'What's the point of pets?' asks our resident curmudgeon Adam Edwards
PUBLISHED: 11:54 14 October 2013 | UPDATED: 13:48 14 October 2013
As is only right, our special Pets Issue opened with our resident Cotswold curmudgeon, Adam Edwards, ridiculing the whole idea of keeping an animal for entertainment
When my wife died two years ago a neighbour kindly adopted our family’s middle-aged Jack Russell. The dog was nicknamed the Third Reich because, as his hindquarters were higher than his front legs, he walked like a Nazi stormtrooper. Despite his name he was a kind and gentle beast and I assumed that like all mutts he had a life-long devotion to his master and late mistress. I was wrong.
I saw the Third Reich last week with his new owners. He gave me a sniff, a wag, and then turned tail. I was Charles Saatchi to his Nigella. I was the Ex.
It is a common misconception that dogs are faithful servants; loyal hounds that will, like the Skye Terrier Greyfriars Bobby, keep watch over their owner for his lifetime and beyond. They may be called man’s best friend but they remain so only if that man provides regular tins of Chum, a safe bunk and a warm belly-scratching hand. If these needs are withdrawn or are subsequently offered by an alternative gauleiter then the cur will switch sides like a Premiership footballer and kiss the face of his new master.
I have never regretted the loss of the Third Reich. In return for his cupboard love I was expected to feed, walk and drool over him. I cleared up after his ablutions, which he expelled without a thought for human society, and mortgaged the house to pay for his veterinary bills. He chewed my shoes, scratched my upholstered chairs and if I failed to find him comfortable lodgings when I left him alone for more than 12 hours he would despoil the house. And what did I get in return? A bark and a wagging tail when I arrived home and doe eyes when I finally sat down. A dog, it seems to me, is a teddy bear for grown ups; a living, breathing security blanket for those in need of an object of love.
A recent study at the North Eastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, for example, has found that dogs elicit more empathy than abused humans. Professor Jack Levin told the American Sociological Association “The fact that adult human crime victims receive less empathy than do fully grown dog victims suggests adult dogs are regarded as dependent and vulnerable. Adult humans are viewed as capable of protecting themselves while fully grown dogs are just seen as larger puppies.”
Adult dogs, despite our anthropomorphic emotions, are no such cuddly thing. They have been responsible for every known case in humans of the roundworm Toxocariasis Canis, which can cause blindness. In 2011-2012 dog bites in England were responsible for 6,447 hospital admissions. Dogs attack 210,000 people every year and there have been 16 deaths caused by them since 2005.
And then there are the other irritations. The creatures jump up at you with their muddy paws, smell when they are wet, bark when they are bored, get lost, have bad breath, treat every house like a kennel and urinate on anything horizontal. And their owners, who would not dream of allowing their children to behave in the same way, tolerate this animal hooliganism with benign smiles and faux apologies.
It is true my four-legged canine antipathy does not extend to working dogs. The Labrador for example may be a soppy date but on the shooting field he excels. The tail-wagging, floppy-eared cocker spaniel is a magnificent beating dog – a continuous running machine that is the Duracell pink rabbit of the canine world. The beagle, the foxhound and even greyhounds are sporting beasts to admire when they are working. And if the dachshund still hunted badgers it would be met with universal acclaim in Gloucestershire.
It is keeping the pooch as a pet that I find bizarre. Perhaps the best thing to be said for owning one is that it is better than possessing a cat. Owning a selfish feline that is fussier over its food than an anorexic model, is obsessed by its appearance and requires constant adoration is, it seems to me, akin to housing the singing diva Mariah Carey. I extend this disinclination for cats to parrots, budgerigars, white rabbits and pink rats. I also find it difficult to think of a single good reason for owning a goldfish, unless one intends to serve it with chips.
All of the above may give the impression that I don’t like dogs. I do. But I like other people’s dogs and I treat them as I would small children with a patronising pat on the head, a moment’s feigned interest and an admiring glance to the parent. And while I am doing that my heart soars in the knowledge that the beast is not hanging about my house like a drunken teenager in a Holiday Inn.