I HAVE a difficult relationship with animals. I would never audition for the title role in Doctor Doolittle. And if, owing to some administrative mix-up, I somehow ended up in the West End playing the role, the error would soon be rectified.
If forced to spend time in the presence of animals I adopt the pose and manner of Prince Charles on an official visit to an S&M dungeon – keen not to offend the creatures at either end of the lead, but desperate for the whole ordeal to be over.
For animals are unpredictable, smelly, leave hairs everywhere, pass wind at will, and eat like pigs. Especially pigs. And I got enough of that at my all-boys secondary school.
The human race is divided, by those individuals who do that type of thing, into dog people and cat people. I am neither. I am also ambivalent about Marmite. I suspect this is why I have never been stopped in the street by a market researcher; I am probably on some sort of register.
Sometimes I think the main reason I am not a vegetarian is spite.
Anyway, in an attempt to cure me of my, perfectly reasonable, aversion to animals, my parents bought me a dog. To sweeten the deworming pill, they named him Krypto, after Superman’s faithful flying hound.
It was not a success. In fact it was a little like curing somebody’s peanut allergy by buying him or her a packet of Big D. Krypto would have been more accurately named Psycho. He was quite possibly the meanest, most ill-tempered, dog there ever was. I am not saying his stupid name was a contributory factor, but it can’t have helped much.
My uncle, Bernard, who lived with us, used to take him for runs and became so fed up with the sniggers provoked in the park by the tuneful call, “KRYPTO! COME ON, BOY!” that he developed a whistle to the same tune. I can’t help feeling it is detrimental to a dog’s self-esteem if his master is too embarrassed to call out his name in a public place. No wonder he became such a vicious little sod.
In the end he became so vicious and uncontrollable, he “went away to live on a farm.” Apparently I was “able to visit him at any time.” I don’t remember ever testing the proposition.
Thus I was confirmed in my opinion that animals were rubbish. And then Patch came along.
Patch was a Jack Russell with a docked tail who followed my father home from work. This was quite impressive as that involved a bus journey. Apparently he took a shine to my father, followed him to the bus stop, jumped on the bus with him, sat in the aisle next to him, got off the bus with him, and ran away at the top of our road, stopping outside our house. He was as good-natured as Krypto was malevolent, and we were instantly besotted.
As good citizens, we informed the police we had found a dog called Patch, according to his collar, and they told us the next day a Patch had been reported missing. Distraught, we took the dog to the owner, who told us he wasn’t his dog. Apparently Patch is a common name in the dog community.
Consequently, we were allowed to keep Patch for the rest of his life. And he taught me many valuable lessons, mostly along the lines of “what goes around, comes around.”
For example, I took him for a walk. This was sometime in the mid eighties. We walked along Smithdown Road, a bustling shopping street in those days before Tesco owned everything. And he stopped outside Dewhurst’s the butchers. And did a thing that dogs are happy to do in public.
Back in those pre-pooper scooper days, that was what happened. Dogs did poos, and they were left. The past wasn’t always better. Yes, I was a little embarrassed, but I moved on and forgot about it.
And on the way back, I trod in it.
Despite that, I miss that dog, because he stopped me being scared of animals, and that made my life better.
But I still don’t have to like them.