The backlash has been brutal, unforgiving and, in common with the left’s reactions to so many things, almost hysterical in its hot-blooded fury. My crime? Starbucks shares? Casual racism? Advocating military action in North Korea? No, I have just bought a puppy, a pedigree puppy — and not just any pedigree, but an aristocratic-looking Cavalier King Charles spaniel — the apotheosis of canine privilege.
Here’s a sample of some of the more printable rants from north London friends and colleagues. It makes dispiriting reading. ‘That dog looks very posh… what’s wrong with a mongrel?’ ‘I’m shocked and disgusted…’ ‘Why didn’t you get a rescue dog… disgraceful… you are encouraging selective breeding…’. But I have bravely held my ground and I am not sending her back like some poor waif who has fallen foul of Brexit. Our puppy is relaxed and adorable, and has those trademark Cavalier ears and the come-and-cuddle-me eyes of a 17th-century courtesan. For me she is the perfect companion, a biddable lapdog, a low-maintenance bundle of easy pleasure.
Her only drawback is that, like many aristocrats from a highly selective bloodline, she is just that little bit thick: training is frankly a struggle and there is no hope of her ever appearing in a YouTube video riding a unicycle or playing Chopin on the piano. One expert who has monitored canine brainpower describes her breed’s IQ level more diplomatically — Cavaliers, he says, are ‘of average intelligence’. For a dog, that is.
One might think that progressives would warm to her special-needs status. But when I proudly emailed out her pictures, I’d never anticipated the seething opprobrium. Colleagues and friends have accused me of abandoning my longstanding centre-left principles in favour of eugenics, arrivisme and trying to suck up to the ruling classes. In the fetid atmosphere of dog-whistle Pavlovian politics, I am now an Uncle Tom, a sell-out, a class traitor and a bourgeois apologist — simply not worthy of Commissar Corbyn and the modern, progressive Labour party. As Thomas Mann pointed out, ‘everything is politics’ — including, it seems, your choice of puppy. It can’t help that the breed was named after Charles II.
We chose to call our puppy Roxy, a name that is robust, streetwise and fits in nicely in Camden, north London, where we’ve lived for many years. This is a solid Labour seat, with large tracts of social housing and at the same time lots of £2 million townhouses to keep the Bollinger Bolsheviks happy. Here she mixes with all classes: underclass mutts, mongrels, aggressive-looking terriers and the occasional posh canine down from Highgate. The name we have given her is much more in keeping here than her original nomenclature, Lochbuie Meryl. (Her great-grandfather was called Lanola Santana of Maibee, which in these parts wouldn’t have gone down well.)
In general Roxy has made quite an impression on the locals: she is patted and petted widely by all sorts. Yet I can’t help sensing an undercurrent of distaste in some quarters. Why else might the otherwise charming Melvyn Bragg, a Labour peer, completely ignore her on Hampstead Heath when we paused for a chat? And why, when sitting at an adjacent table to us in a local café, did my local Labour MP, former DPP Sir Keir Starmer, seem so snooty and sniffy? He, too, ignored her. His wife, however, was exceptionally friendly. ‘Such an adorable puppy,’ she cooed, stroking her. I dread that one day I will learn that the treacherous Mrs Starmer has been taken to a smoke-filled back room by Momentum apparatchiks and quietly reprogrammed.
For all the whimperings, the whinings and the downright hostility, the Labour party’s official policy on pedigree dogs like Roxy is muddled. There is certainly general (and justified) disquiet about puppy farming and back-street breeding and persistent calls for greater regulation of breeders. But in the last Labour leadership election, none of the candidates, including Comrade Corbyn, went so far as to openly condemn the ownership of pedigree dogs per se. That is left to the grassroots, or what Trotsky called fellow travellers — embattled class warriors who have had a go at me.
The RSPCA, which in recent years has mutated into a ruthless campaign group, mounting aggressive prosecutions against owners, often rages against the pedigree dog ‘trade’ , describing it in a recent policy document as ‘morally and ethically unjustifiable’. A rival group of animal rights bunny-huggers, Peta, goes even further. Calling for a boycott of Crufts, they say that pedigree dogs are ‘genetic freaks’ and a manifestation of the kind of ‘creepy eugenics’ which is frowned upon in the human world. They don’t like the word ‘pets’ either, preferring the term ‘animal companions’ — it’s somehow more equal.
It’s true that highly inbred dogs can suffer health problems, but I made sure that Roxy had been screened and is free of the conditions that can affect Cavaliers. For me, she is the perfect ‘animal companion’, and so what if, as some people have suggested, she makes me look a bit camp as I stride around Hampstead Heath with her? She is not a macho dog, obviously, but neither is she a dainty puffball Pomeranian or a carefully coiffured French poodle. I am happy and inclusive enough to fully accept it. I am also mindful of the fact that Frank Sinatra had a Cavalier King Charles. And what was good enough for Frank is good enough for me.