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Rod Liddle

We buy dogs to reflect ourselves. So who’s buying all these killer pitbulls?

My dog, by contrast, is intelligent, vigorous and middle class

15 February 2014

9:00 AM

15 February 2014

9:00 AM

I’ve called the doggie hospital three times now to find out how Jessie’s getting on. She’s just come round, at the time of writing. I think it’s partly guilt which makes me keep ringing up: we’re paying to have her ovaries ripped out with a small hook-like device, which seems to me a betrayal of the trust shown in us by the dog. She thought she was just going for a quick ride in the car and clearly didn’t understand why everyone was being so nice to her, so solicitous.

Seven months old and, before her first season, she is being deprived of the undoubted pleasures of being on heat. It is surely the right of every bitch to behave, once a year, like Sally Bercow. There’s a large labrador nearby which clearly wants to give her one (Jessie, not Sally): not any more he won’t.

Having a puppy spayed is, I think, high-handed, cruel and drastic — the kind of thing a really nasty social services department might do to mentally infirm adults, or perhaps simply adults who the grim-faced social workers have discovered intend voting for the United Kingdom Independence Party. It all seems terribly unfair. She’s called Jessie, by the way, after Jesse Owens, because she’s black and runs really fast.

Our dog is a collie-lab cross, which I thought might display to the world the traits we value — i.e., intelligence, vigour and being middle class. I assume this is how most people select dogs for pets, a sort of reflection of how they see themselves or wish people to see them. This would explain why the northern untermenschen tend to go for snarling pitbull terriers, ferocious rottweilers, lanky, feral dobermans and the like — all called Tyson or Satan and all destined, within a few weeks, to maim or kill a very young or elderly member of their families.

When you see on the television news a story about some child eaten alive by a ‘trusted family pet’, it always seems to be in that frowsy, dispossessed belt of the country stretching from Leeds to the Lancashire coast, incorporating Manchester, of course, and those former cotton-mill valleys where nobody works any more. I suppose the dog owners here are trying to tell other people: look, I may be as thick as a bowl of Pedigree Chum, but I’m hard, dead hard, don’t mess with me. An alternative explanation is that this choice of dog, and especially the pitbull, is utilised in illegal dog-fighting tournaments, which are a very popular and lucrative pastime in the twilight world of our more decrepit housing estates. Battersea Dogs’ Home reckoned that in 2011 a good 50 per cent of the more than 6,000 dogs they took in were legal or illegal pitbulls, many of which showed signs of having been used for fighting. So it’s not just the northerners, then. An alternative — or coterminous — explanation is that these hugely unpleasant dogs are used for protection when, inevitably, the filth breaks down the front door looking for drugs.

The number of dog attacks rises with each year. This week Ava-Jayne Corless, who was 11 months old, was killed by her family’s American pitbull terrier in Blackburn, Lancashire. Her mother and stepfather were arrested on suspicion of child neglect: while dog owners can be charged and sentenced to a maximum of two years in jail if their hounds savage someone, none of this applies if the attack occurred within a private house. Which is what happened in the case of Ava-Jayne and indeed what usually happens. Ava-Jayne is the 17th person to have been killed by a dog in the UK since 2005. There are at least 5,000 incidents each year in which people who have been mauled by dogs are admitted to hospital, often with paramedic reports like the following, which concerned the hospitalisation of an elderly woman: ‘Nose bitten off by dog. Chunk of nose on her bed.’

The devoted and hugely deluded owners of rotties and pitbulls will tell you that it’s not the dogs that are at fault, it’s the owners. If this is correct, then the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, a piece of kneejerk legislation, has done nothing whatsoever to address the problem, as it was focused upon banning certain kinds of dogs and made no attempt to deal with the owners. But I do not think that this interminably repeated homily is correct, or not largely correct. The same breeds of dog appear on our news programmes time and time again and on at least half of the occasions when someone has been killed or maimed we are reliably informed that hitherto the dog in question had been as even-tempered, sensible and restrained as an insurance loss adjuster.

The evidence over the years would suggest that some breeds are more disposed to acts of psychopathic violence than are others, regardless of the fact that they have been raised in a civilised and pacific household. Banning the ownership of these sorts of dogs to anyone who has a child under the age of, say, five, would certainly reduce the number of serious attacks within the home. I do not understand why, if you had a young child, you would wish to own one of these dogs in the first place, unless you were just really, really stupid.

And now it’s time to pick up Jessie. She will look at me with those soulful brown eyes and I know it will mean: ‘You have robbed me of my womanhood, of the reason I was born. How could you?’ And she’ll have a point.

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