Dogs on Trains


Have you ever shared the quiet coach on the train with a dog? I did last Friday. I don’t really “do” dogs, so I have no idea what species or breed it was. It was quite large and yellow-ish with floppy ears. Does that help? It was – to be fair, and unlike most dogs I have met – quite calm and quiet. Maybe it was sedated. It didn’t bark, play loud music or talk unnecessarily loudly on its mobile. So no need to reprimand it for any of those misdemeanors.

A dog on a train does however present a dilemma to its custodians. In this case there were three of them – none of them particularly wanting to take control of the situation. Their dilemma was where to put the dog on the train. Personally I would have gone for (a) not on the train or (b) the luggage area.

But no, they seemed determined to keep it in close proximity. They also seemed to think it was not allowed to sit on a seat. Either that or they didn’t want to be covered in hairs or they didn’t think it would be comfortable in the required upright posture. I had a quick vision of the animal tapping away on its laptop with its paws, iPod tucked under its (floppy) ears and its ticket tucked in its collar for ease of access (in the absence of a top pocket).

Don’t be daft I thought – dogs don’t get issued tickets. Which is probably why the custodians didn’t think it should have a seat. Having said that, they did, at various times, man-handle/dog-handle it into a seat, but the very physical posture and size of the thing meant it nearly always ended up wrestling with the lucky person sat next to it. I realised how extraordinarily difficult it is to position an animal.

Having said that – positioning a dog on a railway seat is nothing compared with getting a cat into a small bag. I can say that from bitter experience. My father and I once had to take our cat to the vet in the car. So we decided to find an old zipped shopping bag, a little larger than the cat and drop it inside. When confronted with the prospect of enclosure a cat can adopt a surprising variety of shapes and angles incompatible with being put in a bag. At the same time there is suddenly an impossible absence of anything to grab hold of. Some sort of defence mechanism I guess.

And boy can a cat scream and scratch. We tried putting food inside the bag. The animal treated this attempt with the disdain it deserved. In the end we contented ourselves with simply getting the cat into the car – an achievement in itself – and allowing it free roaming rights. The highway code is silent on the issue, but driving with a cat in the car is reasonably distracting and not recommended.

But I digress. Back from cats in cars to dogs on trains.

The dog is now – inevitably – positioned in the narrow aisle between me and its custodians. Throughout all of this exercise I am keeping a dignified silence, determined not to look at the dog or show any interest. In my experience the slightest glimmer of interest in a dog precipitates yelping, wild jumping up and a horrible, slathering tongue. And that’s just me.

I’m sorry if this offends, but I really don’t like dogs or understand their purpose. I will grant you guide dogs and those which pull sledges, but I don’t really see the point of the rest of them. Having said that I bore this one no malice – it didn’t choose to be a dog and nor do I suspect did it choose to be on the train. So I made no fuss for or against the animal, despite the tap tap tap of its metronomic tail on my right leg and the slight concern about hairs on my suits. From Leamington Spa to Coventry we enjoyed a reasonably acceptable armistice – it was quiet and largely still. And so was I.

This is until the arrival of the tea-trolley. Whilst there is a little more room for a refreshments trolley on a train than on a plane, it is not designed to negotiate dogs. In theory a dog-tolerant tea-trolley could be designed. On approaching a dog, or any other large obstacle, it could elevate itself up to provide sufficient clearance (in the manner of the Professor Pat Pending’s convertible for Whacky Races fans). There could even be different settings for different sizes of obstacles. Some better form of restraint might be required for the biscuits – although if a few fell off in the process the dog would no doubt hoover them up reasonably efficiently.

Alas – until this invention is brought to market (Dragons Den here I come) the only solution is to have the dog walk to the end of the carriage and tuck itself up against the wall ready for the trolley to continue its journey south. I’d have suggested the animal took this opportunity to use the facilities, but I doubt it could have operated the sliding doors of the toilet. Humans struggle with this. Only today the door opened randomly on a guy in the half-way position of doing what he was doing thinking the door was locked (note: you need to hit the LOCK button before you unzip or sit down).

This challenge of course is a variant of the more familiar aeroplane trolley challenge. How do I get to the toilet when there is a slow trolley in the way? There are a number of geometrical formulae which allow us to address this – maybe a one for another day. But I bet you some of you are already drawing it out…

So back on the train. Dog to end of carriage, tea-trolley dispenses tea, tea-trolley to end of carriage, tea-trolley passes dog, dog grabs a sandwich, dog returns to seat, dog dumped off seat and returned to aisle, dog resumes leg tapping. Equilibrium is restored.

The animal got up as the train drew into Birmingham New Street – accompanied by its hesitant custodians. Then the custodians returned to the seat without the dog. I have no real concern for dogs, but in a moment of weakness I did rather hope it was trained on how to use the escalator. I must be weakening.

  13 comments for “Dogs on Trains

  1. ejr
    January 11, 2012 at 8:15 am

    The most telling aspect of this piece is the use of the word ‘custodian’ where most of us would use ‘owner’. On reflection, ‘custodian’ implies a much nicer relationship between man and dog than ‘owner’ does.

  2. January 11, 2012 at 10:56 am

    When you say that dogs should a) not be on the train or b) the luggage area – you weren’t suggesting putting the dog in the overhead luggage compartment were you? Surely that would have been as difficult as getting the cat in the bag?

    An excellent post – once again.

  3. January 11, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    I was in the carriage with you as I read this – and laughed out loud (OK, laughed quietly) at the picture of the dog and the trolley. The cat in the bag made me laugh too – but then it was also my cat, and I had a vivid memory of another time when it was actually in the bag with its head sticking out at the end of the zip, risking strangulation as it desperately tried to escape…… E x

  4. January 15, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    ejr – they normally say that dogs have owners, cats have staff . . . so looks like you caught me out being kind to a dog. hmmmmm.

    Neil – yes overhead would be best. Dogs are compliant – so that shouldn’t be a problem. Just chuck a stick up there . . .

    E – indeed ! I remember that – what an ignominy for our cat – please check the photographic records !

    . . . . . a friend of mine has threatened to write back in defence of canines. . . so watch out . . . .

  5. February 4, 2012 at 7:52 pm

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