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Giving dogs a bad name

THE PUBLICATION of the Government’s Animal Welfare Bill has somehow seemed to give carte blanche to columnists everywhere to indulge in a bit of dog bashing.

Most columnists, such as Vanessa Feltz in the Daily Express seemed to have missed the point altogether; bemoaning the plans to raise the age at which children can buy pets, Feltz seems to think that the Government is trying to ban children from having pets altogether.

Having a pet, nurturing it and then seeing it die is all part of life’s experience and childhood in general, according to Feltz, but now this is to be cruelly stopped by Government in another ‘nanny-state’ piece of interference. Er, no, sorry Vanessa love, you’ve got it wrong: Children can still have pets – it just means that hopefully, thanks to parental control, there’ll be more supervision and less impulse purchases, hence less untimely pet deaths and a bit less of that particular sort of ‘life experience’.

It might also stop young thugs from indulging in such healthy ‘childhood’ activities such as that recorded last year – a group of boys (all aged under 16) bought a Gerbil from a pet shop, tied it to a firework rocket and sent it to oblivion. The Government’s curbs on firework sales are a bloody good idea too. Or is terrorising defenceless animals (and people, come to that), all part of ‘life’s experience’ and ‘childhood’ too?

The Express also ran one of it’s famous knee-jerk Votelines ahead of the publication of the Animal Welfare Bill asking readers to vote whether Tony Blair has more important things to do than banning pet sales and goldfish being awarded at prizes at a fair. It probably shocked the hacks at the good ol’ Excess that the result was far closer than they thought: 60% said Yes, 40% said no… and the question was ambiguous anyway. No doubt quite a few of the ‘Yes’ respondents thought they were voting in favour of the Bill… so the real result was far closer anyway. Mind you, asking whether Maxine Carr should get out of Britain is a far safer bet for a voteline (99% yes, 1% no).

Cut to Alyson Rudd, writing in The Times, under the heading ‘Give A Dog A Bad Name’. The eloquent Alyson must live in a particularly grubby part of the metropolis, because, as she so eloquently puts it (and this is the Times, remember): "…every morning I have to sidle past dogs’ s**t and then warn my children as they career down the path to look out for the mess." (Asterisks are mine, not hers).

Alyson continues to rail at the ruddy injustice of it all, and then says: "If I ruled the world, there would be no dogs. And if that meant people turned to sheep to place on leads, I would have to ban them too. There is no place for a creature that has no toilet training capabilities in our villages, never mind our cities. Dogs cock their legs on the lampposts, fences and walls you lean upon or brush past. If they are not crapping on the pavement outside our local school, then they are crapping in the grass where my sons play football. Sliding tackles last longer than they sometimes should."

And of course, in Rudd’s universe, dogs are dangerous too – and smelly: "And instead of watching the lads skim through excrement, my friend’s daughter knelt in front of a small dog telling him how cute he looked while tickling his chin. And then he bit hers. ‘Oh, he loves children,’ said the owner, ‘but he doesn’t like too much fuss.’ We weren’t about to accept a lift in her car to A&E, though. Enclosed spaces and dogs do not mix. The stifling aroma of panting breath, the hairs on the seats, the slobbered windows and the sudden yelps at passing trees make public transport seem idyllic."

But let’s not write Alyson off completely. She would allow some dogs to exist, in a tacit acceptance that they are actually quite useful. She magnanimously decrees: "If I ruled the world there would be lobby groups vying for my attention and being a nice despot I would grant the existence of sheepdogs, guide-dogs and miniature poodles for Barbara Cartland lookalikes whose lives would lack meaning if they could not tie pretty pink bows around their tails. Just kidding."

Then she gets all soft on us and says by way of mitigation: "Don’t misunderstand, I wish dogs no harm. I just do not think they have a place in society. The Government’s new animal welfare Bill reminds us of our responsibility towards dumb creatures but not how dumb we are for buying a puppy in the first place. The RSPCA knows we can stupidly forget that dogs grow bigger, eat more and look less appealing after the first six months but forget to mention that all dogs at any age will happily go to the toilet outside your neighbour’s front door.

"So do not kick the dog, kick the dog habit. Talk to things that talk back, walk with things that do not try to mate with your boss’s leg. And yes, if you had not guessed, I like cats.

Was it a dog or a cat that last week caused a crash among the cyclists in the Tour de France? Ah yes, it was a dog."

There’s no voteline as to whether Rudd is right, but the Times does invite readers to express their views by joining the debate at: comment@thetimes.co.uk

Well, let slip the dogs of war, I say… Go get ‘er, gang! But make sure you go to toilet first, mind…