Controlling the controls of the anti-antidog lobby
I well remember first visiting Saudi Arabia in 1998. I was working in the western port city of Jeddah; and of the many things that I initially found surprising was the fact that dogs were kept in cages in the zoo, while camels walked freely in the streets outside with no attempt made to control where they wandered. I certainly had a lot to learn in those days!
I was reminded of this recently by an article I read about Harbin, the capital city in Heilongjiang province, which has recently decided to ban all large dogs from the city center, together with 49 breeds considered to be dangerous. (A report by the Harbin Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated that dogs bit 1,300 people during the first two months of this year alone.) In addition, in order to regulate the growing pet population, households in Harbin will not be allowed to have more than one dog.
Unsurprisingly, the dog ban has stirred howls of protest from dog lovers in the area, though I have to admit that my first reaction was how very sensible of the authorities. You may easily guess that I am not a dog lover in any sense of the word, save for having (once) very much enjoyed eating an Alsatian steak cooked on a barbecue in Hong Kong and smothered in Hoisin sauce!
It seems extraordinary to me that there has developed such a love of these animals by many otherwise-sane people. Consider - apart from the fact that many are dangerous or simply antagonistic, which is hardly a surprise given that they are from the same family as wolves, dogs are also dirty and smelly. Picking one's way through their muck in the streets, seeing them constantly peeing against trees and cars and lampposts, and being subjected to their barking or whining leave me totally at odds with dog lovers the world over.
In the UK, dog attacks are one of the most common causes of severe facial lacerations in children. Each year, approximately 28,000 facial dog bites are reported in the country, with just over 19,000 of them requiring plastic surgery. The majority of these savage attacks on children are by "family pets"!
I have noticed that in Beijing, the majority of owners seem to prefer smaller dogs to those found in Europe. But the constant yelp-yelp-yelp of my neighbor’s pets only reinforces my view that the Saudis at least have a point when banishing their dogs to zoos.
The usual rejoinder to complaints about dog behavior is that it is the owners, and not their pets, that are to blame - which is precisely why dog ownership should be curbed. I am firmly of the opinion that the term "responsible dog ownership" is mostly a contradiction in terms - at least in cities.
Of course one cannot deny that some dogs have their uses - such as guide dogs, hearing dogs and bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs; and if only someone could invent a non-defecating-on-pavements, non-barking, non-biting species, I would be all in favor of them. (Oh, hang on a moment – they are called cats!)
Meanwhile, a Turkish-Dutch Muslim politician has called for a ban on dogs in The Hague, the third-largest city in the Netherlands, on the basis that Islamic legal tradition holds that dogs are "unclean" animals. Critics say it reflects the growing assertiveness of Muslims in Europe as they attempt to impose Islamic legal and religious norms on European society.
Paul ter Linden, who represents the Dutch Freedom Party on The Hague city council, responded by saying: "In this country pet ownership is legal. Whoever disagrees with this should move to another country."
And to this I would say that, despite not liking dogs, I would support Ter Linden all the way. If Muslim nations want to lock their dogs away in zoos, then that is their decision. But equally, if Muslims – or followers of any other religious persuasion for that matter – move to another country, then they shouldn’t try to impose their beliefs and customs on their new hosts.
So I'm perfectly happy to let the residents of Harbin sort out their own doggie problems. And meanwhile, I'll continue the battle with my antisocial neighbor and his antisocial dogs. Now, where did I put that jar of Hoisin?