Helen Martin: Collar irresponsible owners, not the dogs

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SOME people love animals, some don’t. And those who do are often divided over which of our two most common domesticated species they prefer. So, are you a cat person or a dog person?

I love, and own, both – in as much as anyone can “own” a cat.

Now this – some might say, trivial – matter may be part of a case coming before the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, as it has been asked to look again at a Justice of the Peace order to destroy a Staffie cross dog for badly mauling, but not killing, a neighbour’s cat in Dundee.

One appeal has already failed, despite the cat’s owner saying he would have been content with an order to muzzle the dog. So three-year-old C-Jay is currently on “death row” in a city kennels, while his owner, Tracy Jackson, and supporters are mounting a major campaign to save him.

The gist of the case for C-Jay, as far as his petitioners are concerned, is that chasing and mauling cats is just what dogs do, and that the death sentence is completely over the top.

The case, so far, against him is that in order to reach the cat in the first place, he escaped from his garden and was “out of control”. To make matters worse, he had previously been found wandering the street. As usual, it therefore – whatever the legalities are – really comes down to a case against the owner, rather than the dog.

One other solution, which none of the 1200 who have “signed” the online petition seem to have suggested, is that the dog should be rehomed with someone who doesn’t need a death threat to know it has to be controlled, contained in the garden by a dog-proof fence, and prevented from roaming the streets alone.

Nor is it true that “all dogs chase cats”. Many might, and can be trained out of it. It’s not hard-wired in the way that a cat is destined to chase mice and birds, otherwise guide dogs would be as much a liability as a help to the blind.

Having always had a cat, we took the decision to rehome a greyhound from the Retired Greyhound Trust. The dog comes straight from its owner/trainer and you know its background. We knew, for example, that our dog had never been given what, in racing circles, is called “a live kill” to encourage him to chase the track hare. His previous owner refused to employ that tactic precisely because he rehomed all his dogs and knew he couldn’t rehome a killer. We also knew our dog had never even met a cat before . . . something that became abundantly clear when he stopped for a friendly sniff only to be met with a razor-sharp nose-slice from “Pussy Scissor Hands”. When that cat passed on, we got another and the same dynamic prevailed.

Cats are smarter and both took the role of The Boss. The dog, at nearly seven times the size and weight of either cat, is a wonderful personality but slightly dim in comparison, and knows his place. . . apart from occasionally trying in vain to interest the cat in a game with a tennis ball.

Despite the happy way things have turned out, we used a muzzle for the first couple of weeks . . . just in case. And he is only ever off the lead in open spaces, never on the street and never where he could, in the unlikely event that he chose to, corner something.

We’re no experts. But we took advice from people who are because owning any pet, particularly a dog with sharp teeth, is a serious responsibility. And that’s something that many owners who would count themselves as “doggy people” seem to disregard.

They are looking for a companion, a pet, a furry friend to lie on the floor, fetch a ball and enhance their lives – and they cannot see beyond that. They say the dog is “part of the family” but they wouldn’t tolerate their 12-year-old or their uncle nipping over the fence to slaughter the moggie next door. In fact, if chasing cats is as compulsive for dogs as C-Jay’s supporters think, Edinburgh’s suburbs would have us up to our knees in feline blood.

I’m sure there must be some genuinely “bad” dogs but, for the most part, canine criminality is down to bad or inadequate owners. That should be reflected in how the courts deal with cases. Killing C-Jay is a pointless cruelty . . . one that is probably cheaper and cold-heartedly more expedient than training his owner.