Rod Liddle

It’s dark days for dogs and their owners

12 March 2015

3:00 PM

12 March 2015

3:00 PM

So who is poisoning all the doggies, then? I assumed, when the first horrible reports came through from Crufts, that it was either the Russians or the Muslims. Russians seem unable to go more than a few days without feeling the need to bump somebody off. Perhaps they’d run out of businessmen to kill and thought, during this morale-sapping lacuna, it would be wise to keep their hand in by murdering a few dogs.

We were told almost endlessly during Channel 4’s coverage of this year’s tournament — won this year by a small and unpleasant black thing, some sort of painfully sculpted terrier with an embittered expression on its face — that this was now a marvellously international event, diverse in every respect, five of the Best in Show finalists being from beyond the UK, including a white homosexual dog in a tiara from Italy. (It is written into Channel 4’s charter that the word ‘diverse’ must be used in every programme, of course, and always greeted with mass celebration whenever it is uttered.) And there were Russian competitors, along with the Swedes and the Dutch and the Americans. Not that the competitors themselves would have been the guilty parties, more likely some granite-faced shadowy maniac employed by Putin.

BRITAIN-ANIMAL-CRUFTSAn Italian Maltese, Cinecitta Sacha Baron Cohen. Image: Getty

Anyway, a Belgian red setter called Jagger has just been cremated and his ashes scattered on the field where he used to run and gambol. And now another dog which competed in Crufts has died, a shih tzu, and several more are reported to be ill, one of them being on a drip. If any of these dogs start glowing like Belisha Beacons and bleeding from the gums, we’ll know for sure it was the Russkies. If not, it is probably the radical Muslims again — they can’t abide dogs and are notoriously homophobic. Crufts, as a convocation of very camp people and dogs, would be an agreeable target, before they move on to large shopping centres, etc.

Or perhaps it was the work of Jim Bailey, chairman of Britain’s most beautiful national park, the North York Moors — and current chairman of the National Parks governing body. Does anybody know where he was when those dogs were being poisoned? Have we heard an alibi yet?

The possibility of Jim’s involvement occurred to me when I was planning some Easter walks on the moors for my family and my dog. According to the park’s website, I can barely take my dog anywhere within its 550 square miles of stunning wilderness unless at all times it is on a lead. And not just a lead, I’m instructed, but a very short lead. What’s the point of that, then? Indeed the website basically says: ‘Piss off, dogs.’ And there are helpful suggestions as to where you might piss off to — Pickering, maybe, or the Dalby Forest.

There is some danger to ground-nesting birds from dogs — although not terribly much of one, if we’re honest. Nothing like the carnage wreaked on wildlife by cats, for example — and nobody worries very much about them. Dogs cause a tiny, tiny percentage of the damage caused by cats, but cat-owners have long been above both the law and any notion of responsibility for their verminous companions. In fact, Jim’s strictures are part of a much wider official disaffection with dogs and which even you urbanites may have noticed. The animals are regularly banned from parks, and they are banned from an increasing number of our beaches. With regard to the latter, the bans put in place began by limiting the times and dates at which dog owners could let their animals run free. Then it was stipulated that even at those times the dogs must be on a lead. And now,  especially in the grossly overrated and overpopulated county of Cornwall, it is being suggested that they should be banned entirely from some beaches.

It is the same sort of creeping persecution that afflicted (and continues to afflict) cigarette smokers; an epic intolerance, a determination on the part of our officials to do away with them for good, based on tendentious or simply spurious health and safety advice. As someone addicted to both my Labrador–collie cross and a pack of Super-kings, I noticed the similarities between these two pogroms pretty quickly.

The question is: why dogs? For sure, back in the day dog owners allowed their pets to crap copiously in our urban green spaces without clearing up after them. I am perhaps alone in relishing the sharp and even astringent metallic tang which comes from dogshit which has been baked under a hot summer sun on the pavements and recreational areas of our cities. I find it appealing and invigorating. But we have legislation against that sort of behaviour now. And of course there are the unemployed shell-suit-clad tattooed untermensch with their child-devouring pitbulls — but these are a tiny minority of dog owners; and laws, again, have been enacted to sort them out, even if those laws are not applied with sufficient rigour.

But there seems to me a deeper level of intolerance, the suspicion that the country has had enough of dogs. Has had enough of dogs and the old-fashioned virtues which dogs once epitomised — that of the petit bourgeois nuclear family, of discipline and obedience and loyalty. We do not value these commodities in quite the same way, they are thought a little de trop. And when this ideological disaffection is allied to an increasingly regulated life and an increasing intolerance of difference, of other people’s foibles — then dogs were always going to cop it from officialdom. What happened at Crufts was fairly horrible. But the truth is, it wasn’t even the half of it.

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