Dog Day Afternoon

by Theodore Dalrymple (June 2016)

Pyrenean Mountain Puppies

However, whichever it might be, relative or absolute, increased obesity in dogs is an interesting social phenomenon. Dogs can only become obese if their masters and mistresses feed them too much. Presumably the owners of fat dogs believe that, by giving in to their dogs’ insatiable desire for food, they are being kind to them, though obesity in dogs brings in its train precisely the same kind of health problems as it does for humans: diabetes, arthritis, etc. This suggests the spread of a kind of sentimentality in the population: that acceding to the desires of others is the only way to show that you care for them. This, of course, is the easiest thing to do: it obviates the necessity to make a judgment as to when to grant and when to deny a wish, and it also suggests or implies the desirability of a relaxation of self-control. Why control yourself when you give in to others? I think it likely that fat people have fat dogs.

Casting around in my mind for something to say, I came up with a supremely banal question of which I felt ashamed the moment I had uttered it.

‘I suppose,’ I said, ‘you must love dogs?’

Whether from a desire to shock a bore such as I, or from an attachment to truth, he replied:

‘No, for me it’s just a business.’

What was I to do with him? It occurred to me that he was probably chipped, and so I decided to take him to the vet, about six or seven miles away. I put him on to the back seat of my car and started to drive. Unfortunately the roads near my house are very twisty, and the dog, although extremely docile, was not a good traveller. The first thing he did was to vomit the food I had given him. To this day, seven years later, I have not been able to eliminate the smell entirely, despite the employment of all the perfumes of Araby and many beside (I am too mean, and fear poverty too much, to waste money on a declining asset such as a new car).

Needless to say, the dog was chipped, the vet called the owner who lived a few miles away and he collected his dog with the briefest of thanks. I did not at that stage know that he (the dog) had permanently damaged my car.

They had already been filtered to potential winners by the time I saw them, as they were walked round the arena by their proud – or was it anxious? – owners. Probably most of them were breeders, and for their dog to win first, second or third place in their category was a matter of great financial importance to them: for the purchasers of puppies are deeply impressed by the fact that a puppy’s great-great-grandfather was a champion at Crufts. Crufts is the Harvard of dogs.

The joy, not of the winners, but of the winners’ owners, was unmistakable. Their joy seemed to me also to partake of relief: as if a heavy investment had paid off. The losers were disappointed, and no doubt attributed their loss as the bias of the judge, but some of them at least were game enough to congratulate the winners. I was very much struck by the good behaviour of the dogs themselves, not only in this contest, but in Crufts as a whole. There must have been thousands of dogs present, but never once in the show did I hear snarling, let alone witness a fight. If only the British behaved as well as British dogs.

The Pyrenean Mountain dogs were only one breed among hundreds: I believe the International Canine Federation recognises 339, though think the Kennel Club of Great Britain recognises only 228. Anyway, it is all a little like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, that is to say a matter of horse-trading (or perhaps I should say dog-trading) rather than of science. Whether a breed is a breed is arbitrary. For example, although ordinary people have long recognised Jack Russell terriers as a separate breed, it is only recently that the Kennel Club of Great Britain has followed suit.

There was a public controversy after Crufts was over for another year. The winner of the German shepherd category had been bred for a low sloping rear back that breeders apparently now favour, but that gives the dog all kind of trouble quite early in life and even makes it difficult for them to be fully active. What is the point of such breeding? Is it not cruel? Is this not whimsical to an absurd and inhumane degree?

And yet, would the world not have been impoverished if dogs had never been bred for certain qualities, if all dogs were simply and generically Canis familiaris? I was fortunate in my dog: he was pure-bred, but was nevertheless the most handsome and intelligent dog ever, and long-lived into the bargain. Hamlet was wrong: not Man, but my dog was (and will be again, if I have another) the paragon of animals. 



Out Into the Beautiful World from New English Review Press.

To comment on this essay, please click here.

To help New English Review continue to publish original and thought provoking essays like this one, please click here.

If you have enjoyed this article and want to read more by Theodore Dalrymple, please click here.

Theodore Dalymple is also a regular contributor to our community blog, The Iconoclast. Please click here to see all his contributions on which comments are welcome.