Jeff Corbett: It’s a dog’s life, all right

Seven years ago when councils, Newcastle's among them, allowed dogs to accompany their dining owners at kerbside eateries it seemed that the elevation of dogs to something close to the status of children was complete. We could no more object to dining with dogs in public than we could children.

I was wrong. Dogs have continued their climb towards equality as members of the human family, and their ascendancy is one of the significant social changes of the past few decades. You won't have to have lived long to remember when dogs were confined to the yard unless they were on a lead, when they lived in a kennel not the house, and when loose dogs were hunted by merciless council dog catchers armed with nets and cages.

Now dogs join us at cafes, and if they are on a lead the owner won't be holding it.

It's the demands of cooing dog owners that have forced the reappraisal of dogs' rights, and these dog owners have been able to do that because they are more identifiable and thus organised than those who are happy for dogs to be dogs. It's as much a passive as an active campaign.

Ironically the dogs most likely to be kept on a lead are the harmless ones, the silly, fluffy things that are easy prey for proper dogs and pelicans.

An example of the passive is the big increase in the proportion of dogs off the lead. Lately most dogs I see accompanying an owner in Newcastle are not on a lead, when just four or five years ago most dogs in public were leashed. It's potentially another rich source of fines revenue for Newcastle City Council and other councils but one they seem to be ignoring. Ironically the dogs most likely to be kept on a lead are the harmless ones, the silly, fluffy things that are easy prey for proper dogs and pelicans.

An active campaign is well entrenched in the caravan park industry now. Caravanners who take a dog or dogs with them, and my guess is it's about a third of them, use online forums to condemn caravan parks that are not what the dog owners like to describe as pet friendly. Some make it their business to phone caravan parks that do not allow dogs to ask if they are pet friendly then moan that they'll have to go somewhere else.

The question is not "do you allow dogs in your park?", which is easily answered, but rather "are you pet friendly?", which would require, if the park owner could be bothered, the longer "yes, I am friendly to pets and I'm delighted that you have one, but, no, I don't want your dog in my park".

It used to be that the only parks that allowed dogs were desperate for business, and for good reason, but these days it seems that half allow dogs. Some allow dogs in cabins, which means that the cabin you rent today may have had terriers scraping their protruding bits along the lounge yesterday.

Hey, if we have to pay for children at caravan parks why not for dogs!

Dogs have changed a great deal in 50 years, from bitsas to specific breeds to carefully arranged crosses, from kelpie-like dogs with long snouts, fine skulls and big ears to bullish breeds with muscular jaws, broad flat skulls and small ears, and in cities especially the new fashion is for yappy, curly, dolly dogs. Non dogs.

But the biggest change has been in people. Until 30 years ago our dogs were pets, family companions. They were not children, they were not allowed in the house, few ever saw a vet, few were desexed and those that were may not have seen a vet, pups were given away or drowned, most were free to roam beyond the open gate, they were chained not leashed, only greyhounds were walked, they were fed meat instead of clinically balanced pellets, they hated cats, and problem dogs were despatched by the owner or neighbours.

If you're of that era you will recall that dogs being run over was a common event of little consequence.

The change over the 30 years has been inexorable. Today dogs are not pets but family members, doted on as children, most have free access to the house and many sleep in the house, some on or in the bed, they will have a file under their name at the veterinary clinic, few are not desexed, pups are eye-poppingly expensive, anyone killing a pup by drowning or the countryman's "lead pill in the ear" or any other way is likely to be charged, all dogs are confined to a yard unless accompanying the owner, they are not chained, and not even a dog that mauls a child can be killed by the authorities without the owner's or later a court's permission.

Court cases involving charges of cruelty to dogs attract bigger, baying crowds than do cases involving cruelty to children, and you'll recall that the belated exposure of the shooting of slow greyhounds prompted a major inquiry, outrage and a fashionable greyhound-rescue movement.

Above all, a dog is now regarded as having a right to life, even a right to a good life, when until 20 years ago those rights were at the owner's whim. Soon, I expect, dogs will have a right to be free of discrimination from such as caravan park owners.


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