Sunday, August 23, 2009

How I invented Joe Bennett

In reprint #4 from Quote Unquote the magazine, here is Graeme Lay in the October 1996 issue expressing his loathing of dogs. Some months later Joe Bennett read it and, as a dog lover, was moved to write an article in reply. We couldn’t use it as the magazine had folded, so he took it elsewhere. That was his first published piece, and look at him now.
Barking Mad
I hate dogs. No, that’s not right. I loathe dogs. Of all the animals sup¬posedly tamed by humans, dogs are the worst, their habits so disgusting that they do not merit the adjective “domesticated”. Only dogs put their repulsive gonads on display, mount one another in public, wilfully shit and piss in places where their diseased excreta will be trodden on by people, shove their snuffling snouts into women’s private parts, tear open and pillage rubbish bags in the street, bark stridently by night and day and make vi¬cious and unprovoked attacks on people of all ages. Dogs’ behaviour is bestial. If humans did what dogs do they would, quite rightly, be arrested. More power to the dog-catchers, I say. The only good dog is a guide dog.

Unlike people who say they hate cars but happily accept rides in other people’s, I was once actually a dog owner. I was 13, the animal was allegedly a pure-bred Irish terrier but, typically, its pedigree mother had been violated and fertilised by some scrubby mongrel. The puppy was a female of a harsh ginger shade. Initially affectionate in a slobbery way, it rapidly developed delinquent habits. It barked incessantly, dug up putrefying meat, rolled in fresh cowshit and attempted sex with any low-lying object: cushions, draught excluders and once, memorably, with my grandmother’s slipper while her foot was still in it. It behaved, in other words, just like a dog.

After a time, as its antisocial tendencies became more pronounced, my parents had it taken away and, as the euphemism has it, “put down”. It had harried, caught and savaged three sheep, a capital offence in the rural sector. I wept for my rogue pet, but only for a week. After that I was given a pair of kittens, and immediately became aware of how civilised cats are. Cats are to dogs what Aristotle is to Attila the Hun.

But dogs still intruded on my life. I delivered newspapers around the town on my bike. To the local curs I was an irresistible, moving target. They would hurl themselves at my legs from their front gates, fangs weeping, snarling insanely. I would retaliate by striking out at them with tightly rolled editions of the Taranaki Herald. When this proved ineffective I added stones and chunks of broken concrete to my paper bag. The sound of a rock striking a dog’s snout, and the resultant howl of pain, I found deeply satisfying.

In the ensuing years, nothing has hap¬pened to alter my opinion of dogs. Dog conduct, in fact, appears to have worsened, accompanied by a similar deterioration in human behaviour. There is a certain breed of male which drives utility trucks. Usually from the outer suburbs, these young men have hair that is shaved at the sides and grows long at the back. They often sport lurid tattoos. Their other accessory is a large, muscular dog which stands on the tray of the ute, bristling with aggression, testicles bulging. Any move from a passing human other than its owner, however innocent, is interpreted as an attack. These brutes are merciless. Their viciousness leads to those terrible newspaper photographs showing stricken infants staring from their hospital beds, faces bruised and sutured. The only consolation is that such stories usually conclude with one of the most gratifying sentences in the English language: The dog was destroyed.

The other type of dog owner is little better. They are the well-heeled ones who walk their dogs diligently morning and evening, pausing only to let them piss and shit on the beach and in parks. Then when their dog lunges at passers-by or jumps up on them, they say piously, and with a blind disregard for the facts, “Oh it’s all right, he won’t hurt you.”

Dogs are like that. In their primitive attempts to protect those who provide their tucker, they will set upon and savage the innocent – postal workers, district nurses, charity collectors, census enumerators – people who are only carrying out useful duties. Dog owners accept no blame for this. He’s only defending his territory. He never bites.

One out of three New Zealanders has been attacked by a dog in the last 12 months, I read the other day. I believe it. I have been attacked and bitten by the dogs of total strangers and, much worse, by the dogs of friends. I was once bitten on the buttock by the Alsatian of my daughter’s boyfriend, and in the same week, while carrying an intoxicated friend to his front door late at night, was set upon and bitten on the ankle by his elderly, ill-tempered terrier. When I built an aviary for my children, a raiding dog tore open the netting and murdered all the quails. Dogs have no sense of decency.

Not all societies share our English-derived obsession with dog-grovelling. One of the most appealing features of Tongan society is that they kill, cook and eat dogs. The Chinese do too. Certain islands in the Cook Group have gone one better and banned dogs from their shores altogether, on the grounds, unproven but probable, that the creatures were carriers of leprosy. So today you can go to the islands of Aitutaki and Mauke knowing that they are entirely dog-free as well as nuclear-free. No shitting, no pissing, no barking, no biting. A dog-hater’s heaven.
Not all the Pacific is so enlightened. Samoa is infested with skinny, vicious, septic mongrels. In French Polynesia, where there is a wide gap between the few rich and the many poor, the “haves” buy huge dogs to patrol the grounds of their large properties against the predatory attentions of the have-nots. Whole valleys in Tahiti resound with a chain reaction of detonations of barking and baying if one hound as much as gets a whiff of a stranger. The hills are alive with the sound of howling. Horrible, sinister sounds.

A year or two ago I was on the island of Hiva Oa, in the Marquesas group. I was staying in a small hotel on a hillside a little way out of town. I walked back from town. It was a very hot, enervating afternoon. I turned off the coast road and trudged up the rough track which led to my pension. Pant¬ing, leaden-legged, small pack on my back, I walked up the driveway and out onto a broad lawn. There I stopped, puzzled, looked about me. Lawn? The hotel didn’t have a lawn. Where he hell was I?

In an instant I was doubly enlightened. The realisation that I had walked up the wrong driveway came simultaneously with the knowledge that cantering across the lawn towards me and crying for my flesh were two identical Alsatian dogs: brown, huge, the size of small Shetland ponies. I had three, perhaps four seconds between survival and dismemberment. Everything that I had once heard a dog psychologist say on the radio – only dogs, in the entire animal kingdom, need psychologists – about what to do in such circumstances went out of my head. Instead I bellowed in a voice they must have heard in Bora Bora, “Stop!”

Only after I yelled it did I realise how stupid this was. These brutes would only understand French imperatives. Perhaps only Marquesan. Yet somehow, it had an effect. The beasts stopped, stared at me. But I knew they were only pausing. They stood crouched for attack, mandibles agape, lips slobbering, yellow eyes like pools of pus. I attempted a bilingual approach. “Arretez!” At the same time I took large steps backwards. The Alsatians released a fusillade of barks and, muscles bunched, mutilation clearly on their minds, advanced. They were now only about five metres from me. I had visions of myself, thighs and calves shredded, left for dead on the driveway, bleeding heavily, bites swiftly festering in the tropical heat. Medical help would be minimal. Last night, in the hotel bar, I had met the only physician on the island. He was quite drunk, his hands palsied, a man clearly in the grip of the grape. “Pour lui, c’est normal,” my host had told me with a careless shrug, topping up his glass.

“Arretez!” Again my scream stopped the animals for a moment, and again I stepped back. They began to advance, murder in their custard eyes. Salivating heavily, brown shoulder-hair erect, toi-toi tails rigid, they came in for the kill.

I ran. Not for the gate – they would have been on me in seconds if I’d turned and run back. Instead I ran and dived to the right, throwing myself down a stony bank at the edge of the lawn. It was covered in banana palms. Rolling, tumbling, pack thumping against rock and palm, I hurtled down the bank. When I reached the bottom I rolled over and looked up, filthy, fearful. The dogs had stopped at the top, though they continued to bark hysterically. Barking mad.

I staggered back up the right driveway, clothes streaked with dirt, soggy with sweat. I went straight to the bar and ordered a beer. As my hostess fetched a bottle I poured out my story. “Ah, mon Dieu,” she said, “ces chiens, ces chiens mechants.” And she told me how, earlier that year, her three-year-old son had toddled onto that property. His legs had been bitten from ankle to thigh. Later she showed me his scars. I considered going back into town, selecting a piece of viande for my Alsatian neighbours, preparing it especially and taking it over to them. The only thing that stopped me was that I didn’t know the French word for arsenic.

Recently I read that people like me who detest dogs instinctively give off a smell when the creatures approach, a smell that only they can detect. This maddens them, and they attack. The thought that one is, even unknowingly, giving off an odour is bad enough; that it is also one which induces canine hostility is wretched.

Everywhere, the world is going to the dogs. There is only one solution: I will have to move. Fortunately for me, Aitutaki and Mauke are both lovely islands.


homepaddock said...

Thank you for that invention - I'm a fan of Joe Bennet's writing.

Got Dog Crates said...

Those are some pretty strong feelings!!!

Phull said...

Yes .. that's all very well, but my cat pissed in my slippers after I moved him into the City.

I would cut his balls off if they hadnt been done already.


Jacques Hughes said...

Who is Joe Bennett?