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I Hate Dogs Too, Giles Coren, So Am I Barking?

12/08/2013 14:19 BST | Updated 11/10/2013 10:12 BST
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I have a terrible confession to make. One that will alienate friends, enrage neighbours and no doubt instigate a cacophony of online abuse. In fact the only person I'm convinced I won't upset is the shy food critic and columnist of The Times, Giles Coren.

I hate dogs. I mean I don't just hate them, in a 'shoo, leave me alone' way. I really genuinely hate them. Not their owners - not all of them anyway - just their smelly, waste-producing, noisy, over-enthusiastic, straining-at-the-chains, handbag-sized, fluffy, doe-eyed, saliva-sharing, wet-nosed pets.

And it seems Giles does too. In his weekend column he, quite sensibly, called for their total ban from towns and cities. With his customary elegance, gentleness and fair-mindedness, he wrote: 'I'm just thinking about the poo that marks the progress of every filthy mutt through urban life, despoils our streets, ruins our shoes, sickens our senses, poisons our children and breaks our hearts....This is an evolved post-industrial society: what the hell do we still have dogs for?'

It's not just the poo-ing that most upsets me though. It's the marginalisation of dog-haters in society, the instant labelling of us as cold-hearted, deeply troubled, anger-fuelled, emotionally-stunted. Admittedly, I might be all of those actually, but my four-pawed prejudice doesn't automatically mean I am.

In Cornwall last year - out of season, October - I was walking with my young son on a windswept beach with the tide out picking up shells (surely one of the best ever father-child bonding exercises), when out of the corner of my eye I spied a big thing hurtling towards us. Within seconds it had jumped up on its hind legs, its other two limbs resting on my son's chest until he fell over, his screams drowned out by the dog's barks.

'Oh he just wants to play,' said the laughing owner. 'He just loves children.' I stood open-mouthed, waiting for the apology that didn't come. 'I love children too,' I replied, 'and if I ran towards one and knocked one to the ground by jumping on top with my tongue hanging out and shouting loudly, would you like it?'

And then last week I had an early evening barbecue for friends, one of whom turned up with their new coochie-poochie-woochie in their arms, breezed happily past me and proceeded to let their 'best friend' run around my postage stamp garden and feed off scraps of the unbelievably expensive designer sausages I had expertly cooked for human consumption. (I remember happily sitting in the car with a coke, some crisps and the window slightly open when my dad took me somewhere I wasn't invited.)

She didn't even ask permission. That's because we've reached the stage where dog owning is the norm and everyone who doesn't own one is considered weird.

What's wrong with them barking at 11.30pm or before Radio 4's Today programme comes on air - they're just expressing themselves! They have become extensions of our human selves in a way that couldn't have been imagined in previous centuries. And as such they've taken on, according to their deluded owners anyway, human characteristics. Intelligence, empathy, personality, sense of humour. Perhaps owners see in their animals something they lack. Toilet training not being one of them.

But this hatred of dogs is tempered by a sorrow. I mean this is the city, it's a hard-edged, lonely, chaotic, violent, soulless, concrete jungle in which people live in tiny boxes, rarely venturing out, hidden away from the harsh world outside by a huge front door that will not open on its own if you bark at it for hours and hours.

Is this the sort of place to rear what is essentially a wild animal, only partly domesticated? It's one of the reasons I love being in a city - there are no wild things in it, unless covered in supermarket Clingfilm, I'm not going to be assaulted by something non-human, I can safely pound the streets without having to worry if I'm going to step in a steaming mound of poo. I feel sorry for dogs in the city - they don't belong here yet we've forced them to live among us, like aliens who'd rather be on another planet.

So, Giles, you have my sympathy and support. Perhaps West and North London can join forces to end this terrier tyranny. And if I've upset any humans by writing this I do apologise but, as my wife will no doubt be the first to say, I am barking.