We all know about tug-of-love cases. They are often the most harrowing matters that the courts have to decide, with warring parents pitched in a battle that will inescapably leave one or more people unhappy at the end of it. Those cases are about children, but now, with the remarkable litigation unfolding over Bailey the sausage dog, we see a whole new dimension to this sort of case. Bailey is a sausage dog who was given away by his owners when he bit their grandchild. Now they’ve changed their minds and want him back. The new owners say no.
So off the former owners go to court in an attempt to get their sausage dog back. Should they succeed? The legal issues seem quite straightforward. If you give something away, you usually cannot get it back. Like most people, I learned that lesson when I was about five. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but it is one that we all manage to take on board. There is nothing you can do about it: the thing is gone and you have to accept it. And the lesson should last well into adult life. A couple of years ago, my wife and I gave the daughter of a friend a tea-set as a wedding present. We have some of the same china ourselves and would love to have it back. But we cannot. We have to grin and bear it.
Are sausage dogs any different? The answer to that is not entirely simple. Sausage dogs are special: they are not tea-sets. There are special rules for sausage dogs, as I found out when I wrote a book about them some years back. The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs was intended to be an uncomplicated humorous story about a German professor who has a sausage dog called Walter. That’s what I thought it was, but I soon discovered that people who have sausage dogs are special. That’s why I’m not in the slightest bit surprised to see that if there’s going to be a custody battle about a dog then it’s going to be a sausage dog at the centre of it.
The sausage dog in my book has a most unfortunate experience. As a result of a chapter of unfortunate misunderstandings, the dog loses three of its legs. This results in its being fitted with a set of wheels that allows it to propel itself along with its surviving leg. This is not an uncommon solution for sausage dogs that lose a leg or two: their shape is ideally suited to the strapping on of elaborate undercarriage arrangements.
I had no idea when I wrote the book that I would be entering the realms of sausage dog controversy. There were numerous protests from readers in the sausage dog lobby who took the view that the book was cruel. “But it’s fiction,” I protested. “No real sausage dogs were hurt in the writing of the book.” That was no excuse as far as they were concerned. Even the imposition of fictional suffering on a sausage dog was, they said, unacceptable.
The book’s title led to all sorts of difficulties. On one occasion, when I was doing a book signing in the United States, a reader came up to me and said brightly, ‘This is the ideal book for my aunt – she loves sausage dogs! Please sign it to her.” Should I have told her about Walter’s fate? Probably. Yet the barricades in this life are never in the right place, and I signed the book without saying anything.
But what is so special about sausage dogs that will drive people to the extremes of litigation? They are undoubtedly very special dogs. As a boy I had two sausage dogs – a large one and a small one. The large one was loyal, persevering, and not very bright. The small one was intelligent, sleek, and enthusiastically aquatic. Sausage dogs, given half the chance, are rather like seals. When they swim, they can easily be mistaken for a small seal. For those of us who would secretly like to own a seal – and we are many – a sausage dog is a realistic alternative. Seals are difficult pets to keep: they require a large tank and a constant supply of fish – both of which are often difficult to arrange. I always advise friends thinking of keeping a seal to choose a sausage dog instead – it’s the only way, I say.
Sausage dogs are also very useful for those learning German. Some people find that keeping a German au pair is a useful way of practising their German, but for those who find sharing their house with a large-boned German girl with blond hair tied in plaits somewhat daunting, the sausage dog is an acceptable alternative. Sausage dogs are very happy to be addressed in German, and recent research has established that they understand German words of command far better than they understand English. They are also best given German names: Fritz is by far the commonest name for sausage dogs in the United Kingdom even if Fritz is not a name that is any longer used by any self-respecting German. Indeed, more recent research has now established that there are actually no Germans called Fritz any more. Other popular names for sausage dogs are Salami (for obvious reasons), Wurstie, Hans and Otto. All sausage dogs appreciate these names and will bark with approbation when one of these names is called out.
It is not just the emotional satisfaction of having a sausage dog that can be so fulfilling: sausage dogs are also very useful for clearing drains. The latest sausage dogs are indeed now bred to a size that corresponds to the new standard European Union drain pipe, and can be sent down such pipes to deal with any obstruction. A rope tied to their tail enables one to pull them out afterwards – an important thing to remember when using them for these purposes.
All of this enables one to understand this unseemly argument about the ownership of Bailey, the sausage dog at the centre of the case. The courts will no doubt come up with the right decision, and will, as in all custody cases, give great weight to the issue of what is in the best interests of the sausage dog in question. In my view he would be happier in Germany, but that’s not the point.
One cannot expect judges these days to be versed in biblical wisdom, but the answer is possibly to be found there. Remember Solomon? Remember the baby? Solomon suggested that the baby at the centre of the tug-of-love be cut in half: that revealed exactly who was the real parent. So why not do that with Bailey? Why not bring into court one of those wicked-looking sausage slicing machines? That will produce a conclusive result. Why not? The wisdom of Solomon.