Down with dogs. All dogs.

Dangerous dogs are a menace. But the rest of the species are bloody annoying too.

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.)

Whose friend?

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."

He adds:

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?

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Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Just face it, being a parent will never be cool

Traditional parenting terms are being rejected in favour of trendier versions, but it doesn't change the grunt-like nature of the work.

My children call me various things. Mummy. Mum. Poo-Head. One thing they have never called me is mama. This is only to be expected, for I am not cool.

Last year Elisa Strauss reported on the rise of white, middle-class mothers in the US using the term “mama” as “an identity marker, a phrase of distinction, and a way to label the self and designate the group.” Mamas aren’t like mummies or mums (or indeed poo-heads). They’re hip. They’re modern. They’re out there “widen[ing] the horizons of ‘mother,’ without giving up on a mother identity altogether.” And now it’s the turn of the dads.

According to the Daily Beast, the hipster fathers of Brooklyn are asking their children to refer to them as papa. According to one of those interviewed, Justin Underwood, the word “dad” is simply too “bland and drab”:

“There’s no excitement to it, and I feel like the word papa nowadays has so many meanings. We live in an age when fathers are more in touch with their feminine sides and are all right with playing dress-up and putting on makeup with their daughters.”

Underwood describes “dad” as antiquated, whereas “papa” is an “open-minded, liberal term, like dad with a twist” (but evidently not a twist so far that one might consider putting on makeup with one’s sons).

Each to their own, I suppose. Personally I always associate the word “papa” with “Smurf” or “Lazarou.” It does not sound particularly hip to me. Similarly “mama” is a word I cannot hear without thinking of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, hence never without a follow-up “ooo-oo-oo-ooh!” Then again, as a mummy I probably have no idea what I am talking about. If other people think these words are trendy, no doubt they are.

Nonetheless, I am dubious about the potential of such words to transform parenting relationships and identities. In 1975’s Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich describes how she used to look at her own mother and think “I too shall marry, have children – but not like her. I shall find a way of doing it all differently.” It is, I think, a common sentiment. Rejecting mummy or daddy as an identity, if not as an individual, can feel much the same as rejecting the politics that surrounds gender and parenting. The papas interviewed by The Daily Beast are self-styled feminists, whose hands-on parenting style they wish to differentiate from that of their own fathers. But does a change of title really do that? And even if it does, isn’t this a rather individualistic approach to social change?

There is a part of me that can’t help wondering whether the growing popularity of mama and papa amongst privileged social groups reflects a current preference for changing titles rather than social realities, especially as far as gendered labour is concerned. When I’m changing a nappy, it doesn’t matter at all whether I’m known as Mummy, Mama or God Almighty. I’m still up to my elbows in shit (yes, my baby son is that prolific).

The desire to be known as Papa or Mama lays bare the delusions of new parents. It doesn’t even matter if these titles are cool now. They won’t be soon enough because they’ll be associated with people who do parenting. Because like it or not, parenting is not an identity. It is not something you are, but a position you occupy and a job you do.

I once considered not being called mummy. My partner and I did, briefly, look at the “just get your children to call you by your actual name” approach. On paper it seemed to make sense. If to my sons I am Victoria rather than mummy, then surely they’ll see me as an individual, right? Ha. In practice it felt cold, as though I was trying to set some kind of arbitrary distance between us. And perhaps, as far as my sons are concerned, I shouldn’t be just another person. It is my fault they came into this vale of tears. I owe them, if not anyone else, some degree of non-personhood, a willingness to do things for them that I would not do for others. What I am to them – mummy, mum, mama, whatever one calls it – is not a thing that can be rebranded. It will never be cool because the grunt work of caring never is.

It is not that I do not think we need to change the way in which we parent, but this cannot be achieved by hipster trendsetting alone. Changing how we parent involves changing our most fundamental assumptions about what care work is and how we value the people who do it. And this is change that needs to include all people, even those who go by the old-fashioned titles of mum and dad.

Ultimately, any attempt to remarket parenting as a cool identity smacks of that desperate craving for reinvention that having children instils in a person. The moment you have children you have bumped yourself up the generational ladder. You are no longer the end of your family line. You are – god forbid – at risk of turning into your own parents, the ones who fuck you up, no matter what they do. But you, too, will fuck them up, regardless of whether you do it under the name of daddy, dad or papa. Accept it. Move on (also, you are mortal. Get over it).

Parenting will never be cool. Indeed, humanity will never be cool. We’re all going to get older, more decrepit, closer to death. This is true regardless of whether you do or don’t have kids – but if you do you will always have younger people on hand to remind you of this miserable fact.

Your children might, if you are lucky, grow to respect you, but as far as they are concerned you are the past.  No amount of rebranding is going to solve that. This doesn’t mean we can’t change the way we parent. But as with so much else where gender is concerned, it’s a matter for boring old deeds, not fashionable words.

 

 

 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.