Love of dogs is hardly new in Britain. There is a growing strand of research exploring the shared history we have with our canine pets. There is some lovely work on Victorian pet cemeteries and dog breeding, while an excellent little series by Kathleen Walker-Meikle includes the indispensable Dogs in Medieval Manuscripts, which chronicles the prominent if exotic space in the imagination held by our furry friends a millennium ago.
But if domestic animals had an obvious role in the private lives of our ancestors beyond being cute and fond furry friends – cats as mousers, dogs to scare baddies off, chase after sheep and keep other rogue animals in line – today the relationship has taken on a more sentimental, claustrophobic and frankly troubling turn.
On Tuesday a four-year-old was killed in a dog attack in Milton Keynes. Meanwhile, an inquest this week heard how Natasha Johnston, 28, a dog walker in Surrey, died after ‘multiple penetrating dog bites to the neck’, with her jugular vein pierced. Surrey police said last week that it would not be prosecuting anyone. And in a further grotesque twist, it sounded as if the council was blaming Ms Johnston for what happened, pointing out that she was not licensed by the local authority to dog walk in the area where the attack – or crime, really – occurred. Tandridge District Council said: ‘Commercial operators wishing to provide dog walking services must be licensed and businesses providing animal services, like boarding, kennels and catteries can walk dogs in the district under the terms of their licences’. Imagine being the bod in charge of that statement.
The thing is, whether Ms Johnston was or was not licensed as a dog walker in Tandridge has little to do with the fact that she was mauled to death by domestic pet dogs.