Guide dog blues

The tale of Lucky, the evil seeing eye dog, can be found on many websites and has repeatedly surfaced in the mainstream media. Stephen Fry used it as his end-of-show quote on a 2007 episode of QI (Series D, Episode 3: Dogs – shown as a repeat tonight here in Australia).

“We will not have him put down. Lucky is basically a damn good guide dog,” Ernst Gerber, a dog trainer from Wuppertal told reporters. “He just needs a little brush-up on some elementary skills, that’s all.”

Gerber admitted to the press conference that Lucky, a German shepherd guide-dog for the blind, had so far been responsible for the deaths of all four of his previous owners. “I admit it’s not an impressive record on paper. He led his first owner in front of a bus, and the second off the end of a pier. He actually pushed his third owner off a railway platform just as the Cologne to Frankfurt express was approaching, and he walked his fourth owner into heavy traffic, before abandoning him and running away to safety. But, apart from epileptic fits, he has a lovely temperament. And guide dogs are difficult to train these days.”

Asked if Lucky’s fifth owner would be told about his previous record, Gerber replied: “No. It would make them nervous, and that would make Lucky nervous. And when Lucky gets nervous he’s liable to do something silly.”

The supposedly true story has been passed around since at least 1997, according to Barbara Mikkelson at Mikkelson comments, “Stories that lack this much in the way of checkable facts (e.g., the name of an organization that could be contacted, or the names of victims whose obituaries could be checked) almost always turn out to be hoaxes.”

Hoax or not, it’s a compelling story!

From the tragic to the bizarre

“It could only happen in the United States” is a sentiment that people in other countries often express, usually accompanied with a shaking of the head. Germany too? Surely not! The Germans are way too sensible to do bizarre.

In the last week a severe cold front has caused havoc in Europe, and the death toll is mounting (it’s up to 220 at the time of writing this) as people succumb to the freezing temperatures. The thermometer dropped to minus 38°C in the Czech Republic one night.

The tragedy has been in the news a lot, with each report seeming to bring worse news.

The bizarre popped up a couple of days ago in the midst of all the chaos. The US and Germany are apparently the only two countries in the world that allow sponsorship of weather events. In a publicity stunt intended to show that the Mini Cooper is really cool, BMW in Germany decided to sponsor a cold front… as it happened, the one that’s now been responsible for so many deaths. They named it Cooper. Adding its own touch of the bizarre, The Age reported Mini stunt goes horribly wrong as if the sponsorship was somehow responsible for the severity of the weather. I guess they meant it went horribly wrong for BMW. In a more balanced article (if you’ll excuse their poor-taste pun) they filled in some detail: ‘Cooper’ weather in Europe leaves BMW in the cold.

In identically named articles SBS and The Age detail the tragedy of the extreme weather.

The Boston Globe, in its The Big Picture section, kind of combines the human tragedy and the natural beauty of a winter landscape in Extreme cold weather hits Europe. There are some beautiful scenes of snow and ice, but the human face of the disaster is shown, too, with a series of photos of homeless people coping with the weather.