The sign in the photograph above is shiny new. It appeared this week on the gate that allows access to one of the public footpaths that that lead to the 277 Low Moor Allotments among which ours is to be found. The silhouette of the German Shepherd dog on the sign transported me instantly back to anti-apartheid protests and the myriad of guard-dog warning signs currently to be found decorating so many garden gates and walls in the suburbs of towns and cities in South Africa (including, intriguingly, the wall of the Fish Hoek police station). Wondering who or what x9k9 might be, I resorted, as one does, to Google. As expected, it is a security company whose website, rather more unexpectedly, offers a link to MI-5 and tells me in a flurry of acronyms worthy of a University policy document that: ‘All x9k9’s dogs and handlers undergo licencing from independent ACPO instructors as well as NTIPDU, NASDU or BIPDT examiners. The quality and professionalism of our protection and detection dogs and handlers remains at the forefront of our commitment to all our clients and ensures a complete, second to none service you will find hard to beat.’
Mulling over precisely how one would distinguish between ‘professional’ guard or sniffer dogs and amateur ones distracted me for a while from pondering over the x9 part of the title once the doggy dimension of k9 had become apparent. When I got round to Googling ‘x9’ I was offered an impressive range of things to buy – from John Deere combine harvesters, to mountain bikes, to rugby boots, to electric golf carts, to tickets for the X9 bus company, (none of which I need right now) – but I remain none the wiser. I am also puzzled as to precisely how useful dog patrols are likely to be to our allotment holders, unless the German Shepherds are ace rat-hunters – which would be very welcome.
The reason for the erection of the new signs at the entrances to the allotments is that the occasional bout of vandalism that has plagued the allotment site over the years has become a bit of a surge over the past few months. A group, or possibly groups, of youths have been getting together after dark to socialise on some of the less well maintained allotments whose bushes provide cover for their activities. Over the same period the locks on more than 30 allotment sheds have been cut off, some tools have been stolen and some items of garden furniture have been purloined, not necessarily by the burglars, for use at the gatherings. One of the allotment holders had his shed burned down as the penalty for having had the temerity to remonstrate with one group. Thus far, I’m pleased to say, our allotment has not been affected: it is right on the main path (as I mentioned in my entry on May 20th); I have avoided replacing the gate since it disintegrated; and the shed doesn’t look as if it has ever had a door or would be likely to house anything worth stealing. In fact the only impact I’ve felt has been from the bombardment of well over 150 messages from members of the ‘Allotment watch’ WhatsApp group over the past couple of weeks.
I sympathise greatly with fellow allotment holders who have had their sheds damaged and their tools stolen. But dog patrols? Really? The breakages and thefts are obviously wholly unjustifiable, but if I am feeling the frustrations of lockdown-induced cabin fever how much more desperate are teenagers likely to be feeling. No school or college; no organised sport of any sort; no clubs to go to; no opportunities to meet their friends. And they will be all too well aware that their own chances of getting Covid and being seriously ill are minimal. So a huge amount is being asked of them by way of altruism. This has been the case for a year now, on and off, and for a 17-year old that is, relatively speaking, more than four times as long as it is for someone who is over 70, who will in most instances be self-isolating from Covid infection for selfish (not intended in any pejorative sense) rather than altruistic reasons. We certainly don’t need breakages, arson and theft on the allotments, but do we really need weaponised dogs? The occasional police patrol wandering around the allotments would be enough, but a decade of austerity has cut police numbers too drastically for that. The National Association of Security Dog Users (the ‘NASDU’ of the quotation from the x9k9 website) will have trained their German Shepherds to catch people, not rats. Anyone who has been anywhere near the business end of a German Shepherd straining at the leash to get a piece of a protest marcher is likely to consider their addition to the wildlife on the allotments as going a good few steps too far.