As a priest, the Rev. Mark Suslenko, of St. Anthony’s Church in Prospect, knows he has many blessings for which to be thankful. But sometimes he can only raise his eyes to heaven and thank the good Lord that his dog, Alex, has not yet learned to use the remote.
Because the truth is, if Alex, an 11-year-old Airedale mix, learned to operate the TV remote control, well the dog would just stay on his hind legs all day, yapping endlessly at the cheetahs on “Animal Planet.”
Oh, and not just the cheetahs, but the rhinos, the birds, the wildebeest and the antelope — anything, really, that is not human.
Alex likes TV.
Although “like,” Suslenko understands, is a delicate term to apply to a dog that comes charging down the rectory steps when he hears the meow of a kitten, the bleat of a sheep, the bray of the donkey, the yelp of another dog and, heaven help us, even the silent whisker-moving of a rabbit.
Naturally, Alex has his favorites.
“He has the commercials that have dogs in them memorized,” Suslenko said. “He knows the jingles and he knows at what point in the commercial the dog shows up. It’s just constant work.”
Constant work because Alex is not a passive observer. Alex lunges toward the 12-inch television set on the kitchen counter, his tawny paws scraping at the countertop, his scimitar-like tail flailing menacingly toward the refrigerator, his yowling, snarling, baying bark enough to fray the nerves of a — well, of a parish priest.
“He goes into this zone,” Suslenko explained. “I’ve done everything. I’ve done the ‘zap’ collar. I’ve had the leash on, trying to hold him back. Nothing. Doesn’t phase him. I could threaten him with death and he will not stop watching that TV. He gets focused on that TV and riveted and that’s that.”
As a result, Suslenko has had to adjust his viewing habits. He’s an animal lover who cannot watch “Animal Planet,” a documentary devourer who cannot watch the Discovery Network, a movie freak who has to screen his DVD rentals for paws. “Anything that possibly might have an animal in it, I don’t even get,” he said.
“It’s constant war,” Suslenko said. “When you least expect an animal to show up, it’s there. So I don’t really watch too much TV.”
So it’s unlikely Suslenko will be ponying up $4.99 a month for Dog TV, a new, eight-hour block of on-demand cable TV programming designed “to keep your dog stimulated.” Based in San Diego, Calif., Dog TV seeks to take advantage of the enhanced television technologies like digital TV, high-definition cameras, big screens and enhanced production. With analog television, dogs could see only flickering images on the screen. But digital television allows dogs to see more, said Dr. Nick Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
But Alex was ahead of the curve. Alex began watching TV about eight years ago, before the advent of HDTV.
“It’s ironic because when I first had him, he never seemed to interact with the TV. It was always background noise,” Suslenko said. “Then, one day an animal came on and it’s the growling, the lunging, the whole ball of wax.
“He could be upstairs. He could be out in the back yard and he’ll open up to the screen door and go up to the TV and he’s off.”
Naturally, Suslenko has discussed this with his veterinarian. “The vet told me twice it’s impossible,” Suslenko said. “Well, you come over to my house and tell me it’s impossible.”
In fairness to Alex, it must be said that he does not react to non-animal television. “Old black and white movies tend to be animal-free,” said Suslenko, who has become a connoisseur of such things. “And he’ll just park there and watch those. He likes anything on television.”
As for Dog TV. “Oh no,” Suslenko said. “I’m not paying for that.”