The very British love of a gentleman for his dog

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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THERE are only one or two subjects that find your normally affable columnist growing hot under the proverbial collar. I have long argued the case that persistent offenders must be subjected to capital and corporal punishment, though not necessarily in that order. I am all for giving a good hiding to shoplifters, litter-louts, beggars, street-musicians, poachers, immigrants, Mr Straw's squeegee merchants (and Mr Straw himself, if it comes to that!!), idlers, loafers, football fans, burger-eaters, young tearaways, baseball-cap wearers, "rappers" and the like. And - just for good measure - I wouldn't mind delivering a hearty blow to the chops of Mr Melanie Gibson for making such an oaf of himself togged up in a kilt for his latest "movie" (dread word!).

Aside from wishing humane executions, whippings and biffings on such miscreants, I am a peaceable sort, a chap who shies away from visiting violence upon all but the most disagreeable citizens. But on some subjects, I will not be silenced. And the fate of Dempsey is one such subject. Dempsey, Dempsey, oh, Dempsey, how could they treat you thus?

Pull yourself together, Wallace. Big blow. And again. And wipe. That's it. All better. Dempsey is, of course, the lovable pit bull pooch who has been forced to make his kennel in the jaws of death these past 1,200 days, while the Government plays God with his life. A proud, noble dog and a devoted father, masculine in the very best sense, Dempsey is an unsentimental realist in the finest Tory tradition. Intellectually rigorous, mustard-keen to stand on his own four feet and grab every passing opportunity between the teeth. And how does this lame-duck Major government reward this magnificent creature, who, were it not for an accident of birth, might well have been standing as a formidable candidate for the Tory party in a tough marginal constituency come the next election? Why, they send the oily Michael Howard into the kennel with his syringe, the glint of murder in his cold, cold eyes.

There was a time when we British were looked upon as a nation of dog- lovers. Until a decade or so back, I sided with my old friend and quaffing partner Lord St John of Fawsley in favouring the Pekingese. I admired the way that most ornamental of creatures would bustle up to one at a party and paw at one's lower leg; and his Pekingese could be very friendly, too. But I soon switched my allegiance from the namby-pamby Pekingese to the trusty old labrador. We British love a labrador. Why? I imagine the gentle waves of saliva that flow from a labrador's mouth remind us, in some mystical way, of our great history as a maritime nation. In those days, I would often meet my fellow labrador-owners at weekend shooting parties, all animal-lovers together as we sent our dear dogs chasing after the birds we had just potted with such aplomb.

Alas, foreigners can never hope to understand our very British love for Man's Best Friend. I well remember opening my doors to an American (!), who was wearing, needless to say, a jacket that would have been hopelessly vulgar had it not been so muted. As pre-luncheon drinks were served, I introduced him to my dear old labrador, Snogger. "You'll find he's a great character," I whispered to Snogger, seeking to leave him with our American friend for a convivial pre-prandial chat.

"I love your dog, Wallace, but aren't you going to introduce me to your butler?" said the American, motioning in the direction of the manservant who was passing around the champagne. How very typically American, I thought, to make the faux pas of wishing to get all pally ("Have a nice day!!!") with one of the staff!

"Snogger's just a great big baby, aren't you, Snogger, oh yes, you are!" I said, giving Snogger an affectionate hug and a great big kiss so as to demonstrate to the American something of our British love of animals. But at that moment a female guest arrived with an infant mewling and puking in her arms, so I was obliged to interrupt the proceedings to draw her attention to the strict "Children To Be Left At The Door" clause on my invitation.

Sadly, after a couple of years I was forced to put Snogger down when he began shedding rather too many hairs over the furniture. But his dear memory will always bring a tear to the eye. I now have a couple of delightful pit bull terriers, Scratch and Sniff. Do pop round soon and see them: they would simply love to shake you by the hand.