(From “the book they tried to ban”. My book, From Manor House Station to Gibson Square – and Back Again, will be published in a few weeks time. Here is a short excerpt from my Passengers chapter).
Not all our passengers are human, of course. We are obliged to accommodate assistance dogs, and we sometimes get asked to transport pampered pets, and take dogs to and from the park with their owners. Our mini-cab friends are always in trouble for refusing to carry assistance dogs. Refusing blind people’s dogs has been against the law for several years, and the guidelines have been well publicised – there’s even a poster up at the testing centre where taxi and mini-cab drivers take their vehicles for its annual licensing inspection. Never mind the legislation, I go the extra mile to promote equal opportunities for animals. I’m suspicious of such people who don’t like animals. I’ve never had a problem with animals in the cab, but I’ve had plenty of problems with people.
I welcome our furry friends in all areas of life. For me, a comfortable pub is one where you have to step over a sleeping dog to get to the bar, and where the irritable pub cat dares you to try to sit on his chair. I like the way that in France you can take your pet out to dinner as part of the family. I’ve yet to see a cat or rabbit sat at the dinner table, but I love to see a dog’s head emerge from a lady’s handbag. Those Frenchies are way ahead.
I always stop to pick up people with dogs, and they’re usually grateful as they obviously get refusals. A dog invariably settles straight down to enjoy the ride in quiet contemplation – as our human customers should do. I’ve never carried a dog that was loud and obnoxious through drink, has changed its mind where it wants to go, has criticised my route, has picked the rubber off the armrest, or has left pistachio shells all over the carpet.
I never had kids because I felt I was never earning enough money. I’m not especially keen on children anyway, and I certainly wouldn’t want any in the house. I prefer pets. Dogs are fine, but I prefer cats. Dogs are too conformist. Cats are free-thinking individuals, and I can relate to that. Tell a dog what to do, and it’ll do it without thinking. A cat shows a healthy disrespect for authority and will ignore you if it doesn’t like what’s being suggested, or stare you down in a challenging way. Badly behaved pets are the most entertaining. I like a pet I can have a fight with. It’s not all violence though: most cats have an affectionate side. They’re just discerning and cautious. They need to get to know you first.
Many people believe dogs are more intelligent than cats, but that’s only because cats are uncooperative. They’re difficult to test because they get bored and walk off. The cat is the only domestic pet that has total freedom to come and go as it pleases. Other pets must resent that. If you don’t feed him right, your faithful house-tiger will simply move next door. Fur Q. You know you are a good person if your pet doesn’t run away. The cat thinks of itself as the master and you as the pet. That’s fine: let them think they’re the boss and they’re happy. I have a cat and I have a rabbit. Rabbits are pretty mad too.
My strangest cab job involving an animal happened in 2014 after responding to an account call in Soho. I waited a fair time until a woman got in with a dog. She sent me to Barking Bettys in Battersea (“Grooming for the Urban Dog”). The lady asked me to wait 20 minutes, then take them back to Soho. Parking wasn’t a problem in Battersea, so I was happy to do so. She took the woofer to Betty’s, then returned to say it would take an hour. The woman sat in the cab while doggie was pampered, and the clock ticked over 20p every few seconds.
The pampering took even longer than anticipated and the lady decided she needed the loo. She found a café to use, though I thought afterwards that she could have used a litter tray at Barking Betty’s.
In the end I waited 2 ¾ hours, but we got back to Soho quickly and everyone was happy. God knows who the account holder was, but it cost them £164 (plus automatic tip). The dog looked clean and happy, clearly oblivious to the expense involved. I’m not sure who was the most barking that day.