Pedigree or Mutt, It's a Dog's Life

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All dogs are unequal, but some are more unequal than others. Have you noticed how the world is divided by a common language - Canine? How dog-owners either speak High Canine or Low Canine?

The first lot - who have rosettes and gilt cups on their mantelpieces - woffle to each other in loud, superior barking voices about grooming and shows and kennel names and sizeable litters and important stuff like that. Hoity-toity. And when, crimped and pomaded, fuzzed and talcum-powdered, their tippy-toe toy doggy wins Best of Show, they admit with a shiny smile to the local reporter that although their pride and joy (whose kennel name is Princess Trixybell Dandy-Darcy D'Evelyn Sweetapple the Fifth) - and gosh! Who would have thought it? Best of show! Wow! - may look as if she would never step on damp grass or run after a squirrel, nevertheless at home she is "just one of the family" and is "full of fun and games" like any other dog.

The second kind of dog-owner off-handedly maintains that a dog's a dog for a'that. That a mongrel is a real dog because it is bound to be a unique character, so cobbled together is it from a multicultural background. That a mutt is certain to be more devoted than any pedigreed aristocrat, and more affectionate, humble, undemanding, streetwise, funny, clever, unpredictable, super-intelligent, and irrepressible. That it will be endowed with an engaging gaucheness and be a lover of children and kittens, will eat anything, and above all will be uncomplicatedly grateful for having been rescued from a life in the gutter.

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I belong to this second lot.

* * *

Down in the park in the mornings, our mutt meets her friends. Some are mongrels like her, but the park is mainly full of these yellow and black Labradors accompanied by ladies in quilted weatherproof jerkin-things and sensible boots. They all, these ladies, have yellow and black Labradors. They are rather rounded and very keen on biscuits, and so are their dogs.

In fact, I have a theory that while there are many such ladies, there are actually only two Labradors, one yellow, one black. The ladies take it in turn to exercise them, and the two dogs very obligingly answer to different names as required (so long as the names bear a passing similarity to "Buster" or "Honey").

"Here Muster! Come Rummy! Custer - Hee-aah! Bunny!" the various ladies exclaim among the rhododendrons, and the yellow and the black come - or not, as the case may be. They are not very obedient, these two labs. They have their own lives to lead.

* * *

This morning, our Muff, as she does most mornings, was overjoyed to encounter Yellow and Black among the trees. It is Yellow she plays with (though "play" is a vast understatement of their thundering heller-skelter, wild without end). Black, who is more mature and more focused on potential biscuits than on overdoing the exercise thing, tends to hang around our ankles and view the hurtling hijinks of the young with a disinterested tolerance.

I gently tease Yellow and Black's owner about her preference for pedigreed dogs. She takes it well because of course she knows that under the skin all dogs are desperate tykes. But I'm not sure all pedigreed people know this.

On the phone the other day, I was discussing dogs with a colleague in the States, and she asked me what sort of dog ours is. "A mutt," I said. "We got her from the Cat and Dog Home. Of course, mongrels are the best...."

"Careful," she interrupted, "you're on dangerous ground here. I have two pedigreed dogs."

"Well, they're all dogs," I suggested understandingly. But I could tell she was not convinced.

"I choose breeds," she explained, "because I know how they are going to behave."

"Ah, I see," I said.

But I didn't. Particularly as she then went on to tell me how her boxer had eaten the dashboard of her car and most of the books on her shelves (and is now consequently banned from libraries and driving). If she had invested in a boxer because she knew it would be an inevitable ingester of Rolls-Royces and fine bindings, then all I can say is - well, no, I can't say anything; I am speechless.

"Muff likes books, too," I eventually remarked.

TO return to this morning in the park. As ever, Yellow and Muff became an inseparable onrush of absurd antics. Now there is one thing that yellow Labradors relish, and that is dank and indelibly odoriferous ditches, of which the park has a number. And now and then I tell Yellow and Black's owner that I believe her Labrador is definitely a bad influence on our innocent mongrel in this respect - at which point in our conversation this morning her yellow pet lived up to its kind and plunged deep into a maelstrom of mud below a footbridge, followed insouciantly by his little mongrel friend.

"Yuck! No, no no! Out of there!" shouted Yellow's mum hopelessly. "Oh, no! Uh-oh!"

And a second later, from under the bridge emerged two totally smelly black creatures, as if they had spent a day down a particularly waterlogged coal mine.

"Look at them!" I guffawed. "I rest my case. Your dog is leading our dog astray."

To which our pedigree-possessing lady added, in her best Glasgow accent: "Och, she's got nae breeding!"

I'm not quite certain, but I think she was referring to our dog rather than hers. And, of course, she's absolutely right. Who's pretending?

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