Written by Hannah Dunleavy


The dogs of (class) war

Jenny Evans’ documentary Rich Dog, Poor Dog shines a light on the wildly different lives of two pets in divided Britain. But, says Hannah Dunleavy, it reveals quite a lot more.

Chucky and Cherry. Photos: Channel 4.

If you’ve read a newspaper any time recently, you’ll already know that the gap between rich and poor in this country is growing faster than ever.

So, while Jenny Evans‘ new (indeed, first) documentary might not be telling us anything new, the approach it takes is unusual, as it explores the contrasting lives of two dogs who live just a few streets apart in Battersea.

Pets have long been a political hot potato – witness common reactions to homeless people who have canine companions for further evidence – with animals often seen as a luxury by people for whom they aren’t, and a necessity for people who struggle to afford the crazy costs they can sometimes entail. Anyone who lives close to their means every month can tell you how the slightest illness or injury can wreck your finances, or how little time you need to spend on reduced income before you look into your cat or dog’s bowl and realise they are probably eating better than you.

The two dogs in question couldn’t be more different. Chucky is a Staffordshire bull terrier who lives in a council flat with his owner Cherry, her girlfriend and Juno, a Yorkshire terrier bitch with a penchant for cat humping. Meanwhile shih tzu Yum-Yum lives like a veritable Little Lord Fauntlewoof with owner Georgina and her family, where the worst thing that’s going to happen is an unnecessary trip to the vet.

While the contrasts between their lives couldn’t be greater, Evans’ skill lies in finding the similarities and what they can then tell us about the differences. Both Georgina and Cherry, for example, have (quite frankly awful) ideas on how to make money out of their pets, both of which seem doomed from the start. The first because it is driven by boredom, the second because it is driven by desperation.

Yum-Yum and Georgina.

The more controversial of them, the issue that dominates the second half of Rich Dog, Poor Dog, is breeding pets for money. And not just because of the many comparisons that can be made to the way so many desperate women have resorted to, and continue to, support their families.

Much of the success of any documentary lies in its subjects, and Evans has chosen well here. Neither woman is completely saint or sinner but their sex gives them something in common – even for the briefest of moments – in that they’ve been pregnant themselves.

Which means Rich Dog, Poor Dog also has something to say about motherhood today. But, perhaps most interesting of all, is what it has to say about grief. Both women have experienced a huge (and recent) loss and Evans’ film provides a fascinating glimpse into grief and how different classes deal with it.

Rich Dog, Poor Dog is on Channel 4 on Thursday at 11pm.
More details on Channel 4’s First Cut series, including how you can get involved can be found here.


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Written by Hannah Dunleavy

Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.