Greater minds than my own advised me against my sartorial choice of the high-visibility jacket. My decision was finally made, however, the other evening after a conversation with my good friend Eddie the Rottweiler, who (coincidentally) lives just across the road from me. It was a delightfully warm evening. Children were playing on the green and I spotted Eddie lying in his front garden, relaxing in the setting sunshine whilst his owner enjoyed a cigarette. Despite the lurking proximity of evil nemesis Peaches, I ambled over to sit with him.
"Good evening Edward!" I hailed him.
"Jasper, my dear boy! How are you?" he responded, thumping his tail vigorously on the ground.
"Extremely well, thanks Ed. How're you? How's Angus?" (Angus being another Rottweiler and Eddie's long-term gentleman-friend).
"Both on excellent terms, I thank you. Come and sit with me for a while." I was glad to accept the invitation, and sat beside him, watching the children play on the green, the setting sun lengthening their shadows. The warm sunlight felt nice on my whiskers.
After a companionable silence, during which it didn't escape me that Peaches had edged nearer to us, I told my friend about the Staffie in the fluorescent jacket and my desire for a similar item.
"Oh, dear lord, no." said Eddie, shaking his mighty head. "Honestly, you and Angus are peas in a pod. I don't understand either one of you."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you both have such finely-toned physiques and well-developed, muscular frames. Why ever would you want to cover them up with jackets? No, no, no. What you need, dear boy, is a good, hand-stitched, silk cravat. It is positively criminal to cover up such well-formed bodies and deny the rest of the world the pleasure of looking at you."
"I do wear my 'Bullseye' neckerchief from time to time."
"Indeed. And it becomes you well."
"And I did once wear a black bow-tie to a dinner party. One of the other guests said I looked 'rakish'."
"I'll bet you did, you sly devil." grinned Eddie, winking at me. I grinned back.
"Angus received some ghastly chequered coat-type affair for Christmas last." continued Eddie, with obvious disdain. "I took one look at it and vetoed it immediately. It made his hips look fat. I mean, I am no Gok Wan, but jackets combined with Angus's hips are a definite no-no. I told him that I would refuse to be seen in public with him if he was going to turn into one of those fat old fairies."
I smiled to myself. Poor old Angus. He and Eddie bickered endlessly, but there was so much affection between the pair that I almost envied them. In fact, theirs was the only long-term partnership between canines that I knew of, besides myself and my principal wife Isolde...
"I DO want an England shirt to wear to the pub for the football World Cup matches, though." I confessed.
"Well, of course you do, darling." replied Eddie. "You're only canine after all."
Frowning, I muttered to Edward that the foul Peaches had edged ever-closer. He turned to verify this, and then looked back at me, rolling his eyes sky-wards.
"Urrrhhh..." he groaned. "That wretched little scrote. Did you know, he slapped poor Oliver across the face last week?"
'Poor Oliver' is a black cat, who shares the house at the end of my row with Archie the Jack Russell. Oliver is quite a nice, good-humoured chap, as cats go. He only has three legs - one of his rear limbs having been lost in a road accident. He refuses to allow his disability to affect his enjoyment of life, which has earned him the respect of all his neighbours, both feline and canine. If I hadn't caught him torturing a pigeon last summer, I could even have liked him. However, I was genuinely sorry to learn that he had been a recent victim of Peaches' bullying.
"Well, why does he always seem to hang around you, Eddie?" I queried. "I mean, he seems to lurk around me a fair bit - but wherever YOU go, Peaches is never too far behind."
Eddie shook his head.
"G-d only knows." he replied, shaking his mighty head. "Because I don't. Darling, he's like a fart in a sleeping bag - whichever way I turn; he just won't go away."
I laughed at Eddie's description - after a moment or two, the big Rottweiler joined in. Good old Ed.
It struck me then, as it strikes me now. Listen to the accounts from survivors of any tragedy: September 11 2001; December 26 2004; July 7 2005; August 23 - 30 2005. One thing is common. It started out as just another day. Sunshine, routine, basic normality. Before it all changed forever.
That morning, back then, I was secure with my place in the world. I was Pack Leader. Kipper's chosen inheritor. Loved by humans, respected and worshipped by dogs.
And then, for the second time in my life, my entire world spun on its axis.
I had breakfasted well, had been exercised with Mouse (during which time we discussed the increasing excitement within the bitches' block about the imminent selection, by Miss Smart, of a particularly special dog for a much-admired, prominent person), and returned to my newly-cleaned.pen at almost exactly my preferred nap-time.
Just as I was settling down to snooze, there was much bustle in my corridor. Opening one irritated eye, I saw Dave and Miss Smart in front of my pen. After an hurried dialogue between the two, my pen door was unlocked.
"Oh, for f*cks' SAKE!" I muttered, irritably, to myself. I grasped my blanket tightly, hoping to indicate that I wished not to be disturbed.
Not so, alas.
A new-smelling leather lead was clipped to my collar. I was hauled unceremoniously out of my bed, dragged reluctantly along the corridor, and ushered unwillingly through the Door of Doors - banging my snout against the lower door-bolt in the process.
In the reception area, standing almost as if waiting to greet me, stood a young woman with another lady. The similarity of jaw-line and cheekbone-structure told me that the two were mother and daughter.
The younger woman and I cautiously regarded each other. She looked kind, accommodating, and well-mannered.
That barked, it was immediately clear - almost in the same instant - to both of us.
I hated the very sight of her. And she - with a look of positive revulsion - hated the very sight of me. And that was that. Nothing more to be barked.