Books

A glorious new celebration of man's best friend

As a glorious new celebration of man’s best friend explains: You can trust a dog with your life, but never your lunch!

  • Simon Garfield has penned a new book exploring all things related to canine
  • UK-based author says you can trust a dog with your life, but not your lunch
  • He examines cruel Pavlov’s vivisection experiments and laboratory testing

ANIMALS

DOG’S BEST FRIEND   

by Simon Garfield (W&N £16.99, 272pp)

Like any right-thinking person, starting with the Queen who has owned more than 30 corgis during her reign, I much prefer dogs to people.

There’s been Clyde, the sweet-natured collie-cross, shot by a farmer; Tosca, the cavalier King Charles spaniel, who had a cashmere rug in her basket; Pogle, who bit a policeman; Tog, the russet-coloured retriever and complete gentleman; Milo, a mixture of fox terrier and black labrador; and Miller, who looked like a polar bear and was so dim that if both ear flaps were lifted up daylight could be seen.

Simon Garfield has penned a new book exploring all things related to canine. Pictured: Queen Elizabeth II and her dog 

As Simon Garfield says in this moving and invigorating study of all things canine, loads of us do love our dogs: ‘We schedule our days around his needs, his meal times, his walks . . . We spend a bizarrely large amount of our disposable income on him,’ — the vet’s bills, the insurance costs, elaborate foods such as rabbit and venison treats or snacks made from Himalayan yak milk and hypoallergenic salmon and rice. Miller had his own television, so he could bark at Gyles Brandreth.

The domesticated dog, rounding up sheep, cattle and goats, evolved from the wolf, jackal and coyote. It quickly learnt about ‘the manipulation of humans . . . You give dogs food, dogs will sit, roll over, whatever you want.’ It is indeed the case, as Garfield says, that though you can trust a dog with your life, ‘you’d maybe better not with your lunch’.

Dogs are never not hungry. When I had a dinner party once, the dogs crept in silently behind my back and licked every tureen clean (except the carrots), and crept out again, without, as it were, saying a word. Imagine if they decided to be jewel thieves.

Epitomes of ‘friendliness, compatibility and usefulness’, dogs hear for the deaf, see for the blind, detect bodies under collapsed buildings and sniff for explosives, drugs and cancer.Recently dogs have brought comfort to patients in hospitals and care homes, as well as to ‘commercial offices where staff are particularly stressed with work’.

My wife, who is a child psychologist, has used dogs to help patients learn to read.

Negative connotations associated with dogs include ‘dog’s dinner’, ‘in the doghouse’, and depression as a ‘black dog’ (file image)

Youngsters who may otherwise be silent or stubborn, open up and happily read aloud to a dog, patting the dog’s head for encouragement and support.

Of course, not everything is rosy. Last year there were 2,445 dog attacks on postmen and women. And though pictorial art is pro-dog — Garfield mentions the mosaics of gambolling pooches at Pompeii, the anthropomorphic portraits by Landseer, the dog listening to a horn gramophone which gave rise to the label for His Master’s Voice, David Hockney’s oil paintings of his dachshunds Stanley and Boodgie, and the 17,897 Snoopy cartoon strips — literature is often anti-dog.

Shakespeare’s references to curs and snarling dogs were always pejorative. Phrases such as ‘dog’s dinner’, ‘in the doghouse’, and depression as a ‘black dog’ — these have negative connotations.

John Steinbeck’s dog ate the original manuscript for Of Mice And Men, compelling the author to start again from scratch — you can see he’d not be happy.

Simon Garfield also looks at human cruelty towards dogs, including Pavlov’s vivisection experiments and testing of chemicals in laboratories. Pictured: A dog at Crufts

Garfield’s book turns darker and more upsetting when he explores outright human cruelty, such as Pavlov’s vivisection experiments on a dog’s gastric and salivary systems and the continued ‘heartless testing of chemicals in laboratories’ — all those smoking beagles. Yet sentimentality about dogs can be cruel, too. Obedience and agility tests at dog shows are surely demeaning.

To win Best In Show classes at Crufts, which began in 1891, it can be argued that dogs are being overbred to achieve the ‘extreme physical attributes’ required by the judges. The Kennel Club, founded in 1873, only recognises 212 pedigree breeds and ignores mongrel strains.

These strictures may allegedly be blamed for ‘genetic freaks prone to disease and disability’. The inbred bloodlines rival those of the traditional human aristocracy, where everyone is a cousin.

DOG’S BEST FRIEND by Simon Garfield (W&N £16.99, 272pp)

When I examined Miller’s elaborate family tree, it really did look as if, by some ancestral quirk, he was his own grandfather.

The most heinous development, however, is what Garfield calls ‘the science of the cute’, where fashion models and idle-rich Americans want their dogs to be toys, fashion accessories and pretend babies, photographed on Instagram wearing embarrassing costumes. These dogs have large eyes set widely apart and an expression that suggests a smile.

Such creatures are genetic mutations, created at puppy farms, ‘tea cup dogs’, weighing less than five pounds, and which are prone to hip and eye diseases, birth and heart defects and liver dysfunction. As Garfield says, the real question is not ‘What’s wrong with the dogs?’, it’s ‘What is wrong with these breeders and owners?’

Churchill meanwhile, despite the propaganda, didn’t have a bulldog that wore a Union Jack waistcoat. He had a poodle. Donald Trump, says Garfield, is the first American president in more than a century not to have owned a dog while in the White House.

The Obama’s dogs, Sunny and Bo, on the other hand, were in such high demand for photo opportunities that they had their own official secretary.

The greatest surprise is that, as yet, no dog has run for office — as surely it would result in a landslide victory.

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