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The Baying of the Hounds

Headspace: How the state is leading us by the nose

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I did an internet search on the Stasi. Rumours abounded about its former head being hired by the US Homeland Security Department. The Homeland Security Department is the US equivalent of the UK's Home Office. The Department's activities since its establishment shortly after 9/11 have been controversial and it has been criticised for attempting to turn the US population into a network of spies. I had a vague recollection of Wernher von Braun, the Nazi rocket scientist subsequently taken on by the US to develop weapons of war. Perhaps they were recruiting experts in controlling internal populations for the war on terror.

I started talking to everyone I met about sniffer dogs. Almost everyone had their own story. The topic was so absurd it even worked, I thought, as a method for chatting up men. I started to chase a ridiculously handsome civil liberties campaigner called Tom, with whom I had shared an animated pub conversation about police dogs. We met for a drink and weren't able to re-capture the energy of our first conversation. I got very drunk and the date, if that's what it was, ended with him carrying me home while I vomited over his shoulder. I was too embarrassed for a long time after that to contact him again. I wouldn't hear anything from him and then out of the blue my phone would ping and a text from him would read: "Guardian. Page 5. Good doggy story xxx". It slowly dawned on me that I had trained this man to think of me every time he saw a dog; not the best pick-up trick in the book.

A barrister friend of mine was representing a man charged under the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1874 for allegedly hitting a sniffer dog on the nose. Proof that the dog had been injured was the dog handler's evidence that the dog had yelped. There was scope for some decent cross-examination there.

A man I met in a club was leaning against the wall of WHSmith in Victoria station when a dog came and sat next to him. The dog's owner, a policeman, approached him and told him he was lucky his dog was still in training for passive drug detection duties, otherwise he would have had to search him. Passive drug detection, I was later to learn, was the latest fashion in dog training. Instead of barking at its suspect, the dog was trained to sit down next to them.

A Big Issue vendor told me his life was destroyed by a sniffer dog. Homeless and fleeing drug addiction in London, he was boarding a train to his parents' house when a sniffer dog barked loudly at him. The police came running over and asked him for his details. They looked him up, found out he had outstanding warrants, hauled him off the train and locked him up. He was unable to fathom the scent that had alerted the dog to him.

A friend and heavy cannabis smoker had been stopped every morning on his way to work by barking dogs and dog handlers asserting a right to search him at Seven Sisters station. On the twelfth occasion he objected, complaining they made him late for work and they should know by now that he never had anything on him. The dogs continued to bark and the officers persisted in searching him on a daily basis. Eventually he contacted a solicitor. The solicitor wrote to the police and the searches stopped.

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