By William Thomas
The English are distinguished by tea and scones, ales and meat pies, jumpers and knickers, trousers and tweeds and, of course, their beloved dogs.
The English absolutely adore their dogs and come by this craze for canines, honestly. When King Charles II came to the throne in 1660, dogs enjoyed an unprecedented place in the Royal household.
Queen Victoria kept as many as 75 dogs in the kennels of Windsor Castle.
Currently, Queen Elizabeth has five dogs, all direct descendents of Susanne, the corgi she received as a gift on her 18th birthday. All Royal family members have dogs.
When told that Arthur, his black and white spaniel, would not be allowed into Windsor’s Guild Hall for his civil marriage to David Furnish, Elton John made the dog his best man. Arthur attended the wedding without incident. So yes, all queens past and present are crazy about dogs.
A few years back on my trek across England, I stayed in pubs like The Fox & Hounds, The Dog & Partridge, The Black Bull, and The White Lion, and by the time I got there at the end of the day, there were usually three dogs waiting for me.
And you thought Canadians love their dogs?!? At Penrith, the local bus company has created a special five pound ticket so that a man and his dog can make a circular, six-stop pub crawl in which neither the owner nor the dog have to drive.
The Lake District in Cumbria is so dog friendly the Watermill Inn & Brewing Company near Windermere offers up 16 real ales brewed on premises and they are all – Ruff Justice, Collie Wobblers, Isle of Dogs, Dogth Vader – named after dogs.
The Watermill pub is so pup friendly, they replaced all the urinals in the washroom with fire hydrants. Okay, so I made that one up, but the rest is refreshingly true.
I think dogs in England go to pubs for the same reason men do – they’re trying to escape from the controlling cat at home, the way men avoid their wives. And most nights, they both have to be driven home.
Like the boys that hold up the bar at the local Belmont Hotel, dogs in English pubs know that if they create any kind of a ruckus, they’ll be turfed out onto the street. So they never bark or dart about— the dogs, that is— they just sit under their owners’ tables and whine at each other across the room. It sounds like Karaoke Night with bad speakers at the aforementioned Belmont Hotel.
Suffice to say, for a small island with 60 million people, there are an awful lot of dogs in England.
Britain has to be the pet friendliest country in the world. Sure, they have all the questionable extravagances that we have like pet spas, day care, walking holidays, high-end gourmet meals, health insurance and designer clothes. But it hardly stops there. In Britain, dogs are allowed in most hotels, in most pubs and on all local buses. Even some cafés and restaurants offer dogs a place under the table. By comparison, whereas British dogs have democratic rights, it would seem Canadian dogs are living under dictatorial conditions.
We really should be opening up more public domains to dogs in this country. Still missing my Jake, in England I petted Border Collies in pubs, ate next to terriers in restaurants and talked to a lurcher sitting next to me on buses. I did not feel ill, get bitten or witness even one ‘accident.’ And naturally, introduced by their dogs, I met a lot of fine and friendly people.
Dogs in public places are the greatest catalyst to social interaction humans have. Forget candy being dandy and liquor being quicker, you let me take a dog onto the Toronto subway system where eye contact is apparently illegal and I will give you the first names of six passengers in as many stops.
“How cute is he?” “Can I pet him?” “How old is this guy?” Etc., etc. You want a friendlier world, let dogs do what they do best – be adorable and charm the pants off strangers. We should be using dogs in public places the same way Walmart offers us ‘greeters.’
We are now bringing cats and dogs into nursing homes and children’s hospitals to relieve loneliness and stress. Why not everywhere? I think dogs should be allowed everywhere including malls and retail stores. (But not pet stores. That’s just asking for trouble.)
In Canada, it seems every time you turn around there’s a “No Pets Allowed” sign staring at you. In England, every time you turn around there’s a dog smiling at you with an owner singing his praises.
Seriously, what we need in this country is a Pet Power movement that would create a strong and passionate group of people to advance the rights of our best friends. The punishment for cruelty to animals is still woefully weak and sporadic. Humane societies are overcrowded because spaying and neutering is far too expensive. It seems everybody in this country believes our pets deserve a better deal in society except those who make the laws.
PET POWER – and just like our parliamentary system, we’ll use England as the model.
For comments, ideas and copies of The True Story of Wainfleet, go to www.williamthomas.ca.