Sunday, 24 May 2009

Dogs Have Owners; Cats Have Staff

"Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea." - Robert A. Heinlein

I'll get this out in the open - I'm a dog person. Always have been. Rarely have I met a cat that I can tolerate - even a docile, sleepy mog curled up in the far corner of the room has as much appeal to me as covering yourself in furballs and scratches (and all too often one follows the other alarmingly swiftly). So it is with great joy that I am now able to say.... "I am a dog owner, and I smell of wet fur".

Last month, my wife and I rescued two dogs from a shelter in Spain. Like most animal rescue shelters, they do a fantastic job on almost no resources - relying the generosity of people who are able to give some time or money to help out. The shelter is even now in the process of being forcibly closed by the local authorities: any dogs not rehomed before the deadline will be euthanised. Now I've had the odd row with my neighbour over the party wall, and I've had the council building regs bloke round to check on my home improvements, but this is a bit more serious. Something needed to be done.

The two dogs we chose (and boy is it hard to choose when you know whatever you do is a life and death decision) were both close friends, and shared the last kennel enclosure right at the back of the shelter. Both are great characters, and seemed a perfect fit for us - they are also inseparable, and it would have been agonising to split them up, and leave one behind. Now, the upsides of dog ownership are well-known: companionship, loyalty, exercise... but the downsides are less publicised. Nevertheless, with the right attitude, even these can be considered positively. For example, I am pleased to confirm that the acquisition of two dogs means that I am no longer the most flatulent member of the household... although I think I've just about managed to hang on to second place under a strong challenge.

Blowing raspberries is also a talent, you know...

Later blog posts will document some of the ups and downs of life with our two dogs, but here I'll restrict myself to a brief introduction to each of them.

Azul is, as far as we can tell, a cross between a husky and an Australian cattle dog... possibly with some dingo thrown in for good measure. His previous owners left him locked out on a small balcony area with no room for exercise, and little human contact (except possibly the abusive kind). Now around two years old, he is extremely people-friendly, but still a little hostile - or, more likely, nervous - around dogs he doesn't know. He would be a useless guard dog, unless we happen to be burgled by someone who is allergic to saliva.

Azul tends to prompt the most reaction from people because of his appearance, and his foreign name (Spanish for "blue", after his eye). At least one member of the family prefers to call him Abdul, and a number of people have asked whether his blue eye is blind. One suggestion was for him to wear a patch over his brown eye, "and see if he bumps into things". Clearly a zoologist at work there, a Johnny Morris de nos jours if I am not mistaken.

Azul has already shown a liking for Bombay Sapphire and Tonic... without a doubt, this dog was destined to be with us. Next time I'll leave my glass a little further out of reach though.... remember: one G&T is seven G&Ts in dog drinks.

Blackie is a cross between a Belgian Shepherd and, er, a Wookiee. His name is in fact the Spanish diminutive for Chewbacca, and is by no means a racist epithet (ahem). Nevertheless, I am careful when calling him that I don't sound like some Dambusters-obsessed Tourette's sufferer. There are some areas near where we live, where I just wouldn't call him at all. So if you find a dopey-looking dog with outsized feet wandering around W*stcl*ff On S*a, give me a call.

Blackie's rescue story is epic, and makes Reggie Perrin look like John "canoe man" Darwin. He was found when still a small puppy, being kicked around outside a local cafe by the cooks and staff. When he was fed, it was more thrown at him than served - I suspect he didn't leave a tip. The lady that rescued him asked his "owners" if she could take him away for a free neutering operation, but couldn't bring herself to return the dog to such violent owners, so called them and told them he died during the operation. As a result, therefore, Blackie doesn't officially exist - sort of like Jason Bourne, but having to turn around three times before shooting someone.

Blackie is around six months younger than Azul, and still has many puppylike traits. He is extremely playful when off the leash and out in the fields, and loves nothing more than bounding through the crops like Tigger on a frightening cocktail of amphetamines. He is, perhaps not surprisingly, very wary of people and seemed in the first instance to have no idea how to deal with physical affection. I am pleased to say that he is now settling in quickly with the help of his best mate. All he needs to learn at this stage is that there are some things on this Earth that were NOT specifically created to be chewed to oblivion.

Both of these dogs have suffered badly in their early lives, and were extremely fortunate to have been rescued by such dedicated people. We are lucky to have them, and if they are happy in their new lives then so much the better. I knew that one day I would have a dog again, but these two nutters have added more joy and warmth to my life than I could ever have reasonably expected. If you have the time, the space, and the heart for it, then I cannot recommend anything more highly than to rescue a friend for life from certain death.

Friday, 22 May 2009

The Wonders Of Democracy

I don't expect this blog will change the world - in fact, I'd settle for it changing its own underwear from time to time. But I would like my first post to be at least partially serious. (The rapid downhill slope starts here...)

So, we have an election coming up - this time it's for the European Parliament, on 4 June. And after the recent political scandals here in the UK, it seems even the British are going to outdo themselves when it comes to electoral apathy.

Now I don't have a problem, per se, with people who don't vote - although I do find it odd that such a basic and fundamental right isn't exercised by people who are either too lazy, or too smug, to realise its true value. But in this particular case, I care more than usual. Unlike our Parliamentary elections, the European elections are on a Proportional Representation basis - meaning that every single vote counts. And, by extension, every missed vote counts as an increased share for the BNP. That's where it gets serious. That's why it matters.

So this first blog post is really just to urge you to vote in this election (if eligible). And I don't care who for, as long as it's not the BNP.

While you're thinking about who to vote for, here's an amusing exercise that I completely don't recommend. The BNP's latest electoral leaflet is their usual mish-mash of outrageous lies, racist innuendo, and plain bullshit. It even includes stock photos of pensioners and the like, with BNP-type comments attached. It's a shame they didn't ask the permission of the people whose images they used, but hey - that's the BNP for ya. Fascists don't ask - they just do. Hence the egregious use of a photo of Winston Churchill - a man who was most famous for fighting the likes of them.

As many people have already spotted, buried away in the small print somewhere, is a return Admail address for people who wish to communicate with our friendly local racists - so friendly, in fact, that they'll pay the postal charges.

So wouldn't it be awful, for example, if thousands of us sent the leaflets back to the BNP at their free admail address. Or, worse, if we all sent them thousands of A4 sized envelopes - these cost more than the normal size. Imagine the mayhem at BNP HQ. Imagine the impact this sudden expense would have on a small, fringe political group. It would be a terrible shame. If enough people did it, there might even be some real financial problems for our black-shirted chums.

The address I don't recommend you send anything large, heavy or smelly to, is:

National Office, Admail 4148, London, EC1A 1UY

Please don't forget to vote.