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The Daily Telegraph


Ramses Has Us On the Run

May 17, 2007

By Theodore Dalrymple

Is it true, or am I imagining it, that when I take my dog for a walk in town, many people stop and smile at him? Of course I think it is true; and certainly toddlers out for a stroll or in pushchairs gurgle with delight when they see him. Older children fall in love with him at once, and ask their parents to buy a similar dog for them. Objectivity compels me to admit that they don’t always react favourably to this request.

My dog is a Yorkshire terrier and his official name is Ramses, though more often we call him Piglet. I know that every dog owner believes his dog to be exceptionally intelligent and charming, but it so happens that in the case of Ramses this is true. Everyone who meets him says so.

Scientists warn us against anthropomorphising - that is to say, ascribing human emotions, motives and thoughts to dogs - but those who live with dogs cannot help but do so. The scientists are wrong. If the word overjoyed means anything, it means the way Ramses shot across a large lawn when he saw me for the first time after a week’s separation, jumped into my arms and licked my face, his tail wagging furiously.

The pleasure that he takes in the company of my wife and me is obvious. In fact, he assumes that everyone, with the exception of the postman, loves him; and his trust in his own charm is nearly always vindicated. The obverse of his love of human company is his dislike of being left alone. When he senses, with his preternatural instinct for such matters, that we are going out without him, he hides himself to put off the evil hour when we place him in that part of the house that is not alarmed.

He shows his intelligence by hiding in a different place each time, often very cunningly so that it takes quite a time to find him.

Once, when we couldn’t find him at all, we resorted to calling our landline from our mobile, for when the phone rings he barks at it. Ramses dashed out, but when he saw us he realised that he had made a terrible mistake, skidded to a halt, and tried to slink away to hide again. The next day, when we tried the same trick, Ramses did not fall for it. He had learnt to distinguish between a true and a bogus telephone call.

There’s no doubt that he likes to be the centre of attention. Once when, rather unusually, we had a big crowd of people coming to our house, he responded to the fact that he was being ignored by developing paralysis of his hind legs. This brought him instant attention and we fetched sausages and smoked salmon in an attempt to alleviate his suffering. He refused these delicacies.

Among our guests was a child psychiatrist and she diagnosed Ramses’s condition at once: classical hysterical conversion hysteria. And she was right: as soon as our guests departed, Ramses hopped out of his basket, into which we had so tenderly and solicitously laid him, and carried on as if nothing had happened.

I used to be a devotee of big dogs, but Ramses has converted me to small ones. It is strange how so miniature a creature can fill so large a space with his presence. His absolute trust calls forth absolute benevolence; and though, strictly speaking, he is a parasite, in truth we are as dependent upon him as he is on us.

He has a sense of guilt when he has done something wrong, and also a sense of humour, teasing us by running on ahead, waiting for us to catch up, and then running on ahead again until we are exhausted. All of which convinces me that the proper study of mankind is dog.

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