This article was written by Dr Harry Cooper for the Aug/Sep/Oct issue of Pet Industry News.

It’s a very old saying, but oh so true, ‘Bad news makes news, but good news is no news’. So how do we go about trying to change this perception?

From my initial time on Burke’s Backyard, it was certainly obvious to me that people actually wanted to hear good stories about animals, whether they be our pets or animals in the wild. It used to be just a 30 second ‘grab’ that TV channels used to put a smile on viewer’s faces, after all the misery of the nightly news bulletin.

I was so convinced that we could do more than just run the mandatory three and a half minute info piece each week, as I was doing, that I took a proposal down to the local television channel in Hobart. It had taken quite a deal of research to come up with all the right figures, such as population numbers, money spent on food and accessories, veterinary fees of course, and anything else I thought relevant. It had unique ideas, looking at all aspects of domestic animals and basically anything else that could crawl, walk, slither, gallop, swim, or fly! It could have been called, ‘All About Animals’.

Having taken a seat in the manager’s office and presented the proposal, he and his offsider turned away and looked out the window, muttering something about fishing, I thought. Finally, they turned back, and staring straight at me, he uttered the words that have spurred me on for more than 50 years: “Animals, Harry? Honestly, who would want to watch a show about animals?”

Well, it was only a couple of months later I was having lunch with Brian Finch from FM Television in Launceston, and he was showing me a proposal that was very similar to the one that I had filed under ‘try again later’. We did just that together and “Talk to the Animals” was born! Wow!

We started filming in October, with the object of launching the show in another 15 months, but the Seven Network thought differently, and it was the end of January, some four months later we were on air.

It became compulsory Sunday night viewing with audiences of more than 3.5 million, yes, million. It ran for four years, and regrettably, like so many series, it folded. But when that one door shut, another opened and 12 months later ‘Harry’s Practice’ was born. Dr Katrina Warren and I formed what I like to think was a great team, but we had a great producer, Hilary Innes, who steered the show to the great success it was. It took ‘The Block’ to finally see us off. It’s a wonderful feeling that more than half of the students enrolling in the faculty of Veterinary Science around the country were motivated by that series. That is the power of media!

That, however, was not the end and I was asked to join ‘Better Homes and Gardens’. I’ve lost count, but around 18 years seems about right. I’ve looked back at the start of my television adventures, and it seems that it was 1969 when I first stood in front of a TV camera. It was the ‘Today Show’, mornings, on the Seven Network. What did we talk about? Animals! What else?

In total, probably half my years have been spent in front of a TV camera, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

It seems that in spite of my initial knock back, the whole country embraces animals. Television commercials, a spot on every news bulletin, billboards, and the written word. Social media is awash with animals. They make us laugh and they make us cry, two of the great human emotions that make us remember things and events.

We can of course just choose to sit around and expect things to come to us in business, or we can get out there and promote. It is up to everyone in business to keep the object of their activities front and centre in eyeline of their potential audience. It’s of little value, in my book, talking about dogs as a group. What your audience needs are stories, true stories, of animal ‘heroes’. Stories that 95 per cent of the time have a happy ending. Everyone likes a happy ending.

Sure, there are times when circumstances dictate otherwise, like the loss of between one and three billion animals in the last major firestorm, but this needs to be balanced with stories of survival and success. The tales of koalas that make it through seemingly horrific burns, to live life again. Who can forget that picture of such a creature taking a drink from a firefighter’s water bottle?

I was always moved by the story of an elderly owner collapsing in his own home and being unable to call for help. His trusty dog kept him alive for five days by dunking a towel into the toilet and bringing it to him so he could get a drink. What a dog!

Our great Australian poet Banjo Paterson wrote about ‘Mongrel Grey’, the only horse that would swim a flooded river in the dark to save a child’s life.

Great stories about real animals.

We are all concerned about the legislation governing dog breeding in NSW. Is it in fact going to legitimise commercial puppy farming and bring an end to the ‘mum and dad era’, where the family’s dog was allowed to breed a litter of puppies every couple of years? Frankly I do not know, but surely the general public are interested in situations like this.

As a group it is up to people like yourselves in the pet industry to approach the media. They will rarely come to you unless it is one of those ‘bad stories’ I spoke about at the very beginning.

Facts are important, but they rarely grab peoples’ attention. A story about real people, real animals, and real events are what you need to get the media’s attention. Emotion is what’s needed.

Communication is the key. We must learn to utilise all possible media outlets to spread the word that owning a pet is just the best thing in the world. It’s not much value carrying on about the science, even though we know how true it is. Your job as business owners is to find these stories, or if time does not allow, then find someone who can find them for you. Do I sound like I’m repeating myself? Good, you noticed, keep knocking on doors. That my friends is the key.

QUESTION: “Animals? Who’d want to watch a show about animals?”

ANSWER: “Just about everyone.”

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