Opinion

When everything's gone to the dogs, Rishi Sunak could turn to man's best friend

Dogs have a way of getting to you. There's little in life that isn't made better by the company of one

Black and white image of springer spaniel under a large tree

The prime minister knows the benefit of time spent in canine company. Image: alancaldwell180 from Pixabay

I’m very taken by the story of Merlin – the dog, rather than the shape-shifting magician pal of Arthur. Though there is something magical about the dog. 

Merlin, a springer spaniel, went missing on New Year’s Day. He suffered a fit in his owner’s front garden in the village of Seaton in Cumbria and bolted. The frantic owner, Daniel Horsley, took to social media to ask for help to find him. He got quite a lot of help. Within hours over 100 people were involved in the search, bringing drones and heat-seeking cameras.

But even with more technology than normally deployed in a chase scene in Slow Horses, Merlin wasn’t found, through the day, or into the night. And then was. Or rather he wandered in, hours later, like a teenager who’d been out, with nobody you’d know, doing nothing, calm as you like.

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I can imagine David Horsley’s skyscraping joy and relief, and that’s not just because Merlin looks like my dog, Toastie, who, in case of doubt, is the greatest dog. Toastie is happily lying at my feet as I write this and shows no desire to bolt. Thankfully.

Dogs have a way of getting to you and getting to others too, even if the other doesn’t realise they could use a little something.

Frequently, when I have Toastie out for a walk, he’ll employ some curious dog ESP to read the person approaching from many yards away. And if something connects, or if there is something he detects, he’ll run up, see the person open a little, then he’ll lie down and wait to have his tummy rubbed. 

I apologise in the moment as I imagine for some this gentle invasion is annoying. But I’ve yet to see anybody not respond. And I’ve yet to see them walk off not smiling. Don’t panic if I see you out and you just want to be left alone. Toastie will sense that. We can pass with a nod and a “not a bad evening”.

I’ve come to realise that like time with great music, there is little that isn’t made better by time with a dog. 

Rishi Sunak has a dog. It’s a lovely looking lab retriever called Nova. While reports suggest it was his children who insisted on getting the dog, there is, as my daughter reminds me, no greater love than that for a dog by a man who roundly insisted to the family they were NEVER getting a dog.

And as I watch Sunak, that increasingly strained rictus grin, those responses to any questions being only the by-rote notes about how Labour would be worse, that inability to get anything done for the country as he fights weekly rebellions by his own self-serving MPs, I feel he needs more time with his dog. Nova won’t rebel. Nova will totally insist that he is making progress on his five points.

Nova will agree that facile culture war wedge issues are the way ahead and Nova will back his Rwanda policy. Nova will even tell him that those three-quarter zip neck tops he wears ALL THE TIME are fine, even though he’s not involved in professional sports coaching.

In fact, if he got special dispensation to take Nova up to the dispatch box for PMQs he’d be on to a winner. Every time Keir Starmer brought a difficult question, Sunak could look to Nova and say, “Look Nova, that bad man is being silly again” (in a curious talking to a dog voice) and the chamber would back him and the clips on socials would be on fire and his ratings would surge. Though maybe that necessary surge might be beyond the reach of even the greatest of dogs – Toastie is staying here with me. 

And besides it all, Rishi Sunak has the air of a man who wouldn’t be too disappointed spending more time zipping up his jumper and heading out to walk the dog. 

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter.

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