BEHIND THE SCENES with Lea Redfern

Can you talk about inserting your own personal story into When the Dog Was Just the Dog along with the interviews, humor, and other more straightforward, topical elements

I wanted to produce a piece that included a strong narrative and narration. To explain, in most of my programs there is very little of me -- or at least my voice. The narration is quite sparse and spare. It's a style I enjoy listening to and making, and that has suited the subject of my programs. But my personal connection to dogs opened up the possibility of internal narration -- and I think it is important to challenge yourself once in a while with new ways of working

The broader humor came with the topic -- dogs and their owners are funny a lot of the time. And if I was looking at dog owners I had to turn the gaze on myself -- I'm just as obsessed as anyone else. So I began with the idea of my dogs as baby substitutes, and exaggerated that -- or chose moments from my life that exemplify that. Talking about my current dogs, Rory and Jack, drew me back to my childhood dog, Georgie. And once I started writing about her, the story got a lot more personal than I anticipated. Personal and darker. I thought hard about including really personal stories and came to the realization that I'm always asking other people to allow me to broadcast the intimate details of their lives, and if someone else had told me those stories on tape I would definitely want to broadcast them. And in a sense my story took over the program, so I would tell people that I was making a program about dogs, but that it was really all about me. (Which I think is okay to say from a self-esteem perspective when you think as highly of dogs as I do.

When the Dog carefully straddles the line between being playful and serious. Is this intentional, and is it more one than the other, in your ears

I find humor and darkness natural companions. I couldn't have told some of the more personal parts of the story without humor. Also, as there is an element of proselytizing in the program, I'm hoping a spoonful of humor helps the dogma (sorry) go down

Some people told me they found elements of the story quite hard to listen to. Some people cried. I hoped the humor would help them to stay with it -- but as to which way one or the other -- it's hard for me to say with my own program. I probably still don't have the distance. Maybe ask me in a few years

The program speaks to changes that have taken place through the years in the dog—owning culture in Australia. Does is also illuminate broader changes across first-world cultures

Yes, and no. I think there are definite first-world trends toward the regulation of children and dogs, and increasing concerns about threats to personal safety. However, on the "no" side, I think there are really specific things about this country [Australia] that are so normalized that Australians might not notice them unless we travel overseas. People who return from Europe, in particular, comment on how many rules we have, from wearing your seatbelt and not smoking in public interior spaces to not taking your dog to cafes

And while there is sense in all of this, I wonder if this sort of policing has its downsides. What do we lose in terms of developing our own common sense and courtesy to deal with a variety of situations? For example, dog owners who are only ever around other dog owners, or have to keep their dogs locked up, might never have to think about training their dogs for broader social interaction, which can definitely be a problem if and when random interactions do occur

This story is full of great sound effects and accompaniment -- puppy whimpers blending into baby screams, a wagging tail thumping against the floor, carefree pop songs . . . how much did the piece's sound design guide your writing and interviewing for the story

Thanks for noticing. The sound engineer, Russell Stapleton, and I had great fun working with the sound and music, and the sound and story are interdependent. At Radio Eye we pay a lot of attention to form and why this should be a radio program -- as opposed to a print article, for example. Part of the reason I thought that this could make good radio was that dogs make great sounds -- even without trying. That tail thumping on the floor is very evocative

I didn't have it all laid out before I started. One thing led to another. Once I thought about the dog of my childhood, Georgie, I remembered the pop song that I associated with her, and I knew that including the song would help evoke an era. Once I started talking about Georgie, I realized I'd feel like a fraud if I went without revealing why she was so important to me (although in a sense I couldn't have said why until I wrote it.) And once the "Georgie Girl" song was in, I thought a strange take on this sweet, familiar pop song was a good metaphor for family life gone awry. And on it goes

What did you learn about dogs/dog owners that most surprised you over the course of production on this piece

Actually the depth of hostility toward dogs surprised me. While I was making the piece, people would say things like "I don't believe in dogs in the city," and I'd think, what do you mean, they exist, they are there, and unless you want to wrest them from the arms of the people who love them (such as cute children and stereotypically isolated elderly people) they are there to stay. Outside of the dog-owning community, there is little acknowledgement of the contribution dogs can make, especially for socially isolated people. I'm quite gob-smacked when I think of how bereft our cities would be without pets. (And yes, I do think domestic cats also add to our lives)

It also surprised me how much of a social instrument dogs are. Two dogs see each other, they seem to bow, say, "Hi -- I'm a dog, you're a dog, let's play," and their humans are drawn into that interaction. (As the interactions between owners are brief and numerous, we often forget each other's names. We hear each other calling our pets and we often end up knowing each other by our dog's names. So someone might become "Fluffy's mother" or "Rasta's dad." Important information to bear in mind when you are naming your dog.

Following up on the last line in the program -- any kids yet, besides Rory and Jack?!!

Hmmm, well, the program wasn't a totally transparent representation of my life, but rather a fictionalized one. There were two ways I considered ending the program, and the other one involved packed bags and chewed marriage-counseling books. (This is great; I get to rewrite the end!) That would have been more true-to-life. In other words, I'm now divorced. Rory and Jack live in Queensland—about an eight-hour drive from where I live. There would have been a custody battle, but, well, you need take into consideration what is best for the chi -- sorry, dogs, and I'm sure they prefer life on a farm to an inner-city studio flat. Luckily though, I do get visiting rights.