Claire Black: Animals are somewhat unknowable

I WAS sitting at the kitchen table when I heard about Ava-Jayne Corless, the 11-month-old who was mauled to death by a dog at her home in Lancashire last week.

There were more than 1,000 reports of attacks by dogs in Scotland last year. Photograph: Getty
There were more than 1,000 reports of attacks by dogs in Scotland last year. Photograph: Getty

What a terrible, needless death. And, then, when the breed was mentioned – it was an American pit bull type dog, which has since been destroyed.

I stood up to put the kettle on. What I saw as I turned was Daphne, my rescue staffie cross, snoring in her bed, and Orrin, my son, gurgling and dribbling in his bouncy chair a few feet away. Orrin is six months old. He arrived a year after Daphne. It’s only in the last month that his interest has progressed from wide-eyed incomprehension to excited engagement. Now bendy little fingers try to wriggle into fur, sticky hands are regularly raised to be licked. When she’s faster than we are – often – Daphne obliges. Always.

But something has changed. The dog is still a sweetie – full of cuddles and fun. But never have I been so aware that she is an animal – domesticated, sure, but driven by instincts and always slightly unknowable. When Orrin’s in his chair his head is exactly level with the dog’s. Daph has never shown any sign of aggression to a human. Nothing. And yet still sometimes I look at her big jaws and Orrin’s little baby head and the proximity – I mean in the same room with no barrier between them – hits me like a slap.

Am I simply being vigilant about something every dog owner should consider? Or have I somehow become susceptible to the vitriol focused on particular breeds and by extension, their owners?

Daphne is not a dangerous dog, but her breed would mark her out as one in some countries. For people like me, the deed not the breed is the mantra – it’s not the type of dog, it’s what the dog does that should be considered in matters of public safety. And yet, when I think of Ava-Jayne Corless that doesn’t feel quite adequate.

In Scotland, attacks by dogs have increased by 17 per cent since 2010. There were more than 1,000 reports of attacks by dogs last year. The Control of Dogs Act introduced in 2011 allows local authorities to issue dog control notices which require dogs to be microchipped and can be used to impose other restrictions such as the dog being muzzled in public. Late last year, the Scottish Government launched a consultation to consider other options to improve safety in relation to dogs such as universal microchipping, licensing and muzzling.

For me, the issue is about identifying what is effective and when it comes to dogs that’s never going to be simple because every dog has the potential to be dangerous. But it’s also about admitting that behind every stereotype – of owner or breed – there lies complexity as well as prejudice.

When people meet Daph they usually say, “oh she’s a nice one. I mean it’s not the dogs’ fault…” Sadly, sometimes this is true. But what I can’t help thinking is that alongside whatever punitive measures that are required, if we could find ways to help people to care for their dogs better and understand how beneficial that 
is, not only for their pet but for them too, we might be doing a lot more than just improving the lives 
of some dogs.

Sock it to ‘em, fashionistas

LONDON Fashion Week is under way. This means, well, probably very little to those of us who don’t organise our wardrobes by season or spend as much as our monthly mortgage payment on a handbag. But I couldn’t help but notice a snippet of news from New York, which held its own fashion event last week.

Brace yourselves: flat shoes are in, heels are out. But there’s more to it than that, it’s not just flat shoes that are now de rigueur, we must also wear them with, wait for it, socks. Listen, I don’t want to imply that the emperor is now wearing, well, shoes and socks, or to cause anyone’s world to rock as though balanced on a vertiginously high platform heel that looks like something from a torture museum and has less to do with assisting walking and much more to do with cramp, but lots of us have been accessorising flat shoes with socks for quite some time now.

There’s just something about the way they go together – it’s almost like it was meant to be. So London Fashion Week do your worst – what will your innovation be? Jeans with T-shirts? Trackie bottoms with trainers? Hats and scarves?

Lean times for the Baftas

IT’S the Baftas tonight. Will yoube watching? If you do, look closely at the facial expressions to see if you can discern the tiniest hint of chagrin in between the botox and bronzer. Why, you ask? Only that a few attendees might’ve just discovered that over in the USA the goody bags at this year’s Academy Awards are worth a cool 55 grand. What’s in them? A new set of porcelains for each guest? Last year’s Bafta one – containing a bottle of Disaronno (the Advocaat of the 21st century) and Cross Townsend Ballpoint Pen (I kid you not) – was worth an estimated £2,500. That’s enough to wipe the smile from anyone’s face. «