Some of you may know that I like a bit of a rant. Excuse me, then, if I stray away from domestic politics, foreign affairs, religion and culture and have a perhaps semi-hinged rant about a topic that really gets me going: dogs.
Now, there's been much news and comment in the papers this week about so-called dangerous dogs. I use the phrase "so-called" because, whether dog-lovers like it or not, all dogs are dangerous. The dog, after all, is a domesticated form of the wolf (the bloody wolf!). Oh, and there's a reason why dogs are classed as apex predators.
But, hold on, I can hear the cry from the canine contingent: what about those adorable, cute, little puppies who wouldn't harm a fly? Puppies? Harmless? Tell that to the parents of the two-month-old baby boy who was mauled to death by his puppy in Tulsa, Oklahoma in July 2008. In another case, back in 2006, a puppy chewed off a baby girl's toes while her parents were sleeping next to her. Surgeons couldn't save the girl's toes.
But vicious and vile puppies aside, there is indeed a particular and pressing issue with very dangerous and violent dogs in this country, and so I welcome the police unit set up to tackle "weapon dogs" and tasked with seizing more than 1,000 dangerous animals in its first year. I also back the call by Kit Malthouse, one of Boris Johnson's deputy mayors, for tougher sentences for criminals who use dogs to carry out vicious attacks. At Prime Minister's Questions, the Labour MP Angela Smith told the Commons about a "19-fold increase in the number of dangerous and status dogs in London since the early Nineties".
This is disturbing -- and nor is this just about London gangs and their "status" dogs. The denialism from the dog movement has to stop. Figures uncovered by the Tories suggest that 100 people every week, across the UK, are treated in hospital after being bitten by a dog (these figures don't include attacks by dogs on other pets).
One of the attacks cited in yesterday's Standard was on the railway engineer James Rehill, 78, "who was 'dragged like a doll' through the street in a fatal attack by his own dog in January last year. Witnesses looked on in horror as Mr Rehill was savaged by his Rottweiler in Newham." Every death is a tragedy -- but isn't Mr Rehill partly to blame for his horrible fate for keeping a Rottweiler as a bloody pet in the first place? Isn't this part of the problem? The dreams and delusions of the dog-lovers (and, especially, the "dangerous dog"-lovers) -- "My dog is great", "My dog is harmless", "My dog loves me", blah blah blah.
Love me, forgive my dog
This brings me on to dog-owners. They are perhaps more to blame for all this than their dogs. Many of them -- not all, I accept, but many -- are as inconsiderate, noisy, aggressive, unhygienic and in-yer-face as the disgusting and hyperactive mutts that they own, cosset, cuddle and parade in public.
Aside from the risk of being killed, mauled or bitten by a stray dog in a public place, I cannot stand the manner in which strange, overexuberant dogs feel entitled to touch you, lick you, jump on you, chase you and/or block you -- and the manner in which their owners instantly try to excuse or exonerate their misdemeanours. It is nothing short of antisocial behaviour.
How, for example, should we react to owners who allow their dogs to bark all night and ruin the sleep of their neighbours? What about those owners who allow their dogs to piss and poop in the street (and who knows what foul and disgusting deeds they allow their four-legged friends to get up inside their own homes)?
How do you explain the ridiculous way in which a negative reaction to their dog is regarded as the fault of the supposedly sanctimonious or party-pooping objector, and not of their own dirty, pushy and unruly animal? Oh, and why have our public parks become chaotic hellholes where no rules or limits seem to apply to dogs or dog-owners?
In fact, you may have guessed by now, and it might upset some of you to hear me say this, but I'm not, by any standards, an animal-lover. Unless the said animal is dead and on my plate. For me, animals, as they say, have two functions: to taste good and fit well.
But, in particular, I despise and loathe dogs (which, of course, have neither a culinary nor a sartorial function -- unless you live in South Korea). They are disgusting, dirty animals that should never have become pets, let alone such popular pets (there are an estimated eight million dogs in the UK. I feel like vomiting as I type out this gruesome and dispiriting statistic.)
Dogs have become frustratingly ubiquitous in modern Britain. They're literally everywhere. Even homeless people have them. I for one refuse to spare any change for a beggar in an alleyway, who sits looking miserable with a dog on his lap. How do I know he won't spend my pound coin on Pedigree Chum, instead of a warm cup of coffee? And if he can't afford a roof over his head, should he really be wasting time, energy and money on a pet?
(The other depressing aspect of the homeless and the love for dogs is the manner in which members of the great British public -- animal-lovers to the core, but disdainful of the poor -- will often ignore and/or step over a prostrate beggar in the street but take a moment to give his ugly mutt a pat on the head. Bizarre.)
On a side note, I also have two isses with the ubiquitous phrase "A dog is a man's best friend": (a) Did anyone ask the dog? and (b) If you're someone who has no friends and needs dogs for company and socialising, fine, so be it, pathetic as that may be, but don't implicate the rest of the human race in your animal delusions, please.
Frankly, I share the rage, frustration and annoyance expressed so vividly by the comedian Mark Steel, in this classic Independent column, from November 2000:
The best insight I had into the mind of dog-owners was while I lived on a council estate, and one dog would regularly crap at the bottom of the stairs to the block. One day, I caught it in mid-dump, and asked the owner if he could not do it again.
He said, "Well, it's a dog; it's got to go somewhere." I pledged that if I ever became a millionaire, I'd hire a huge herd of buffalo and get them to gallop through his flat. And when he complained, I'd say, "Well, they're buffalo, they've got to stampede somewhere."
Because owning a dog is fundamentally antisocial. It's practised by the same people who swerve their car across the road while shouting into their mobile, or jump in a swimming pool to do the backstroke diagonally from one corner to the other. I bet the proportion of dog-owners who vote Conservative is significantly higher than, say, of people who own a tortoise.
Is he right?