Don't Mind Me: World leaders have gone to the dogs

Patricia Feehily

Reporter:

Patricia Feehily

THESE, dear reader, are the dog days in Irish politics – predictable, unexciting, pompous and drearily smug. I much preferred it when we were a bit more whimsical, less sure of our moral superiority and liable to shock even ourselves every now and again. But these are the dog days and there is little I can do about it except grin and bear the tedium. Even the prospect of a general election wouldn’t excite me now because of the tiresome inexorability of the process.

These are the dog days in every meaning of the phrase. Every male politician worth his salt, here and abroad, must now be pictured with his dog. Otherwise, how can we trust his humanity? Women leaders, by the same token, are not subject to this kind of scrutiny, although the Queen and her corgis do make a pretty picture. Teresa May would look ridiculous, photographed with her dog.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, needs to get a dog fast if he wants to project the right image before he runs for office again. I’m told that Donald doesn’t like dogs, but he, more than anyone, should realise by now that a picture tells a thousand words. Even the once invincible Emmanuel Macron has just acquired a rescue dog – just when it looks as if he needs rescuing himself.

All this is terribly disquieting for a cat-lover like me. I have to go all the way back to Cleopatra to find a world leader who was pictured with her cats, although I do believe that Woodrow Wilson appeared with a cat on his lap several times while he was implementing a new world order. Bill Clinton had a cat called ‘Socks’, but it was his dog ‘Buddy’ who got all the attention and when the two pets declared all-out war on each other, ‘Socks’ was the one who had to leave the White House.

All this wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that the dog is no longer just man’s best friend but is fast becoming a political force in this country. Now I don’t want to be harking on about our own President’s two adorable Bernese dogs, but I think they might have skewed the election results simply by being so cuddly and photogenic. They gave their owner an unfair advantage in the race, I think. How could anyone even contemplate kicking them out of their cosy kennels in the Árus? Dogs, I say, should be banned from all election literature and publicity.

It can’t be easy, of course, running the affairs of State without a dog at your side. Churchill mightn’t have made it through the war without having his dog ‘Nelson’ to turn to when he was stressed, and he mightn’t even have made it to Downing Street in the first place if he hadn’t been pictured with his dog hundreds of times throughout his political career. Is there something about owning a dog that makes one more humane and compassionate in the eyes of the world?

Barrack Obama got a dog for his daughters after first being elected and found the animal such a powerful political ally that he went off and got another one. One of his predecessors, Roosevelt, wouldn’t go anywhere without his Scottish terrier ‘Fala’. The unfortunate ‘Fala’ got left behind once after a presidential visit to the Aleutian Islands, and his owner risked the ire of the American taxpayers by sending a US Navy Destroyer to bring him home. Peter Casey would have had a field day!

I don’t know if Leo Varadkar has a dog, but he has been pictured stroking the ‘first dogs’, Brod and Shadow, during a visit to the Árus. At least it shows that he’s not afraid of dogs. The last dog I stroked - in a gesture of goodwill to the owner, by the way - turned on me with a hostile growl. The owner was suitably mortified.

The whole scenario was beginning to get me down until I opened a newspaper at the week-end to find an interview with the inimitable Michael Healy Rae. There he was pictured with his cat and I have to say, it changed my whole perception of the Kerry TD. There aren’t many politicians out there who are brave enough to be pictured with a cat nowadays. The last one, as far as I know, was Abraham Lincoln who had several feline pets.

True, cats do not perform for the camera, apart from projecting a look of delightful disdain and contempt that would unsettle any voter. To be honest, I can’t imagine a cat lover ever again making it to the Árus not to talk of the White House.

As I said, we’re in the dog days politically speaking, and all some of us can do is howl at the moon.