The deceased was, according to Aleksandra Lauwers, “our love, family member and best friend to our son”. Lauwers, a dog breeder, wasn’t speaking of a child or a sibling, but of a shaggy-haired, russet-toned Irish setter called Jagger, poisoned, it is believed, at Crufts last week.
At this point, one will either find the idea of such raw sadness over a hound darkly funny – and want to crack a number of “Sherlock Bones” jokes – or, if you’re like me, you will feel an acute, sore, sense of empathy.
Jagger died in Lauwers’ arms after eating beef laced with up to three types of poison. Reading the details made me seek out my own four-legged sidekick, Betty, for an extra-long, luxury ear rub. My “love”, my “family member”, remained stoic on hearing of Jagger’s passing, but became more animated when offered a dried pig’s ear treat. That’s dogs for you: not big on current affairs. A dog will not blather on until May about the election, it has no views on the English cricket team, it doesn’t care what the Eurovision entry is. It just loves you, as well as jumping in algae, and waiting for your pocket to produce more kibbles.
For me, there is something deeply disconcerting about a dog’s murder – if this is what it is – at Crufts, the most gloriously British of institutions. The weekend’s TV coverage was, as ever, a joyous cacophony of dogs and dog-loving fools. Wet noses, silly show-ring prancing, women wearing bum bags full of beef jerky, dogs in curlers, Flyball tournaments. Clare Balding at the helm cuddling a different canine genre in every clip.
Crufts makes me proud to be British. Much like Wimbledon, or the Open, it may not have the world’s glitziest amenities or offer the biggest cash prizes on the circuit, but what it does have is a stalwart reputation. We are – it is reported typically as fact, although I’d quibble – a nation of dog lovers, and Crufts is the greatest dog show in the world. Both of these claims seem rather shaky today.
Some reports suggest that Jagger may have been poisoned by someone with a grudge against dogs. This theory doesn’t seem wildly unlikely. I meet crybabies everywhere who will hurl themselves into shop doorways to avoid a wagging Labrador or a particularly buoyant Pekingese. “Control your dog!” they squeal as they sprint towards you on a narrow towpath, arms flapping, clad in neon, stinking of sweat, wondering why dogs find them fascinating.
Dog-phobes are everywhere, in growing numbers, along with the “Ooh, I’m scared of circus clowns!” brigade, the can’t-eat-wheats, the grown-ups who attend fireworks displays in ear-safety muffs, plus all the other people who can’t leave the house without spare underwear because modern life is scary. Still, how a dog-phobe managed to enter the world’s biggest dog show to commit this crime is a sticking point in my ongoing Midsomer Murders-style investigations.
And being wholly fair to dog-fearers, Britain’s growing number of dog scaredy-cats merely matches the depressing number of British idiots who are abject failures as dog owners. The puppy’s greatest design flaw is that it looks so temptingly cute in photos. This means that most low-lifes, flakes and airheads will at some point be convinced they want, nay, need, a dog.
Then, on discovering the dog to be easily as much trouble, expense and gruntwork as an actual human child, they will abandon it, usually at around 11 months old. Possibly just after they have realised that every single mouthful the dog eats comes out the other end and it is your job to scoop up the warm excrement with your hand in a plastic bag and then walk for two streets in search of a litter bin.
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home is jam-packed with “teenage” dogs dumped the moment they began needing three miles’ walking every day, socialisation with other dogs, constant discipline, positive reinforcement, expensive vet visits and tons of love. Legally, it should be extremely hard to breed and sell dogs and really bloody difficult to buy one. Instead, it’s virtually a free-for-all. We can’t be too surprised that someone poisoned Jagger, when in Britain a dog’s life is really rather cheap.
Other theories stand that Jagger was poisoned by someone with a grudge against Crufts over pedigree “breeding”, which has left a lot of dogs – in the same way as our Royal Family – pampered, pricey, but so inbred they’re not fit for purpose. If some of the dogs at Crufts seem inordinately happy it is because their gene pool is now so refined that their brainpower is akin to a Malteser. Many domestic owners think they have got around this by buying “new” breeds which are two pedigrees shoved together, exclaiming: “Look it’s a cockapoo! It’s a dorgi!” before wondering why its liver is full of systemic shunts and its eyes fall out in strong winds.
Still, murdering dogs in order to protect future breeds of dogs seems rather counter-productive. This didn’t stop poor old Peta’s name being dragged into the frame – with no evidence whatsoever – before Jagger’s body was cold. I feel the chances of Peta or the RSPCA or Brian May or any other animal rights advocates being involved in Jagger’s death are very slim, but gosh, some people do love to have a swipe at animal rights lobbies as they get in the way massively with all the foie gras, dead racehorse and fox-ripped-to-shreds fun.
Or perhaps Jagger was nobbled by a rival breeder? In the ITV dramatic take on this crime, I hope the murderer will be played by Imelda Staunton, wearing a stained tracksuit, smelling of tripe, with a sneaky trombone sound denoting her appearance ringside. Jagger’s murder may well go unsolved, but it gave us all paws for thought.
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