Readers may recall that the Young family welcomed a new addition to the household about two years ago: a Hungarian Vizsla named Leo. He turned out to be incredibly high-maintenance. He demanded to be walked twice a day and invariably did something unspeakable, such as rolling around in fox excrement — or, worse, start eating it. Even after running the length and breadth of Richmond Park he would still have enough energy to tear around the house like a Tasmanian Devil, leaving havoc in his wake. I was delighted, obviously. I hoped he’d be an inexhaustible source of material for this column.
Then Leo did something really bad and the first thing Caroline said before she told me about it was: ‘You can’t write about this in The Spectator.’ After a moment’s pause, she added: ‘In fact, don’t write about him ever again.’ So I have been unable to tell the story of what happened to Leo — until now. A year later Caroline has finally relented.
On 14 December 2016, at around 9.30 a.m., an Amazon delivery man rang our bell. Caroline opened the door just wide enough to receive the package, but this precaution was not enough. Leo managed to squeeze his body through the crack and then ran, full pelt, towards another delivery man, this one dropping off an Ocado shop. Leo, perhaps thinking he was being protective, bit him on the leg. Nothing too serious, just a little nip. But the man was understandably upset — no doubt having to worry about aggressive dogs is the worst part of his job.
He called the police and when they turned up and examined him their initial response was that it was nothing. They left, but then returned half an hour later and told Caroline they would have to take Leo away for ‘an assessment’. So off he went in the back of the van.
When the children got home from school they were horrified. I rang the number the police had given Caroline to find out which pound he’d been taken to, but was told the police now had a ‘policy’ of not disclosing this on account of the number of dog owners who’d tried to break their pets out. It was a case of don’t call us, we’ll call you.
So we waited. And waited. And waited. I foolishly told the children Leo would be home for Christmas, but he wasn’t. Indeed, the police didn’t contact us again until the end of January and that wasn’t to return Leo, but to arrange a formal interview with Caroline at the station. It turned out they were thinking of charging her under the Dangerous Dogs Act on the grounds that Leo was out of control when she was supposed to be in charge of him. This was turning into a nightmare.
In the end, Caroline only received a caution because it was a first offence and the man wasn’t seriously injured. But we then had to make a decision about whether we wanted Leo back. He’d passed his assessment — he wasn’t deemed to be dangerous —but what if he bit someone else when Caroline was with him in the park?
If your dog injures someone while he’s out of control, you can be sentenced to five years in jail — not unheard of if it’s a second offence. And Leo would almost certainly be destroyed.
Could we risk that? We considered sending him away to be properly trained, but that wasn’t a guarantee he’d never bite anyone again. After much prevaricating, we decided we had better find him another home.
Luckily, my cousin Lucinda happened to know a Vizsla breeder in Wiltshire called Mark who was prepared to take him off our hands. He lived on a large farm with lots of space to run around in, and his partner was a vet. It could not have been more ideal and we comforted ourselves that Leo would be much happier there. We arranged for the handover to take place outside the police station.
The hardest part was telling the children. We agonised about what to say – should we tell them the police had re-housed him? – but in the end plumped for the truth. Bad idea. For weeks afterwards, they told us what terrible people we were. Then Mark sent us a video of Leo bounding around with some other Vizslas and we were able to persuade them that we’d made the right decision. I hope we did.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.