Despite the fact that many Londoners live in overpriced, minute flats no larger than a dog kennel, they share their tiny spaces with various furry friends. Cats, dogs, bunnies, guinea pigs - many of them are as much citizens of London as their owners. From time to time one spots a cat, wandering casually along a wall, watching city mice in hedges. They do not roam too far from their homes however, and are thus a less common sight in the middle of the city than dogs.
Tiny ratty dogs with paws as soft and manicured as the hands which carry them in Louis Vuitton bags from the boutiques of Sloane Street to fancy luncheons at overpriced restaurants where their owners order them perfect steak and mineral water. Huge shaggy lion-hunters lope through grassy parks and down city centre pavements alike. In the past week I have spotted two serious suit-clad city chaps on public transport making a great deal of fuss over their beloved canines, lavishing unlikely kisses on their furry heads.
But dogs are not merely accessories to us frantic Londoners. Often looking into the folds of a grubby sleeping bag tucked around one of the city's homeless citizens, one can spot a damp nose, or a set of horny claws. A guarding, hot water bottle on cold, outdoor nights. Someone to talk to as thousands of people pass by unnoticing. And for some, one wonders sceptically, an appealing lure for donations to the destitute?
Taking my new bus to work along Park Lane I cannot bear to look at the heartbreaking memorial to all those animals who have died during wars, in the service of our armed forces. A pair of poor loaded mules, one with its head towards the ground, the other desperately forcing its neck upwards, plod towards a blank wall with a narrow gap in the middle. On the other side a barebacked horse, free of guns and packs, heads joyfully away from them. But waiting just the other side of the wall is a dog, turning away from freedom and back towards his fellow animal soldiers; "Come on! I'm waiting for you."
No one waits much in a city, and very few people think about others as much as they probably should. Once a dog loves you he loves you forever. Unlike people, dogs do not tire of loving the same person; they never run off with a younger, more exciting owner. They are endlessly faithful, deeply patient, companions to the lonely, and guardians to the scared. And living a busy, yet sometimes isolating, city life, there can be nothing more comforting to come home to. (Except maybe a cat. But they are a whole different matter...)