Strangely enough, I was in the middle of writing an article about the tactics used by the RSPCA when another animal charity knocked on my door. A young man holding a clipboard was standing on the doorstep, grinning enthusiastically: ‘Hello! I’m from Battersea Dogs Home.’
‘Hello,’ I said, ‘I’m a bit busy.’ Exposing animal welfare charities for preying on innocent people. I didn’t say that last bit out loud.
‘I just need to tell you,’ he said, ‘that we’ve got a big fundraising drive because a lot of dogs are being abandoned at the moment. And…’, he paused for dramatic effect, ‘…a lot of them have been tortured.’
‘Tortured?’ I said, feeling unnerved in precisely the way I was supposed to.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘tortured. It’s on the rise at the moment. Dogs being tortured.’
‘What do you mean? Who is torturing them and why?’
He shrugged. ‘I don’t really have any more details. All I know is there are lots of dogs being tortured.’
‘Oh dear,’ I said, trying to hold on to the spaniel who was struggling to get free from between my legs. I had trapped her there because when I opened the door she tried to hurl herself at the Battersea man, no doubt with the intention of doing a little light torturing of her own.
‘Ah!’ he said. ‘She’s lovely.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I bought her as a puppy. I tried to adopt a dog from Battersea but they wouldn’t let me have one because I’m single and have a job so they were worried the dog might be left alone. But in fact I take her everywhere and we have lovely walks twice a day, come rain or shine.’
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I do hear that sort of complaint a lot. People want to help by adopting a dog but they can’t get approved.’
And then, without a hint of irony, he told me that Battersea needs more money to help with the huge number of dogs it needs to rehome, especially with the whole torture issue.
‘We don’t want cash from you now,’ he reassured me. ‘Just a direct debit mandate so we can take money later.’
He informed me that lots of my neighbours had filled one out. Yes, I bet they had. It was mid-afternoon and, aside from columnists writing exposés of animal charities, the only people at home were the elderly. Old people don’t like talk of animal torture. They’re funny like that.
I looked him straight in the eye. ‘I’m not going to give you anything,’ I said, ‘because I don’t agree with your tactics.’
‘Oh, er, but…’ And he stammered one final appeal on behalf of ambiguously tortured dogs everywhere before sodding off.
Later, as Cydney and I set off on our afternoon walk, I noticed the cold calling sign, which bore the stamp of Lambeth Council and a number to call. So I rang it. But the number was its own sort of hoax, being connected to a trading standards line which was, in turn, connected to the main switchboard of the Citizens Advice Bureau, which had a queue consisting of everyone in Britain with problems. So I rang the council switchboard to complain and they connected me to their licensing department.
‘To be honest,’ the girl there told me, ‘we can’t take reports or complaints about that. You need to call the Citizens Advice Bureau and they will call Trading Standards and they will call the company involved and give them a telling off and say “please stop cold calling”.’
‘And will that stop it?’
‘Ooh. I don’t know.’
So I decided to call Battersea Dogs Home. ‘Press one to rehome an animal, press two to speak about fundraising, press three to bring in a dog, press four to bring in a cat…’
There wasn’t an option saying ‘press five to report a funny man on your doorstep tormenting you with strange tales of dog torture’. So I pressed two. A very nice lady was deeply apologetic and said they should never have been in a ‘no cold calling’ zone. But apparently, all their door knocking is done by an agency, you see.
She said she thought the ‘torture’ fundraising drive might be something to do with dogs being injured through dogfighting. But on the whole, she was pretty baffled. She said the agency involved would be spoken to and the person responsible for the shaggy tortured dog story would get some serious retraining. She even offered to go through the records and contact all the elderly people in my street who had given their direct debit details in order to check that they really did want to donate money.
‘The last thing we want to do is to frighten people,’ she said. Glad we cleared that up.
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