Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Denver Doggie Day Care Story More Hype Than Horror

CBS4 Barking Up Wrong Tree in Sweeps Stunt

Few stories grab more attention than tales about pets abused or killed. I found that out years ago while a reporter at the Bergen Record.
I did a series of reports about a shady pet store that, among other things, was marketing purebreds that turned out to be diseased mutts. The number of letters and phone calls I received from readers was unmatched for anything I did before or since.
So, it was no surprise that KCNC-TV (CBS4) in Denver would turn to a tragic animal spot to goose up ratings during sweeps. This one involved owners who left their pooches at doggie day care centers, only to get their pets back dead.
Veteran reporter Rick Sallinger (above) focused on the owners of two dogs who perished in various ways. Their stories could have been served up as a cautionary tale and launched another story -- that Sallinger is set to do tonight -- on what to look for in a doggie day care facility. That should have been that.
The problem is, Sallinger set this up as a trend piece, with "numerous instances" of dogs killed or injured. We see Sallinger poring over more than 500 state inspection reports, which found 10 dogs died and an unspecified number injured.
So, it was numerous if you define that as more than one. But numerous actually means "existing in considerable quantity" or "comprising a great number." Ten doesn't qualify.
Yes, 10 is too many, but Sallinger never tells us over how many years those deaths were recorded, a crucial omission that fails to put his story in proper context. This is especially important when you're dealing with a topic that stirs up raw emotions in so many viewers whose dogs are cherished family members.
Either it's a runaway epidemic of neglect or a number that, from a statistical standpoint, could be expected.
While Sallinger closed out his report stating that most doggie day care centers are "excellent" (how would he know?), that information gets lost amid the four minutes of hype that preceded it.
I knew Sallinger as a reliable correspondent back from my days at CBS, when he would file freelance reports to the radio network. Only because I know he can do better I'd like to think he was put up to this by an overzealous news director looking for some ratings juice in the hyper-competitive Denver market.
Regrettably, though, this story is a dog that definitely will not hunt.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad that someone else was offended at the stunning lack of journalism exhibited in this piece. One of the other things that I found especially obscene was how they interviewed a family friend of a family who had lost a dog. How on earth is his view of the event the least bit newsworthy.

Anonymous said...

I used to work at a doggy day care and this is a story that needed to be heard by those that entrust their family (dogs) to strangers. There are lots of problems at day cares and I am glad that the issue is coming to light. Two questions people need to ask of potential Doggy Day Cares "Is there ANY time during the day when the number of dogs per person WATCHING THEM is greater than 15?" Also "What are the responsibilities of the people who are watching my dogs- are they going to have to leave them at any time (to clean other rooms or ANY other reason) ?