CANINE NINE NINE

It’s reassuring to know some things never change; they’re part of the fabric of the nation, upholding Great British traditions and hopefully continuing to do so in perpetuity. The shipping forecast, the Proms, the football results on a Saturday teatime, strawberries & cream, leather-on-willow, the proud ineptitude of the Metropolitan Police Force. When it comes to the latter, what a relief it is that this one particular Great British tradition is determined not to blot its impressive copybook of cock-ups and sheer stupidity.

Seven highly-trained elite officers were dispatched to a danger zone last Friday – bravely going where few mere members of the public would dare to venture, yet again putting their lives on the line to ensure we can sleep safely in our beds. No doubt clad in protective armour designed for confronting irate mobs of youths probably armed with acid and knives, ready for any horrors this sickening society could throw at them, the officers stormed the home of a pensioner in Kingston upon Thames and seized her Yorkshire terrier. Where would we be without our oh-so brave boys in blue?

Scotland Yard sent its magnificent seven into battle following a shocking incident involving a traumatised delivery man whose cry for help was deemed so urgent that it was six weeks before the coppers took action. The luckless chap was delivering a parcel to the doorstep of 73-year-old Claudia Settimo-Bovio; Miss Settimo-Bovio requested the package be dumped on the doorstep on account of her 10-year-old little dog Alfie adopting the territorial approach to unfamiliar intruders most dog-owners are grateful for; but as she opened the door to pick up the parcel, the delivery man had yet to exit via the garden gate and Alfie did his duty, determined to chase the stranger off the property. Unfortunately, the delivery man evidently had a fear of dogs – even Yorkshire terriers – and tripped-up, apparently screaming like a little girl as Alfie approached him.

The delivery man was rescued from being mauled to death via the intervention of a neighbour who casually scooped-up the offending beast, thus enabling the victim of this savage assault to escape to the safety of his van. Considering his performance when confronted by a four-legged equivalent of a kitchen mop, perhaps it was no surprise the delivery man went crying to the police, and the Met responded with its usual sensitivity by turning up at Miss Settimo-Bovio’s home at 8.00 in the morning to seize Alfie under Section 5 of the Dangerous Dogs Act. A bewildered Alfie was taken away to kennels – an environment of which he has no previous experience – and his owner cruelly left without her ‘out of control’ canine companion.

This case says so much about where we are now. The fact that the police turned up mob-handed to ‘seize’ a pet dog smaller than most cats; that, thanks to one of the most misused and damaging pieces of legislation ever passed in this country, they have the right to do so in the first place; and that a grown man responds to being confronted with a yapping lap-dog by dialling 999. Following a highly publicised series of dog attacks on babies and children by a media that still possessed considerable clout at the turn of the 90s, the brief moral panic of a tabloid horror story prompted the worst kind of knee-jerk response from government, leading to the ‘court of public opinion’-inspired Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

Four particular ‘types’ of dog were the prime target of the Act – the Pit Bull Terrier, the Dogo Argentino, the Japanese Tosa, and the Fila Brasileiro; the poor old Pit Bull has been saddled with the ‘dangerous dog’ tag ever since the early 90s media storm, taking the place of one-time canine villains such as the Rottweiler. Owners of the four identified types (rather than breeds – and it takes a court to identify the types) can only own them if they have a special court exemption; they must also muzzle them and have them on a lead in public, as well as having them microchipped, registered (not unlike the dog licence of old), insured and neutered. Problems often arise from deciding whether or not a particular dog is a type specified in the law; by avoiding naming specific breeds, the Dangerous Dog Act has needlessly placed hundreds of family pets on death row over the last 25 years because of wrong decisions made by courts that aren’t helped by the vagueness of the legislation.

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. There are no such things as bad dogs, just bad owners. Dogs are incredibly intelligent, loyal, loving, affectionate and protective animals; give them a home, feed them and walk them, and they’ll be your best friend for life. Dogs can herd sheep, guide the blind, act as live-in helpers for the disabled, sniff out hidden drugs for customs officers, sniff out criminals for coppers, sniff out survivors in the rubble of earthquakes; and they can spell the respectively best and worst words in the English language from a canine perspective: W-A-L-K and B-A-T-H.

Human beings regularly treat dogs appallingly, yet if we show them kindness dogs won’t hold us responsible for the awful actions of one member of our species; if we give them love, they’ll give it back a thousand times over. It doesn’t take much effort to train a dog properly; they’re remarkably fast learners and eager to learn to boot. Badly behaved children are generally a product of badly behaved parents; dogs follow a similar path. Some adults aren’t worthy of their pets and should never be allowed to keep one – just as some parents should have been sterilised before they ever got anywhere near siring their unfortunate offspring. Sadly, the Dangerous Dogs Act has no such clauses and this inadequate law staggers on, making more misery for many responsible dog-owners and resulting in the ridiculous charade that took place at the home of a distraught Claudia Settimo-Bovio last week.

I accept some adults are inexplicably scared of dogs – probably arising from some childhood incident in which a dog frightened or attacked them; and chances are that dog’s owner hadn’t gone to the ‘trouble’ of training it so that the child would see the good in the animal and learn to love the species thereafter. If this fear fails to be addressed and it remains a lifelong one, even a Yorkshire terrier can spark disproportionate panic; but did it really warrant a phone call to the Met? Pathetic response; pathetic police; pathetic law; pathetic country.

© The Editor