I like dogs – at a distance that is. They are beautiful (mostly) and joyful creatures. It’s a pleasure to see them out running after a pitched ball in our local park. Closer up they are too often less aesthetically pleasing. They piss against lamp posts, defaecate on the pavement and poke their noses up other dogs’ bottoms.
The dog mess nuisance is mostly less of a problem than it once was, dog owners having been educated to a degree to ‘bag and bin’ their dog waste. But it certainly remains a problem on our country lanes and footpaths. For a long time I have seen a tendency for dog walkers to gather up the mess, only to chuck the filled bag on to the pathway or into the bushes where it hangs to give the effect of a festooned devil’s Christmas tree.
But recently I have discovered that I am not the only one to find this behaviour particularly revolting. Along a couple of my favourite walks in Wiltshire someone has taken to pinning laminated notices on to gateposts. These read:
Please bag up your shit and take it home with you!
Leaving it on the pathway or throwing it in the bushes
is grossly offensive and a serious health hazard, particularly to children.
Now, I shall be curious to see whether these messages will have any effect. I am not optimistic, because it has always seemed to me that a minority of dog owners have a ‘to hell with everybody else’ attitude. You know the type – the ones who bleat at you ‘he won’t hurt you’ when their beloved mutt runs to you and jumps up, leaving dirty paw marks over your clean trousers.
We are, of course (or we are so often told) a nation of dog lovers. I’m not convinced. As a species, the domesticated dog has been bred into a diaspora of weird and wonderful shapes and sizes for the pleasure of his human masters and mistresses. Some are menacing, some passing strange. Some live simply wretched lives as a consequence of having been created as a sort of deliberately fashioned mutant. Their respiratory passages are contracted and convoluted so that ever breath is an effort; their joints are prone to dislocate; their eyelids so lax that the eyes have little or no protection from the elements and are a source of constant discomfort or pain.
The obsession with deformity in dogs is a left over, I guess, from Victorian or earlier times when attitudes towards animal suffering were rather, well, primitive. Indeed, times were when to see an animal being tortured was a popular public spectacle, and regrettably we seem not to have left that predilection entirely behind us. My point is that it cannot be disputed that dogs – and other animals - suffer because of what we require of them for our entertainment. And there are far too many of them, as is evidenced by the dogshit-on-public-pathways phenomenon.