622 Courage by Proxy

by   David Hancock

It's a worrying sight, the promenading in down-town areas of fierce-looking dogs by fierce-looking young males. It's pointless blaming Rambo, he's long gone. It's easy to blame such a sight on social deprivation but that's become an easy excuse for so many social ills. Poor people don't pay around £500 for a muscular dog, then have to feed it too. Just as it's been argued that knives and guns make people feel safe, no doubt some young males feel bigger men with an impressive dog beside them. Goading such dogs to show aggression to each other may sound like harmless fun to their owners but it's a disaster for the public perception of big strapping smooth-haired strong-headed dogs. The dog-hating bodies are always lurking, seeking quick fixes to perennial problems and usually showing their ignorance when they do name 'breeds'.

No one who cares about their dog would ever wish it to engage in a fight with another dog. There may be a temptation for young men with a powerful dog on a lead to want to show off their dog's feistiness. But it's a huge leap in logic to accuse such owners as 'engaging in dog-fighting' as one police force suggested. Dogs often square up to one another to impress their will on a strange dog; young men often act aggressively when strangers invade their patch. Both dogs and man can be very territorial. Instant dog-fights can be a form of squaring-up at the next level; arranged dog-fights are products of evil minds. The vicious people who arrange them are real dog-haters; it takes a peculiarly twisted mind for anyone to facilitate physical harm and extreme pain on their own dog.

It is difficult to fathom the rationale behind dog v dog contests, which are staged from Mexico to Milan and from the Himalayas to the Philippines. Gambling of course has always played a major part in such odious activities and surviving winners can command relatively huge fees in breeding programmes. But what kind of man participates? Do they consider themselves 'hard' by taking part or consider it a way of demonstrating their toughness? I have had the privilege of working and playing sport with some of the toughest men you could find: I played rugger for England as a schoolboy; I went on two arctic expeditions before I was 21; I was a paratrooper for three years; I served in Gurkha formations in both Malaya and Borneo. I have learned from personal experience that there is a world of difference between being tough and acting tough; those who try to appear tough by engaging in cruel activities unwittingly reveal their actual lack of toughness immediately.

Making your companion dogs, quite needlessly, display their courage, pluck, gameness, ferocity, aggression, whatever you choose to call it, seems to me to be a very transparent cover for human cowardice. Bravery by proxy is not bravery at all.

Breeds like the Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the Shar Pei, the Akita, some of the Irish terrier breeds and the Japanese Tosa (outside Japan) have been bred away from past combat in a remarkably successful way. Other muscular breeds like the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro have not to my knowledge ever been made to fight in the ring. Yet our Kennel Club, consulted, as the national organisation concerned with breeds of dog, by the Home Office when the dreaded DDA was being drafted identified these two South American breeds as 'bred for fighting' and potentially dangerous. I am prepared to bet that of all the breeds of dog we know of, the Fila Brasileiro is the one most often tested for temperament. Our KC's advice to the Home Office in 1990 has had two disastrous effects: firstly it demonstrated to every dog-owning nation that breeds could be judged dangerous and secondly that you didn't need facts to construct a case.

 It would not have taken much courage for our KC to have said to the Home Office 'we have no factual knowledge of anyone breed of dog being a danger to the public, although in the past some breed-types have been misused in this way. And by the way we have no knowledge or experience of foreign breeds not recognised by us.’   But they lacked the courage to do just that. They then allowed the Home Office to promulgate unsound unwise inaccurate distinctly harmful legislation on dogs in their name; that's cowardice by proxy. I have been made aware of correspondence between the KC and the Home Office on the drafting of the DDA and it is shameful. The KC claims not to have such records, which is almost as shameful. Charlotte Redman, writing from the Home Office in 1993, advised me that the Kennel Club's advice to the government was that these foreign breeds would pose a threat to the public. It was advice without evidence; it harmed many innocent dogs. The KC has never apologised for inflicting by proxy such harm on dogs.

Which is the worst kind of swaggering: young men parading with muscular dogs on leads, flexing their own muscles at the same time, or, the national body for breeds of dog flexing its muscles with the Home Office, beyond its knowledge and experience? How easy now to condemn misguided youngsters for darkening dogs' door! With breath-taking shamelessness the KC now claims to be working with DEFRA to alter the wording of this wholly misguided Act for the future benefit of dogs. How can anyone trust them again? At no stage has the KC had the moral courage to announce 'In 1990, we gave advice to the Home Office which was ill-informed, beyond our knowledge, arrogant and harmful to dogs. We apologise unreservedly for such stupidity and deeply regret the harm to dogs which resulted from our unadmitted ignorance, forgive us!’

The next time you see young men parading with powerful dogs on leads, displaying courage by proxy, before condemning their behaviour, think of the cowardice by proxy which allows those who gave such malicious anti-dog advice to the government to parade their canine credentials still to the nation. In our courts today, and sadly in copy-cat courts across Europe, dogs 'of a type', identified by other self-important ignorami, are being punished, before and after ‘trial' as a direct result of our KC's stance on this issue in 1990. It's easy to change your stance on any issue; most honourable people have the courage to admit when they are wrong. Perhaps it will be done by proxy!