Saturday, 28 January 2017


There are two reasons why I should devote a whole post to canis familiaris. Firstly because it is a compulsory condition of the Community Service Order I received following my prosecution for direct pet discrimination, an action brought by the Equality Commission. I pleaded guilty, I was bang to rights: a whole post devoted to Cats, back in November, with not so much as a BBC disclaimer:  'other species are available'. Mea culpa. The other reason is more positive: the household is in a pro-dog frame of mind this week, since The Editor decided that Roxie the Dog's acute separation anxiety might be helped by the presence of a companion, and if it were a puppy, she might mother it. Mothering was a prospect which had been unlikely since the vet's intervention to turn her 'road less travelled' into a cul-de-sac.

So Wednesday afternoon found us on a farm in Suffolk, braving bitter wind and icy rain which had travelled non-stop from the Steppes: surveying 13 candidates for adoption, and we ourselves being vetted for suitability. If you can imagine twelve more, as cute as this one, you will understand the impulse to grab a handful each and run away. But we settled on this little bitch, called her Lola (not to be abbreviated to Lol) and headed back feeling well-pleased, but with only photos to bridge the gap until she's old enough to leave her mother. Meanwhile Roxie the Dog suspects that Something is Up - possibly the smell of fresh puppy up her nose from our clothes. Oops.

Lola is a Border Collie and should  be useful for rounding up sheep, a traditional Willesden practice. It's possible that this skill might be generalised to include chickens, as the High Road boasts more fried chicken outlets than the entire KFC operation (other foods are not available, apparently).

Dogs and I go back a long way. The first family dog was not called Spot, but I have no idea what it was called: I've lost the memory stick for that part of my life, on account of being less than one year old at the time that he/she/it died of distemper (a disease, not paint fumes). The second one was a Battersea Dogs' Home graduate called Kim, a Manchester Terrier cross. 

Kim's major error (apart from having metrosexual owners who chose a confusing sexually ambiguous name for her) was to run out of the sideway of our house on the evening of November 5th, Fireworks Night. She was out all night. For a dog it must have been something like listening to a recording of the Battle of the Somme, in the dark, alone and utterly terrified. She came back in the morning, a different dog. Anxious, neurotic, more than a little crazy, and very unpredictable, she had been scarred irrevocably by the experience. This was not long after my father's second heart attack, and after a couple of incidents in which he had to run after her to stop her scaring or biting children, she was put down. It was probably a kindness, she was no longer a happy dog.

#3 came a long time later. My friends DG and GL had a wonderful Border Collie cross called Hera. She had a lovely temperament, and I became very fond of her. When a brief but romantic encounter in Finsbury Park left her with a litter of puppies, we were first in the queue for them. She was another bitch, my preference, and was named Jones (for obscure reasons, which cannot be divulged without m'learned friends stirring at the prospect of a fat fee). Actually, she chose herself: she was the only one of the litter who stumbled forwards to greet us when we viewed them. Her first night away from her family was miserable: she cried bitterly, rhythmically, and finally so compellingly, that I went down and kept her company. I slept on the sofa, with this tiny little sad puppy finding some comfort nestling in the space between my head and my shoulder. We bonded that night.

Jones was the perfect family dog. Affectionate, loyal, and tolerant of the indignities children always visit upon stationary animals, from poking to dressing up. Only once was she in disgrace, and then for reasons beyond her control. Her hormones persuaded her she was pregnant and that she should excavate a large hole in the Chesterfield sofa as a nest for her phantom puppies. When we came home, the living-room carpet had experienced a heavy fall of cotton waste. Jones shrank from us, her belly nearly touching the floor, as she slunk away from us; as guilty as only a very guilty dog can look.

That strong maternal instinct came to the fore a little later: having found a discarded tiny kitten in the park, Jones groomed it, mothered it and even produced milk to suckle it. A photograph of this stood at my wife's bedside when she was in UCH, having our first child, Leah. A human breastfeeding consultant lit upon it and it was used to help many mothers with feeding difficulties, along the lines of "if a dog can feed a cat, with patience you'll feed your baby". Well done that dog: typically loving and generous.

There was a long gap in my dog ownership as my own situation changed, but I always had visiting rights with my sister's great dogs, Cassie and Sasha. The latter brilliantly exemplifies what we in Psychology call 'one-trial learning'. When I met Sasha for the first time I happened to have a dog-treat in my pocket which I gave her. Ever since, I get a hero's welcome on every visit.

Roxie the Dog, the current dog of choice is a Cockerpoo, though temperamentally much more Poodle than Cocker Spaniel. Jones was a hard act to follow, but she does her best (another bitch). She is a psychoanalyst's dream, addicted to love, dependent and habit-forming; a neurotic obsession with squirrels, though like an unrepentant Hunt enthusiast, it's "just for the thrill of the chase, not the kill". In Roxie's case this is academic as she's never caught one, nor likely to, now that she is slowing up a bit.  Like Kim, Roxie had a traumatic experience early in life. When she was 3, a Staffie ran to her at full speed from 100 metres away, grabbed her by the throat and proceeded to shake her violently. I'm told that the idea is to kill the victim by tearing the throat. For lack of anything else, I kicked the assailant very hard, grabbed Roxie and held her above my head, out of reach. This did not stop the dog from jumping up with her feet on my chest, snapping at Roxie inches from my face. Eventually the owner arrived, a young woman with a baby in a stroller, who blamed her husband. The conversation will be left to your imagination.

I totally accept that these dogs are a reflection of their owners and can be trained to be perfectly docile and affectionate animals; but I also believe that generations of selective breeding for aggressive purposes cannot be discounted and so there is always a potential for aggression beneath the surface. I would argue that dangerous dogs, who can (and occasionally do) kill, should be licensed and registered, like guns, and only allowed in public places muzzled and leashed. Roxie only survived because she had not been groomed recently, so that she had a thick matt of dense curly hair at the neck, which stopped the dog from getting a proper grip. It is not hard to imagine what it would have been like to carry her bloodied body back to the house, and my younger daughter's reaction. The offending dog was reported, the owner warned that she must be muzzled and kept on a leash and that a further offence would result in the dog being put down. I haven't seen her since.


 And then there was Lola:

Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful... Ann Landers

The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs ....  Charles de Gaulle

The only creatures that are evolved enough to convey pure love are dogs and infants...Johnny Depp

Dogs never bite me. Just humans.....Marilyn Monroe

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read....Groucho Marx

Can you quit talking to me in that baby-voice? Man up.

WTF do you mean 'fetch'?  If you wannit, geddit yourself...

Anyway, sometimes when you shout out 'fetch' in the park, it sounds like 'felch' and I'm not doing that for anyone, not even you.

My wish list is: two walks a day, at least one a week on the Heath, 30 minutes a day of belly and head stroking, and a weekly bone with lots of marrow to suck out. Why? Because if you don't I'm going to tell Her about that visitor you had when She was away, the one that stayed overnight with you, 'just as friends'. It doesn't look like that from the photos (shouldn't leave your iPhone out, sucker). Oh yes I would.

Me 'Always being there for you', which you say to your sloppier friends, is not a reflection of you, or a choice of mine. Explain to me how a prisoner has any alternative...


Dog, dogged, dog-eared, dog-tired, dogging, dog your footsteps, mad dogs and Englishmen, let sleeping dogs lie, can't teach an old dog new tricks, man's best friend,  dog in the manger, barking up the wrong tree, etc etc

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