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About A Week: All Teeth And No Humour

There are times when you begin to wonder whether humans were wise in domesticating the dog, says Peter Hinchliffe.

When you are flat on your back on a garden path with a pair of padded paws pinning you down, you begin to wonder if humans were wise in domesticating the dog.

I was a young reporter, pursuing a story, knocking on the door of a Batley council house.

Behind the door, a scrabbling sound, followed by the sort of growl which makes your neck feel cold.

Then a voice. “Get away Sam. Behave yourself!’’

The door opened. A hairy projectile hit me on the chest. Over I went.

An alsatian was on top of me. An alsatian with the biggest mouthful of teeth I had ever seen.

“He’s only playing,’’ said a man. emerging from the house to tug at the dog’s collar. “He won’t harm you.’’

“Good dog,’’ I said, trying not to sound panic-stricken.

The dog, sulky as a child being sent to bed, was shut up in the kitchen. I got my story and departed in a hurry, hoping that the kitchen door would stay shut until I was out of sight.

An experience like that makes you approach every big dog with the respect you would normally give to an active volcano. You don’t know when the explosion will come, only that sooner or later it is bound to happen.

My wariness increased when I became an enthusiastic walker, then a runner.

While walking on the disused railway line between Robin Hood’s Bay and Ravenscar in East Yorkshire I had another edgy encounter.

A dog came running and barking from an isolated house some 100 yards away to the right. It stood in the footpath, challenging me to advance.

There was just me and the dog. No-one else around.

It was a black beast with a large head, a cross between the Hound of the Baskervilles and an alligator.

“Good dog,’’ I said shakily.

My conversation with canines has always been limited, and often dishonest.

The dog slowly advanced.

I recalled the advice of a friend of mine, Brian M.

“Lob a stone at ‘em. There’s no dog likes stones.’’

I lobbed a stone, making sure not to hit.

The dog relentlessly advanced.

I tried a different tactic. I went over a fence, into a field alongside the path.

The dog went under the fence, into the same field.

That was the moment when I decided that I didn’t really want to walk to Ravenscar.

I turned tail. When I looked back, the dog was grinning an alligatorish grin. All teeth and no humour.

Some years later, when I became a regular runner, I learned to respect all dogs, small as well as big.

The sight of a running man turns even the fluffiest pet cuddle-lump into a snarling menace.

I can assure you that the teeth of the tiniest terrier feel pretty sharp through the woven cotton of a sports sock.

All my doggy encounters were as naught compared to the experience of my younger son.

An Afghan hound mistook his head for lunch.

The outcome was two parallel rows of stitches across young son’s scalp. Twenty-two stitches in all.

The Afghan hound was put down. A sad end for a loyal family pet.

You can’t blame dogs for chasing, and sometimes biting. It’s in their nature.

Likewise you can’t blame bitten humans when they demand retribution. But to put a dog to death for doing what nature encourages it to do seems…well, more than unfair.

Might I make a modest suggestion?

Dentistry for dogs has now become commonplace. So why not give our magistrates the authority to order that dogs which attack people should have their teeth removed?

A dire sentence. But the owner would still have his pet around, even though it had been reduced to eating mush.

And the rest of us - running men and women in particular - would be assured that there was one dog less to turn legs or backsides into colanders.


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