Man's best friend

by Louis Barfe

Let’s hear it for the mongrel. My beloved dog Lyttelton, 15, is the result of a union between a male Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a female Jack Russell Terrier. She is not a Jackalier, a cavajack (unless it’s five to five on a Friday) or any of that nonsense. she is a proud and dignified mongrel, the best sort of dog there is.

So, in last week’s edition of natural histories (BBC Radio 4, Tuesdays, 11am) all about dogs and their relationship with humans through history, I was delighted to hear presenter Brett Westwood standing up for mongrels in a world when snobbery has rebranded them all as ‘crossbreeds’ with silly portmanteau names. Mind you, it’s arguable that the modern ‘crossbreeds’ are no more made-up than the recognised breeds, which were, as pointed out in this splendid half-hour, largely concocted by the Victorians.

The programme got off to a flying start with a visit to Battersea, where a lurcher called Trevor tried to eat Westwood’s mic. It went on to explore dogs in literature from Homer's Odyssey onwards and the common connections between the fight for animal rights and women’s rights in the Victorian era.

Also covered were the various ways in which, in the West, humanity’s relationship with dogs is profoundly unusual. Originally, they charmed us thoroughly so we gave them food, while we found them useful. However, a deep bond grew, and over the last 200 years, dogs have been mostly kept purely because they’re the most delightful companions.

Many of us treat dogs as small humans, and tend to view our attitude to canines as the correct one. other cultures view dogs in a more utilitarian way and look askance at our sentimentality. Who’s to say they’re wrong? Me. I’m saying they’re wrong.