Class conscious

I'm thinking of buying a dog, and one local shopkeeper recommended I go for a Staffordshire bull-terrier. "But won't it eat my children?" I tentatively inquired, at which the man shook his head, appalled at my ignorance. Burglars, he patiently explained, are its staple diet, along with "anyone who tries to lay a finger on your wife or kids". It was a conversation conducted entirely in tabloidese, and the Staffordshire bull-terrier is undoubtedly (through no fault of its own, my shopkeeper friend would insist) perceived as a very downmarket animal, the accessory of drug-dealers and football hooligans everywhere.

So I won't be going for one of those.

It has often been said that people resemble their dogs, but in my own locality of middle-class north London, the fashion is to buy a dog that you hope you will come to resemble: a borzoi or a saluki, for example, or some other ladylike, Mitford-sisterish hound of haughty and aristocratic bearing. But the contrast between myself and a saluki as described in The Kennel Club's Illustrated Breed Standards - "supple and well muscled . . . with a light lifting, effortless gait, with no hackney action or plodding" - might be a bit too stark for comfort.

I think I will also avoid buying a golden retriever - "something of a country squire at heart," says the Kennel Club - for fear of being looked down upon by my own dog. As a matter of fact, I might avoid buying a thoroughbred altogether, given that the puppies start at around £500; and, in order to obtain one, it seems that you must first be interrogated at length by the dog-breeding wife of an army officer, who wants to know in detail about the length of your garden and the size of your living-quarters.

No, I'll probably bypass the patrician Kennel Club, which is, after all, a little too keen for my tastes on promoting private health insurance (albeit for dogs only), and opt instead for some Battersea Dogs Home mongrel. But even these can set you back 50 quid or more nowadays, the jumbly mutts of the famous dogs home having, it would appear, rocketed upmarket just as fast as Battersea itself.

This article first appeared in the 31 July 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Why Tony Blair is a Bobo