Travelling around Italy and now France, one of the first things one
notices is the dogs. People indulge them in a way we’re just not used
to in Australia. And they take them everywhere: sometimes on leads,
often not, sometimes just carried; in hotels, restaurants, trains,
shops of all sorts.

But the striking thing is how well-behaved they are. You rarely even
hear one barking; I’d been in Italy for days before I saw two dogs have
a snarling match, and I’m yet to see a real fight.

For example, on Monday I spent an hour and a half on a bus up the Rhone
Valley to Lyon. The lady sitting opposite me was accompanied by a large
Alsatian. It had a piece of rope around its neck as a makeshift leash,
but no other sort of restraint, and it spent the trip quite contentedly
sprawled under her seat. No-one seemed to regard this as anything out
of the ordinary.

The prophets of European decline will respond that the status of dogs
is a function of the declining birthrate: people are having fewer
children, and lavishing their attention on animals instead. But it’s
not obvious why that should be regarded as a problem. It’s a lifestyle
choice that people make, and presumably they have their own reasons for
it. If European governments want higher populations, there’s certainly
no shortage of potential immigrants wanting to come here.

Incidentally, children seem to be heavily indulged as well, and it has
much the same effect as it does on the dogs: they behave well.

Of course it doesn’t always work, but it’s a good rule of thumb to
start with: treat people (or animals) well, and they respond
accordingly. The best cure for the excesses of freedom or democracy is
usually more freedom and democracy, not less. As Macaulay said, if
people “are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in
slavery, they may indeed wait for ever”.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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