I think only singletons, gay or childless 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 owning a dog, 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 owning 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 just as pure and unconditional.
Ricci is a Miniature Schnauzer who comes to work with us every day and sleeps curled between us on our bed at night. Now aged 6, 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 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 owning 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 middle class parents who let their children roam free in Pizza Express. These kids are only allowed ‘water’ to drink but order ice-cream after pepperoni and inevitably throw-up on the way home.
Then there are the vet bills. Huge vet bills. If there was ever any dispute about the need for a free NHS 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. Owning a dog is a serious financial investment.
Owning a dog is sociable
Here in London owning a dog extends your social network in much the same way as having a child. Instead of meeting at school gates we meet in the park. It’s quite normal to have deep, intimate conversations with complete strangers as you watch your pups play. 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. Dog owners come in all shapes and sizes, from every age group and economic background. There are also 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 more mindful – 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.