We’re hoping that our friends’ Jack Russell, Cyril, will have a litter of puppies, because then we’ll adopt a couple of them. But I saw Cyril the other weekend, and to be frank, she looks way too skinny and nervy to be pregnant. Cyril is named after my friend’s father, whom her own children never knew. That’s why the kids wanted the dog to have his name — the revelations about her sex came later. Perhaps Cyril’s failure to get knocked up — despite being covered by the very spunky Jack Russell belonging to a local theatrical impresario — is a result of this masculine naming. I always make the point of calling her “Cyrille”, which everyone else thinks quite silly.
I’ve resisted having a dog for some time now. For a start, there are the bad dog-owning experiences of the past: the family dog who was pensioned off to my old nanny in Nazeing, Essex, the Lurcher who went feral in the Oxfordshire countryside, the whippet who shivered itself into psychiatric treatment. Then there’s the way urban dog walking forces you into an almost cosmically depressing go-round, from this piss-mark, to that shit-spot, off the lead, on the lead, and home again, the damp coat shaken in the hall stippling the skirting board with grey blotches.
I’ve spent a goodly portion of my life in London’s open spaces, parks and playgrounds. To begin with, as a child, I knew no better. Then, in the 1980s, I worked for the old GLC as a play leader, and so, for me, the city became mediated by its parks. Then came children of my own and the push-me, pull-you of swings and roundabouts. Initially, I found children to be poor dog substitutes. They didn’t come when you called them, and they were very slow — particularly the males — to be house trained.
Of course, this was before the plastic-bag-gloved hand became a mandatory canine accessory. After the legislation, human babies began to look positively continent — what with their neat little absorbent poo-pads — compared with these hairy shitters. Indeed, the whole notion of being responsible for a creature that requires me to pick up its excrement seems a curious inversion of what I always understood about the interspecies relationship.
I thought dogs were domesticated by humans, and that over many millennia we selectively bred them as hunting companions, guards, herders and so forth. We fed them and in return they did our bidding. There was no doubt about which was the subordinate species. The shit thing has completely altered my perspective. It now seems that far from us selectively breeding them, it’s been the other way round. Over many millennia, dogs, by providing human dog lovers with an adaptive advantage (the ability to take dull walks whatever the weather, the gumption to open fiddly tin cans, the capacity to pay exorbitant vets’ bills), have been selectively breeding us.
Think not of alsatians, King Charles spaniels, pekinese etc as sub-species of dog, cunningly fashioned by their human overlords, but rather, regard the inhabitants of Alsace, Salisbury and the Eternal City in this light. They look different because they are “owned” by different dogs. Let’s face it, any creature smart enough to get another animal to pick up its excreta, wrap it lovingly in a Sainsbury’s bag, and deposit it in a bin that has been specially constructed for precisely that purpose, is a lot cannier than we gave it credit for.
It’s also worth noting, that when human civilisations collapse — which they inevitably, eventually do — dogs speedily revert to their feral condition, and in the burnt-out and shattered remains of shopping malls and government offices, hunting packs roam, the dandy dinmont with the chihuahua, the St Bernard with the scottie.
So, when you see some innocuous little dog, supine in front of the fireplace, whimpering its way through a dream, don’t make the mistake of assuming it to be a reverie of happily mindless rabbit pursuit. Oh no. Rather, the sinister, furry fifth columnist is biding its time, playing the long game, and in its formidable brain, it’s envisaging the human ant heap kicked to bits, relishing the child-flesh that has become carrion.
Oh yes, the dogs are playing a long game, but some of them are becoming impatient. I arrived back in south London the other day, and walking from the Tube fell in behind a pit bull hybrid that had specially bred a human in a tracksuit to look after it. The dog languorously, arrogantly shat in the very middle of the pavement — and its human parasite did nothing whatsoever. I tell you, people, we are living in the end of days, and Sirius is in the ascendant.
Come to think of it, dubbing Cyril “Cyrille” is insufficient. I’m going to start crumbling progesterone into her Pedigree Chum.