BY ALEXIA JAMES
Tomorrow is an important day for the Anti Dog Theft campaign currently pressurising Westminster. Country Squire Magazine has been a massive supporter of this campaign and, to bring down numbers, wants to see perpetrators of dog theft face bigger penalties for their crimes. We are all hoping that the MPs involved are not using the issue of dog theft as some bandwagon. If they are, we will be sure to say what we think of them in the pages of this well-read magazine in future months.
In multiple articles in this magazine, writers have expressed the effects of dog theft on their families from the human aspect. How there has been a black cloud hanging over them, how their children have become withdrawn and depressed, and how some adults have committed suicide or developed serious illnesses after the theft of their pet. All tearful stuff.
However, today, on the eve of the Anti Dog Theft gatherings in Westminster and elsewhere, I want You, the Reader, to consider the effect on the dog.
On the dog? I hear You say. Dogs are dogs. How the hell are we supposed to know what they are thinking when they are stolen?
On the dog.
I want to draw your attention to a study by a psychologist. Not from some headline-grabbing, shabby university like London Metropolitan or De Montfort. From Harvard no less. A University that does not need to get into the business of clickbait to continue to justify its continued existence. The author is Dr Deirdre Barrett, a Clinical and Evolutionary Psychologist at Harvard Medical School. Last October, Barrett went public with her study on dogs and told People Magazine:
“Humans dream about the same things they’re interested in by day, though more visually and less logically. There’s no reason to think animals are any different. Since dogs are generally extremely attached to their human owners, it’s likely your dog is dreaming of your face, your smell and of pleasing or annoying you.”
According to Barrett, canines and other mammals have been shown to have similar sleep cycles to humans – a phase of deep slumber followed by REM sleep. During this time, humans typically dream about whatever it is they were focused on during the day. When cats fall into their period of REM, their dreams usually involve such activities as hunting and chasing mice. However, Barrett believes that dogs dream about their human companions.
This is remarkable.
I am now looking at my dog, Tara, as I type. She’s an Irish Wolfhound and she’s fast asleep. Her tongue partly out. Her nose pointed in my direction, presumably to give her comfort as she smells me in my pre-shower stink. She’s dribbling on our Chesterfield sofa but I don’t care. There is mutual love at work here. I love Tara dearly.
But I never knew Tara loved me that much.
I dream about lots of things. I dream about my kids, about my husband, about my past. I sometimes even dream about shopping. I cannot say that I dream regularly about Tara. Or, if I do, then surely it’s her in the background, as part of the family but not valued like a child or human. We all know we are stewards of our dogs for a dozen years or so, are we not? Then they go off into doggie heaven or we imagine them waiting for us, should we ever get past the Pearly Gates, open-mouthed and expectant for a Bonio.
Barrett’s report has made me shudder.Not a lot makes me shudder.
Right now Tara could be dreaming about me. About my facial expressions, about my patting her on the head for not stealing my daughter’s breakfast, or about me scolding her for coming home after swimming in the river and leaving mud on the hall wall. Dreams of total love. Bound by complete loyalty to me. Wrapped in innocence and natural subjugation. A natural, beautiful vassalage.
Now see what a dog thief really destroys. If Barrett is right, the pain experienced by humans who have lost dogs is as nothing compared to the pain experienced by dogs, who lose the bearings on their compass; their raison d’être. Us.
Suddenly the story of the soldier Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, who was shot dead whilst serving in Afghanistan – soon joined by his loyal search dog, who died of a seizure “from a broken heart” just hours later – rings true. Cesur attending his owner’s grave every day is not fake news. Hachi: A Dog’s Tale becomes even more full of pain and sadness.
My message to you MPs tomorrow is this: Yes, think of the human cost but also think of the cost to the dog. Really. Think what others might think laughable.
Dogs’ relationships with humans are like no others between man and animal. Dogs’ love for us is what they are all about.
When the MPs urge judges and magistrates to adjust sentencing for crimes, I do believe, in this one instance, that the animal’s loss – as well as the human’s – should also be taken into account. The current law – where dogs are objects to be stolen like televisions or laptops – is an absolute disgrace.
MPs we are watching you. Now do your stuff.