February 23rd 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Something rotten led to fish-kill: perhaps fishy environmentalism

EDITORIAL Resistance grows to Beijing's soft-power push

CANBERRA OBSERVED Climate change: deadly ... to political leaders

TECHNOLOGY Electric cars: UK taxpayers subsidise rich greenies


CYBER SECURITY Chinese smartphone threat extends way beyond Huawei

SOCIETY Such grandeur of spirit

POLITICS John Hewson should have as sturdy a Constitution

FINANCE Hayne royal commission sets agenda for bank reform

FAMILY RELATIONS Dad: a girl's first and most influential love

COMMENTARY Words gone feral: rights and equality

MEDICINE AND CULTURE Book captures tragedy of falling foul of a fanatic

SOCIETY AND CULTURE A dog's life: reflections of a grey nomad


MUSIC Serialism a killer: Ideas tend to get in the way

CINEMA Cold Pursuit: Revenge served up manic

BOOK REVIEW Why the West and nowhere else

BOOK REVIEW The escalation of horror and atrocity


FAMILY AND SOCIETY The end of Liberalism

SPECIAL EDITORIAL Has Cardinal George Pell been wrongly convicted?

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dog's life: reflections of a grey nomad

by John Ciaran Casey

News Weekly, February 23, 2019

Like many of the caravan parks we have visited recently, this one has a large sign out front saying “Dogs Welcome”. And I am currently sitting beside my camper trailer watching the caravan folk walk past with their dogs.

They are heading for the special dog exercise yard. These seem to have taken over from children’s playgrounds. Then, again, there are not many children in evidence here.

As they walk by, the dog owners with their charges on special extendable leashes, passers-by stop to admire the dogs and make conversation. Isn’t she beautiful! How old is she? How do you get her coat so shiny? Is she a purebred?

One of the smaller, fluffy dogs has a pink ribbon tied on her head (of course, I only assume she is female – one must be careful these days).

Walking past the serried ranks of four-wheel drives in the park, I notice that quite a few have those stick-figure families stuck on the back window. Dogs and cats are always included because they are nowadays considered to be part of the family. Your “nuclear family”, in fact, consists of mum, dad, child, plus cat or dog. Families swap photos of their dogs on Facebook. Once, when mum or dad dragged out the family photo album, you knew you were in for a session of baby photos. Now it’s dogs or cats.

And, of course, once a new family member arrives, it’s soon time to enrol them in puppy school. Here they will be taught obedience. Funny that, because human children are taught just the opposite: to “do their own thing”.

Yesterday we drove down town for a coffee. The cafe had a special “doggie corner” outside, equipped with a drinking bowl and fountain. You could, if you so wished, buy your dog a puppachino. After all, why should they miss out when you are enjoying your latte and cake? Let’s not discriminate. As Peter Singer says, that would be “speciesism”.

When a dog arrives, the cafe owner comes out with a special doggie treat. “It’s on the house,” she says. People come over to talk to the dogs and stroke them. One or two even take out their smartphone for a doggie snapshot.

If you wish your dog to look its best, then you will need to have it – sorry, him or her – groomed at regular intervals. There are now mobile dog wash and clipping services all over the country to keep your family member looking (and smelling) at his or her best.

By the way, I use the terms “his” and “her” fully cognisant of the probability that there are transgender dogs out there being forced into these stereotyped roles. Very soon, I suspect, someone will launch a crowd-funded campaign for the recognition of canine gender fluidity. It’s something Charles Darwin overlooked in his work but, then again, he was an upper-class British snob.

But, of course, in this fallen world of ours, even our treasured pets get ill from time to time. They, like us, are of corruptible flesh. Then it is time to head off to the vet. And I hope you have taken out your pet insurance, because this will be an expensive business. A major operation could cost you thousands. Even a snakebite could set you back several hundred.

No doubt the vets are loving all this. It certainly beats driving out to some remote dairy farm on a winter’s night to assist a cow with a difficult birth – standing in the mud and cow dung with your arm inserted into the poor beast’s rear end. There are easier ways to make a quid.

By the by, I can remember back to a time when vets called themselves simply “Mr” or “Miss” and so on, but then they voted to call themselves “Dr”. And that’s quite understandable if your patients are regarded as members of human families.

I predict, though, that some vets will soon revert to “Mr” or “Ms” and so on because they will become specialists – orthopaedic surgeons, eye specialists, etc. They will need to distinguish themselves from their lowlier brothers and sisters (sorry, I’m gender stereotyping again). The men will wear three-piece suits and the ladies pleated skirts. Their inner-city consulting rooms will have brass nameplates on the doors and the waiting rooms will have leather chairs and Vogue magazines to read.

But let us suppose the worst happens and your treasured family member dies, despite the best effort of all the specialists at the animal hospital. You can, at this distressing time, engage the services of your local pet funeral parlour and, later, have the “loved one” interred at your local pet cemetery.

For all I know, there may well be grief councillors specially trained in this area. If there are not, there soon will be. It’s a market waiting to be exploited. Somewhere or other, I am prepared to bet that there will be a “forward thinking” Christian pastor who does special pet funeral services and gives long homilies on St Francis of Assisi with the wolf of Gubbio, and St Paul of Thebes with his raven.

Now, you may accuse me of being a hopelessly old-fashioned bigot, still living in a past age when dogs were regarded as faithful animals and “man’s best friend”, but, most assuredly, not as family members. And I must plead guilty as charged. It’s not so much a question of living in the past or having “old fashioned” views. I simply cannot understand the modern attitude towards pets. Put quite plainly, it seems to me that pets are now surrogate children.

It is an extraordinary business. At the very time when human birth rates in many parts of the Western world are near or below replacement rates and millions of unborn human children are killed annually, dog and cat ownership has soared. And, by the by, I have never heard of abortion clinics for dogs and cats. No, no. Puppies and kittens are far too valuable.

* * *

Some years ago now, I came across a book first published way back in 1896. It was called Rat Catching for the Use of Schools. The author, a Mr H.C. Barkley, was a railway engineer but had obviously done quite a bit of rat catching in his youth.

His textbook, he explained, was aimed at young boys who would otherwise be doomed to sad lives as public servants or, even worse, as politicians “given to making speeches when parliament was not sitting”. Far better that they be given the opportunity of a real and honourable job: that of a ratcatcher.

A good deal of the book is concerned with the subject of ratting dogs and, for this game – as he says – the shorter the pedigree, the better the dog.

Now I mention Mr Barkley because the man was an obvious dog lover. Indeed, in this regard he was a sentimental sop. In the introduction to his book, he tells us that all his human characters are fictions but that the dogs are not. Flash, Grindum, Pepper, and Chance are all real and he recalls them with great fondness.

But he also tells us that his dogs are to be treated as dogs, not as humans. They should be allowed to live dog-centred lives, not forced to live human-centred ones. In this sense the man is a good Aristotelian. And dogs, he says, should be taught to come to their masters, not the other way round.

Furthermore, Barkley insists that they should not be allowed inside the house. He is prepared to make an exception for Grindum, but the circumstances were extraordinary. Grindum came to him in the company of two small children abandoned by their father (who had earlier killed their mother). The terrified children could only be coaxed into the house if their beloved Grindum came with them.

Well, I’m with Mr Barkley. I like dogs very much and still remember all my childhood rabbiting dogs. But I like them as dogs, not as humans.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm