding up strays and trying to rehome them. It's not as noble as it sounds. Dog Man, whose fondness for pit bulls seems to cover an inability to form meaningful relationships with other human beings, runs dubious dog-training classes that are more like canine boot camps.


He took Louis to meet his friend Malcolm, a former hood who runs a service "weaponising" dogs (teaching them to attack on command). "He's just like my pistol at my side," boasted Malcolm of one of his pooches, Butch. Small and wiry as Malcolm is, you'd still bet on him whipping Butch in a fight.

Louis, looking more nervous here than he ever did when hanging out with America's most dangerous convicts, reluctantly padded up and volunteered to be a six-foot chew toy for Butch. Dog Man and Malcolm are probably doing more harm than good, but so, in their own way, are idiots such as bohemian couple Max and Nancy.

He's an artist, she's a designer and they personify annoying LA hippy-dippiness at its frizzy-haired, eminently slappable worst. They owned a rescue dog called Caspar, a pit bull who barked 24/7. Having bitten off more than they could chew, they kept Caspar muzzled and locked in a cage.

Lacking the guts to make the decision to get rid of him, they were looking for someone else to make it for them. "We almost want someone to tell us it's not possible for him to live a normal life," squeaked Nancy.

Someone who would definitely not tell them what they wanted to be told was "Zen dog trainer" Matt, a softly-spoken purveyor of crap in a cap. What Caspar really needed was someone like Brandon, an anti-obedience training dog trainer whose methods actually work.

In the space of a morning, Brandon, using nothing more than gentle displays of affection, turned a beautiful but ferocious anger machine that had spent most of his life muzzled and barking into a placid, trusting dog happy to share a car seat with Louis.

Back with Mr and Mrs Hippy-Dippy, we learned Caspar had been packed off to the pound for termination after biting Nancy's leg through to the bone.

"He's no longer with us in the world," said Max.

"You mean he's dead," said Louis. "Yeah," said Max.

They'd acquired a new dog, Belvedere, a mound of grey fur compliant to the point of inertia. "It's like having an animated throw rug," observed Louis. You were left hoping Belvedere would discover his inner Caspar.

Louis Theroux's LA Stories. Last Night, BBC2 HHHHI