A silly question which often crops up on social media is: ”Are you a dog or a cat person?” Why can’t you be both? It’s the same as that equally silly music-related saying back in the day: you couldn’t like the Stones AND the Beatles; it had to be one or the other. Why? I’m proud of my broad, eclectic musical tastes and happily admit to liking both. Anyway. Back to dogs. (Sorry, cats.)
Everyone I know who has ever owned a dog always wants to get another almost as soon as it dies. They leave a massive void to be filled and are a huge joy but also a huge responsibility, of course. Hence the preference for cats. (Sorry, dogs.) Not a decision to be made lightly, though many do seem to do just that, sadly – just ask the RSPCA or Battersea dogs and cats home, or any one of the many worthwhile and wonderful animal charities we have in this country, especially around Christmas and New Year.
We had two dogs in our family, a Westie and a Cairn, though not at the same time, and both were my mother’s pets. I wasn’t living at home when they were around but I always looked forward to taking them for long walks whenever I went back for the weekend and was glad to hand them over at the end of it. A bit like other people’s children, really. (Sorry, children. And parents).
My life circumstances changed quite dramatically almost two years ago now (as mentioned in a previous blog) and, since then, every now and again, knowing how much I like dogs, someone will say: “Why don’t you get a dog?” In some ways, it would help enormously. Company and a reason to leave the house every day – twice a day, even. Some much-needed exercise for both of us. It’s also very sociable. But my reply is always along the lines of: “It wouldn’t be fair to the dog. I’m out and about quite a bit and what if I end up going back to work full-time?”
Then there’s the expense. I know someone who had to cancel the family skiing holiday one winter, when their dog developed back problems and the vet’s bill came to the cost of said holiday. Ouch. And someone else who couldn’t afford to finish doing up their house because of their new puppy’s vet bills.
Despite all this, though, I will admit to occasionally (all right, frequently) looking online at rescue centre websites and have been known to sob at pictures of sad, abandoned animals. They know, you know! Their eyes are full of the pain of knowing they’ve been rejected. It’s heartbreaking. I daren’t go and visit any of these places. I know I would: number one, be in floods of tears, which would be very unhelpful to all and cause the animals even more distress and number two, want to run off with the whole damn lot and our house, not to mention bank balance, just isn’t big enough.
So, what breed would I go for (theoretically)? While I don’t mind if it’s not the most intelligent, I don’t want one that’s too thick, either. I met a beautiful dog the other week. A lurcher crossed with something I can’t now remember. He was friendly and adorable but his owner cheerfully informed me he was “very dim” with it. Oh dear. I do hope he was too dim to understand what she was saying. (I covered his ears, though, just in case.)
However, craftiness is something altogether different and all dogs seem to be experts at this, especially around food. My OH’s niece’s dog, Dougal, has somehow learned to open the fridge door, select what he wants from it (usually the family’s packed lunches for the following day at work and school) and remember to close it after him, as well. Worry now.
I wonder at the advisability of all the cross-breeding that goes on these days. Almost every dog I admire in the street is something-crossed-with-something-else. Where will it all end? Perhaps a cat crossed with a dog? That way, the old-hat aforementioned question of which you prefer will become redundant.
Moving on swiftly… There are agencies, such as Borrow My Doggy, which do what they say on the tin. And there’s fostering. And dog-walking for the more energetic. And the wonderful world of therapy dogs. We recently met Max, a hospital therapy dog for Great Ormond Street. What a fabulous idea! Apparently, he goes down a wow. I’m not surprised. He’s gorgeous. Therapy dogs visit homes and hospices as well and it’s been proven that people’s stress levels go right down when stroking an animal – whatever it may be. OK, maybe not a wildebeest.
We have looked after our neighbour’s dog, Charlie, a wire-haired fox terrier, since he was a puppy. He is now nine years old and treats our house and garden as his own. Naturally. While we love having him, though, it does open our eyes to the ups and downs of dog-owning. Lots of places won’t accept dogs – cafes, pubs, garden centres, holiday lets – and this often curtails our plans, which can be frustrating.
On the other hand, having him around the house definitely lifts the energies and he makes us laugh with his antics and funny ways. We are always sad to see him go and it’s a poignant moment when I lift his water bowl from the floor and put it away until the next time… He collects legions of adoring fans wherever he goes and my OH, being the one usually attached to the other end of the lead (he’s always SO keen to volunteer), relishes being on the receiving end of the most female attention he has ever had in his entire life (so he tells me).
Seriously, a dog on the end of a lead opens up all sorts of social possibilities. Try to imagine starting to chat to a total stranger without it. See what I mean?!
In summary, then: A source of joy and fun, great company, free exercise, unconditional love and almighty babe magnet (both sexes), versus one or two “minor” restrictions and “a bit” of extra expense… You can see which way this is going, can’t you? I’ll keep you posted.