Monday, 16 July 2012

Mad Dogs and Englishmen: Why Britain is a Dog-Loving Nation

by William Wallace

Last Wednesday was an important date in my family’s diary – it was our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s tenth birthday, and a landmark occasion for all of us. For most, it may appear bizarre that we actually took the time to celebrate the birth of our dog, but I can assure you that there is some justification for it. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that there are others who share a similar fondness for their pets – it certainly is something we British have become known for – yet it is the close relationship between Man and dog that bears the greatest affection.

The notorious pioneer of Romantic English literature, Lord Byron, wrote of his own dog as possessing “beauty without vanity, strength without insolence, courage without ferocity and all the virtues of Man without his vices” Byron was known to be deeply fond of animals, particularly his Newfoundland dog named Boatswain. When Boatswain contracted rabies, Byron attempted to nurse him without fear of being bitten and becoming infected. He commissioned a lavish marble monument for his beloved dog and wrote those stirring words in his eulogistic poem, Epitaph to a Dog. He accurately sums up what dogs now mean as the steadfast symbol of “man’s best friend’ Man’s best friend: call me mawkish, but I’d go so far to argue that it isn’t just a friendship but a relationship founded on commitment. Why else do people react in such a way when dogs are harmed, killed or just simply die? Marley & Me is a classic example – it’s difficult not to feel some sort of grief or sympathy when the title character passes away. It’s often the case that we react more strongly when a dog yelps in distress than when a grown man does. Is it the dog’s innocence? Adorability? Or is it the recognisable connection that we feel with dogs, as they have become an integral part of households up and down the country?

So what am I getting at?

To suggest that we have great affection toward dogs is undoubtedly not news, but I believe that there is something that can be said about how widely important British people have began to view dogs – especially within families. Centuries ago, domesticated dogs were owned by the wealthier in society; today, we see them in every corner of our towns and cities and they can be found on every street, from coast to coast. On television they feature prominently, not just on programs or in films but also in some of the most effective adverts. Dogs Trust, RSPCA and Pedigree to name but few – I’d like to draw particular attention to one such advert that was released in 2011 by Winalot (which can be viewed below) In it, we don’t just see the various type of dog, but the variety of dog owners: families, singletons pensioners and children. So many lives are made better, days made brighter, all thanks to the companionship that dogs show to their owners.

So as my spaniel, Molly, tucked into sausage and biscuit cake I’d spent too much time making, our family was able to give thanks for what our dog has meant to us. When we’ve been downcast, lonely or just sad, she’s been their regardless – as a companion and friend: Man’s best friend.

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