A few weeks ago a new dog-owner in our park, hearing me call my whippet, recognised the name. "Oh – Tim," she said. "Is he the one who kills squirrels?"Wait, what..?
Yes. Yes, that would be Tim, and before you say anything, I'm sorry and ashamed.
Unless you don't mind, in which case isn't he fantastic?
The chase is thrilling and I am, plainly, proud of my dog's athleticism and skill.That's all very well, but I can't help but feel that if you were dressed in hunting pink and had a horse, the usual commentariat would be tearing you a new one right about now...
But I'm not indifferent to the squirrels' pain, and the social stigma is beginning to wear me down.Yes, it must be pretty embarrassing to be pointed out as 'That bloke who can't control his dog. Just like a chav...'
Why don't you get some Kappa outfits too, Robert? Complete the 'look', as it were?
The kill itself is usually quick and unbloody. The bad part is straight after: I want to grab the corpse with a poo bag and shove it in a bin before any children spot what's happening, but he won't let go, worrying it, nuzzling it.So, not only have you not trained him to run off (risking yet another hilarious video opportunity), you haven't trained him to leave what he has when you command?
Have you trained him at all?
Some people approve of Tim's activities: grey squirrels are rats, they say, and immigrants at that (the law takes the same view, putting its weight behind protection of native reds).Probably the only time you'll ever see the term 'immigrants' used in a pejorative sense by a CiF columnist that doesn't draw any fire, folks!
Dog-owners sympathise: it's what their dogs want to do.Their dogs 'want to do' lots of unsocial things, Robert; crap wherever they want, chase cars, savage other animals or people. Usually, we train that out of them.
But others – friends, park rangers, passing strangers – have told me off for "letting" Tim kill.Well, you're the one holding the leash, aren't you? You're the one not ruled by instinct, aren't you? You're the human, aren't you?
Who else should they blame?You might want your dog to 'act like a dog', but you're not the centre of the universe, are you? Except, clearly, in your own head...
I've started trying to intervene, but it's not always easy; he sees them from hundreds of yards away and moves much, much quicker than I can.The clue's in the name. And the build.
Besides, what I like about dogs is that, however domesticated they may seem, they have wild hearts; to stop Tim hunting – if that's possible – would mean suppressing something essential.That's what 'domestication' is, Robert...
Coming to dog-owning in midlife, I have been surprised to find how many people in this nation of animal-lovers only really love animals when they behave like small furry humans – hygienic, chaste, polite. I want my dog to act like a dog; but it does seem tough on the squirrels.