I watched, helpless, as a vicious Staffie ripped up my children’s guinea pigs
I’m sorry to have to break the news so brutally but there’s no other way: Pickles Deathclaw and Lily Scampers are no more. They are ex-guinea pigs. They have ceased to exist. And all because of one of those bastard, evil dogs you see everywhere these days attached to the arms — or, more worryingly, not attached to the arms — of the nation’s hooded underclass yoof. We were sitting in the kitchen having lunch when it happened. ‘What’s that noise?’ I said. Already I was on my feet and heading for the garden, fearing the very worst because I had been here two months before.
On that previous occasion it had been our beloved old cat Beetle who’d gone for a Burton — hunted down and deliberately killed by a member of a vicious South London gang whose specialities, besides stabbing and drug-dealing, include cat assassination. Hearing a yapping commotion in our garden (which is surrounded by a 10ft trellis), I’d arrived just in time to see Beetle being tossed in the air and having his neck broken by the muscular, tan-coloured cur. The dog, I learned later from the police, had been put deliberately over our wall. Beetle was at least the third neighbourhood cat to have been got in this way.
So when I entered the garden I pretty much knew what to expect. Yes. Sure enough: carnage. Pickles Deathclaw was already dead at that point; Lily was about to be got (their outdoor run had been overturned) and I just wasn’t feeling quite suicidal enough (that would come later) to place myself between her and the jaws of her ravening Staffordshire-terrier-style assassin. Instead, I stood, helpless, just as I had when Beetle died, going ‘Noo! You bastard! Nooo!’
By now a face had appeared at our garden wall. ‘Here, boy. Here!’ called the youth: black, teenaged, hooded, as all the devil-dog-owners are round our part of Sarf London. And I yelled at him: ‘What the f*** is your f***ing dog doing in my f***ing garden killing my kids’ f***ing guinea pigs?’ To be fair he looked almost as upset as I was. ‘It’s not me, man. It’s my dog,’ he said. ‘He won’t come. How do I make him come?’
After that it’s a bit of a blur. Kids crying. Wife fuming. Me going right up to the hoodie’s face to tell him exactly what a s*** I thought he was. Dog bounding nonchalantly over the fence. Hoodie disappearing. Me saying: ‘The camera. Where’s the f***ing camera?’, finding it and, before wife could stop me, tracking down the hoodie via sundry concrete walkways and dingy alleyways to his housing estate.
Perhaps I did it because I felt guilty about having not done more to save Lily Scampers. (They’re a right pain to clean and care for, guinea pigs, but when you do it every day you grow fond of them.) Perhaps I did it because I’m stupid. I am stupid. Pathetically weak, middle-aged, middle-class dads should not confront hoodies armed with dogs in alleyways on crack estates. But I did all the same and there was a bit of an awkward stand-off, with me realising, rather too late to do much about it, that if he let loose the dog on me I’d be dead, and him no doubt calculating, ‘Is the satisfaction of putting this snotty git in his place really worth losing my dog and doing time for?’
See if you can guess how I felt afterwards. Yes. That’s right. What I immediately wanted to do was go out on to the streets with a pump-action shotgun and splatter every devil dog I could see. Then, when I was feeling slightly more reasonable, I wanted swingeing new laws introduced that would ban not just American pit bulls but all the other ones that are currently legal like Staffies, mastiffs, Canary dogs — in fact anything more dangerous than a pug. Then, when I’d calmed down a bit more, I wanted the return of compulsory dog licensing. Then, when I thought a bit more, I remembered the story of ‘Fox’ Thomas and that was the point I realised: ‘No!’
‘Fox’ Thomas was a feral child at my prep school instinctively drawn to doing evil things. One day, on a school coach trip, he slashed several of the seats with his knife. The master in charge told us we’d be banned from treats and tuck till someone owned up. No one did — and though we knew who it was, none of us would tell because in those days one didn’t sneak. So we were all made to suffer. I have never forgotten that incident. Even now, just thinking about it makes me burn incandescent, for to me it is the very exemplar of true injustice. Not ‘injustice’ as the liberal-left usually defines it — meaning ‘any perceived slight towards a chippy minority interest group’. But the much more real and maddening injustice where, in its attempts to right a wrong, authority (be it the state or Mr Hughes the geography teacher) deploys its arbitrary powers as a blunt instrument to make life that little bit more miserable for the guilty and innocent alike. As always, it is the innocent who suffer most.
We can all think of examples from the last decade or so: the firearms legislation introduced in the hysteria following Dunblane, which made it impossible to practise pistol-shooting, even if you were in our gold-medal-winning Olympic team; the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks imposed in the hysteria following the Soham murders, which mean that from henceforward all adults who wish to work with children must submit to a tiresome, expensive, intrusive bureaucratic process which treats them all as prospective murderous paedophiles; the knife-crime laws which seem quite incapable of distinguishing between a Peckham thug on his way to ‘juke’ Damilola Taylor and a boy scout off to whittle a cleft stick.
‘Something must be done!’ Whenever an apparent new menace appears — be it salmonella or GHB or rave music or devil dogs or obesity — this is always our instinct. I need hardly tell you how viscerally I felt it myself when I stood looking at the limp, drool-slobbered forms of Beetle, Lily Scampers and Pickles Deathclaw. But this is exactly the problem: a strong and immediate emotional reaction to events is no basis on which to create laws.
Sometimes we need to stamp on our inner fascist and look at the bigger picture. If you want to ban Staffies, for example, visit the website of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Council of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and you’ll see them in a wholly different light. Staffords, it says, are ideal family dogs, very good with children, combining intelligence, love of humans and a strong desire to please.
I didn’t know that. Probably, unless you’re into Staffies, you didn’t either. That’s the thing about other people’s hobbies — be they military re-enactment (with muskets the poison squirrel Hazel Blears came so perilously close to banning), or scouting or fox-hunting or smoking weed or doing unsavoury things in the back rooms of certain clubs — if we’re not into it ourselves, then we really couldn’t care less if it got banned or over-regulated to oblivion. We should though, if only on the Pastor Neimoller principle: if we are not prepared to stand up and protect other people’s harmless, innocent, eccentric pleasures, who will ever stand up to protect ours?