Extreme Reactions

I recently did some therapy. It wasn’t classic therapy, but rather a technique called ‘clearing your head trash’. As part of the process (interesting, I recommend it) I had to try to ‘squeeze the power out of extreme emotions’. First you had to identify the emotions, which was an interesting process in itself. I identified that I had a lot of anger – white hot fury, if I’m honest – at humans. I consider them to be (generally speaking) malevolent, egotistical, selfish, destructive. By contrast I consider animals (yes, all, even hyenas and rats) to be in essence benevolent, gracious, decent, noble. It was only when I vocalised these feelings that I recognised how extreme they are. I won’t say wrong as I absolutely, militantly stand by them and god help anyone that sits next to me at a dinner party and dares to suggest otherwise.

‘I don’t like them’ said a lady at the next table to me (a street cafe, a busy seaside town, summertime, Croatia). The venom flooded my body and I stared at her, unable to formulate words. I turned, in slow motion, to my husband. ‘I can’t sit here, next to that woman’ I said, loudly, thickly. I realised I was flying in the face of convention, refusing to subscribe to social etiquette, to ‘normalcy’, but unable to help it. He very sweetly backed me up, paid the bill and came and joined me on the street. No longer hungry, we defiantly, fed the street cats the rest of our dinner – unhurriedly, swaggeringly – in plain sight of her.

I don’t think I would have objected had she said ‘I’m scared of them’ and I expect I would have had more respect for her if she’d said ‘I hate them’. But this bland, non-descript tourist had pissed me off monumentally with her neutrally delivered ‘I don’t like them’. For me it just summed mankind up, she embodied everything I hated about human beings. The cats I was feeding (discreetly and under my table, not hers) weren’t hurting her, they weren’t threatening her, they hadn’t even noticed her. They lived there. But she – moon faced, uncaring, stupid, hateful she – felt fully entitled, entirely reasonable, lacking in shame to say this, to demand this, because ‘she didn’t like them’? How very arrogant. How very human.

I felt sick. Part of the Headtrash process I’d been engaged in was about clearing the opposites, squeezing the power out. If I was busy ranting (even in my head), I wouldn’t be able to channel my passion, that was the bottom line. And it was so, so true. I had so much of my energy invested in hatred of this bland, boring, feline hating lady, that it was eating me up inside. My fury had rendered me incapable of a calm, witty,  direct put down to challenge her, to make her think. My passion had handicapped me. I vowed to be smarter, cooler next time.


My brother’s not a particular animal lover, and he’s especially averse to dogs. I’m not sure why. Perhaps he’s just being contrary, provocative (it would be in character) but I don’t think so. We grew up in the same family, I have an affinity with animals (any and all) and he, with birds (any and all). Our sister loves animals too, but perhaps less vehemently than me. I don’t know how she feels about birds. There’s no accounting for taste – no rhyme, no reason. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not not glad that he loves something living as opposed to humans (he’s an anthropocentrist, a humanist – I’m very much darkly the opposite) and I love, I really love, how much he loves birds. It’s just I can’t feel it myself. I wouldn’t ever hurt one. I would help one if it was in trouble. I find them by turns appealing, fascinating, interesting, graceful, impressive (seagulls and ravens and are my favourite), it’s just that I don’t have a huge emotional connection with them.

My brother’s love for birds is as early born as mine for animals. Whilst he was in his bedroom rehabilitating fledglings that our cat had mauled, hand feeding them milk from a incongruously maternal pipette with a swooping motion, I was busy making woodlice houses or trying to bring home animals, any animals, claiming they were desperate. Often they were well cared for neighbourhood pets with collars and tags, I was more like an underage dog stealer really. I craved animal company. You know those kids you see in rapt delight at the zoo, that was me. It’s unintelligible to me that all humans don’t feel that wonder – that privilege – that lies in being near an animal. But am pleased that my brother feels it in the presence of birds.

An Unpleasant Evening


I felt a bit sick, like when you’re on the precipice of saying something irretrievable that might result ultimately in the breakdown of your relationship. I also felt adrenalin fuelled, fired up. White wine did that to me, I shouldn’t drink it. Granted, it had been a tricky year and I was overly sensitive on the issue of procuring dogs. I’d been living in Serbia where speying / neutering campaigns are not what they ought to be and litters of tiny pups are dumped with alarming regularity. I’d got a bit involved in dog rescue (never a good idea for an Empath) and understandably, I was rather anti Buying A Dog.

This particular friend – one of my best – is one of the smartest people I know, she blazes through life with ease and originality. Her spelling is utterly appalling as is her handwriting but those are literally the only two bad things I can say about her. She’s fantastic. Except that right then, eyes glittering with disgust, I didn’t find her fantastic. I found her arrogant , annoying, rude, ill informed. She’d made the mistake of telling me – blithely, casually – that she was going to buy a dog. She wanted a specific breed, she said, but she didn’t know which. I found this ludicrous and told her so in no uncertain terms. If she wasn’t passionate already about a particular breed for a particular reason, what was wrong with a mixed breed? I just didn’t get it. We argued back and forth, the novelty of not being on the same side for the first time ever exhilarating.

It was a horrible evening, I hated arguing with her and felt jangly until we saw each other again and cleared the air. We joke about it now – she claims I’ve put her off ever getting a dog, any dog – she said she’s too terrified to do it, or rather do it ‘wrongly’, since that evening. I don’t believe this however – she’s not at all the type of person to roll over – and I check her house for a clandestine cockerpoo every time I go over.

True Friendship

When I was nine, I got a dog. My best friend – now and still – was scared of dogs. She’d been bitten by one quite badly as a toddler, so it was eminently understandable. But she – never one to let things get in her way, always one to make the best of things – took it with gumption. What I love about her is that she, scared though she was, immediately set her own concerns aside and threw herself, bravely, into my delight – and by the time Tess (a stout black and white corgy / husky cross that had allegedly been a border collie puppy) grew up, she loved her almost as much as I did.

This would already have been commendable, but since Tess wasn’t the most singularly adorable dog ever, it was even more so. She yapped, a lot, so much so that one of our other friends (a cat lover, not to be trusted) wanted to sellotape her mouth closed one evening when we were getting drunk at my house. It goes without saying that my friend and I stopped him, the sellotape didn’t come out of the drawer and he wasn’t allowed to darken either of our doorsteps for quite some time.

This friend – Kate – went on to marry a lovely chap who is dog mad, whose parents are vegetarians and have half an animal sanctuary at home. Whose sister is an animal behaviourist. They came to London when their second son was only just walking. We went to Kensington gardens and her son threw sticks for my puppy, both delightedly having a great time. That’s real friendship.

Five Little Words


Those five little words: ‘I don’t really like dogs’.

They say that certain moments – certain moments, words or actions – change your life. Hearing these words felt like such a moment. The worst was that she didn’t see the full enormity of what she’d said. That she might equally have taken a sledgehammer to my stomach. I should have known it about her, but I hadn’t, not categorically. Perhaps I’d stuck my head in the sand. I stared at her, for the first time in a sixteen year friendship at a loss for what to say. I wanted to scream ‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T LIKE DOGS?? EVERYONE LIKES DOGS!!! NOT LIKING DOGS IS LIKE NOT LIKING ICE-CREAM!!!!!!’ 

But then slowly, painfully, adultly, came the dawning of a realisation – that she’d been honest, and that I had to respect that and to continue to love her despite what was, in my eyes, a gaping deficiency in moral character. This same friend doesn’t like foxes. I struggle with that one too. Like drinking tea, considering a chance encounter with a fox magical is a trait that I tend to be unable to extricate from moral fortitude and decency. My husband, a man of great moral fortitude and compassion (he likes foxes) doesn’t drink tea. I found it disturbing at first, but learnt to live with it. He’s foreign, and I think that makes it acceptable.

I’ll confess, to my shame, that it affected our friendship a little, for a while. I’m dog mad,  over the top by normal standards, I’ve come to that realisation too. Like an alcoholic with his booze, I crave canine company, I get withdrawal when am not with them. I have my favourite ones – but at a push, any will do. They give me a high. And unlike alcohol, or drugs, there are no down sides – except, perhaps, hairy clothes.

I read this somewhere recently: ‘What’s the best feeling in the world?’ ‘When, in a room full of people, a dog enters and sits down next to you.’’ That sums it up for me. Their unadulterated happiness and positive attitude energises me, their company – and the care of them – validates me. I just have to learn to accept and appreciate that not everyone feels the same, and that’s ok. I need to learn not to vilify in my head people that don’t unquestioningly adore every dog that walks the earth. That it doesn’t necessarily make them, or me, a worse – or better – person.

Dog Rant

‘I need a hypo-allergenic one’ people say, shamelessly. As if dogs were jeans – skinny one year, boot cut the next. Like the now ubiquitous gluten-free products, there are oodles of Oodles being produced and sold on that their USP, being hypo-allergenic. Am not saying that some people don’t need to go gluten-free or to go oodle, it’s just that it’s all become a bit much, hasn’t it?

When I was growing up, we were one of the few families in my area that had a dog. At nine years old, Tess – a tiny ball of monochrome fluff – was all mine, the fruits of a six year nagging campaign. At five weeks old she was of course far too young to be away from her working sheepdog mum but already sadly, irrevocably was, so we whisked her away to warmth, a ticking clock, coddling. She’d survived the culling of her siblings by hiding in the hay, the method of their death so classic it was a cliché: drowning. A stout corgy/collie cross, the sole survivor of an unplanned pregnancy, I was devoted to her – we roamed the woods every day after school and did gymkhanas in our back garden. She was ill disciplined – yapped to go out then yapped to come back in – but never any real trouble. She slept on my bed and survived on a diet of Pedigree Chum, Maltesers, and Chinese takeaways. She wasn’t ill a day in her life and passed away peacefully on my parents’ bed, looking out at the enormous Magnolia tree which we humans all adored. We hadn’t realised that she too appreciated its resplendent white blooms that turned sticky and slimy when they fell but that were so well worth it. Never underestimate a dog.

So I was ever, always a committed dog lover. I always will be. And it’s strange to hear myself saying this, but I think there are too many dogs in the parks. That perhaps – just perhaps – the concentration of dogs in our society is too high. I don’t have a job, I don’t have children, and despite fastidious devotion to the task and a budget running more into the thousands than the hundreds I’m ashamed to say that I still haven’t managed to train our second (lunatic) dog, who we’ve had for three years. I can’t fathom how people with jobs and children manage it. Granted they probably don’t have a Jackson, but still.

I recently had two worrying conversations. One – a sensible, affable lady who basically liked animals had got annoyed at a dog (a cockerpoo) sniffing at her barbecue on the beach, its humans sniggering and giggling and doing bugger all to call him away. She’d been worried he was going to knock the fire over, and irritated that he might lick her sausages. Two – a friend of a friend who was going to get a dog even though she was quite open about actively disliking them. Her husband, an almost obsessive clean freak, didn’t especially like them either. But the kids wanted one, so they would be getting one – a hypoallergenic, bred puppy, of course. Made to order, reassuringly expensive. This highly intelligent, otherwise (presumably) socially intelligent person had no shame rabbiting on about all this to me – a self-confessed, vocal, vehement dog lover. She could so easily have been talking about an ipad or a coffee table.

When I was young, kids who expressed an interest in or even a burning desire to pet own usually got fish, hamsters, some sort of rodent – a cat if they were lucky. People just didn’t buy dogs for kids. To be fair they didn’t buy lots of other s*** for them either. There were far fewer dogs in the parks, people were less precious about behaviour, society in general was not so much of a pressure cooker. When an altercation did happen, it didn’t escalate into a full-on hoo-hah. I recently had a disagreement with an idiot whose 3 nasty dwarf bulldogs had packed on mine, one of them getting a ripped ear in the process. He subsequently threatened and stalked me. I – not one to give in to a bully – had to get a police intervention. Crazy days, really.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of my friends successfully have dogs as a not especially thought through addition to their human families. The dogs and children are happy (the more playmates and chaos the better), the parents are happy. And Thomas, the joyful miniature schnauzer, will be in situ to avert the otherwise impending empty nest crisis. But let’s look at the parks. Where there used to be the odd few dogs there are now dozens of them, many with dog walkers. Anyone who knows anything knows that if you put too many dogs who are not in established packs together it can turn ugly. Incidentally, dog walkers are not necessarily these days people who understand or even particularly like dogs, so when you put your precious fur baby (how I hate that expression!) with one, make sure it’s one you have personally vetted – and shrewdly. Preferably, I’d say, spy on them – but perhaps I’m being overly neurotic.

A dog is for life, not just for Christmas. Indeed, we’re all finally clear on that. A dog is also not for every Tom Dick and Harry (change names as appropriate) whose parents decides a dog might look good on their Instagram feed, or who can’t seem to entertain the notion that dear little Tybalt can actually be said no to. And I do wish people would stop thinking that spending a lot on a dog will guarantee it grows up into a romping, adorable Timmy from the Famous Five. Some things just can’t – and maybe shouldn’t – be bought.