Comment: 'Please don't touch my dog!' Why pets aren't public property
We all think our animals and children are attractive; fact. But my dog, a 5-year-old rhodesian ridgeback called Thala, is a particularly fine specimen and commands huge swathes of (often unwanted) attention wherever we go.
With her intense yellow eyes and distinctive strip of hair growing the wrong way down the length of her back, Thala is some kind of celebrity when we're out. Often without asking me first, folk think nothing of trying to stroke her whether I'm eating, talking or walking with a friend — or even once getting cash out of a bank machine.
This great, animal-loving country seems to view dogs as public property, and it is an irritating part dog ownership I have had to accept. Until Covid-19. Due to an auto-immune disease, in March I was one of millions classed as clinically extremely vulnerable. While this was downgraded to "moderate" by mid-April, I must still remain careful as I'm locked down with my parents, both of whom are over 70.Focus: How to stop the spread of coronavirus. Video / AP / Mark Mitchell
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During March and April, walking Thala was for the first time a pleasure as people kept their distance, but on May 11, when we were allowed to spend more time outside, things changed. As people relaxed against the invisible enemy, the dog petting resumed.
Since then I've been labelled "miserable", "unhappy" and a few less choice words, for asking others to leave Thala alone. She's a big, powerful hound and needs to run, but now I barely leave the house with her if we might encounter others and if so, she's on a tight leash.
During the rest of my daily life — the rare supermarket visit or distanced walks with friends — I can control my own risk. But if people pet my dog, I can't. Petting someone else's dog is like petting their child — so why is it okay? Thala's coat is no different to any other surface, like a door handle or supermarket trolley, a potential source of person-to-person transmission.
The worst point came three weeks ago, when I was isolating at my own home in Hampshire after attending the funeral of a friend who died from Covid. A funeral is a sobering affair at the best of times, let alone a socially distanced funeral when the deceased was taken by this awful virus. It concentrates the mind, leaving you hypervigilant.
So when I asked a family in the New Forest if they would please not touch my dog, and received a torrent of abuse in return, I hadn't the energy to tell them that it could be for their own good. If I had picked up Covid from the funeral, the hair on my dog's back could pass it to them.
I'm not alone in my anxiety. Friends Chris and Laura Ford and their two children and yellow labrador, Goose, live in a cottage on a farm where a footpath runs straight past their door.
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"Walkers passing by felt they could cuddle him, it really started to annoy us — I've never been sure why people see dogs as public property. Having a friendly dog that my kids cuddle then puts my kids and anyone they come into contact with at risk, too," said Chris, who sadly lost his father to Covid-19 in early April.