I’m more of a cat person. The poo. We wouldn’t be able to travel. Too much hoovering. Too much poo. The eldest’s afraid of dogs. Mandatory walks even in filthy weather. THE POO…
All of these perfectly legitimate objections to getting a dog, which I trotted out one after another in response to first the husband’s, then the youngest’s pleadings, now seem not just pathetic, but wilfully blinkered.
It turns out having a dog is a properly life-enhancing experience, poo notwithstanding (I know you knew that, dog-owners. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you).
There was plenty of drama to begin with – neither my husband nor I had owned a dog since childhood, and we were totally clueless. Her second day in our care, she was brought home on a string by a kind passer-by who had found her cavorting joyously in the road after burrowing under the fence. On day three, a neighbour rang the doorbell to tell us the dog was on the roof, and none too sure of her footing. A week later she stole and ate eldest’s plastic retainer, a cool £240 to replace.
And we’d had her less than a year when after drinking too much river water, she collapsed, and the vet told us to prepare for the worst. Luckily, she pulled through (water intoxication is a THING in dogs, if you didn’t know), but the sleepless, weepy night waiting to hear, and the giddy relief afterwards, made me realise that I wasn’t as steely and pragmatic as I’d thought – the dog had not only stolen a piece of my heart, she had licked it and nuzzled it and put it in her bed with her toys and blanket to snuggle up with at night.
That wasn’t the surprising part. It’s always enriching to allow another living being into your life, even a hairy one with bad breath and a flatulence problem. But the dog herself, an unremarkable-looking collie-lab rescue from Ireland, turns out to be only one half of the afore-mentioned life-enhancement.
The mandatory walks, for example. Not just the exercise, everybody knows the value of a brisk daily blah blah blah, but the insistent cheeriness of daylight and fresh air, like a perky friend who won’t stop chattering until you crack a smile. And nature! Isn’t nature great? (Again, I know you know this, outdoors-lovers. Sorry again for not listening to you.) I have been bewitched this last year by the seasons’ inexorable march, the tiny increments of growth and decay in verge and hedgerow which B.D. (Before Dog) I would have noticed only periodically. Wildlife, too. There are cuckoos in the trees sometimes, real cuckoos that actually say ‘cuckoo’ – can you believe that? And there’s something transcendent about coming across a deer in the wild, those magical seconds in which you barely have time to confirm what you’re seeing before the animal leaps back into mysterious invisibility.
And there are people. I’m generally not a big fan of people, or not a big fan of meeting new ones anyway. I loathe small talk, mostly because I am completely incompetent at it, which makes it difficult to bond with strangers. But dog people are different. OK, they’re probably not different, but when there are dogs to compare and pat and eye fondly (or nervously, or with embarrassment) there’s none of that difficult howdy-stranger-nice-weather-we’re-having-what-about-that-local-sports-team palaver, but instead a mutual recognition of our shared enchantment, like the way VW Beetle drivers wave at each other. A sort of shame-faced goofiness: ‘I really love my dog. Do you really love your dog? Cool. We both really love our dogs.’ To begin with I would choose walks where we were less likely to bump into other people, such was my anxiety about having to talk to strangers. Now – well, I wouldn’t say I love it, but I don’t hate it any more, and I’ve even made a friend or two on my regular route.
But my absolute favourite thing about becoming a dog-owning family has been watching my eldest boy, who was very afraid of dogs when younger, convert from a kind of blustering indifference to utter enslavement. ‘Oh ZhouZhou*,’ he croons in her ear, and rubs her tummy until her eyes roll back in her head.
As for the poo – well, it’s not a problem. Not for me anyway. Youngest and husband were so desperate for a dog they would have promised to steam-clean the garden daily if necessary. The hoovering, though – I can’t deny it takes up a lot more of my life than it used to.
‘I prefer going to homes with dogs in them, now,’ eldest announced last week. ‘They just feel happier, somehow.’
Ours certainly is. Dog-lovers, you told me so.
*We didn’t really call our dog ZhouZhou. It’s a nickname we adopted for purposes of soppiness because her actual name cannot properly express the depths of our adoration.