I think only singletons, other childless or gay couples and empty nesters will understand our love affair with our dog. I usually hate using the Royal ‘we’ because I worry about the whole cosy couple thing – even though I’ve been part of one since age 16. But it’s important in this context because Ricci has turned this couple into a family. If you’re not into pets this post is not for you – just like I’m never going to be interested in baby smoothies. It’s about how, for some of us, the hole in our lives usually reserved for a child – is filled by a dog, a cat, or both.
We never wanted a child. Ricci isn’t a replacement, a consolation prize for missing out on parenting. She is a dog and it is a completely different relationship – except that the love is pure and unconditional.
Our dog, Ricci, is a Miniature Schnauzer who comes to work with us every day and sleeps curled between us on our bed at night. Approaching her fourth birthday she is still slim, long legged, silky and smells of fresh air. She barks too much, hates children and skateboards, she’s racist, she scavenges, chases cats and sniffs other dogs where the sun doesn’t shine. But she is a good looking girl. Born in an Islington pub, The Rosemary Branch, she appeared in last year’s Pub Dogs of London by photographer Fiona Freund, and was picked to feature in TimeOut’s article on the same. We are very proud parents!
A dog’s life
You need to think hard before committing to a dog. Ricci has ruined our social life. We hate to leave her because the frantic greeting of relief when we return is just the same if we’ve been gone a few minutes or several hours. We choose pubs and restaurants where she can come with us, we hardly ever go to the theatre or cinema and we now holiday in the UK. If we go out for any length of time she has a sitter – just like a child and probably just as expensive. There is no resentment – we were ready for the change she brought to our carefree lives, but you need to be prepared. Of course not all dogs are as indulged or as needy. When there are real children in a family the dog comes way down the pecking order and is happy with the scraps of affection it gets between school and homework. These dogs are traditionally robust labradors, retrievers and mongrels, not the pampered and neurotic lapdogs that feature among our lot. We are the dog equivalent of the middle class parents who let their children roam free in pizza express, they are only allowed ‘juice’ to drink but order ice-cream after pepperoni and inevitably throw-up in the car.
Then there are the vet bills. Huge vet bills. If there was ever any dispute about the need for a free national health service pet owners could enlighten the rest of the country as to the crippling cost of pay-as-you-go treatment and medication. Like babies pets cannot tell where it hurts so symptoms are run through a series of expensive tests in order to eliminate the potential dangers. One more bill for a few hundred pounds seems a small price to pay after the vet has finished listing the life threatening possibilities that they had to rule out before prescribing antibiotics.
Dog owners are a friendly bunch
It’s not quite the same outside the capital but here in London dog owners are friendly and it’s quite normal to have deep, intimate conversations with complete strangers in the park. We know scores of dogs by name and while their owner’s names come much later – we’ve gradually built a solid community of friends as a consequence of owning a dog. It’s not that different to the relationships that young families build with the parents they meet at the school gates – but it is more varied. Dog owners come in all shapes and sizes, from every age group and economic background and there are the lonely souls who don’t even have a dog but who find a way to break the silence of their day by asking about ours.
Dog owners are the guardians of the neighbourhood, we are out early in the morning and late at night pounding the pavements and watching for mischief. We know every sniffing post, every chicken-bone littered take-away and the location of every waste bin in a mile or so radius. We are the only ones in the parks midwinter and the first to be excluded when the sun shines. We take time-out every day, no – every few hours, to notice the world around us and convene with nature. We are happier, healthier and we don’t pay for therapy, we just take our dog for walk.
Ultimately there was a hole in our busy urban lives. We needed our dog much more than she needed us. Now we have each other.
Next time: I poisoned my puppy!