13 MAY 1989, Page 49

Home life

Dog's dinner

Alice Thomas Ellis

Inever used to have very strong views about dogs in the dining-room. I know cats who sleep on the dining-table. You sweep them off before meals and polish the surface. As long, I feel, as they are not shedding fur in the soup or dipping their paws in the salad dressing it doesn't mat- . ter. Not much. Dogs, I now realise, are a different matter. They don't look hygienic, and when you come to think of it they don't behave in a hygienic fashion. They don't watch where they're walking and they don't wash their feet as cats do. Some, I am sure, are acceptably clean but others are not.

We met such a one in a boarding house we recently spent a night in. It was a very small dog; perhaps the smallest dog I've ever seen except for those rat-like things that people keep up their sleeves. It had hair on its head but the rest of it was bald; it wore a tartan waistcoat in an attempt to disguise this deficiency and was quite the most revolting thing I've ever seen outside

'No matter how early you get to the beach, the Germans are there before you.'

a jar of formaldehyde. The sort of dog it was is supposed to have longish hair all over and when in health resembles a hairy caterpillar. This one resembled a slug going to a Burns Night with its sporran on its head. Even Janet, who is all for animal's rights, had to concur in my opinion. It was deeply horrible, and, of course, it took a fancy to us.

The nice owner of both boarding house and dog was under the impression that she'd given us boeuf stroganoff for dinner. At the most charitable estimate it was beef stew — chewy chunks of meat in grey gravy — but what it really looked like was dog's dinner. The dog thought so too, and sat at our feet going yap, yap, yap in an aggrieved and proprietorial way, while we pushed it round the plate. 'Oh, isn't she naughty,' said its owner. 'She knows she's not allowed in the dining-room.' So kick her out, I thought, but was too polite to say so. As we toyed with the kind of coffee they advertise on television — i.e. so disgusting the makers have to spend mil- lions to persuade you to drink the muck the animal's protests increased. 'That's because you're drinking coffee,' said the owner. 'She can't bear to see anyone drinking coffee unless she has some too.' I thought that if this was really the case and the owner habitually gave in to its demands it would probably account for the fact that all its hair had fallen out, but she gave it a saucer of milk which it slurped up, making even more unpleasant noises. Janet asked how old it was, because you have to say something, and we learned it was 15. Doing a laborious bit of mental arithmetic I figured that that made it 105 in human terms.

Next morning we opted for the cooked breakfast because we were paying for it anyway and bacon and egg is always and only bacon and egg. Unfortunateiy a saus- age was generously added to this simple repast, and as I regarded it the ancient beast tottered into the dining-room and sat at my feet. I directed hurtful and rejecting vibes at it, but it wasn't psychic — or if it was it didn't care — and it went on sitting there, its pink-brown baldness only ill- concealed by its clothes. I looked from sausage to dog and from dog to sausage and ended up pushing breakfast round the plate.

For a moment I wondered whether the owner kept her pet simply for economical reasons — just to make the customers so nauseated they left everything for the next guest — but she swooped in, picked it up and cuddled it. Love, I reflected, is not merely blind but quite impervious to hygienic considerations. I could no sooner have nuzzled that dog than the banger cooling amidst egg yolk on the plate. I hate bossy restaurants where they won't let you smoke, but I now have every sympathy with the interdict NO DOGS ALLOWED IN THE DINING-ROOM - especially not naked ones in waistcoats.