It's a dog's life, Lassie, but not as we know it


There are strong grounds for asserting that the dog situation in parts of the United States is now out of hand. Take the website Dog Jaunt, for example. It is a conscientious guide to travelling with your dog, and provides an impressively detailed guide to the airports of the US.

This is close work indeed: “These are our reviews of the airport pet relief areas we have been to. Getting out to them, achieving your dog’s goals and returning to your departure gate will take at least an hour.”

Dog Jaunt’s review of the dog facilities at one of the terminals at San Francisco Airport reads like this : “Here’s what you’ll find – a fairly large gravelled area, fully fenced and equipped with poop bags, trash cans and a water source . . .”

It’s serious. It kind of gives a new meaning to Lassie Come Home.

It is impossible not to admire the sheer labour that goes into the Dog Jaunt site. Imagine if this kind of devotion was brought to bear on a users’ guide to Irish hospitals. Imagine if people loved their kids this much. The introduction to Dog Jaunt reads, touchingly: “Starring Chloe, our young Cavalier King Charles Spaniel”. It makes you worry about what’s going to happen when Chloe goes to that big dog facility in the sky.

But it is likely that Chloe’s owners will fight like tigers, and spend like sailors, to postpone her death. People can spend $20,000 dollars to keep a terminally ill dog alive, which is highly questionable, not to say barking. The dog in question didn’t look that great either, to tell you the truth.

Of course there is cruelty everywhere, and animals must always be treated humanely – but the middle ground that exists between the pampered dogs of the professional classes in the US and those poor pot-bellied pigs found abandoned on Mount Leinster in Ireland last week seems to have become what is known here as a fly-over state.

Even the president’s Christmas card, sent to supporters and campaign donors, consisted of a photo of First Dog Bo trotting outside a wintry White House. Bo was shown wearing some sort of long scarf around his neck. Inside, his name appears beside his pawprint, signed right after Malia’s and Sasha’s.

Perhaps it is only a minority here that believes it is simply not normal to bring your dog to a party for grown-ups. Or shopping for clothes for humans. It is, I suppose, understandable that you should bring your dog shopping for clothes for dogs.

In San Francisco there are drinking bowls placed on the pavement outside the more fashionable boutiques. There are dog hotels and a pet hospice (yes!). There are dogs walking round wearing coats and it really isn’t that cold. And everywhere dogs are cooed at and swooned over by canny shop assistants and maître d’s , and also by passers-by who should know better. The holiday season has brought a rash of adorable and love-bombed puppies wobbling on to the streets, complete with cute collars and panting owners.

The girls who brought their dogs to that party were not the neurotic matrons of sexist cliché, but lovely young women in bohemian cardigans who nevertheless carried their dogs in specially designed bags.

Most shocking of all to the Resistance – as we like to call ourselves; we meet in dark cellars and bring our own Bonios – is the category creep of the term “Service Dog”. That is, what we would call a guide dog, or any dog that is trained to help the disabled.

But the thing is that people are recategorising their dogs as Service Dogs, with the craven co-operation of the psychiatric community. It is now virtually routine to find some saddo on an aeroplane with a letter from their shrink, no less, declaring that their anxiety problems necessitate their dog joining them in the cabin.

How psychiatrists can get away with this type of behaviour is anyone’s guess. A woman who rents out conference space here stopped a lady from bringing her pet dog on to the premises. “No pet dogs,” said the manager, not unkindly. The lady replied that the animal was a Service Dog, and that she had a letter from her psychiatrist to prove it. This picture of a sturdy canine was slightly undermined by the fact that the dog under discussion was a white poodle in full fig, wearing as a collar a string of pearls.

“It is a narcissistic endeavour,” said a member of the Resistance sadly. The country that gave us Rin Tin Tin and White Fang is now in love with the lap-dog. If Rin Tin Tin rescued a baby from a burning house these days he’d be sent for counselling.

Of course we must blame the vets, as this trend moves across Europe and anywhere where people are prepared to dispose of their income in this way. We’re talking about gravely ill animals kept alive at great medical expense. We’re talking about animals who have bitten humans being kept alive at great legal expense. Perhaps we’re talking about a new need, not so much for unconditional love – that’s hardly new – but for being needed. Or simply for someone else to shop for.

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