By Brett Birks
A Stourbridge man has released a book detailing his extraordinary career change – from a high powered television director to a council dog catcher.
When Bernard Cartwright was made redundant from his post as a television director and producer, he initially wasn't too concerned.
"I thought that I'd have nothing to worry about," he explains. "I assumed that with my experience, background and contacts I'd have no trouble finding comparable work. Oh, how wrong I was!
"It was a horrible time. I filled out over 200 job applications. I have a large family – four children. As I say in the book: 'unemployment puts the bite into a family like nothing else save divorce or death.'"
A new career
Bernard was at a job centre in Worcester when his new career came a calling.
Bernard Cartwright in attire
"I saw a position for a city dog catcher - one of those people who goes around looking for unruly or escaped dogs. Years before, I'd produced a documentary on a Birmingham bloke who'd done the same thing, so I had a fair idea of what the job entailed."
Kitted out with all the paraphernalia for dog catching – and a van for housing strays which he affectionately refers to as Pixie – Bernard travelled from Stourbridge to Worcester every day for three years on the hunt for lost and unruly dogs.
He kept a diary which forms the basis of his new book The Knocknobbler, an ancient term used to describe people appointed by a church to remove unruly canines from acts of worship.
"I'd get home a sit round the dinner table with my family talking about my day," he remembers. "We'd often just howl with laughter at some of the people I'd met and escapades I'd been involved in."
Dogs and owners
The Knocknobbler is rich with tales of dogs lost, injured, abandoned or just plain unruly: Rinty the sympathy dog, stuck under the floorboards; Tosca the poodle with dreadlocks who terrified postmen and the Malamute that failed to drown Bernard's Christmas swan.
"I'd get calls from the council if there were complaints about dangerous dogs; I'd patrol the streets looking for strays; answer emergency calls if a dog was on the loose. I'd perfected the belly crawl - you wouldn't believe where dogs can get trapped!
"No matter how angry or frightened they were, I'd always talk and sing to them when I'd bundled them into Pixie, driving back!"
The owners and characters that Bernard met along his travels were equally amusing. The seductive Emily Wantuch, Natasha the gypsy princess, Zorba Athalos the troubled foulee and Mr. Navelhazy who was drunk in charge of a whippet are just some of the dozens of folks mentioned in The Knocknobbler.
Dom and Hamish, 20 miles in?
"Some were kind, some were violent and some were just plain mad," laughs Bernard. "I met some extraordinary characters. People's responses to the job were largely positive but you never know. I nearly got attacked several times for ordering people to pick up their dogs' mess.
"The best memories were the couple of times I returned a lost dog to a household who'd recently had a death in the family. Those times did bring a tear to my eye."
Black Country humour
Bernard's story is part tragic and part reflective yet always hilarious, rich in the fabled Black Country humour.
Out and about
"If I never sell another copy it doesn't matter," he says. "It was such a personal time for me and my family but so, so funny too. Despite all the sagas that I talk about, the fact is that I really think I was doing a good public service that needed to be done."
"It was an unforgettable time for me. Some people feel that their life is going to the dogs from time to time – mine actually did!"
Bernard Cartwright now works as a civil servant in Birmingham. His book is available from http://www.parapress.co.uk/
last updated: 17/06/2008 at 10:55