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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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.