02 February, 2014 / General

How I became a dog person


Dragging us out of the house again


Our Jack, ruler of the house

Everyone wanted a dog and I kept saying no.

I was the family killjoy, not because I was worried about everything being chewed and weed on and strewn with hair (our house was pretty wrecked-looking anyway) but due to… the colossal responsibility. We’d come through the full-on child-rearing years, so why would I want to take on the care and feeding of another living thing? One that demanded walks, in all weathers? One that would reward our efforts by mating with cushions and occasionally puking on rugs? I saw myself mopping up emissions and tramping through gales, capillaries bursting all over my face, clutching little plastic bags of warm poo.

To be honest, it didn’t appeal massively….

And then one night Jimmy and I sat up late, drinking wine, and I thought… would it really be so bad? We took the kids on a ‘mystery trip’ – to West Calder, our nearest Dog’s Trust. The adorable pooches on the website turned out to be ferocious things, snapping and snarling and leaping at the bars of their kennels. Clearly, the loveable hound we’d pictured didn’t live here. We tried the Glasgow branch next – and this, in contrast, was an orphanage for the adorable. There were loads we’d have happily taken home. We chose Jack, a nervy and skinny collie cross who’d been picked up roaming the badlands of Motherwell.  

If I’m honest, his first few months with us weren’t quite what I’d imagined…

We loved him to bits, but Christ, he was a barker – terrified of tractors (we get a lot of those around here), motorbikes and, crucially, other dogs. I called Dog’s Trust, who were brilliant at giving advice – we’d already had the ‘adoption’ talk, with a man called George who’d drawn ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ on a whiteboard. Blimey! I’d thought it was all about walking and throwing them the odd biscuit.

It’s all about security, George explained. Encourage a dog to feel safe and secure and the rest will follow.

And it did. Three years on, Jack’s not only a brilliant dog; he’s also shown us that, really, any houseful of teenagers will benefit from a hound pottering about the place. I wish I’d done it years ago. Here’s why…

A dog makes us more pleasant to be around

With three kids and full-time job, I’m used to being busy. When I’m not, I get twitchy and start on at people for leaving towels on the floor and cartons of milk sitting about until they go sour and lumpy. With a dog, you don’t have time to be a miserable harpy. There’s always tons to do. And, even if there isn’t, you can sit and tease out his matted dreadlocky bits, an oddly soothing activity.

They don’t mock us

One of my teenagers’ favourite activities is to laugh at my inability to function with dignity in the modern world. They pee themselves laughing whenever I use the word ‘think’, when referencing technology – ie, ‘For some reason, my spellcheck suddenly thinks I’m in the Czech Republic.’ It’s fine, I mean I can take a ribbing – but occasionally it does irk a bit. I mean, no one wants to be the laughing stock all the time.

Luckily, a dog never mocks you. It doesn’t sneer at your haircut or groan in protest when you use the word ‘groovy’ or ‘cool.’ It doesn’t find you embarrassing or refuse to be seen in public with you. All it wants is to lie on the best chair and lick your face.

When we come home, they rush to greet us

They don’t glance up from the sofa and say, ‘Did you remember to get Nutella?’ Or, ‘When will tea be ready?’ before you’ve even taken off your coat. As the brilliant Nora Ephron put it, ‘When your children are teenagers it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.’ She’s right. A dog is guaranteed to bound to the door, tail revolving with delight. It’s nice to feel needed again, even if, really, they just want food.  

We’re allowed to roll on the carpet like idiots

Little kids love playing rough-and-tumble, but as they grow older they tend to flinch when you enter the room, let alone try make physical contact. When you do hug them – if they grudgingly allow it – it’s like putting your arms around a fridge. With a dog, the sillier and more tactile you are, the more they’ll love it, so you can now direct all that pent-up affection towards your pet. You can also put on a silly voice, and even refer to yourself ‘Mummy’ – ie, mother of dog. Teenagers find this unsettling which, to be honest, makes me want to do it all the more.

They force us out of the house

A dog does have to go out, at least twice a day and accompanied by a human. And that’s fine. I’ve met a whole load of dog people through walking Jack, as well as shifting half a stone, mostly off my butt. I also walk with friends every morning before sitting at the laptop for a mammoth writing session. It acts as a sort of ‘commute’ – ie, that segment of the day in between chivvying everyone off to school, and getting down to business. It clears the head and fills the lungs with fresh air – it’s exercise and socialising, all in one. I still mutter to myself while working, but since having Jack, slightly less so.

A dog makes you feel good about yourself

Whenever I feel bad for nagging my teenagers about messy rooms, or always needing money, I remind myself that I got them a dog which means I am Not A Bad Person. Also, Jack might still be sitting in that big glass-fronted kennel, looking forlorn, if we hadn’t brought him home and attended to his Hierarchy of Needs.

They offer us all the best bits of having a baby

Eg, being cute and sweet and enjoying sitting on your lap. You also get to miss out all the tedious baby-related stuff, like attending toddler groups where no one talks to you apart from to tick you off for setting up the soft play area incorrectly. You don’t have to worry about being judged on your pet’s appearance, and dog owners – unlike parents of the very young – tend not to boast, ‘He’s already reading proper novels and seems to have a real aptitude for the bassoon.’ So really, it’s all good.

Also, and here’s a major plus – Jack hasn’t even tried to mate with us, not even once. He seems to prefer lying in a corner and chewing on an old blanket which is preferable, really, at our stage of life.



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