I am feeling guilty that I left my dog to die in a hot car and everyone in the supermarket knows it as they read my licence plate out in a censorious tone.
I didn’t go to the customer service desk to waste time receiving a lecture: he really would have died if I had. I had already calculated that it would take me at most eight minutes to get round the milk bay and the dogfood aisle and out again; whereas the dog would have had about 40 minutes at 28 degrees C before hyperthermia and death from dehydration set in.
I had been down the coast for lunch with my ex-family and their new people. It was a roasting hot day. I thoughtfully didn’t take the dog because I did not know what we would be doing or what conditions I might have to leave him in, maybe even in the car. Instead, I left him at home, with the garden door open and plenty of water. After I got back, he was desperate to be taken out, so I took him for a 40-minute walk on the beach, and stopped off at the supermarket on the way home. It was about five o’clock. I parked carefully under the shade of a tree, in the lee of a tall van that wasn’t there when I got back (Oho, a van was it, you say, Sir… any colour in particular?).
But I didn’t leave a window open for him.
My reasons for not leaving a window open were threefold: a) it would have invalidated the insurance if the car had been damaged or stolen, and the dog might have been lost or harmed; b) in that airless heat an open window open just enough to admit some air but not enough to allow the dog to escape would have made little difference anyway, and c) whenever I leave a window open with the dog in the car, the alarm goes off after I have walked 200 yards, adding 600 yards to my journey. I know, you’re supposed to lock it with the physical key not the electronic one, and then it doesn’t go off if you leave a window open, but with my car it goes off anyway, so.
I reasoned that leaving a window open could only make the situation worse: time was of the essence, and a quick in-and-out posed less risk to the dog than any other course of action. Why would I want to harm my dog, my only friend? I love him to bits, and he loves me, in his doggy way. Why don’t car makers, especially ones in hot countries, make it possible to keep the cool air blower running for a while with the engine off and the key out? You’d think that would be a no-brainer in Torino.
In this weather, people like to take it on themselves to report evildoers who leave dogs to die in hot cars to the authorities, so that we can be lectured and sanctioned and punished. As far as they were concerned I had acted thoughtlessly, stupidly, out of brute ignorance or fashionable disdain; because of not knowing, as they properly do, that dogs die in hot cars. But I hadn’t done that. Instead, I had thought very carefully about it, and all the alternatives, before acting in everyone’s best interests; even of those of the people who like to report evildoers, as now they have had the opportunity to feel good about themselves.
I always think very deeply and carefully before acting, especially when my actions might be seen as transgressive: weigh-up the risks, the options, the probabilities, the likely outcomes — the possible recriminations. Yet people who instinctively know best and who act from fixed positions learned from lurid newspaper stories always imagine the worst of me. They do not ask themselves how I have survived mostly unscathed for 62 years, had several careers and brought-up two nice children; how I come to own a nice car and work in a university; or ask how come I have never yet left a dog to die in a hot car, however frustratingly slow the queue and unhelpful the housewife in front, shopping for her huge family.
All my previous dogs have died too early, not in hot cars, but from painful and undignified degenerative diseases, which I put down to the stress of living on human neurosis and a diet of tinned food; which is why I feed my dog fresh meat every night, bought at great expense from the supermarket, even on the hottest days. Sometimes they don’t have any offal-meat on the shelf and I feed him diced steak.
Surely it’s worth putting up with the occasional discomfort, to be owned by me?