A Life in a Year – 12th August, Dog Bites and Rabies

On 12th August 1991 Parliament passed the Dangerous Dogs Act and that was one piece of legislation that I fully approved of.  It made it an offence to allow a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place or in a private place where it is not allowed to be.  In addition, the ownership of certain types of dog, such as the Pit Bull Terrier was prohibited and also an offence to breed from, sell or exchange (even as a gift) a prohibited type of a dog.  Personally I would have gone a whole lot further and prohibited them all!

Apologies here to my canine loving friends but I really don’t like dogs and this isn’t completely irrational because they really don’t like me either.  As soon as people with dogs realise that I have an unnatural and unexplainable fear of them then they seem to take sadistic delight in subjecting me to the terror of their company.

My dislike for them started as a boy when I was taken one day for a walk by my granddad and on a piece of waste land opposite my parent’s house in Leicester an Alsatian dog knocked me to the ground, pinned me down and stood on my chest with its dirty paws and dribbled in my face with its putrid breath.  The inconsiderate owner had let it off its leash and I was absolutely terrified.  Lucky for me that granddad was able to shoo it off and chase it away or else I was sure to have been a 1958, child chewed to death by a dog, statistic.

The next detestable canine that I remember loathing was my friend David Newman’s Boxer because although, admittedly, it was almost certainly soft and harmless, it always did that other thing that I hate most about dogs (after biting me of course) and sniffed my groin and left a smudge of dribble on my trousers, which until it dried made it look as if I had a nasty little bathroom accident.  Why do dog owners let their animals do that? It’s just not nice, but they always assume that because they like the slobbering thing themselves that everyone else will too.  I really do hate that groin snuffling business more than anything else because I am actually quite picky about who or what sniffs my genitals and I am never very comfortable about the close proximity of a set of canine jaws so close to a part of my anatomy that I am just as fond of as the Queen is of the Crown Jewels.

The reason that I don’t want to be bitten (other than it is painful) is that I have always had a fear of rabies!

Rabies is a very serious viral infection that targets the brain and nervous system and once the symptoms of rabies have developed the condition is always fatal.  It begins with feeling a bit unwell, a bit like a severe cold but soon after, the symptoms expand to slight or partial paralysis, cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, agitation, abnormal behavior, paranoia, terror, hallucinations, finally progressing to full delirium. The production of large quantities of saliva and tears coupled with an inability to speak or swallow are typical during the later stages of the disease and this can result in hydrophobia because with difficulty swallowing patients become panic stricken when presented with liquids because cruelly they cannot quench their thirst because the throat and jaw become completely paralysed.

So, I think I have established that it is not very nice and even though there have only been twenty-five cases reported in the United Kingdom since the end of World War Two (and all of these were imported cases from abroad) it still scares the shit out of me!

Although preferable to death, if you are unlucky enough to be bitten by a rabid dog then precautionary treatment isn’t very pleasant either and involves one immediate dose of vaccine and five more over a twenty-eight day period.  Half of the vaccine is injected in the region of the bite with a great big needle so that’s obviously not great news if you have been bitten in the arse!  Even this is better than it used to be however because in the past it was all injected into nerve city central in the solar plexus with a large needle inserted through the abdominal wall, which goes a long way towards explaining my fear!

And for those people who say that a dog won’t attack without warning, you are wrong!

Once out with my mother, when I was about nine or ten, she stopped to chat to a neighbour, Mrs Gamble, who was the local Freeman’s mail order catalogue agent, and who just happened to be walking her mangy black mongrel dog, unimaginatively called Blackie, past the house where we lived.  I kept a safe distance from the flea bitten thing but the woman assured me that it was perfectly harmless and that it wouldn’t hurt me so in a moment of total rashness I extended a hand of friendship to pat the thing kindly on the head and thirty minutes later I was sitting in St Cross casualty department waiting for a handful of stitches in a hand scarred for life and a painful anti-tetanus injection.

Since that day I have never again been taken in by an owner’s reassurance that a dog ‘is only trying to be friendly’, because I know that given half a chance it will sink its teeth into me and rip my flesh to shreds.

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