The naming of cats

All sorts of animals have been kept as pets over the centuries. We know of sparrows in Catullus and John Skelton. There is a badger with a collar in a fresco by Signorelli – probably not much more biddable than the lobster Gerard de Nerval supposedly took for walks in Paris. The word ‘puss’ seems not to have referred to cats before the late 19th century but to hares, either a pet one (William Cowper had three, of whom Puss was sweet-natured and Tiney ‘the surliest of his kind’), or one being hunted in Surtees. Dogs always occupied a special place, with names and a position in the household. Cats

Joe Biden’s dog is out of control

I was shocked to read about the behaviour of Joe Biden’s dog, Commander. According to a CNN report based on freedom of information requests, he bit US Secret Service agents on 24 separate occasions between October 2022 and July 2023. There were also numerous other incidents involving the White House staff. These were not playful nips, either. The agents reported being bitten on the wrist, forearm, elbow, waist, chest, thigh and shoulder, with at least two bites requiring stitches. On one occasion, an agent was bitten so badly that tours of the White House had to be suspended for 20 minutes while a janitor mopped up the blood. During his

How to date a widower

When is it acceptable to consider dating a widower? How do you know if they are still grieving and not ready to move on? According to statistics, men die earlier than women, so I was surprised this year to meet several whose wives had died before them. Divorced since the early 1990s, I had no intention of remarrying, but thought of striking up some sort of liaison with a widower. I had heard of women behaving in a desperate and undignified way, charging round with casseroles I had rejected two non-widowers, whom my grandmother would have described as ‘cast-offs’, meaning exes one mustn’t go back to. I knew I would

Letters: Bully XL owners are deluding themselves

Bed and breakfast Sir: Cindy Yu asks, in her ‘Leaving Hong Kong’ piece (23 September): ‘Where are they?’ I can help with that one. I live near Epsom, Surrey, and there has been a huge influx of people from Hong Kong here over the past 18 months. The area is attractive because housing is affordable in south-east terms compared, price-wise, with where they have come from. There are half a dozen very good schools in Epsom, Sutton and Cheam – and the area has very low crime rates. If anybody wants to seek positives from controlled immigration then it is here. The influx of the Hong Kongers (as Yu described

How I lost my Hungarian Vizsla, Leo, to the Dangerous Dogs Act

Not everyone welcomed Rishi Sunak’s announcement last week that he would ban the XL Bully under the Dangerous Dogs Act. This American crossbreed is responsible for nearly half the deaths caused by dogs in the UK between 2021 and 2023 and hit the headlines recently after a video emerged of one attacking an 11-year-old girl, as well as several men, in Birmingham. Yet the Dog Control Coalition said outlawing them wouldn’t stop the attacks. ‘For 32 years, the Dangerous Dogs Act has focused on banning types of dog and yet has coincided with an increase in dog bites, and the recent deaths show this approach isn’t working,’ said a spokeswoman.

How an animal psychic helped find a missing dog

It was more in a spirit of desperation that I decided to contact an animal psychic after my friends’ terrier Lark disappeared. Lark vanished one evening from their house. She was chipped, and her collar had their number on it, but as the days went by no one called. Lark’s photo was put on Facebook and on posters near her home. Had she been stolen, or hit by a car? We searched for her body but found nothing. Was she stuck down a rabbit hole? Five days after her disappearance, my friends went on a prearranged holiday and left me in charge of the mystery. Becky mentioned birds of prey, and

Is your pet killing the planet?

As a travel writer, I used to joke about the so-called ‘downsides of the job’. The stupidly complex shower-fixture in the five-star Maldivian Paradise. The unexpected commission to go to Denmark in winter. The vague but real sting of disappointment upon realising that the free hotel pillow-chocolate is actually a mint. But in recent years a genuine and troubling downside has arisen. When I meet someone and tell them what I do, the listener often winces, perhaps with a hint of moral superiority, and says something like: ‘Don’t you feel guilty about your carbon footprint? You’re killing the planet!’ This query pains me because, while I may question a few

The insane craze for dog ice-cream

During the few hot days we had in June, I came across my first tub of dog ice-cream nestled among the Häagen-Dazs in my local supermarket. Scoop’s vanilla: ‘Tubs that get tails wagging.’ My first thought was that it was a joke, or perhaps for people who identify as dogs. So I looked it up as I stood in the queue, and it was as if a door opened onto our national psychosis. Purina ‘Frosty paws’, Wiggles and Wags ‘Freeze-Fetti’, Frozzys dog ice-cream, Pooch Creamery Vanilla, Wagg’s Sunny Daze blueberry, Higgins dog ice-cream, Dogsters ice-cream-style treats, Jude’s, Smoofl, Ben and Jerry’s… the market for dog ice-cream is limitless and it crosses the socio-economic

You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how unpleasant this is: Strays reviewed

Based on the poster showing two cute dogs – a border terrier and a Boston terrier – I had assumed Strays was a (probably lame) kiddie film with a remit to amuse the aforementioned kiddies during the long, long, very long summer holidays, so here’s what I was saying to myself during the opening moments: ‘Christ on a bike, what the hell is this?’ I can now tell you that Strays is vulgar, rude, offensive and disgusting. But the biggest, weirdest shock? At a certain point I realised it was funny, and rather touching, and that I was having fun. In other words, I was pleasantly surprised. Or, given its

Canine manners have gone to the dogs

‘Do you want me to put my dog on the lead?’ shouted the woman on her phone, as she came towards me on the woodland path, her huge hound bounding ahead. It was not a polite question. It should have had ‘or what?’ on the end of it. Dave leapt into action and grabbed the lodger’s trouser leg. But the trouser pulling soon gave way to licking People not calling their dogs in and making them behave is normal. To be aggressively asked to state my dog etiquette preferences as an unruly, slobbering beast gains ground on me was a new one. I wanted to shout: ‘No! It’s fine! I

Stop misgendering my dog

It happens a couple of times a week: in parks, usually; sometimes outside shops, on Tube trains or in pubs. ‘What kind of dog is he?’ they’ll ask. I answer: ‘Bearded collie crossed with a greyhound which comes out looking like a deerhound but is actually a lurcher.’ But this is pointedly preceded by: ‘She’s a…’ I don’t like to be rude when strangers are being interested and congenial, but I feel compelled to quietly make the point that the dog they’re expressing interest in is not a he but a she.  News emerged this month that God might be becoming gender neutral. Or at least, certain factions of the

The rise and fall of the Sealyham terrier

‘What breed is he?’ is the question I hear most when I’m walking my six-month-old Sealyham terrier, Murray. Most of the time my answer is met with blank looks or ‘I’ve never heard of that’. But just once in a while, someone will recognise the breed – and when they do, they usually have a Sealyham story to tell. The Sealyham is a breed that has a few stories of its own. It was developed between 1850 and 1891 by the eccentric sportsman Captain John Edwardes. While he didn’t leave many notes of what breeds went into it, it’s thought that the now-extinct Old English terrier, the West Highland terrier,

Where would we be without our dogs?

Is a dog man’s best friend? Or is man a dog’s best friend? There is no relationship quite like that between dog and human. My husband loves me, but if I locked him in a cupboard for ten minutes, he would be furious. If I locked my dog up for an hour, she would be nothing but overjoyed to see me when I let her out. There is something profoundly moving about two friends who have such a complete, unquestioning trust in each other. Our dog, Budgie, has become a firm fixture in our lives – she accompanies me everywhere. Last week she wasn’t allowed in the Post Office and

Her Majesty’s enduring love of dogs and horses

In 1995, Her Majesty was heard to remark that the worst aspect of the Parker Bowles divorce was that she had got Danny back. Danny was a corgi given to Camilla and me by the Queen in the early 1990s. She had previously given us a corgi called Windsor Flame who was wonderful, intelligent and brave. Danny had none of these qualities. He was short in looks, legs and temper. After the divorce he returned to Windsor, where he spent the rest of his life, very happy, in the care of Mrs Nancy Fenwick, who was unofficially the keeper of the Queen’s dogs. I came to realise how much the

Rod Liddle

In defence of badgers

My dog was bitten by an adder last week. Jessie had been snuffling around in bracken a few yards from where I was walking when I suddenly heard this anguished yelp, followed by still more disquieting, even harrowing yelps. I knew immediately exactly what had happened. I have been boring my family for months with warnings about where not to take Jessie for a walk, because of the adders. They think adders are a manifestation of my warped imagination and do not really exist, possibly something dreamed up by the QAnon people. They never believe me when I tell them anything about animals and yet – ironically, you might think

How to treat your dog to afternoon tea

We’re in the elegant 1820s parlour of a five-star, Grade II-listed hotel. There’s music playing softly, and opposite us, one particularly well-groomed guest is wearing a bowtie.  A three-tier cake stand is brought to the table. On the top tier sits a selection of homemade biscuits and a fluffy cupcake finished with a swirl of yellow icing. Beneath that is a thick wedge of cake with what looks like pink and white buttercream oozing from the middle. And on the bottom tier is a finely decorated China bowl, piled high with… mashed-up meat? There’s a bowtie-wearing poodle, a golden retriever who’s tall enough to help himself from the table and

Ukraine and a short history of dogs in war

In his own inimitable way, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has unleashed his dogs of war on Vladimir Putin and once again he’s pulled off a propaganda coup. The Russian President has in the past not been averse to using animals to his advantage; he posed topless on horseback, making the pulse race of every red-blooded Russian woman, and in 2007 he famously brought his pet labrador, Konni, to a meeting with Angela Merkel, fully aware that the then German chancellor had a fear of dogs. Zelensky is more a Jack Russell guy and earlier this month he decorated one of Ukraine’s bravest of the breed – Patron, which means ‘ammo’

Can I really be turning 80?

A princess of Hanover wrote in her diary: ‘My 30th birthday. There must be some mistake.’ Substitute 30th for 80th and you have how I feel this week. But age is all relative, being dependent on your genes, immune system and how it was primed in childhood; on your location, your income and luck. I had long-lived grandparents on both sides; had measles, rubella, mumps, chicken pox, whooping cough and scarlet fever before five; and in spite of semi-permanent tonsillitis was 20 before any antibiotic entered my body. I spent the years until 16 on the north-east coast of Yorkshire, through bitter snowbound winters, my lungs loaded with fresh sea

It’s hard not to pity Ghislaine Maxwell

This week, I’m having puppies! First litter! The Johnsons were not doggy as we always moved around too much (my late mother claims it was 32 times in 17 years), but once you have a dog, life seems boring without. I have a theory that children give couples something to talk about and, when they go, only a dog can fill the conversational void. The mother (or ‘dam’) is Ziggy, who entered our lives one week before lockdown after I had a sudden strong urge to get a dog. On 13 March last year I drove to a farm in Somerset and fell for a puff of white fur with

Who let the dog out?

Caroline and I are just back from a weekend break in Scotland and, nice though it was, I hadn’t realised how difficult travelling anywhere is at the moment. We had originally planned to drive, but the fuel crisis put paid to that, so we had to book a last-minute flight. EasyJet from Luton to Edinburgh was £475.92 for the two of us — ye gods! — and three days in the mid-stay car park was a whopping £128. To cap it all, the bus that takes you from the car park to the airport wasn’t running — Covid, obviously — so we had to walk about half a mile carrying