PERPLEXED STAFF at Battersea Dogs Home were mystified when they arrived at work one morning to find that the kitchen had been raided for what appeared to be an animal version of a midnight feast. Then again, there are rumours that the Dogs Home itself is haunted, so there was always going to be some doubt as to how the food was ‘spirited away’…
Furthermore, it was not an isolated incident. It happened again and again, each time with a growing number of dogs running amok on the premises. The doors of their kennels had been mysteriously unlocked.
Baffled staff finally decided that the only way to get to the bottom of the mystery was to set up surveillance cameras in a bid to determine how the dogs were escaping.
The cameras quickly revealed not glowing orbs or ambient ectoplasm, but a far more prosaic culprit in the form of ‘Red’, a resident three-year-old Lurcher.
Footage revealed Red methodically setting about freeing himself by using his teeth to release the latch on the outside of his kennel. He then turned to the more altruistic task of opening the kennels of his neighbouring canines using the same winning dental technique. United, the pack of dogs trotted down the corridor and raided the cupboards of dog biscuits and treats – then grabbed a selection of toys to round off their excursion with a good old play around.
Just this week, Battersea staff revealed there might be a happy ending to the mischievous antics of Red. After arriving emaciated four months ago, he can now hope for a better life in a new home after GMTV broadcast the images of him sneaking out of his kennel in the black of night, prompting over 400 hundred calls from viewers offering the loveable rogue a new home. One could even say, it was a Battersea version of the curious incident of the dog in the night time.
"This is particularly pleasing for us because Lurchers and greyhounds tend to be more difficult to re-house," said Liz Emeny, communications manager for the home. "The perception is that that they require too much exercise to be good domestic pets but in reality they sleep a lot as well."
The great escape from Battersea Dogs Home began when a growing number of dogs were found running around the premises each morning. Becky Blackmore, the Kennel Manager, described how as many as nine dogs were escaping every night.
"We came in to chaos," she said. "It happened about a dozen times. We would come in to lots of dogs out on their block. They had had lots of food, lots of fun and games, and caused loads of mess. There are lots of stories about Battersea being haunted so we wanted to make sure that there was an explanation for what was going on and we managed to catch the culprit."
Infra-red cameras caught Red red-handed. They captured him sticking his muzzle through the bars of his kennel, before using his teeth to press the button which operated the spring-loaded catch to his door.
"It is amazing because Lurchers aren't renowned for their intelligence," Ms Blackmore said. "It is amazing that he has worked out how to get out of his own kennel, but then also that he goes and lets all his friends out."
Overnight, the four-year-old, who was brought in to Battersea as a malnourished stray, was inundated with media requests. Live link-ups were arranged with film crews from Japan, Germany and America. He shook paws with Eammon Holmes, the presenter of the morning breakfast programme GMTV, but expressed his displeasure at satellite TV by urinating on the jacket of an unsuspecting Sky News journalist. Within a week, 400 people had called to offer Red a home. However, the Sky News journalist was not one of them.
Whilst being filmed, Red plays to the audience, trotting around his kennel, apparently unconcerned and basically just ‘acting natural’. Then, just when the audience feels it can take no more, Red leaps up on his hind legs, grips the lock to his kennel door between his teeth and manoeuvres the spring with his tongue. The door glides open to spontaneous applause.
"He's a natural in front of the camera," says Liz Emeny, who has become Red's unofficial agent for the past week. "Even when he doesn't know he's being filmed.
"It's going to take us at least a week to sift through all the responses from people asking to rehome Red," says Miss Emeny. "Then we will have to get people down for interview to make the final decision. It's been incredible for the others as well - many people are ringing up offering homes to the dogs that they've seen on the footage. For Red, we are looking for a semi-rural home with children over the age of 12, possibly with another dog because Red is very sociable and loves being around his friends."
Although advertising agencies are sniffing around, Red has yet to sign up for a lucrative endorsement deal. A spokeswoman for Pedigree, the dog food manufacturer, said that he has "true star quality" and that they are "keeping an eye on this outstanding dog" for future opportunities. "Red is certainly proving to be a real canine celebrity," she said.
Despite his new-found fame, Red has so far refrained from indulging in the debauched excesses of life in the fast lane. There has not yet been a drugs scandal, although he has developed a predilection for snacking on pig's ears. There have been no kiss-and-tells, although the tabloids are talking about a glamorous black, long-legged greyhound called Holly with whom Red is said to have "shared a doggie chew".
Red - whose hungry life as a stray is believed to lie behind his obsession with food - has now had his kennel made more secure with a padlock before his lucky new owners are vetted and home checked and can welcome Red to their home.
One thing is for sure though – they’d better keep the kitchen door padlocked!