Gizmo the digital chihuahua fails to make a friend

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2005, 12:00am

The saying goes that 'if you want a friend, get a dog'. I have misgivings about flesh-and-blood dogs, however. My mother's eats excrement and is never happier than when rolling in the remains of a dead bird or some fish on the riverbank.

So, to inject some warmth into my remote 'e-lancer' existence, I have decided to adopt a digital dog. No dirt or fleas, no smell, no eviction notice.

Googling, I wind up at and, feeling a bit like a slave trader, inspect five pets presented in mugshot mode. The first, an American beagle, is beige and has its tongue hanging out. The second, a black Labrador looks more assertive - indeed it has a 'leap at your throat' look about it.

While the third, a poodle, is as camp as a pantomime dame, the fourth - an ET-chihuahua cross - disturbs me as does the fifth, an orange cat giving a tight-lipped smile.

The grotesque chihuahua wins my sympathy vote. I name him Gizmo after one of the monsters in Gremlins and make him one-year-old before clicking 'adopt'. This manoeuvre beams me onto a high street where lurid houses lean towards each other, apparently made of rubber.

One sign says 'dog show'. Another says 'pet store'. Then there is a vet, which makes me wonder if the black Labrador is on the loose. I click on a sign plastered over a park, which says 'play with your dog'.

Whoosh. My chihuahua instantly appears before me, standing in a quiet street, to the right of a fire hydrant, twitching his nostrils. He recoils in horror from his new owner and then, to the left of the hydrant, I notice a coil of doggy-do highlighted by three flies. As I instinctively move my mouse towards the obscenity I realise I have picked up a dustpan and paintbrush that automatically sweeps but fails to pick up the mess. Then I click on the crap, which allows me to dispatch it into a bin.

The picture changes again. Gizmo now stands in a field peppered with flowers beneath a bright, fat sun. In the foreground, there are three prompts: running, tricks and frisbee. The last prompt is crossed out. When I hold the cursor over it, a message betraying what the designer can gain says 'buy in shop'. My Scottish ancestry prevents me from indulging in this sort of frivolity so I click on 'tricks' and, for the first time, hear sound: a burst of bird song on a loop.

The words 'choose a trick' appear in the sky beneath a cloud. Above it, I see six pictures of Gizmo, each showing a pose. In one (flip), he is lying on his head with his tongue hanging out. In another, he is prostrate, legs cycling in the air (rollover). In another, he is banging a drum. I choose this option and he hammers away like a majorette. Next, I command him to flip and he fairly loops the loop. In the wake of that performance, running should be a breeze and Gizmo does it with gusto, bounding like Bambi, enticed by a bone that materialises wherever I click. Cute.

All the same, on a cuteness scale of 1 to 10, where Hello Kitty occupies the top spot, I would rank Gizmo no higher than 4.

Indeed, even if Gizmo were as beautiful as a borzoi and as brainy as a border collie, I would still fail to feel smitten - he is just too predictable. I have had more fun stuck on hold, waiting for technical support. Perhaps, after all, the psychotic black Labrador would have been more exciting. If I bother to hook up with Gizmo again it will not be to enter him in the dog show. I will have him put down.