Capitalist Running Dogs
(This article first appeared in the February 2013 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)
What do dog walkers and local authority councillors have in common, apart that is, from an unerring ability to get right up the nostrils of yours truly.
In one word – ignorance.
Let me explain.
I do not believe that most dog walkers are selfish and thuggish and care not one whit for the welfare of other creatures. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that, with the exception of a minority of idiots with viscous maltreated dogsm or those fools that pamper literal or figurative poodles, the vast majority of dog owners are, almost tautologically, animal lovers.
Sure, pets can be substitutes for children or significant others, but most people that have a dog, love it for its own sake. They take it on long walks to keep it fit as well as to work off their own surplus of pre-packed meals and sugary snacks. I would go further, I would bet that most dog owners regularly feed their garden birds. Dammit, I have no doubt that a great many dog lovers fret over their feeders with freezing fingers when plummeting temperatures threaten the lives of Robin Redbreast. They scatter their crumbs to the band of Blue Tits that brave the elements trying scrape a living from long dead coconut shells and empty red-net bags whistling in winter winds.
Sixty six percent of households feed their garden birds. Twenty-one percent of households keep one or more pet dogs. It would be beyond the bounds of reason to suppose that there is no overlap.
So, when dog owners allow, indeed in many cases encourage their pet to disturb birds it surely must be through ignorance?
Pet owners generally suffer from what the TV programme QI calls ‘general ignorance’.
Those with cats refuse to believe that their Mr Tibbles eats birds and swear blind that ‘timmy’ would run the other way if he saw a mouse, despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Only in the most enlightened parts of the US and Australia do cat owners realise that such pets should be kept indoors at all times. The average dog owner is quite genuine when he opines that his pet is ‘only being friendly’ when he leaps at you with muddy claws. She is sincere when she says that you need not fear the scowling, growling beast as it ‘wouldn’t hurt a fly’.
Clearly this ignorance extends to walks along the beach and dog owners genuinely do not realise that allowing, indeed often encouraging, their dog to chase waders in winter or terns in spring can be a death warrant. Our beaches are no longer safe for any bird to nest on, only in those least walked by a man and his dog has any hope of allowing little terns to keep a toe-hold on these islands as a breeding place.
Two days ago I sat in my car on the sea front with waves lashing the shore totally mesmerised by a couple of hundred sanderlings chasing the waves in and out in search of storm-tossed tasties.
I counted a dozen rock pipits picking through the stranded seaweed in search of desiccated brine shrimp and sand hoppers clinging to the heat from nature’s compost.
I was searching through the ring-plovers and turnstones in the hope of finding a purple sandpiper when the sanderlings took flight and every other bird on the beach was put up. The culprit was a big black, ‘wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly’, ‘only-being-friendly’ Labrador as it tore through the waders scattering them to the northeast wind. The dog’s owner was spurring him on, waving him toward the next drift of feeding birds. Ten minutes later along came a little old lady who, no doubt, spends her winter evenings threading peanuts on a string to keep the great tits happy. She patted her pug and ruffled the scruff of her spaniel telling them what good boys they were as they ploughed through the pipits and splashed in the surf scattering turnstones.
I was incandescent but swallowed the steam and got out of my cosy hide to explain to the walkers that what they were doing was worse for birds than poisoning their peanuts. To be fair the response was surprise not aggression.
It seems that dog walkers can be encouraged to be more responsible, so I urge you all to tell your dog-owning friends that they should be keeping their curs away from curlews.
The local authority bans dogs from beaches in summer as dog mess make for very unsavoury sand castles. I expect these worthy aldermen would baulk from banning dogs from winter beaches, even if I could banish their ignorance.
After all their ignorance is legion!
My second outburst of outrage has been brought about by a truly inspired policy toward household re-cycling that my local authority is adopting.
I am such a sad and lonely guy that one of my favourite outings is to go to the recycling centre with the stuff that the bin men eschew. I look forward to lugging my big cardboard boxes and small household items out of the back of my car and trying to stop garden waste spilling out of the containers. (The mice that share my birdfeed have, in their generosity, given a number of new exits to these garden tidies. So, I’ve put a fold-up garden bin inside another and put another inside that, so that I can twiddle them around in such a way as to ensure that the new mouse windows do not line up.)
I don’t mind my otherwise pristine vehicle becoming besmirched with rotting leaves, what I am trying to do is not introduce a new spider species to my car. The car already hosts a species that must be new to science as it exclusively resides in wing mirrors. I bet you have them too… have they really only evolved since the invention of electronic wing mirrors?
My garden shed has become home to the only critter that I know of that eats pea-bugs – the ‘false’ black widow spider. Despite their false claim to widowhood they do, apparently, pack a punch and there is only one thing in life that ‘er indoors’ fears more than spiders, and that is a spider with fangs that can inject venom into the human body.
So, we pack the car of a sunny Sunday and join the rest of the saddos who don’t get out much, queuing up to offload our unfashionable bedding, dead socks and empty jam jars.
There is a large sign at the site, proclaiming the readiness of the staff to help if needed. Large and clearly written the signs may be, but experience tells me that those same helpers do not readily read them. Their scowls discourage putting any such invitation to the test.
Parked just outside the main gate, on most of my visits, is a van just too large to pass under the crash bar. From this van there usually emerges a red-faced man who hauls his unwanted fridge to the appropriate bin.
Now to the ‘general ignorance’ that inflicts the local authority. They have recently banned such incursion and post a paid scowler at the gate to dissuade non-compliance. The councillors have further decreed that no van of any size will, henceforth, be allowed to enter the hallowed grounds of the re-cycling centre.
So the bloke who, for a tenner (which is half the local authority fee) would take away your old cooker must now pay twice that in fees to take it to a commercial recycling dump. Such wisdom from our elected members bedazzles me. Just how much does it cost, I wonder, to clear up the fly-tipped fowling the literally litters the countryside forcing farmers to fence off their fields from public access and put padlocked gates across the farm roads?
I bet it is a lot more than the commercial recycling centre extracts from responsible house clearers and benign builders.
This latest decree raises the bar of crassness to a new high…
Back in the days of my youth the bin men would take away anything under a ton for a fiver. Back in the days of my youth I was for a while a bin man myself and would happily drag off a sack of grass cuttings or help carry away a sick spin-drier.
In fact the only thing I would not do was empty the bins of any house with a large unchained dog… but that’s another story!
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