Monday, 16 February 2009


I am angry. I have put up with this for 40 years and now something has got to be said.

Dogs. What is it with this country and its love of dogs? I know one of us is suffering from blind devoted loyalty and I don’t think it is our four-legged friends. Well, you can count me out.

Yes, you guessed, I have a terror of dogs, a legacy of the wild hounds which freely roamed the northern suburb in which I grew up.

And yes, we were a cat family, so I come from that side of the divide though I eventually had to defect from the feline fellowship when my allergy to them darn near killed me. (It only took 16 years for my parents to finally accept that it really was me or the cat, after a particularly nasty asthma attack left me unconscious. I think the on-call GP had words).

But I have tried to love dogs , to forgive them for their naughty 70s brothers who chased every child who dared to ride a bike in the street, who terrorised even their own families so that children had to wait outside while the mad pet was pacified enough to let them in and who, worst of all, shat on my Dad’s lawn.

I have patted dogs owned by friends, with whom I have become suitably acquainted to merit such trust (I may or may not trust the friend but absolutely have to trust the dog before such exchanges) and have even come to smile fondly at those on leads, occasionally venturing into a fantasy about Snooks and I one day taking some pooch out for a run by the sea, ears flapping as we bound down the beach …

To this end, I have encouraged Snooks to enjoy dogs, or rather tried to discourage him from inheriting my bad attitude to them, by carrying a woolly mutt sent by his aunt at his birth and christened Barney (ironically after his late grandfather who wanted to shoot all dogs on sight: the lawn, remember) around in the pram as we take our twice daily constitutionals.

However, recently my resolve has weakened in the face of the persistent bad dog behaviour Snooks and I have suffered over the last 11 months.

So it has come to this. I have two plans.

Plan A was hatched last summer when Snooks and his pals were old enough to lie on a picnic rug surrounded by their mothers, but not old enough to sit up, so therefore, vulnerable to anything at ground level.

On one of the, too infrequent summer days, when we got the chance to sit outside with our children for an hour or two on the local common, we were treated to a visit by someone’s errant pet who ran straight onto the rug on which the babies were lying, sniffed around them and our food before being listlessly called away by a woman in Wellington boots.

In response to our alarm and request that she get the animal off our patch as soon as possible she replied, as is often the case ‘Oh, he is very friendly.’

Dog owners, whether your dog is friendly or not is something you may know, but we, the rest of the world, don’t. Also it may be friendly but it is not clean. So keep it away from us and our children.

And I have another question. Why I want to know, do public parks have a part fenced off for humans, where no dogs are allowed rather than a bit fenced off for dogs, leaving the rest of the park for taxpayers and children to roam, free from assault and dogshit?

Plan A therefore was this. I would take one of Snooks’ dirty nappies, which in those days were many, break into the house of such a dog walker, and as she and her family were about to sit down to lunch, smear its contents across the dining table, telling them, as I did, how friendly Snooks is (which indeed, he is).

You think that is a bit too cranky? Wait until you hear Plan B.

Plan B was formed last week when Snooks and I were taking in the wonderful changes to the common winter had brought, enjoying a quiet sandwich as we contemplated the ducks, geese, swans and moorhens navigating the ice on the frozen duck pond. Snooks was fascinated by the birdies walking on water, skidding across the ice for the bread we were throwing from our bag.

Just then I noticed a wolf heading full tilt across the common towards us. Mmmm. You don’t believe me do you? You think I am dogophobe, a hysteric with wild canine imaginings. Wait for it.

When it reached us and stood panting a foot away from Snooks, who, squealing with delight and strapped into his buggy at eye and jaw level, was quite simply fresh meat, I could see all too clearly its blue eyes, large pointy ears and what big teeth you’ve got, grandma.

No doubt it is, allegedly, some tame version of a wolf, which some idiot has decided to welcome into their home and call Patch, but a dog is a dog is a wolf in my story book.

Luckily, or so I thought, two policemen happened to be ambling across the common at the time, vaguely in my direction. They had seen the beast running, heard the owner pointlessly calling it and saw it arrive at our feet, but were apparently not concerned.

By now I was on my feet and did something no amount of money or promises of brief celebrity would ever have made me do in any other circumstances. I stepped towards the dog, putting myself between it and my child, gambling that my guts were a less tasty offering than Snooks’ throat.

At the same time I called over my shoulder to the bobbies to please get the thing or its owner on a very short leash, sharpish.

They were not park police, they told me, and from a safe distance observed that the owner had been trying to call it back for the last ten minutes.

Baring my own teeth a little I remarked that that in itself would seem to demonstrate a lack of control over the beast which was now menacing my infant.

“Is it right,” I asked, “ that a mother and child should not be able to enjoy the park in peace because someone has no control over their dog?”

It is a question I have been wanting to ask someone for the last 40 years.

“The park is for everyone,” the smaller and further away of the coppers replied. I think I probably presented more of a danger to him than the dog did at that moment.

However before I had a chance to breach the peace, Patch, obviously tired with all the chat, let out a long low growl.

This is the second time in my life that I have gone weak at the knees (The first, for the record, and as it is Valentine’s Day today, was when the Engineer proposed. But then we were at 10,000ft so it could have been lack of oxygen) and I think I might have wailed a little.

Big copper stepped towards it and warily waved it in the general direction of its owner, still snarling.

As it seems that the law holds no protection for our children from dangerous dogs - it was later that week that another baby was killed by a pet Staffordshire owned by its grandmother - I came up with plan B, which was to toss pieces of poisoned meat in the direction of any dog that comes, unleashed, too close to me or my child.

Sound harsh?

Ok, so I won’t do it. But I do question a law which allows people to use dangerous animals for ‘protection’ in case someone looks at them the wrong way down the Arndale.

I told you I was angry.

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