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New take on sniffing out crime

March 18, 2003|Samantha Bonar | Times Staff Writer

A Shih Tzu who barks at an intruder. A Sheltie who wanders around the neighborhood after her owner is murdered. These are held up as examples of canine crime fighters on Animal Planet's somewhat misleadingly titled "Busted" series.

These pooches are crime busters like Snoopy is a World War I flying ace -- only in a vast stretch of the imagination. (Back-to-back episodes air at 9 and 10 tonight -- the show's regular time slot is 10 p.m. Saturdays.)

The show's voice-over intro claims the profiled animals "assist authorities both passively ... and aggressively" in fighting crimes. Let's just say that the passive technique dominates. These animals bust not a chop or a move. In one of tonight's segments, optimistically titled "Thor's Revenge," a police dog named Thor is dognapped when a lame-brain murder suspect steals a police car (with Thor snoozing in the backseat) to drive home after he is brought in for questioning.

After Thor and the car are safely recovered six hours later, police find some of Thor's hairs on the suspect's clothes, proving he was the one who stole the cruiser. Thor gets his man! As for uncovering the murder clues ... well, actually, Thor had nothing to do with that.

In some episodes, dogs or other creatures actually do something, heroic or otherwise. In one of tonight's segments, "Colonel's Ambush," a police dog finds a murder suspect in a garage and chases him down even after the suspect repeatedly stabs him. In another, "Rash of Mistakes," a case of chiggers -- doing their part to take a bite out of crime -- links a suspect to a murder scene in a remote field.

But for the most part, the animals are connected by only a hair to stories you would find in your typical true-crime show: the most seedy, gruesome murders the producers can dredge up and dramatically reenact. Think residential hotels, drug-addled teens, bars and pool halls. Throw in a dog and you've got "Busted."

One thing that strikes the viewer is that these so-called "dumb animals," even when they do nothing but spread their hairs around, seem brilliant and even civilized compared with the incredibly stupid and brutal criminals. Perhaps we are spaying and neutering the wrong population.

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