The slow tread of elderly pedestrian antagonises me. I loathe children. Especially toddlers. If I saw you, Reader, getting set upon by a gang of hooded teenagers, I would walk past without guilt (unless you were sexy and I had a handgun). I’ve never bought The Big Issue and I never will. I have told four women that I love them to gain access to their sex. I have told two men that I love them to gain access to their wallets. I lie more often than I truth. If I sense the possibility of an advantageous angle, I work it.
But … this very morning I (selflessly) took a lost old dog to Lewisham Police Station. This action was born of pure altruism. And where did this selfless gesture land me? Locked in the back of a Police van for five hours.
The canine thing was lying on its side in the middle of Lee High Road, immediately opposite my flat complex. The dog was unmoving on a road that never stopped gushing heavy traffic. As I waited for my bus, I viewed cars, vans, lorries and bicycles curving around the still figure of dog. Not one vehicle stopped. The image was particularly startling, as I had forgotten to bring out the sunglasses.
I watched the body as I waited for the 321 to deliver me outside Lewisham Burger King. I wanted hot meat, Reader, and I wasn’t prepared to heat it myself. There was a fiver in my wallet and a taste for burger in my chops.
Waiting for transport to Whopper, I supposed that the dog was dead. It was, after all, lying still in the middle of a main road. That’s not what living dogs do. Living dogs run about in fields and shit in people’s lounges. Only dead dogs lie in roads.
I stared at the body and thought of my youth.
A slight wag of tail -/- so feeble that it caused me to doubt my perception. But again, a motorcycle roared past and the tail flicked – maybe a millimetre or so.
I looked to the Rastafarian standing next to me. He was busy reading the Bible and had a sternness to his face that scared me from interruption.
I thought of the Burger. Of the strawberry milkshake for which I longed. If I walked to this dog, the burger would be delayed, even cancelled. And my tummy was all empty.
I balanced these considerations against the knowledge that I could save the existence of a dog, for the wag of its tail spoke of a life yet extinguished. It was a black
Labrador not unlike Billy, my Billy. Billy, the black Labrador. Billy, the black Labrador, that once shagged Sarah Seymour’s back in my teenage bedroom in Devon nine years previously.
The memory of Billy’s excited thrusting and Sarah’s distraught screaming spurred me to action. I waited for a break in the traffic-action and tiny-stepped over to the dog. He lay on the central white line. Cars moved past us. One had the temerity to beep – I shouted ‘fuck off’ – a reaction that’s viciousness of tone surprised me.
The dog raised its head. Its fur was splashed with white – most noticeably around the skin-loose muzzle. Its eyes were both yellow, but possessed the white twinkle of life. It was a fat dog, but an aged dog. Its fur grew sparse (like a cricket square in summer) towards its belly. I checked the tarmac for blood. There was none.
Gingerly, and conscious of the traffic that flowed in each direction, I slipped both palms under its belly and chest. Dog lifted his head towards me and licked his lips. Dog’s tail wagged with more vigour. Dog didn’t yelp. I doubted he’d been hit by car.
A rush of red bus flew in front of face. I was almost hit.
Some swear words gushed.
Back on safe pavement, a taxi driver had pulled up. This chap helped me place the dog in the back of his cab. Dog wasn’t walking, but would wag a tail when stroked.
I explained to the taxi-driver that it wasn’t my dog and I didn’t know what to do with it.
“Ring RSPCA, innit,” said the taxi-driver.
I did that (after tedious time spent finding the appropriate number). They suggested I ring Battersea Dog’s Home. I rang Battersea. This was roughly ten minutes after I’d picked the dog from road and the tax-driver was becoming anxious.
“I gotta kid to feed. Time is money,” he repeated.
Battersea Dog’s Home told me to take the animal to the nearest police station.
Twelve minutes later I was standing outside Lewisham Police Station, with a now walking dog (albeit extremely shakily) and five pound lighter for the taxi journey. I had used my belt as a make-shift lead, so my trousers were on the verge of falling down. I was forced to hold them up with one hand and the dog with the other.
Inside the reception, people (criminals) looked at me as if bringing a dog to a Police Station (with trousers half-down) was the stupidest thing someone could do.
I spoke to three policemen at three different windows. These windows were surrounded by a plastic cell in which you were locked to prevent you … running away mid-sentence, I guess. Each policeman asked how I had suffered my black eye.
Eventually a PC (who asked me if I didn’t have anything better to do in my life than pick up stray dogs) escorted me to a courtyard at the back of the station. The station was built like a fortress. High brick walls rose on three sides of its back yard. A set of twenty foot high black gates completed the square of imprisonment. Centre of courtyard (as if posed) was a policewoman. She had a blonde bob and was rather pretty for a pig. I noticed a baton strapped to her belt.
Looking at baton, I didn’t hear her opening question.
“It’s a dog,” I said, guessing at what she might have asked.
This was obviously an inappropriate answer to her question and she giggled. The PC that had led me to her, laughing, said:
“His name’s Kay Richardson,” before walking off.
“Me,” I said. “I’m Kay. Not the dog.”
“We’re going to take him over here,” said the policewoman, pointing at the back of a police van, seven metres behind. “Do we know his name?”
“No,” I said. “I have been calling him Dog.”
“Does he respond to that?”
She opened the back of the van.
The rear windows were protected by mesh. The black van interior was empty, bar a clown-face mask.
“I don’t know how that got in there,” WPC said. She extended an arm to fetch the mask. She offered it to me, but I refused. The dog looked up and wagged its tail. “I think he likes you,” said the policewoman.
She lifted Dog and placed him in the back of the van. The doors were shut. The last sight we saw were Dog’s large brown (yellow tint, of course) eyes looking mournfully out at us.
The policewoman explained that Dog was being placed in the van because Lewisham station cages had no locks and dogs easily escaped from them. Only last week the station had to be evacuated because of an outbreak of dogs. The policewoman needed to leave Dog to complete some paperwork. She needed to check whether any aged black
Labradors had been listed as missing that morning. She told me I was now free to go and I was definitely a good citizen.
And from the van came a low, despondent howl. This wasn’t no howl of a wolf. No, it was a Johnny Cash ‘Hurt’ Howl. It shivered through the listener and spoke of dark, woofy loneliness.
“How long does your paperwork take?” I asked.
“No more than ten minutes,” WPC replied.
“I’ll wait with him in the courtyard,” I told her.
I wasn’t allowed – regulations meant that dogs were forbidden from waiting in the courtyard. He’d have to stay in the back of the van.
Soon, I was sitting in back of a door-closed Police Van, knees about ears, stroking the chin of Dog. Dog seemed nice enough. And I’d surrendered enough of the morning that ten more minutes would make little difference.
Three hours later and I was still stroking Dog’s chin.
The sudden opening of van doors was a shock of bright light. I’d grown accustomed to the gloom. The daylight stung my eyes. By this point, I had almost consoled myself to death in the van with Dog. I had passed the time by wondering which part of Dog I would eat first, if I came to starve.
Outside stood WPC. Two policemen I didn’t recognise stood behind her. One was laughing with impunity. The other made slight effort to disguise his amusement with a hand over mouth. WPC wasn’t laughing. She knew I could well report this incident to the Police Complaints Committee. Unlawful imprisonment this was. Of Dog and me both.
“I’m so sorry. I had to rush off. There was a parrot emergency in Eltham. I was the only one trained to cope with it. I didn’t realise you couldn’t open the van door from the inside.” I didn’t let slip that I hadn’t tried. “There’s good news, though. We’ve located the owner of the dog. He lives in Lee. He’s called Wally. The owner’s coming to get him soon. I’m sure he’d like to thank you. You’re welcome to wait in my office.”
Hunchbacked and stiff, I banged my way out of van. The three police took a step back to accommodate my exit.
“How do I leave?” I asked. The laughing policeman pointed at the massive set of black gates. He continued to laugh. “Could you open them?”
I left the Police Station.
I walked the twenty minutes from Lewisham to Outer Blackheath. I had spent the only five pounds brought out on Dog’s cab. I had no money for bus nor nutrient neither.
It was a miserable journey, Reader.
And every step I took, I undertook never to be nice to old dogs again.