Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Another day, another greyhound

And then there were two. Herbie has been joined by Holly, a little black and white bitch, who looks oddly like a border collie that’s re-growing its fur. She’s a badger, i.e. has a black face with a white blaze, with a sweet nature, but unfortunately she’s also very fit.

The rest of this household are middle-aged and verging on the ploddy, but now we have a young fireball in our midst. Herbie has started wanting 100m head start before I let Holly off the lead, and even then she outruns him. Plus she jumps, spins, barks, plays racing games on the stairs, and is generally just – a young dog. I feel old. She will be too, soon enough, and I should just enjoy her youth while she has it.

Now, more than ever, I want to be At Home With Herbie. And Holly. Half my co-workers have left, so Boss from Hades can’t be shared round as much. Guess who gets most of the flak/ insane power-plays/ lies/ blame/ tantrums? Yup, me. And to add to the stress, my house is partially sold, i.e. someone’s put in an offer and is now doing very little. Can’t pack in job until house is sold.

Trapped like a trap in a trap. But like a greyhound, as soon as the trap door is opened, I’m going to be off at speed. Exploding from the traps. If the house isn’t sold soon, I’m going to self-destruct, and quit the job, refuse to sell house, and take in ironing, or anything to pay the mortgage. Unfortunately selling your body on the streets only works when you’ve got streets. Here in the country…. I’ll think of something.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Herbie has a histiocytoma

At least, that's what the vet thinks it is, unless of course it's a mast cell tumour, in which case it's a whole new world of unhappiness... There I was, minding my own business, as much as I'm ever capable of, and thinking Herbie was fine, when suddenly a large red boil erupts on his neck. I think it was Noel Coward said that while he liked a manly man and a womanly woman, he couldn't abide a boily boy.

Herbie, now alias boily boy, seemed OK, still eating like a wolf, but he went to the vet pronto. Vet has now gained confidence, and has realised that greyhounds run away rather than bite. He thought that histiocytomas (see how that word trips off the tongue) were more common in younger dogs, but that the head and neck were common places to find them. If it was a nasty (technical term there), then it would be more likely to be on his torso.

Hmm. It's all proving to me that I really need to be At Home With Herbie. I think he's coming out with the ailments I used to have, when I first started this job. Pain in the neck, paralysed shoulder and arm, duff foot - all signs my body didn't want to go to this job. I ignored them (mortgage to pay) so now Herbie's coming out with them instead. My poor boy - when will I listen?

Soon, I promise you. As soon as I've sold my house, we can go live in a caravan or a tent or anything, and I will be a stay-at-home-Mom. This bad-job year has to end. Before I spend any more at the vets...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Everyone's on holiday

So it's a perfect time for the Dogs' Trust to launch their annual statistics for the numbers of dogs put to sleep in council pounds across the UK. It's down a little bit this year, and it's been decreasing every year, but the survey doesn't have a 100% response rate - what's the betting that the places with the highest death toll don't fill in their survey forms?

It only measures the dogs put to sleep by councils, not the ones killed on the roads or dropped off bridges or bashed on the head. So there's the RSPCA figures, and then there's the greyhound secret unacknowledged figures that no one will ever admit to, and there's the lab dogs, 7,000 last time I looked, mostly killed rather than rehomed despite evidence from Germany that it's perfectly possible to rehome a laboratory beagle.

But it's OK, we'll issue the figures while everyone's away, and not in the mood for unpleasantness, and that way it'll all be fine, because we've ignored it. Hmmm. The same approach has led to pretty much every single man-made disaster and botch-up I've ever heard of. Scientists mentioned that feeding ground-up cows to cows might not be a great idea. Engineers mentioned that the levees in New Orleans could maybe stand looking at more closely. Killing animals bred to be friends and companions does something horrible to our souls, our psychic selves, even if there isn't an accepted way of measuring this at the moment.

The connection between cruelty to animals, killing of companion animals, and murdering human beings is well documented. Serial killer profilers in the US have found that the one common thread was animal killings. The more we accept that animals are disposable, the closer we come to sharing the psychopathic personality disorders that criminal profilers worry about. This is news we need to come back to, and investigate, if our society is not to go down a dark path.

But hey, we're on holiday.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Rise of an activist (nearly)

Two letters to my MP in the same month - does that make me a political activist? OK, the first one was an e-mail, but the response I received (on thick cream House-of-Commons-headed paper) was so obviously a form letter that I had to write again. I'd never done it before - it's one of those things, you know you have a democratic right to send them letters, but I've never really wanted to bother them, or interrupt their busy bench-sitting schedule or anyting.

In reply to a succinct email asking for support on an issue (OK, greyhounds), I got a page of recycled propaganda. Maybe I was unreasonable to expect anything else, after all, don't all MPs go off to Tuscany at this time of year? (Except for the one idiot trundling their caravan about in everyone's way, definitely something I would be keeping quiet about if I were an MP.) Ooh, I feel a new issue coming on - the compulsory seizure and destruction of all caravans towed annoyingly and/or dangerously. Maybe there'd be a bit more support for that than for acting against the mass destruction of greyhounds.

I've always been politically apathetic, always looked on politicians as incapable of changing anything other than their own bank balances, and believed that they can do that without my help. Now, I've found a cause (no, not caravans, not yet, anyway, I still mean greyhounds) that's worth fighting for, but faced with a weedy government stance of "ooh, no, why don't we let the industry that kills them supervise things" I suddenly realise why there's a crisis in political engagement. The politicians themselves won't, or don't, engage with issues that people are genuinely interested in. I've seen any number of regulations being issued about where you can bury sheep (not something I tend to do much) but faced with something that causes a moral outcry, such as the killings at Seaham, the official response is "it's not illegal".

The trouble is, there can be a vast gulf between things that are morally wrong, and things that are illegal. When politicians concern themselves with "wrong" and how to right it, then people will concern themselves with politicians. Until then, they're merely a (well-paid compared to me) cog in a marginal bureaucracy. Who can't even think up their own replies to letters.

So, maybe I'm as useless as they are, writing letters to people who don't care and won't do anything. This is the point where activists are born... now what do I do? Suffragettes threw themselves under the King's horse, but I really don't fancy throwing myself onto an electric hare. Not worried about the dogs, I'm worried about being electrocuted by a mankily-maintained piece of kit. There must be some railings I can chain myself to... or a caravan. That's what we need. More people chaining themselves to Minister's caravans. Perhaps if I stood in a tartan shopping trolley, so even if they drove off I'd still be there...

Hmm. I have a cunning plan, my Lord.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Death in the North East

It's been 10 days now since the Sunday Times published its article about "the Seaham slaughterer" and the 10,000 greyhounds allegedly buried in his back yard. Any progress?

Well, Newcastle pound has reported 32 greyhounds being handed in over 3 days last week. Now, the trouble with handing dogs in to the pound is that the council don't have to wait 7 days before putting them to sleep, not if it's a "voluntary surrender". Dogs can be euthanased the same day. So, as it's the summer, the traditional time for dumping your dog while you go on holiday, the pounds are full, and dog wardens are bringing new dogs in every day - no room for the surrendered greyhounds. Neat transfer of the killing fields from the private to the public sector.

There is no obligation on the pounds to record or report the earmarks of ex-racing greyhounds, so once again, the dogs vanish and the racing industry claim there isn't a problem. Council taxes go up, someone's got to pay for all the lethal injections, but it sure isn't the racing industry that pays.

Isn't it time local authorities started keeping track? The NGRC might not be too keen... How many of the 8,000 dogs put to sleep in council pounds (Dogs Trust figures for 2005/06) are/were greyhounds? I think it's time we knew.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Still a wage slave

Six months have gone by, and I still am no nearer being At Home With Herbie. I am still in thrall to a capricious boss, widely renowned as being a **** to work for (complete strangers stop me in the corridor to commiserate, and every meeting I go to, people I barely know want to speculate about his psychological failings). The trouble is, I have a mortgage, and someone's got to pay for the pig's ears.

So, Herbie languishes at home, with only my elderly neighbour for company/ devoted servitude. (It's odd, sometimes, when I overhear them together, and my neighbour is repeating the exact same phrases I use, such as "There's nothing in here for little dogs.") (Herbie is, needless to say, a large dog.)

My house is up for sale, but it's so weeny (I mean bijou, antique, full of historic character, redolent of a bygone era) (when everyone was much smaller) that I'm having trouble selling it, so Plan A, which was go live in a caravan/shed/derelict croft on the proceeds is not progressing.

There was no Plan B.

The sensible thing would be to find another job in the same line of work, but the last months with Four-Asterisks has left me worn to the bone, and determined never to put myself through this amount of elephant-poo ever again. Which means I'll never get a mortgage ever again, but I've got very little equity in the dolls'-house, so realistically I'm going to have to spend the rest of my life in a caravan.

Self-employment would be an option, if I knew what to do. I've thought about organic catnip mice, pet-sitting, selling things on e-Bay, you name it, but somehow I crawl home each night too dejected to get any of these off the ground. More effort needed. Or a plan, even. A plan would be good.

This was going to be the year I ended up at home with Herbie. His life will be short - so will mine be if I stay in this job.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Winter walks

It’s half-past Christmas, and the village is glowing with brightly coloured lights. And inflatable snowmen and nodding reindeer and something that looks like a giant angry boil, but is in fact Santa with only the light inside his stomach working.

It’s traditional for people to complain about the tastelessness of it all, and the waste of electricity, and to demonstrate all the innate Puritanism that let Oliver Cromwell stay in power for 20 years, but as for me, I like the Christmas lights. Winter, for dog-walkers, is a dark time, and the dog-walking torch (for dog-walking – unfortunately the torch can’t walk the dog by itself) becomes another thing to cram into my pockets as I head out into the cold night air.

Our village only has one street, so if I want to take the dog out for longer than five minutes, I have to go "off-road", or at least "off-streetlight". There are a couple of dark, pot-holed muddy farm tracks that Herbie loves, and so I lurch out into the night, dressed like a poacher-cum-fishwife, with a feeble torch-beam to point out which hollow I’ve just wrenched my ankle in. Herbie, in his black bat-cape (dinner dinner dinner dinner BAT-dog!) swoops and runs at invisible rabbits, and snuffles in the hedge-rows, while the roosting guinea-fowl cronk with irritation at having their sleep disturbed. On moonlit nights, the path is well-lit, as long as moonrise coincides with darkness.

I’ve never worked out how to calculate when the moon rises and sets, so every now and then I’m caught out, because moonrise comes early in the morning, and moonset is mid-afternoon, and I’ve never worked out why that happens – it seems very badly arranged to me. Someone Should Have a Word. But, celestial arrangements permitting, there are nights when the path shines silver-grey beneath me, and the fields are sharp as an old black and white photo. The lights of the next village, three miles away, shimmer on the horizon, and the black thickets of pine blot out patches of landscape.

Once I’ve walked for a while my fingers begin to warm up, but I can hear my own fireside calling to me, and then I’ll turn, calling Herbie to me. He understands the "Round" command, and follows instantly, turning on a ha’penny, trotting beside me to be sure I meant what I said. Once he’s sure, he will streak off into the dark again, little beige bottom twinkling from beneath his coat. As we reach the end of the track, past the lorry yard and the pub car park, I clip Herbie’s lead back on, and we emerge, blinking, into the full glory of the Christmas illuminations, lights that say to me: You’re Home. That’s what the lights are for, to let you know that however dark the night, somewhere somebody is home. And that’s a comforting thought.

Happy New Year.